I made a decision, I guess its coming up on maybe two years ago, to suspend the beliefs I've always had or never had, and put my attention and heart into learning about Christianity. For the most part I've been successful at it, but lately I've wanted to hear something besides what people at Christ Fellowship have to say about God, Jesus, the Bible and such things. It started with Bishop Shelby Spong's books from the '80's about rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism - he loves God and Jesus and is not into disrespectful bashing and separatism. Since I haven't yet bought into literalism when it comes to the Bible, his thoughts were easy to incorporate into my quest without derailing it. He raises valid questions that I have put on a list to investigate when the time comes. I especially want to avoid argument and I want to avoid, as much as possible, being told that "The Enemy" is at work on me if I bring up certain topics. Its not wrong to have legitimate questions and its not wrong to expect decent answers from people who say their entire lives are all about Jesus.
A nice thing happened at church - everyone who signs up has access - as a gift from Christ Fellowship - to a website that seems to have some very good studies, videos, etc. on various Christian topics. So far I've gone through and made a list of the ones I plan to watch first, but haven't had time to delve into them.
Late one night last week, though, I was looking at various shows on Netflix and came across two documentaries - The God Who Wasn't There by Brian Flemming and the somewhat famous Religulous by Bill Maher. I'll just say up front that I like Bill Maher - he is smart and cynical, unafraid to ruffle feathers. I don't always agree with him, but I like his "in your face" way of presentation. He started out as a stand up comedian, so his style is at once offensive and appealing to me. Brian Flemming's piece seemed to be a product of a smart, but disillusioned young man who had the misfortune to attend a very strict and guilt driven Christian School for his early education. He took it seriously and he was hurt by it. He's turned against Christianity in a understandable but belligerent way.
Leading up to this, I also saw two episodes of popular animated shows - Seth MacFarlane's American Dad and Futurama by Matt Groening - both were spoofing religion. American Dad's episode was on the Rapture and Futurama's was about the robot character, Bender, getting religion in a robot version of Christianity - and then, of course, going back to his old ways.
If I had watched any of these shows at another time in my life, they wouldn't have impacted me very much. But coming during my Christianity Quest Period, I was stuck by the abject disrespect and disdain of the stories. I will admit that I did laugh during both of them - I mean, funny is funny.
Religulous focused on the obvious ridiculousness of modern religion that I think almost anyone, even real, practicing Christians would have found a bit silly. It deliberately avoided interviews with any serious and genuine people and organizations engaged in endeavors like I've found at Christ Fellowship. He didn't go out of his way to find anyone credible who able to speak intelligently about their faith. Those people do exist.
The upshot here is that I'm filled with skepticism because of the parts of each of the shows that just rang true to me - unavoidable facts and inconsistencies. There are times when I've noticed and consciously chosen to ignore, for now, things that just don't seem right or ring true and several important things that are just down right avoided, skipped over or explained away with a few pat words. I've been dismayed with the absolute lack of knowledge and the inability of so many Christians I know, to talk intelligently and with authority about Biblical things I find sketchy and can only conclude that they find sketchy, too
I've noticed that many lifelong Christians have not explored the Bible on their own, much less read any further. Right now my conclusion is they are afraid - maybe afraid of stepping away from the status quo or by straying too far from what they've been told just in case they might sound wrong in the ears of their peers. That will only bring on choruses of "I'll pray for yous" and warnings that Satan, the Enemy, is at work.
I think it is very difficult to stand up for something you believe in when the world is so ready to laugh at you. The Christians I've met are for the most part intelligent, well meaning, good people who lack the ability to stand up to criticism with responses that don't make them look, well, at best misguided and at worst, just plain dumb. I don't know why churches don't educate their members and spend the time to insure that they not only have a full and factual understanding of what the Bible says and what they believe, but the heart and courage of their convictions. As it stands right now, from my point of view, most Christians, when challenged, can only parrot back what they've been told verbatim, without much real understanding of what they're saying. They just know they believe and think that you should to.
I know the absolute barest minimum about Christian apologetics, I admit I didn't even finish the class I started at church. This is a topic for a whole other post, but from what I could see, the state of apologetics right now is part of the problem. To my untrained ears and sensibilities, the curriculum was full of smugness, tactics and strategies that encouraged a superior, condescending attitude that would be an automatic turn off to anyone being witnessed to. There was a lot of teaching about typical often heard arguments from non-Christians and exactly how to counter them - just shut those unbelievers down cold - always immediately followed by "but be sure to say it with love and caring". It was not presented with actual, real love and caring, so I could only conclude that the attitude was basically an act.
I, for myself, know there is a God who knows I'm here and is always ready to care for me when I ask. But, I tell you, the majority of Christianity just does not fit with my personal experience at this point in my understanding.
May All Beings Be Happy. Peace.