A respondent to an article written elsewhere wrote, ’With the passion about this topic that you write with, for an “ex-Christian” I sense a sprinkling of your past Christian beliefs coming through strongly, are you sure you don’t still believe…”
That got me to thinking about where I actually am coming from in that regard. I responded to the effect that belief (or lack thereof) had nothing to do with respect, nor with criticism based on personal knowledge and training. While true enough, that doesn’t really explain my rather convoluted relationship with Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
First, I need to say that while I have a great many problems with some so-called Christians, I have the utmost respect for the body of teachings attributed to Jesus, just as I have for the teachings of Mohammad, Moses, Confucius, the Hindu mystics and the other great buddhas1 of history. The later interpretations by more common men have caused innumerable problems in the world, but the original lessons themselves–lovingkindness, peaceful coexistence, non-violence and the other guidelines for living a good life–have changed very little in their various interpretations over the centuries. They were, are, and will remain useful tools for living with others, and with oneself.
I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition–rather thoroughly. My mother, a widow, was a small-town priest’s housekeeper, and he was the closest thing to a real father that I remember. Not the healthiest man emotionally, he nonetheless tried his best to provide the fathering that he believed my younger brother and I needed, and mostly did a pretty good job of it. He showed us gentleness, and how to give to others, demonstrating by example that these were the ways life ought to be lived, not just lip-service to some unreachable ideal.
I did the altar boy/Boy Scouts sponsored by the parish/CCD route, worked around the church grounds to earn pocket money, and generally had a great time during my small-town adolescence. Like most Catholic kids of my generation, I toyed with the idea of a vocation to the religious life–until I discovered the difference between boys and girls. That took care of celibacy.
Many of the trappings of organized religion, however, failed to make sense to me. Not wanting to insult anyone who has found their own path in that direction, I’ll say no more than to remark that it never really fit. Unlike many “fallen-away” Catholics I had no trauma associated with my religious upbringing, and bear no resentment toward the church nor its teachings. Their failure to “take” spared me the guilt–and compensating rejection and resentment–that often accompany apostasy.
Nonetheless, I majored in anthropology, with a minor in comparative religion. In that respect, the apple fell not far from the tree. Over the years I looked at a great many paths. During the same period I suffered with increasing addictive disease–alcohol primarily, in my case–and the arrogance that goes along with that syndrome. That prevented me from looking in the old, tried-and-true places for spiritual succor–indeed, from admitting that I needed it at all. Only after becoming sober and receiving some guidance in facing reality from my 12-step program was I able to look again at my spiritual life (not to be confused with religion) and see in what direction my path had been leading me.
I have recently begun to use the term NeoChristian. To me, this refers to people who purport to follow Christianity (which I understand means following the path laid out by The Christ) but instead cleave to a mishmash of beliefs that take their meaning from the Old Testament and some of the more apocryphal books of the New, such as the Revelations of John the Divine. Far from being followers of Jesus, they use these writings to justify behavior and attitudes that are diametrically at variance with the teachings of Christianity’s founder. It is with these heretics that I have the problems mentioned above.
As to the way I write about such matters, you will discover that I show nothing but the greatest respect for the Great Teachers. My attitudes toward the current crop of spiritual dropouts are a different matter.
1“Buddha” is Sanskrit for “enlightened one.” It refers to men and women who have perfected the ways of living a reality-based life, and has nothing whatever to do with gods, nor much to do–directly–with religion.