Tuesday, October 15, 2002
I've noticed that a significant number of atheists out there are of the embittered kind, the sort who don't so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him. Of course, this isn't really atheism, since while it professes to disbelieve in God, it secretly acknowledges Him. I know that this is the way these embittered atheists think, because it's the way I thought when I was one. Life appears to suck, and there was nothing I could do about it. If God had made the world in such a way that I, Robert Bauer, was forced to suffer hardship, then He obviously wasn't someone worth my time. Oh, I knew He existed, such as when I railed against him personally in thoughts and even my (ironic) prayers. "If you love me, why do you make me suffer? You're not my friend; since I can't do anything physically to you, I'm going to deny your existence, just out of spite. That'll show you!" I would sometimes imagine God as different forms suitable to my will, such as at one point when I decided that God must be like the Supreme Court and be a tribunal of many gods. They could sometimes make mistakes, and that's why I suffered. Of course, they weren't worth worshipping, since they were obviously no better than I was, but merely obeying. I moved on, settling for a while on trying to prove God didn't exist by blaspheming and saying that since I wasn't struck down, God obviously didn't exist, since He didn't even have the power to stop a kid from telling what would be lies. After that, I moved into a sort of detente, where I didn't think about God at all. I decided that I would just do my best with what I'd been taught, and that a just God couldn't possibly condemn me for doing my best.
However, I was troubled and I was unhappy. I was troubled because I knew something was missing, and I was unhappy because I didn't have a refuge when the world got to me. Noticing that my Christian friends seemed to be more content than other people, I wondered if perhaps the something I was missing was the refuge I needed. I'd been baptized Episcopalian and the services I'd gone to were all at Episcopal churches, so I figured I'd use that as my home base while examining all the religions I could find and seeing which one seemed the best to me. I made the possible mistake of mentioning this to one of my Mormon friends, and before I knew it, I had missionaries at my door. Being naive, I talked to them and even went to some services at their church, though I fastidiously refused to take Communion. This was, firstly, because I wasn't actually a Mormon, and secondly, because there seemed to me something odd about taking bread crusts and water as Communion. I suppose this was more of an aspect of being from an Episcopalian background, but it still seemed wrong. I read some of the Book of Mormon, which was more-or-less innocuous enough, though the account of its discovery didn't seem all that plausible to me. I also went to Sunday school, which also was fairly normal, and may have even passed muster with Christian denominations. However, I also began looking into the actual doctrines myself, and noticed that there was some funky stuff going on. According to the Mormons, among other things, all men could become Gods and God (YHWH) had a wife and a body. This didn't square with what I knew to be in the Bible at all. I also noticed that the leaders seemed a little...off...to me. I'm not sure if they were devious or merely complacent/brainwashed, but the combination of things appalled me, and I resolved to give up on the Mormons. They're good people and tend to be very moral, but their basis is wrong, and thus I don't believe they're on the right track. I also don't think of them as Christians, though they're about as close as you can get without actually being classified as such.
After that freakout, I decided to go to Episcopal services and learn about Protestantism, since the parts I already was familiar with there were acceptable to me theologically. Being an Episcopalian, though, I had a bit of leeway in what I could believe. Looking at the Bible, I decided that Jesus was a great teacher and moralist, but that I didn't buy the whole Son of God thing, except in perhaps the same way that each of us is a son of God (I'm still a little weak on my understanding of Jesus, but not as much as I was then). I found out that this was called Arianism, and revelled in the fact that I was a Christian outside the Catholic-derived mainstream. Around this time, I started reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, but put it on hiatus when I got to the part about Jesus being God's Son. I read up on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, between the various Protestant denominations, and decided that the differences between Protestants were pretty minor, and that even the differences between Protestants and Catholics weren't that bad, except for that wretched popery and Mariolatry. I was, though I didn't know it, firmly in the Evangelical camp at that point, and judged Christian doctrines explicitly on whether or not they were based on what the Bible seemed to say.
This conversion (or maybe just de-lapsing) started during 11th grade, and we're now near the end of 12th grade. I continued going to the local Episcopal church and to Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings until graduation. I was starting to be a little uneasy, however, given that ECUSA (Episcopal Church, USA, which is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, which is all those churches in communion with Canterbury) seemed to be a little iffy in its biblical interpretation and willingness to be governed by the wishes of parishioners and not the Bible, and that furthermore I didn't think that priests were needed, since Christ was supposed to be our High Priest. When I got to Virginia Tech, I was horrified to discover that the local Episcopal church had a female priest, and consequently never attended services there. There was an Anglican Catholic church in town, though, and it turns out that they were part of a schism from ECUSA. I did go to services there, and while they seemed theologically sound, I didn't like them socially. Firstly, of the few parishioners, none were younger than 40, and most were much older. Also, the priest did things like insult the Baptists by name during his sermon, and that doesn't fly with me. I considered going to New Life Campus Fellowship and went to a Campus Crusade for Christ service, but I'd been raised in the old style, and contemporary services shocked me. From what I heard, though I confess I wasn't in a very sympathetic mood, it seemed as though they emphasized the gifts of being a Christian and didn't speak enough about the responsibilities.
Thus, it was time to go the low-church route and check out the Methodists. Services were nice, but I finally decided that the Anglican theological view (as opposed to ECUSA's practices) was more correct. I also decided that while the Methodist liturgy was accurate, it wasn't very beautiful, and didn't seem solemn enough for me (I also got sick of hearing grape juice, as directly opposed to wine, being constantly called "the unfermented juice of the grape"). However, I didn't have a car, and thus Anglican services weren't within my range. I had gotten a Christian ska CD, and, liking it, finally decided to break down and go and at least see what NLCF had to say. I dressed up, as I was accustomed to, having been raised Episcopalian and all, and sat near the exit so I could retreat if things started getting too weird for me. I'll admit that I disapproved of people coming to church in t-shirts, but stayed for the entire service. I was sort-of lost for a lot of the time, but I made it though, and found that I actually liked it. The people seemed sincere but not brainwashed, and while I didn't like the idea of their not dressing up for services, I decided that this wasn't a major problem, and that so long as they were glorifying God, everything was okay.
Over the summer, I went to England, and availed myself of the opportunity to go to services in Anglican churches and especially in cathedrals. On one hand, through the liturgy and solemnity, I felt like I was finding that peaceful refuge I'd been seeking, though I didn't really like the lack of evangelism and the liberal attitudes of many of the clergy. When I returned to America, I remembered hearing about Anglican Mission in America, which was a mission from Evangelical provinces to provide an Anglican alternative to ECUSA. I liked, and still like, NLCF, but it lacks the solemnity and dignity that a staid (yeah, I know, it doesn't seem like it if you know me) person like me needs. I think of it as being more like a pep rally, which is good for many things but does leave a few things out. Looking online, I found that there was an AMiA parish in nearby Roanoke, and attended services at Church of the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. To my delight, the services were contemporary and friendly. I was a few minutes late, and when I asked one of the ushers what I could do to minimize my disturbing the singing of those already inside, I was told "oh honey, you couldn't disturb those people!" which was exactly the kind of response I needed. Contemporary songs, instead of the (bad) traditional hymns were used, and the priest felt free to make jokes during his sermon while still keeping it serious. I noticed that there were kneeling benches (a personal favorite of mine), and that there was the due solemnity and dignity during Communion. People were sincere, the music was good, and I'd found that refuge I'd been looking for. It also helped that instead of having the glad-handing during the middle of the service, which is awkward, they simply ended by asking us to greet those around us, which would've given me a quick exit if I'd wanted it. I stayed for a few minutes, and the people I talked to were enthusiastic without seeming forced or creepy.
I think I've found (or at least know where to find) my beliefs. I can't deny that God exists. I've always secretly known, and now that I look back, I see that all the things I suffered in the past have made me a stronger person now. I also find that I'm an Anglican, as opposed to a Protestant or Catholic, in thought. I think that baptism and communion are necessary sacraments, though I feel that the rest of the Catholic sacraments are merely useful, and not actually required. I also prefer the liturgy, though I disagree with the doctrines of papal infallibility or the praying for the intercession of saints. I also don't think that priests have any more authority than anyone else. It seems to me that if the Pope, an Orthodox Patriarch, Billy Graham, my parish priest, and I all blessed some bread and wine with equal sincerity, all that bread and wine would be equally blessed and suitable for Communion. However, while I agree with the Protestant tenet that it is faith and not works that get you into heaven, I add the caveat that the one work of actually having faith is necessary first. I'm not a Calvinist, and don't believe that some of us are predetermined to go to heaven, though I do think that different people face different challenges and will be judged based on how well they do in regards to those challenges, and not in who does the most good work.
To be fair, I've also looked at Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. When looking at Judaism, I just can't help but see that Christ is the promised Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, and that Christianity is therefore the logical continuation of Judaism. I put Islam in the same camp as Mormonism. Neither the Koran nor the Book of Mormon convince me that they are the authentic Word of God. To be sure, they have some good ideas, but those alone do not make a book divinely inspired. Buddhism is actually very similar to Christianity, but its tragic flaw is that it denies a God separate from us. Every fiber of my being tells me that this isn't the case, and that just from looking at the world, the Bible's view is correct. Close, but no cigar. Hinduism is nice, but I don't see any evidence for actual reincarnation. Furthermore, karma would seem to imply that everything happens because it was preordained to do so, and that therefore we can do nothing to get to heaven or avoid hell. I just don't buy that.
I'm sure that I've offended and/or bored anyone who's made it this far, but it does feel good to finally say all this.