Postcard to Reality: Wish you were here! (Love Always, My Dumb Religion)

Y’all don’t even know what belief even means.

Greetings, haters! Much love to you. I’m here to correct you about your incorrect beliefs about what belief even means. After you’re done reading this, you’ll understand everything and we’ll all be laughing and slapping each other on the back and smoking a peace pipe. That is my guarantee to you, and it is ironclad. Follow along if you dare.

You think I actually, literally, unquestioningly think Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t, silly. Nobody does.

We’re all human here, we all have the ability to think. It’s a story, folks. We Christ followers just immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus rising from the dead, and God flooding the planet because humanity was ruining his happy time, and all the way back to that whole bit about the Garden of Eden with the talking snake and the disobedience of Adam and Eve, because all of this gives us a common mythos to stand on and rally around and do right by the world and love one another.

“Hold up,” say my fellow Christ followers. “What is this, are you some kind of turncoat?

Are you selling us out? Vile witch! Infiltrator! Liar! Sellout! Cruel, cruel deceiver! Uncharitable destroyer of the church! Lukewarm hipster!”

Great, now nobody understands me. I’ve just doubled my workload. Now I have to correct two sets of beliefs about what belief even means. This is like whack-a-mole. That’s okay, I’m up to the task. You too, dear fellow Christ followers, will soon understand all there is to know about the nature of belief.

How can a man both subscribe to the stories in the bible and yet call them mere stories? I’ll tell you how.

How many movies have you watched in this lifetime? How many books have you read? Don’t answer that second question, I’m not here to depress myself over the state of education.

Anyway, how many? And how do you speak of those stories when you describe them to other people? “So and so, he’s an FBI agent, right, and he’s got to stop a bomb from going off, so he cancels his dinner with the president and gears up for some radical action.” You speak of the character as if he is real, as if the events are really occurring. You don’t really believe the things are actually happening, but your mind works in such a way that you speak of it as if it were in the very same plane of existence you bodily inhabit.

Follow so far? How many of you have I lost? None? Great!

You’re a great class, love you guys. So, now that I know you’re up to the task, I’m going to raise the bar a bit. You got your thinking caps on? Fantastic. I can already tell you’re going to ace the midterm.

When enjoying fiction, you use your imagination to immerse yourself in the experience. There’s no other way to do it. In theater, they call this the “suspension of disbelief“. You think and act as if it were real. And in a way, it is real: There are moral dilemmas in drama, there are representations of love and hate, there is comedy and tragedy and sometimes even adventure. These are all things that occur in real life, and so when they occur in the movies, we can insert ourselves into the story, even if the events themselves are made-up.

That’s how it is with the bible. Don’t lie, that’s exactly how it is.

If it were otherwise, then the bible would have nothing to say about our existence. If it didn’t speak to eternal themes that we have physically experienced in the course of our lifetime, then we wouldn’t be interested in the bible at all. It speaks to us on the level of the soul, even while supplying a certain escapist fictional account.

The stories the bible tells are just the clothing on those fundamental human experiences.

Daniel in the lion’s den, the parting of the Red Sea, the war between Satan and God over the fealty of Job, the healings of Jesus, every story in the bible — they are just the colors painted onto the exterior of the house of the human heart. We Christ followers rally around these stories because they provide a common text, a common tongue, through which we can come to view and understand life and everything.

We speak of these stories as if they are real, and we commit to speaking these stories and professing belief in them. But why? Why must we carry on this charade? I tell you now that this is no charade. This is storytelling at its most serious. We live our lives as if these stories are real, and we rarely speak openly of the truth that they are fanciful, because if we did that — if we constantly placed it in the open as I am now doing — we might lose the incredibly powerful binds that keep us together as a family.

(Incidentally, the word “religion” is, according to some scholars, etymologically related to a word meaning “to bind fast”, as in to connect to a deity. This position has shifted to imply a connection to other believers, i.e., the church. There is a biblical basis for this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” [1 Corinthians 12:27, New International Version].)

Belief is not the same as credulity, folks.

Belief is when you jump with both feet into the story, and then let the walls of the story grow, and grow, and grow, until it fills up your entire life. You become a character in the story, and you run your life by the inner logic of that story. There’s a reality that exists within ours, and while that reality may be made up, it has the ability to act on our souls in such a way as to make us live our larger reality better, with greater love, with greater motivation, with greater and greater levels of commitment to doing right.

There is no way around it: The human mind depends on stories.

We embrace and fully commit to the stories that improve us — and not necessarily just the ones that can be seen through a telescope or under a microscope. As far as our interface with reality is concerned (the study of which is called phenomenology), the only thing we have going for us is stories.

When we allow ourselves to trade places with those stories, placing ourselves inside them instead of placing them inside us, we become enveloped in a worldview that protects us and guides us. Let us not view this as heresy, but as a deepening of our understanding of the supernatural miracle of the human experience.

Whatever your mythos — be it a fanatical adherence to observable phenomena or the warm, milky bliss of high adventure and morally ambiguous plotlines as found in the bible and other religious texts — I encourage you to embrace your mythos with all your might.

This, ladies and gentlemen, has nothing to do with what is “accurate”.

It has nothing to do with correctness. This issue is far more important. It has to do with why we give a damn, it has to do with what fills us with joy, with volition, with authentic human emotions. We’re nothing without our stories.

Gaze through your telescopes, dear friends.

Investigate the innermost secrets of the most fundamental particles and waves of the physical world. Vivisect the universe. Apply your sciences to the improvement of your fellow man. Follow curiosity down the infinite path. Engage your entire mind. Do not relent.

At the same time, please get completely absorbed in your mythos of choice. Speak of it as if. Throw both arms around it and squeeze tightly. Your stories are, for lack of better adjectives, holy, sacred, beautiful, powerful, and mad, mad, mad in the highest and most glorious sense of the word.

The world is upside down and backwards.

Belief is who we are. It is beautiful. It is mysterious. We shall never know everything, for our minds are smaller than the whole world, but we can embrace everything through the beliefs that nurse our souls.

I believe our souls come from God. We are oceans within oceans derived from oceans. This I believe. And now it is my turn to fully embrace my mythos. It is my turn to submit to the specific at the expense of orderly objectivity. I lay down my arrogant robes. I am not superior to my fellows who need to inhabit stories. I must humble myself to the inescapable call to belief.

Just as I would never disrespect, say, a native American’s belief in Wakantanka, 

or an Australian aborigine’s Dream Time, I shall not hate myself for living inside of the specific brand of beauty my own culture offers. I shall state my commitment as it is stated by the creed of my spiritual leaders:

I believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,

he suffered death and was buried,

and rose again on the third day

in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead

and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins

and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t agree with reciting that last part about the “one church”. I don’t mindlessly embrace everything my ruling institutions decree. But I think you understand me now: I don the larger story and take ownership of it.

May your stories lift you into the heavens.

May you look with grace upon those who earnestly profess beliefs you reject, and may you suspect that they may in fact know a little something you don’t. May we all be kind towards one another as we live this short, bizarre physical existence of ours.

Science isn’t going away, and neither is religion.

We must reconcile these forces within us. Let us embrace not cognitive dissonance but cognitive harmony. Let us recognize the vastness of our own minds and of our own ability to sustain multiple realities simultaneously, and let us never, ever be afraid either to think or to believe.

And now your thinking has been corrected, and now there will be world peace starting now. Ahem. Er, Amen.

6 thoughts on “Postcard to Reality: Wish you were here! (Love Always, My Dumb Religion)

    • Oh I certainly don’t expect that you’ll change your mind due to some silly blog post that I write! Just as I’m sure you’ll not expect me to change my mind due to your disagreement. I only wish to advance understanding. Rather than asking, “What am I against?” I am opting to ask, “What am I for?” And always appreciate same from other people. For example, Bob, you recently wrote on my Facebook wall that life is about “balance”. I liked that and it lent me insight into your way of thinking. Now, granted, you did say, all one needs is balance. I didn’t so much understand that. After all, I don’t believe you shall ever hear me saying all you need is Christ — because that would, in effect, be exclusive, would it not? I am for fairness, and I welcome your thoughts. That you may have issues with mine is beyond my ability to control. I wish you a nice day. (Please note the effort towards diplomacy, as I note yours.)

      • I guess my biggest question is, “why Christianity?” As soon as one person aligns with one religion, are you not admitting that all others are in some way wrong? It makes a lot more sense to be what I would call “spiritual”. Accepting of a higher power, something else in control of a greater idea, something beyond our comprehension. I feel the fact that most religions share similar stories in their backgrounds leads me to believe they are all true. So why align one’s self with just one?

        • Those are excellent questions, Bob. I have answered such questions before on this blog (in fact I think you can do a search for “why christianity” in the search box below and you’ll find some of my thoughts on the matter), but maybe I’ll just ponder the questions from a fresh perspective for awhile before I answer. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with something new. Also before I answer, can I assume your questions derive from a genuine desire to know what my answer is, even if it threatens to accidentally change your mind about something? I want to answer, but I wouldn’t want us to just pridefully knock heads together so that we’re bruised and none the wiser.

          • I’m fairly certain my mind won’t be changed on the subject of believing in God or not. I’m far more interested in your change, and figuring out what happened. I do have to go and read the couple blogs I missed, might answer some of my questions. I have absolutely no desire to convert you back to the way you believed before, much like I would hope you have no desire to bible bang me to heaven.

            I guess my question of “why christianity” was directed at you, but was more directed at everyone.

            Have you started going to church? If so, what does it make you feel like inside when you attend the services.

            You have a pretty unique situation from my stand point and you had similar view points on the outlook on the religion concept as I did, and now you have “flipped”. On top of that, you are more than willing to talk about it openly, and that is the absolute best part of it.

            P.S. I’m not getting email updates when you reply, which is why it’s taking me so long to get back.

            • Pretty much everything you post on your own Facebook wall about religion, I pretty much agree with. So that’s something for you to ponder. It certainly is interesting that anyone should choose a specific religion as their identity. I have chosen the Christ figure as my deity, and it brings me comfort. Plus the bible is hilarious and wonderful with all its crazy stories. I mean if I were to pit the bible against any other text in terms of sheer entertainment value, I figure the bible would win hands down. So part of why I chose Christianity was because it’s fun. Really! That’s probably weird but so am I. I don’t worry too much about it. I figure Christ had a good sense of humor, even if the bible forgot to say, “And then he laughed his head off over these fools.”

              The other main thing I’ll say for now is, no, I haven’t rejected anything else I appreciate. Yeah, I suppose you’ll run into a lot of people who want to tell you you can only have Christ and if you’re interested in anything else then you’re dumb or going to hell or something. Even the Nicene Creed, the Catholic church’s statement of belief, says “I believe in one church, the catholic church.” Um, no thanks, Catholic church. I like a lot of the other stuff though.

              Oh and yeah, I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to be able to pick and choose. Nobody is purely anything, let alone purely Christian. That would be impossible anyway because there are so many contradictions built in to the bible. I don’t think we’re supposed to take it as some kind of recipe for perfection. It’s a story, a strange story full of surreal things. Not everything makes sense, but that’s not important to me.

              I think you understand me and agree with me, but the fact that I still use the identity of Christian is kind of blurring the fact that we actually agree. We have to let go of these hangups about identity, don’t you think? There’s even a passage in the gospels where someone asks Christ what the greatest commandment is. Know what Christ replied? He said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.

              The “all our mind” bit is interesting, and I think a lot of Christians miss that. Love with the whole mind means embrace all the contradictions that the human mind presents, I’d say. You’d be surprised how many truly free-thinking Christians are out there. Even my pastor (I did indeed join a church, to my surprise and amusement — hey, I’m just following the calls of God here [or instinct or whatever you wanna call it]) wrote a book called “Pharisectomy”. He basically spends the whole book talking about how the church has kind of become the exact same as the Pharisees back in the day.

              The Pharisees were completely obsessed with the written laws that they just made up, instead of embracing the spirit of brotherhood and harmony that the religion was supposed to be in the first place. Now in modern times, a lot of people are going away from the church because of all these modern Pharisees. s a result, churches are changing. The religion is changing. People like me who come to the Christ figure tend to just want to immerse ourselves in all the strange wonder of it, even as we keep both eyes open and call bullshit when we see it.

              There will always be “purist” Christians who think their Christian way is the only Christian way. But you know what’s even wilder to me? A lot of atheists are even more dogmatic than them. They want to tell Christians they’re not really Christians if they do things a certain way. So we got Pharisees on both sides of the supernatural thinking divide. I think it’s kinda funny.

              Anyway. I’m glad you’re you, Bob. Stay you. As you read through my blog, I think you’ll come to understand why I did this. Or rather, why it did this to me. It’s pretty fuckin’ beautiful from where I’m standing. :)

              Edit: I just wanna add, Bob, that I appreciate you. You’re a nice guy. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. Remember when what’s-her-name and you were commenting on my photo on FB and you were kind of agreeing with each other? Well the thing is, the way you were saying things maybe a tiny bit annoying once or twice, just a tad, but you exuded gentleness. But her, man, she was pretty mean. She just oozed hostility. She called me some really nasty names the other day, just outta nowhere, and I don’t know what’s up with that, but I can’t fix her so I had to block her. Anyway the only reason I tell you this is to illustrate how I think you’re a nice guy: You can disagree or whatever but you’re kind. That’s all anyone ever needs to be. The rest is completely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. Live and let live.

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