In response


“By Brent’s own words, ‘the creeds need not be taken literally’ he holds the creeds he represents as truth to be of varying degrees of nonsense.

 To me, I’d rather be hounded by a persistent pentecostal than to realize a man in church authority has ambivalent feelings regarding honesty and is a hypocrite to boot!” –Lotta Joy

“...stop trying to think about religion, it is doing your head in. Just look at what’s going on in the world today; death and destruction all in the name of some potty religious belief. That alone should make anybody with an ounce of common sense see how idiotic these divers belief are. Sorry for you Snowy. Sad that a man with your intellect keeps banging on about this crap.” –Philip

I’ve thought a great deal about issues of bad faith pertaining to my attendance at church, though not in regard to Brent but myself, so it would be difficult for anyone to offer an objection that I haven’t already considered, not that I’ve made peace with them all. I’m also more aware of the evil and stupidity done in the name of God than are most people, because I read about them more. Perhaps, the best I can hope for is that those who disapprove of my actions will indulge what they interpret as my stupidity—if not my insanity—as the misfortune of a fellow about whom they care and who appears to be prudent and sane in other ways. Now, I’m going to share some loosely connected reflections about various things pertaining to the creeds and to my attendance at church. I doubt that they will change anyones mind, but theyre all I can offer.

The Nicene Creed dates from a church council convened by Constantine in 325; the Apostles’ Creed is older, its authorship unknown. The two are similar, and some denominations use both. The creeds’ creators believed that the earth was flat, and that the sky was an upturned bowl beneath which the sun circled during the day and through which the lights of heaven shone at night. According to the creeds, this heaven is under the dominion of a patriarchal deity who sits on a literal throne with his literal son seated at his literal right hand. Because heaven is above our heads, Jesus had to descend from it when he came to earth and ascend to it upon his return.

The creeds raise other awkward images and questions, the awkwardest of which concerns Jesus being “…made incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary.” Try to envision God the Father wanting to become his eternal son’s male parent by an earthly virgin, but rather than impregnate her himself, he sends the Holy Ghost to do it by what might be the first instance of artificial insemination. 

The early church might have created creeds that encouraged good, something along the lines of, I believe in equal rights for all. I believe that it is wrong to force religion on others, or to harm anyone in the name of God. Instead, they based Christianity upon the acceptance of theological propositions that have inspired nothing but exclusion and persecution. Even today, membership in the Episcopal Church, among others, is predicated solely upon the willingness to say words that never ennobled anyone. 

Even so, the liberalism of the American Episcopal Church puts it in constant danger of either disintegrating or being excluded from the Anglican Communion, so I would not discard the creeds even if I could. I consider it worth threatening church unity over human rights—and Episcopalians have often done that—but I don’t believe the creeds rise to that level of importance. 

I asked Brent if anyone in a position of leadership in the church is required to accept the creeds literally. He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said that the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that Anglicans should maintain an openness to the creeds as a source of ideas for reflection, but that there is no requirement that they be accepted literally. People often argue that the church is too dogmatic, but in this instance the Episcopal Church isn’t being dogmatic, so I do not regard myself as a hypocrite for accepting the church for doing the very thing that I have long wanted it to do, which is to accept me despite my rejection of dogma.

The Episcopal Church once supported slavery, the subjugation of women, the prohibition of homosexuality, and other evils, but it would not have been for the benefit of the Episcopal Church (or of society) had those who opposed these things left the church because they believed their choice was between that and hypocrisy. Likewise, it would only make growth impossible if everyone who didn't like the creeds were to leave today's church.

When I went through the various Masonic degrees, I had to promise to submit myself to being slowly and ritualistically killed if I violated Masonic law. Few Masons would torture someone for such a violation anyway, plus no felon can remain a Mason. I don’t think of 1,700-year-old, largely nonsensical, church creeds as anymore binding than those Masonic oaths. Even if they were binding centuries ago, they’re not binding now. They’re simply a part of tradition that is becoming increasingly awkward.

I think of the creeds somewhat as I think of hymns that contain statements that no one takes literally. Like many hymns, the creeds pretend to be statements of personal conviction, but I think of creeds, hymns—and the liturgy as a whole—as more akin to a play. Some parts I like, and some parts I hate. Since I can’t do anything about the latter, my choices are to work with them, stay home, or be a Unitarian.

I doubt that anyone would know or care if I didn’t say the creeds, but I choose to say them because I consider them a part of the experience—of the play, as it were. My usual thought as I say them is that they’re musical and succinct, and that they represent a shared experience with the community by which I’m surrounded. 

I will continue to use metaphors liberally by saying that I regard going to church as like sitting by a waterfall. If someone were to come along and ask me whether I regarded the waterfall as true, the question wouldn’t fit the experience. Likewise, church isn’t a truth experience, in regard to rationality anyway, but an emotional, communal, reflective, and aesthetic experience. The fragrance of the wine takes me back to my childhood when I would return home from church and celebrate my own communion with Saltines and grape juice; the communion and the passing of the peace connects me to those around me; the sometimes ancient hymns reminds me that I’m partaking in a tradition against which my own lifespan is miniscule; Brent’s presence inspires me to be as open toward others as he has been toward me; the movements I perform enable me to feel like a participant rather than an audience member.

I’m experimenting with church, not to discover the truth about God, but to reconcile parts of myself that are in disharmony. If I could find another way to do this, I wouldn’t go to church, but there’s something there that I need, and as grossly imperfect as church is, I don’t know of another option. Even so, if I felt utterly alone in the Episcopal Church, I wouldn’t go. But as it is, I know there are others who have many of the same problems with the church that I do, yet they go because, like me, they find something there that they need. Will my attendance then be longterm? I have no idea. I have made no commitment, and any commitment that I tried to make would be meaningless.

18 comments:

lotta joy said...

I hope you didn't take offense at my comment, as it was said honestly from my own experiences with those in power in the church. So many were idiots with followers.

The very things in your childhood that you rebuked in adulthood are somehow giving you comfort in your present age. I had a horrific and abusive childhood, so anything that "takes me back" would be horrifying to re-experience.

So, as an adult you weren't rebuking the rituals themselves, as much as the forced meaning behind them.

This I understand. The yearning to go back to when we were innocent and with mythical beliefs. I'd feel the same if someone gave me my threadbare burlap bag full of my tonka trucks. I miss them.

Elephant's Child said...

I suspect Lotta Joy is right, and your childhood is part of the reason that you still seek to reconcile the quandaries and mysteries in yourself and life through the church. Or its rituals.
I grew up without exposure to religion and simply don't go there.
I do admire your continual search though - and wish you luck.

Stephen Hayes said...

Not long ago while traveling in Turkey I stumbled upon the sleepy little town of Nicaea. I hadn't thought of the Nicean Creed for decades but it all came flowing back to me as if I'd never forgotten it. I know you're a student of history and suppose you meant to write that the council was convened by Emperor Constantine, not Charlemagne who lived five hundred years later.

Other than the Creed, the Council was charged with determining which of the crucified so-called messiahs was the real one (there were dozens to choose from, and when exactly did the real Savior live? Since no one knew for sure, a scholarly monk named Dennis the Stout was given the task of setting the date for the birth of the real Son of God. No one knows how he chose, but Dec. 25th was finally accepted, probably because that day was already a holiday on the Roman calendar. I mention all this because it seems foolish to me for anyone to take this stuff seriously. Everything I need to know about spirituality comes from a movie I saw in high school called "Why Man Creates." We are all God in our unique ways. Anyone telling you differently is trying to sell you something. Take care, and pardon my rambling.

Snowbrush said...

"I hope you didn't take offense at my comment, as it was said honestly from my own experiences with those in power in the church. So many were idiots with followers."

I didn't take the least offense at your comment. People who rise to the top in organizations are not my favorite people either, partly because I don't expect anything from them but a defense of the same status quo that put them there. Brent said during one of his sermons that he could speak as he did because he had no ambition to be a bishop.

"The very things in your childhood that you rebuked in adulthood are somehow giving you comfort in your present age."

It's hard to say because the church of my childhood was so opposed to ritual and ornamentation that it didn't even have a cross--inside or out--which meant that the only ornamentation consisted of paintings on the cardboard fans given to us by funeral homes (country churches in Mississippi didn't have air conditioning back then). The ones I can recall at the moment were of Jesus knocking at a door, Jesus preaching on a hillside, Jesus praying at night, and Jesus carrying a lost lamb down a mountain path. What I get from the Episcopal Church--as far as the service is concerned--is largely that which I wanted but didn't have back then.

"I grew up without exposure to religion and simply don't go there."

Who knows how we might be different if you grew up as I did, and I grew up as you did. Of course, it's possible that we might feel similarly. Peggy's family was more religious than my own, and she has no bad memories because of it, yet she never went to church again--on her own initiative--after the day she left home to go away to college. I was actually the most consistently religious person in my family. My parents took me to church fairly often until we moved into town when I was ten, after which I often walked the three blocks between our house and church--at least for the Sunday night and Wednesday night services--their attendance being increasingly sporadic.

"I suspect Lotta Joy is right, and your childhood is part of the reason that you still seek to reconcile the quandaries and mysteries in yourself and life through the church. Or its rituals."

I agree that it's probably part of the reason.

"the council was convened by Emperor Constantine, not Charlemagne who lived five hundred years later."

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I knew Charlemagne didn't sound right, yet I didn't look it up, so I'm greatly appreciative that you pointed out my error. I LOVE to have my errors pointed out.

"No one knows how he chose, but Dec. 25th was finally accepted, probably because that day was already a holiday on the Roman calendar."

Saturnalia, I think. I guess that pretty much every culture that wasn't on the equator made a big deal out of the winter solstice, often with holidays that included the days before and after. My childhood church opposed the celebration of Christmas because of its "pagan origins," but everyone I knew celebrated it in their homes; they just didn't talk about it at church.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gotta do what you gotta do. Everyone has a different way of getting at his or her answers.

Strayer said...

I like to attend rock concerts. I haven't in a long long time, so I just pretend I'm at one now. I also love waterfalls. But church, um, no thanks. For many many reasons. But I'm not you and do what you want.

Paula Kaye said...

There is so much about being in church that I like...and so much that I don't like. I love the music, the peace, the church itself. I don't attend as much as I used to. I don't need to go to church to have my beliefs backed up. I like coming here to read what you have to say.

Joe Pereira said...

I'm not sure I understand what you are seeking Snow, or even why, but I am glad you share your thoughts with us. I suspect you are more enamoured with history than religion. Maybe the two are beginning to blend together., bleeding into one. Taking time to reflect by a waterfall, or even a mountain top, is to me, an essential respite from the daily grind of life, but in a church? But then again, I'm not into rituals and therefore not best equipped to comment on the matter. Good luck with your quest Snow,

Snowbrush said...

"I like to attend rock concerts... But church, um, no thanks."

I have never ran from a loud and crowded place screaming, but I've wanted to. If church were the least bit like a rock concert, I wouldn't go anywhere near it.

"I don't need to go to church to have my beliefs backed up."

It's my lack of belief that makes it difficult for me to go and to feel stupid when I do.

"I like coming here to read what you have to say"

That's the best compliment I can receive. You didn't say you agree or disagree, simply that you like to know, and that's the only thing that matters to me.

"I'm not sure I understand what you are seeking Snow"

I bust a gut trying to make it clear, but when it's not entirely clear in my own mind, I can hardly expect to succeed. Indeed, I write mostly because I don't know how else to seek clarity in my own mind.

"I suspect you are more enamoured with history than religion."

The two go well together.

"Taking time to reflect by a waterfall, or even a mountain top, is to me, an essential respite from the daily grind of life, but in a church?"

Time in the woods is a crucial part of my life too, the nearby woods being the only place on earth that I want to go so much that I feel driven to go there. Fortunately, I can drive an hour from this metro area of 300,000 and not see another person for two days. Even so, I don't know if I would ever go to the woods if I didn't have Peggy to go with because so much of my enjoyment comes from sharing the experience with her. Likewise, church isn't about me doing something alone but with others (though hardly with Peggy because she hates church). I went to high mass yesterday, which is on a Saturday evening. It's always an agreeably small service (I don't enjoy large services), and the music is provided by a harpist. Yesterday, she opened with Pachebel's Canon and closed with Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. You can't get that in the woods, and although waterfalls make music that is just as good, it's of a different sphere. Also, there's a discipline to mass. It's like a dance done in a beautiful architectural setting, a dance in which all the parts must come together. In the woods, I'm an observer; in church, I'm a participant. The woods are about nature; church is about people doing beautiful things in a created setting, and as you mentioned, it's also about continuity with the distant past. In the woods, I'm among 40-million year old rocks that are either igneous and were created locally, or sedimentary and were pushed up from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. In church, I take part in a ritual that originated 2,000 years ago. 40-million years is nothing to a rock, but 2,000 years is ancient to a person, so I actually get a greater feeling of antiquity in church. While nature has its drama, the drama is only there because of our interpretation, whereas the drama of church is inherent to our experience--it's FROM US in a way that the drama of nature is not. All that we are, of course, we are because of nature, but even so the experiences that we give one another are very different from the experiences we get from a setting that doesn't depend upon our existence.

rhymeswithplague said...

I have been marveling at your last three posts, which, when taken together, are nothing short of remarkable. I, however, have been struck mute (well, relatively muste) in awe and wonder.

No less a personage than St. James, who some think was the half-brother of Jesus Christ, said, "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14, English Standard Version) or "Your life is like the morning fog -- it’s here a little while, then it’s gone." (James 4:14, New Living Translation)

Maybe the journey IS the destination.

Not knowing exactly what to say, therefore, I will just leave it at that. I will still be reading now matter what changes your journey takes.

Snowbrush said...

"I have been marveling at your last three posts, which, when taken together, are nothing short of remarkable."

Thank you, but I don't know what this means from your perspective. I suspect that you take my latest church attendance as evidence that God is working upon my soul. I have also wondered--since you knew of my last two church experiences when they were happening--if you're ever surprised that I'm so open with ministers and churchgoers about my atheism. So far, to my relief, none have tried to argue me out of it (and therefore wasted my time if not theirs), but then I only go to liberal churches where most people would view any attempt to argue someone out of atheism to be in bad taste. That aside, I would hate to fly under false colors, although this doesn't mean that I have to make a point of sharing it with everyone I meet.

"St. James, who some think was the half-brother of Jesus Christ"

My understanding is that James was probably his full brother, but Catholics and others who are invested in believing that Mary lived and died a virgin can't allow that he was more than a half-brother. I don't suppose you are not among them though.

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14..."

Or as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it (somewhat more to my liking): "All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." As you know, the musical group Kansas make a good song out of the passage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH2w6Oxx0kQ

"Maybe the journey IS the destination."

There's even a book by the name. I think you're probably right, yet Christianity is more often spoken of in terms of "believe, and you shall be saved," which suggests a greater concern with one's future welfare than with what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. This raises the question of whether it's God most Christians love, or rather what they hope to get from God. Perhaps by not believing in God, I'm able to be selfish with a better conscience (I'm only referring to matters of religion) than I otherwise would, because if I did believe, not just in God, but in the New Testament as his inspired word, verses like "deny yourself for me," and "sell all that you have and give the money to the poor" would be a horrible thorn in my side. I really don't know how believers live with such "hard sayings."

"I will still be reading now matter what changes your journey takes."

I am relieved to hear this as you often speak of your energy for blogging as being on the wane. It's too early to know for sure, but I worry that i have lost Phillip. I wouldn't write as I do if I were excessively concerned with offending my readers, but I do grieve when those to whom I become attached to leave. I was thinking this morning that of the readers who were devoted to my blog six years ago (I date my blog as pre-Renee and pre-Nollyposh and post-Renee and post-Nollyposh (them being readers who died about six years ago), very few remain.

Linda said...

I was told not to return to a Southern Baptist Church became I made people cry. They badger me about what I believe, do I believe in god, if I died tonight, do I know where I would spend eternity, where?.

So, I turn it around and ask what they believe, etc. They tell me they are asking me and they do not have to answer to me. ???WHAT?

I hate Southern Baptists!

I will not go to any church that demands I make my innermost feelings known. They were without a minister at the time, so I have been biding my time until a new one is well-ensconced and talk to him and the organization of the Southern Baptists.

They said if I showed up at their doors, I had not right or expectation of being left alone.

PhilipH said...

Dear Snowy, I've been elsewhere the last few days and have only just seen your post.

I should NOT have been so blunt when I commented last time; it is not useful or sensible to be so brutally frank so please forgive me for this.

After your fall from that ladder and the pain, physical and financial, that you've had to contend with AND the worrying depression that came through to me from some of your writing I was genuinely concerned that life was becoming intolerable at times. I was, perhaps, reading between the lines but that's what I felt.

One gets to 'know' quite well those writers one meets on this medium and some become a bit more than just a type of 'Facebook friend'. Nolly Posh Dreaming was one that I dearly loved; so did you I think. Her death was deeply felt by me, among many others. I consider you just the same and my concern for your well-being is true.

There is no way that I would miss any of your writing. You are too good to miss, and that's a fact.

Just before writing this comment I was replying to another excellent writer: Jim Murdoch and I think you would enjoy the article here

http://bit.ly/1nOXx4Z

Take care Snowy; stay just as you are and keep those posts a-coming.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I hope you find peace in your seeking Snow!

Snowbrush said...

"I hate Southern Baptists!"

I hate the denomination, but to hate the Baptists themselves would be to hate about one-third of the people in your area. When Peggy's mother died, her preacher backed out of her funeral the day before (he was leaving the area and simply didn't care to fulfill his obligation) and left it to his wife to tell Peggy's father. After a lifetime of commitment--and tithing--to the Southern Baptist denomination, her father had to get a preacher from the Christian Church to preach his wife's funeral. I complained via letter to everyone I could find to complain to all the way to the top, and not a single person even bothered to respond. Also, the one time I visited a Southern Baptist church, I found it among the unfriendliest of churches I had ever visited. If you're white, to be a Baptist in the South is simply to be a member of the status quo, so it says nothing about one's commitment to religion.

"I should NOT have been so blunt..."

The only thing that struck me was when you said you felt sorry for me, and I couldn't tell if you meant it in sympathy or contempt. I encourage people to say what they think, so I can't complain when they do so long as they don't go on the attack, which I didn't feel that you did. But even if you had, religion is something you feel strongly about, and it's something you and I usually agree on, so I'm not surprised you would have a strong opinion about me going to church. When someone is critical of me, I try to think about what they're saying in order to see if it has any information that I can benefit from, but I rarely take it personally, because if all or part of the persons' point is true about me, then that's to my benefit, but the emotion the person is experiencing is about them rather than me, so there's really nothing for me to get upset about. I'm not saying I'm impervious, but that I have gotten pretty good over time with not fretting about people's unhappiness with me. Another thought that I try to hold onto is that responses to a blogpost are themselves written and posted within a matter of seconds or minutes, so we all sometimes say things in a way that is different from how we would have said them if we could do it over. My only concern was that you were so upset that you were gone from my blog, and I would have missed you. Being upset is one thing, leaving a friendship is quite another, and I do feel badly about that because every time it happens, I
miss the person, wonder why I didn't foresee the possibility of such a betrayal long in advance, and come away from the experience a little less trusting.

Snowbrush said...

"I was genuinely concerned that life was becoming intolerable at times."

Last winter just go worse and worse, and I didn't write about the half of it simply because I was too far gone to think clearly. I couldn't keep things in perspective; I met with some astounding callousness--and actual cruelty--that was very hard for me to rise above; it was winter in Oregon, which meant that the sky was never lighter than gray and that it rained almost continually except when it snowed. The lights went out for a week following a heavy snow, so my CPAP wouldn't work, and I needed to shovel snow off the roof, but I had a broken back and couldn't do it, etc. Then, you might recall that I crushed my thumb, couldn't get to doctors' appts because of the snow (most winters, we get no snow here), and really needed help but didn't want to ask for it. I also had the large kidney cyst that looked like it might require surgery, plus it looked like I might have prostate cancer. Even so, I maintained a semblance of sanity until I stopped taking the Fentanyl. I had had no idea how much the drug was helping my pain level and my mood, so when I went off it, I went into withdrawal, and therefore an emotional tailspin, and then, of course, the pain hit me like a 2x4, destroying my last semblance of optimism and coping ability. I had actually thought I was healing well until the pain hit, and then I felt that I was really fucked and might always be really fucked. Peggy came home one day with a story about a patient's husband who had a similar fall and ended up a quadriplegic, so I knew things could in theory be a lot worse, but my mood could hardly have been worse. Even so, I had Peggy to think of, so suicide wasn't an option, but at times I wished it were. Now, I'm still in a lot of pain both with my old problems and with my recent back problems. I live on a diet of drugs, and see no end in sight.

"You are too good to miss, and that's a fact."

Thank you.

"I hope you find peace in your seeking Snow!"

As they say in church: "Peace be with you." "And also with you."

PhilipH said...

Actually Snowy I love going to church myself - but not if there is a service going on.

When I worked in Custom House in London I spent most of my lunch break in a lovely church nearby for the peaceful feel of it and a few other reasons as described in a piece I wrote some while ago:
http://bit.ly/1qlYPca

One of my favourite personalities and poet is John Betjeman, sadly no longer with us. He loved old churches, railway stations and trains and so do I. I will always try to enter a church if I find one, especially in a country area. Old heritage railway stations and the steam locos they have make my day. It's all potty nostalgia of course but so what.

Therefore Snowy I hope this makes sense to you. Good luck. Phil.

Snowbrush said...

"Actually Snowy I love going to church myself - but not if there is a service going on."

It's a considerable source of sorrow for me that churches here aren't typically open anymore because spending time in them while they were empty used to mean a lot to me. Peggy and I visited the small chapel in a Christian Church one night while we were dating, and as we sat there, we had a very odd experience. Neither of us had ever had experienced anything like it--and we haven't again--so we certainly weren't expecting to all of a sudden simultaneously feel as if we were rushing out of ourselves and into the other. We both jumped, drew back, and, when we had caught out breaths, wondered what in the hell had happened. We still don't know, and this is the first time, to my knowledge, that either of us has mentioned the experience in the intervening 43 years.

"I hope this makes sense to you."

So far, you've always made sense to me.