Part 3: true? Truth? not true? or just true-ish?

Posted: December 19, 2012 in believing, fundamentalism, gay rights, my personal journey, the "true-ish" series
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Find Part 1 HERE;  Find Part 2 HERE;  Find prequel HERE  (in which I come clean about my faith); Find epilogue HERE

dictionary-series-philosophy-truthPart 3 of 3
The Bible is the story of the failings, passions, false starts and victories of a people grappling to understand God’s character and stance toward humanity. It’s a record of misperceptions and bad decisions and incredibly redemptive and noble acts. It speaks to our fears and our hopes; it’s chalk full of nighttime weeping and morning joy. It’s a history of man’s attempt to understand mystery. It addresses the questions that mean the most to us: Are we loved? Do we matter? Is there purpose? And how, therefore, should we live? It’s the story of heaven meeting earth, where things can get really, really messy.

There have always been fundamentalists, even before that particular word showed up in the 20th century. Their hallmark is a hyper, laser-like focus on Absolute Biblical Truth (in the Christian version of fundamentalism) that conveniently happens to be what they themselves believe to be Absolutely Biblically True. Their psychology tends toward the need to embrace certainty and control, both of which tend to strangle the life out of mystery. They feel anxious when all the pieces don’t line up right, when they don’t know the rules, when they aren’t certain. And the Bible in the hands of fundagelicals can quickly degenerate from a book full of truths about man’s longing for spirit into The Incredible Supernatural One Stop Book of 100% Accurate and Infallible Facts That Are Always And In Every Situation And Time Absolutely True.

(By the way, I myself have these tendencies in spades. I was a really good fundamentalist, before I began to morph into…whatever the hell I am now. But I retain my over-developed need for certainty and my love affair with control. I fight these demons daily…and, happily, lately I’ve been winning a little more than I’ve been losing.)

Also, I feel I need to say this here (as I did in parts 1 & 2 of this series). I know that I am not describing every Christian in these articles, and I’m not describing most of my Christian friends. However, I am talking about a very real dynamic among conservative Christians – and including conservative Christians who don’t recognize these very real tendencies in themselves.

In part two of this series I stated that there are four very unfortunate and ultimately dangerous things that occur when individuals exchange mystery for certainty and come to rely on a rigid literal framework. In that article I mentioned two of them:

  1. We polarize…and hurt one another, and
  2. We destroy Jesus’ (and other Christians’) reputation

I’ll finish this series with what I believe are two additional things that happen when we take the fundamentalist-Absolute-Always-100%- Unarguable-Truth approach to interpreting the Bible.

(And I’m not going to repeat again here all the good that I believe faith communities bring to themselves and the world. I hope you’re all clear that I’m speaking of a particular brand of Christianity in these articles – not of the Church in general.)


3. We come down on the wrong side of history.

“Speaking truth to power”
“Standing up against unjust systems”
“Fighting for the rights of the oppressed”

It’s ironic what happens when you type some of these phrases into Google. You pretty much get a mixture of two kinds of sites: You get Bible-quote sites (Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression…”) and liberal organizations (the ACLU, etc.). Stated differently, you get quotes from the Bible telling us to behave this way, and you get anti-religious organizations that are actually known for behaving this way.

Who have been the people throughout history who have consistently spoken truth to power, stood up against unjust systems and fought for the rights of the oppressed? Where has the conservative church tended to stand on the important human rights issues of their day?

As a general rule (with many notable, heroic, faithful, God-loving exceptions, such as William Wilberforce, the Quakers, etc.), true-fundamentalist Christians have tended to be behind the rest of the world, not in front, on issues like equality for women, child labor, civil rights, worker’s rights and more. To their shame, the conservative Church has earned the reputation of standing against human rights, always with Bible verses at the ready. Christians have murdered millions of aboriginal peoples over the past thousand years, or stood by, condoning this behavior, feeling supported by the Bible. German (and other European) Christians used scripture to justify harsh treatment toward Jews – and millions of Jews were eventually exterminated, often with the tacit blessing of churches. Southern Christians used Paul’s epistles to fight the abolitionists. In too many cases the conservative wing of the church has opted to maintain the status quo, Truth-book in hand, fighting against progress, instead of getting out in front and becoming a model of powerful and compassionate social change.

It is true, of course, that heroic Christians and Christian communities have also been very involved in abolishing these social evils, but they usually had to fight against the majority of the people in their own religion to do it.

The Bible-worshipers have tended to come down on the wrong side of science, as well. Need I go into the persecution faced by the thinkers of this world who discovered real facts about the universe that didn’t line up with Biblical “truths?” The list is consistent and depressing.

Sadly, the church is repeating these patterns today in the areas of human rights (sexual minorities) and science (climate change; human origins). In 300 years Christians will look back on today’s Church, scratch their heads, and say, “WTF?” Hopefully, they will also be able to celebrate the remnant of the Church that got out ahead on these issues and led the way. (And, I’ve got to say, I’ve been humbled and thrilled lately as I’m discovering that there are a LOT of you out there- many more of you than I originally thought. PLEASE don’t hide. Come out, come out, wherever you are.)

4. We miss out on the joy

I travel a lot for work. Air travel used to cause me some stress, to be honest. I’d locate my seat and anxiously wait to find out who my next victim was going to be. I know that sounds harsh…and I’m probably exaggerating a bit here. But seriously. I would sit there trying to get my head around the fact that my job, my calling, was to share my faith with whomever God placed next to me, lest that person end up burning in hell. It was a lot of pressure! But after my conversion to apostate-ism, things were suddenly very different. I remember a trip, just a few months after “emptying the hoarder’s room” (see “Sunday thoughts #3: In which I come clean about my faith”), in which I was seated next to a middle-aged guy from Alaska. We started talking, and I have to tell you, it was probably the best “single serving friendship” (Fight Club allusion) I’ve ever had.

This interaction wasn’t a one-way transaction – it wasn’t about me manipulating the conversation toward my beliefs and his future eternity. Instead it became two people sharing stories, experiences and perspectives. He had much to offer – he’d had a rich life marked by an interesting spiritual journey, and he was curious about mine. And ironically I probably did more to enrich his life during those four hours than I would have had I treated him like a project or a target or an obligation. This was a trip that could have been a bit stressful for me and pretty annoying for him, but instead it became a joyful experience that added some depth and texture to both our lives.

Being a fundamentalist, for me, was a mixed bag. On the one hand, things were pretty simple. There were easy answers for life’s hardballs and curveballs; I knew who was right and who was wrong; I could alleviate anxiety by figuring out the rules. But I was dying inside. I preached grace, but experienced guilt. I taught love, but felt forced to judge people based on their ability and/or willingness to wear my straight jacket of Truth. I don’t think I was an asshole – in fact, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. But inside I lacked joy.


And now? Joy comes often.

I experience joy when I welcome people into my life, temporarily or longer term. I have found that when I cease to see people as either “right or wrong,” when there are no proscribed conversations, when I’m open to the different ways people have of “being” in the world, people tend to show up with a surprising amount of light.

I experience joy when I walk through my day with fewer obligations and rules to follow, fewer people to please. Way less guilt, way more gratitude. I give myself a break, am gentler with myself, and consequently end up being gentler toward others.

I experience joy in the holiness and truth of nature.

I experience joy when I am curious, humble, open to ideas and alternate views, willing to explore and seek and question and live with the tension that mystery requires.

And I experience joy when I am faced with the reality that god, whoever she/he/it is, is way bigger than I imaged.

  1. jean says:

    It would be helpful if you linked to the other parts of a series on each installment. I love this, and would enjoy the others, which I haven’t yet located. 🙂

  2. Leslie says:

    Well done, sir. I’ve enjoyed reading this little series of posts.

  3. Janible says:

    Lovely article, especially for all of us who have found ourselves on a path similar to yours. It’s been rather an eyeopener for me to see how God’s spirit has been moving on so many of us about this, btw. There are indeed many who have been quietly shifting in this direction. And oddly, it is a bit like our LGBT brothers and sisters who have had the courage to declare who they are. Coming out of our closet and admitting that we are listening to our hearts and not to the fundamentalist dogmas of the mind can open us up to a lot of grief. Even so, there is no way I could put that “coat of many dogmas” back on! Also, as Jean says, could you post the locations of the rest of the series. I’ve read the second part, but couldn’t find the first.

  4. Jim H says:

    You are doing a wonderful and brave thing in sharing your continuing journey with us. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading the ongoing story of your awakening. (I have only that word for it, please take it in the spirit intended.)

  5. […] Part 3: true? Truth? not true? or just true-ish? […]

  6. Jeff says:

    Mike: thank you so much for this series. You’ve given me much to think about in terms of my rejection of the faith of my family and any formal church. I’m sitting here this afternoon wondering where I might find a church full of people like you.

    I’ve found, for myself, as I’ve moved away from the belief system I was raised in I also have lost any sense of spirituality. It’s been replaced with a vague idea of karma – which is a little bland. I ‘think’ I’m comfortable with the idea that I exist today and may not exist – at all – in the future, but maybe I’m just repressing a desire for life in the hereafter and awareness of things spiritual due to my own historic exposure to the ironclad fundamentalism that has always accompanied these things for me.

    One thing that has always struck me as funny, when I was in college, I enrolled in Logic 101. One of my favorite family members told me that they were concerned, taking that course would cause me to conclude there is no God. What? How could a class invented by men be so powerful as to overtake the omnipotent God – he’s that weak? Nonsense. Just as you’ve alliterated in this series that is one of the many arguments made by rigid Christians that reject anyone who doesn’t adhere to their Absolute Truth.

    I’m very grateful to you for this series and am just wondering now how I can distill this message down to fit on a t-shirt.

    I remember when I met you during a facebook storm over the upholding of the PPACA that were could be new BFFs – I’m still pretty much in awe. Thanks

    • nash says:

      Dude – that post just absolutely made my day. And it’s been a difficult one. So, thank you. I would love to meet you sometime. Remind me where you live? I”m thinking Spokane, but I don’t remember why I think that. Love both your church idea and your t-shit idea. What would it look like for a group of people to meet together weekly to explore truth…and NOT have it turn into a religion.

  7. Torger Helgeland says:

    Thanks for post. More joy now? Less joy amidst “cognitive dissonance” then? You talk real esperience of real problem. Thank you and that carries weight.

    On the closing referring to God “…whoever he ,she, it is…” I suggest you drop the “it”. I suspect that you included it in a flurry, but i can’t imagine you considering that the one who made us personal would somehow not be. Yeah, mystery is mystery, but I can’t even imagine an impersonal God as being mysterious or even interesting. seems like a step back to a controllable God in a box rather than a release into larger mystery befitting The Light One ( how’s that for a nice title?). I think the Bible got it right on the us being created in his image part…free will, creativity…Then also consider where your options might lead us according to …what was that unapoligetically very conservative guy’s name in Ventures year one? Gary, I think. If we want to roll “she , he , it” nicely into one pronoun, we can just call God shit. Not progressive. Torg

    • nash says:

      What pronoun COULD we use, then? I think either “he” or “she” is wrong…it’s very limiting in both the “limit to humanness” and worse, “limit to gender.” They? I’m stumped.

      • senarae says:

        God very well could be “They” – I think Genesis 1 has a verse which is very clearly translated as “Us” – of God speaking of Him/her/themselves. God could be a duality of gender (maybe that’s how we humans got our gender continuum?) and also anything else. This would fit well in the mystery. Maybe God is the entirety of creation and there is no appropriate pronoun. Maybe God is all that is loving. Who knows?

        I looked it up… Genesis 1:26 (KJV)
        “26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

        NIV also uses “us”, as does the Orthodox Jewish Bible!

        I’ve loved your series. I am someone who’s never had a religious tradition. I am exploring Christianity through a small, church-based home Bible study type thing. I like Jesus; it’s just the straight jacket that doesn’t suit me.

        Thank you for sharing your journey.

        On Facebook, you might be interested in checking out Unfundamentalist Christians. For churches, I like the United Church of Christ. The one near me is welcoming and inclusive to all (called ONA – open and inclusive/accepting). In one sermon the preacher/pastor/speaker person revolved the day’s message around the mathematical ratio of pi. What a hoot!

        I hope things are going well for you lately! I just popped over to read the series so far.

  8. […] Part 3: true? Truth? not true? or just true-ish? […]

  9. Love the post, but disappointed that you’re moving back towards religion and belief in God (whether it, he or she). Torg says “mystery is mystery” but what exactly is the mystery?

    Suppose that the universe is just this thing. It’s a physical object. It doesn’t have purpose, any more so than a piece of rock I found lying on the ground. It happens to be sufficiently complex to support stars, planets, complex chemistry and life. Hence we find ourselves here today. No mystery. The mystery only springs into existence if we start asking ourselves what it’s for and who created it, i.e. projecting our own anthropomorphic concerns onto an inanimate physical object. I may as well sit at my desk asking myself what that piece of stone is for and who created it. It’s just a stone, right?

    You need to throw away the idea of a “Mystery” and start addressing tangible mysteries that are real and at least as interesting. Otherwise you’re heading back into superstition and the supernatural.

    • Jill says:

      What’s the disappointment regarding someone else (as in, not you) taking a real look inside himself, seeking core essence, seeking insight and wisdom, using all tools at the ready (spirituality, religion, science, logic, love, etc.) to find a greater message, a larger calling, a grander vision?

      Just because you look at an inanimate object and see ‘no mystery’ doesn’t mean that’s the one and only experience that everyone in the world will have with it. That’s great if that works for you. It doesn’t work for everyone in the same way.

      • Because I hate to think of him wasting his time looking for something that isn’t there. Just like I hate to see billions of people wasting their lives believing stuff that’s untrue. Just because it works for you doesn’t make it a good thing.

        • Sorry if that sounded harsh. It wasn’t meant to sound judgemental. After all, I know nothing about your beliefs. It’s very easy to make thoughtless comments on blogs.

          Why disappointed? Because I find myself caring about nash and his journey, even though I don’t know him.

  10. I am so glad you linked these all. I remember reading the Coming Clean about…… such a long while ago, but not all the others. I now have read it all and you are a brilliant writer and a good soul. You are also so right.

  11. […] up articles: Part 1 (true? Truth? not true? just true-ish?) CLICK HERE Part 2 CLICK HERE Part 3 CLICK HERE Epilogue CLICK […]

  12. Dennis says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and graceful expressions in this series. I try to rely on Jesus’ words: “Hold tight to my teachings and teach others the same, then you will know truth, and truth will set you free”. “The sum of the law and the prophets is to love God and love your neighbor” . God spoke different things to different people at different times to deal with different situations, seek what He is saying to you today! 😎

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