I have been on study leave this month. It has been an interesting time for me regarding my reflection on life in the South. Since my time here my faith has shifted yet once again and I am thinking it is in reaction to the overt religiosity that is inherent in southern culture.
I say religiosity rather than Christianity because what I see practiced here in my experience is not Christianity. At least not the Christianity that I knew as a teenager, not the Christianity that I knew as a young adult living in Charismatic Christian Community but something that has the form of Christianity but none of the heart of Christianity. And there are reasons why I left that Christianity behind that have more to do with my understanding of Christianity than it does with the form of religiosity as I have experienced it in the South.
We have ministers here in the south who when they do not get their way ask their parishioners to pray that God will strike down with lightening those who disobey or disagree with their perspectives. Such violent rhetoric has led people to act out this rhetoric–presuming they are god’s messengers. (Rev. Fuller regarding the Tuscaloosa Arts Council’s refusal to ban a foreign film. See his retraction here.)
We have public leaders who parade their claim of Christianity because they believe that will get them elected and these same public leaders who misquote and misuse the biblical texts to support positions that are far away from the God revealed by Jesus. (Governor Bentley regarding biblical command to obeying the law in regards to HB 56 and HB 658. See post here. )
So this is why I say religiosity rather than Christianity because there is nothing Christian in these persons expression of faith. It has all the trappings and decorum of Christianity but none of the authentic heart that Jesus displayed in his three years of ministry. A true religious conversion eventually leads to humility of spirit towards others–think Francis of Assisi, think Thich Nhat Hahn, think Gandhi, think Mother Teresa. Religiosity is overt here in Alabama and my reaction to it is to retreat further away from anything resembling it.
I am more of a non-theist than when I arrived here in Alabama. I am not an atheist who does not believe in god but I am not a theist either. My definition of god for a long time now has been: All that is and all that is not. But that statement has been confused for pantheism and that is not what I am referring to either. The reason why this is not a pantheistic statement is because of the negative clause, all that is not. Pantheism only encompasses what is; the universe and equates the universe with god. I look beyond that definition and include not only what is, but also what is not. I find this definition of god includes not only the natural world but also the supernatural, the paranormal, the things that people have experienced but are not so easily defined in the natural realm. I find the current definitions and categorizations of these experiences insufficient and most likely superstitious explanations in an attempt to place them into some neat box to tuck away somewhere. But I cannot ignore them in my definition.
I would state there is something of the divine essence in all of creation, all that is not created, and all that is to be created. There is not a Supreme being somewhere pulling the strings. I am not even sure there is a universal stream of consciousness. But there does seem to be something that places order and chaos into what we call the universe. Is it the Higgs Boson–the God particle? My position, therefore, is not an atheist position but rather a non-theist position.
How has this shifted my faith? I have become more interested in how humans live together in harmony than in whether or not their souls are saved. I find the responses that Rev. Fuller and Gov. Bentley made to be fascinating from an evolutionary point of reference. Our ancestors responded in similar ways to things that were perceived as threatening. We called upon the gods to smote the threat or we sought to bring the threat under the rule of law. In both, these reactions revolve around being an alpha, a focal point of coercive power and control. If a supernatural or natural event happened after the command to smote another, the person commanding would be elevated in status. They must have a special connection. If people began to follow the rule of law, the same elevation of power and control would be given to the person or entity enforcing the law. There is in our tribal species a need to conform to the tribe. I want to explore what it is in our evolution as a species that holds us back from achieving our goal of living in harmony.
My focus as a person of faith has increasingly been on the here and now, in understanding how we have evolutionarily evolved and how remnants of our evolutionary past affect our present desire to be more loving, more tolerant of the other, more able to cope with the transitions of life. And I have been recognizing how humanity loves the illusion far more than the reality of something.
I am beginning to think that there is something in our genetic evolutionary development that leads us to idolatry. Whether that idolatry is in the classic form of idol worship or a more nuanced form such as being seen today through supremacist ideologies or blind unquestioning faith in an institution be that government, church or financial corporation. If we are ever to create that Star Trek society where poverty and inequality and all the isms have been eliminated, we need to have a better understanding of our evolutionary history. Our faith constructs also have to evolve–not necessarily in the direction mine has–but evolve just the same.