Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, December 30, 2002 4:02 pm

Dancing whistling in the dark

Filed under: Religion — Lex @ 4:02 pm

This past summer I was privileged to lead a discussion group at my church on the book “Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary,” by the theologian Fredrick Buechner. I have always been a little puzzled not only about how common doubt is in Christianity but also about how unwilling most Christian communities are to discuss it. It’s like the elephant over in the corner that nobody talks about. And for good reason: A lot of Christians try to deny the existence of doubt or to put the blame for doubt on the doubter: If you doubt, then you must not be trying hard enough to shed yourself of whatever pride, vanity or other flaw is preventing you from believing. (At least one of those people spoke up, albeit very politely, in this very session I was moderating.) This is so even though orthodox Christianity — and particularly the more conservative manifestations of it, which get most of the media attention — seems to demand of its adherents belief in a number of things that are literally unbelievable, in the sense that millions of people simply cannot accept them no matter how hard they want to and try to.

Other than Buechner, the first published account I’d stumbled across that attempted in any way to wrestle with this conundrum turned out also to be the first blog I’ve come across that purports to be written by a Christian minister. It’s called “Real Live Preacher,” and it’s like nothing you’d probably expect from a Protestant pastor with a blog. Here’s a sample:

Turns out Christianity is an Eastern religion. The earliest Christians were Hebrews. Semites. People of the East. They did not know how to separate mind from body. They were holistic before holistic was cool.

In our world we have separated mind from body to our great loss. Here a man may betray his wife and neglect his children, but say he loves them “down inside”.

B——-. There is no “down inside.” Love is something you do, not something you feel.

Likewise, we think having faith means being convinced God exists in the same way we are convinced a chair exists. People who cannot be completely convinced of God’s existence think faith is impossible for them.

Not so. People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

I learned that it doesn’t matter in the least that I be convinced of God’s existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don’t even know how the VCR works.

What does matter is whether or not I am faithful. I think faithful is a hell of a good word. It still has some of its original shine. It still calls us to action.

Once I stumbled upon this very old truth, I prayed the most honest prayer of my life:

“God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.

I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.”

That’s it. I pushed all my chips across the table. The preacher bet it all. Why? Because the idea that there is a God who cares for us busts my heart wide open. Because I pushed reason as far as it can go but I wanted to go farther still. Because I wanted to, and… well… I just wanted to.

I’m an idiot and out of my mind, and I don’t care who knows it. Sue me.

I don’t agree with this guy on every last theological point he makes, but I think he’s worth reading because he’ll make Christianity understandable to many people who’ve never been able to wrap themselves around it and because he treats respectfully the hard questions and the people who ask them. I ran into people like him during the three years I covered religion for the N&R during the late 1990s, and doing so was one of the finest perks of the job.

Now, go ye and do likewise.

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