Life After Church
A friend asked me the other day why I don’t go to church anymore. It’s been years, and very few people have asked that. He told me how useful going to church was to him, and wondered why I’d forgo such benefits. Fair enough. Here’s why.
Church was about feeling loved by God and a family. Well, I generally feel loved by the One Most High, church or no church. And I feel that, to be loved by family, you’re required to tow the family line. All families are like that.
And towing the line is the easiest way to stay the same when you know you need to change.
So where do I stand?
I stand outside the institution we call the Church, that group of called out people living against the world. (At least that’s what it’s supposed to be.)
Why not church?
Why? What did the church do to me? Well it got so full of its own traditions that the language of God became mute and without effect, didn’t it?
After all, I drink alcohol on occasion, smoke cigarettes, and have been known to have amorous relationships of various shades outside of matrimony. But I can read and hear the language of God in its manifold shades and colours. And be transformed by its effects. I can know his good, pleasant and perfect will.
My friend asked if I’d consider going back to church. Probably not. I find churches a waste of time, far too saturated with platitudes and smugness. Too much self-satisfaction and feeling, too little language and life-change. Honestly.
There’s more to that satisfaction. You’ll find a worrying correlation between churchgoing and mediocrity, a “righteous underachievement”, that I’d like to avoid partaking in. Remember, a few centuries ago when church people made the key contributions to bettering this world in the name of the next one?
I’d like to be like that.
So I seek redemption—you know, being rescued from the trash heap and regaining value—away from church. From direct relationship with the highest being through his speech. The highest language. You know, voices like experience, reason, beauty, intuition, old writings, and new scholarship. Voices I say, of God himself. If you can hear them.
And when I live in this language, I find generosity from heaven. Grace.
“But God said to go to church”
No, he said “carry your cross daily, seek my kingdom, do the right thing, and love people”.
“Worship me and be holy” God demands.
Yeah, live for the best, the most valuable, the ideal, the perfect. That’s worship.
And don’t copy the crowd, copy the truth. That’s holiness.
Thoughts about God
Everybody has them. The atheist thinks there is no God. The lazy mystic, that the divine can’t be known do why bother trying. The practical person, that God is what works, and usually that’s money. Excuse me, but yes, we all have our pet theologies. Here’s mine. Feel free to skip it.
God. The High One. The central reality. The ultimate concern of life.
Christianity leads me to think God is love. Love is an experience, a choice, an idea, a set of actions. It’s also something more. Carl Jung talked about a strong feeling of attachment, driven by an unconscious impulse. This impulse projects, like a movie projector, the ideal person onto the person loved. He or she looks perfect because, whenever you look at the person you love, the ideal is projected onto her or him. That’s also love.
Neuroscientists talk about the chemistry of love—oxytocin, seratonin, dopamine (the reward chemical), endorphins and pheromones. There’s chemicals behind love, sure. And love is more than all of these things.
Love is the strongest possible desire for the best possible situation for the person or thing you love.
And, sure, people love things all the time. That overall experience of strongly wanting the best for someone or something, is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s something real and powerful.
I think transcendent God is something like this desire, this experience, pushed to infinity, and then localized in an indescribable Person. A transcendent person who is love.
That’s my theology. I can’t do any better than that.
What to do about it
I aim at being someone who is “with” love. I try to love all the time, every day. If I do something, I try to love it as much as I can, and if I can’t, I stop doing it. If I’m talking to or dealing with someone, I try to want the best for that person as much as I can.
I think that’s the closest I can get to finding or knowing God. I also think it’s damn simple to practice.
Part of being practical in life is the cross. It’s a way to think about everyday difficulties. And about getting rid of them.
Most personal problems have their roots in our personalities, rather than our politics or society. If we’re in really good psychological shape, our lives would quickly and easily reflect it. We’d be motivated to make our lives exactly what we wanted them to be, rather than blaming circumstances and people, and making excuses for not acting.
That’s why the idea of the cross is helpful.
A cross is a personal burden or a personal death (depending on how you want to look at it) that’s assigned to you. You’re supposed to carry that sucker daily. No holidays.
A sensible approach
It’s a good approach to life—“I’m ready to die a little today, to make my life a little more like paradise”.
Seems like a good deal.
And whenever you die a little, the good news is, whatever died was an obstacle to your little personal paradise. It might have been painful, but it was actually in your favour that that part of you died.
But wait, there’s more, haha. Whenever something about you dies, like a habit, or a hope, or an idea, a new and much better habit, hope, idea, etc. soon grows in its place.
Or, how I think we personally experience the best life here on earth
…our experience of the kingdom of heaven here.
It’s the best goal you can have in your life. And it’s not a religious affair—in fact most religious people have no clue what the term “kingdom of God” is. They might think it’s heaven when you die, or maybe a Draconian/benevolent global theocracy.
But it’s obvious what the kingdom of God is, if you’re not blinded by a mindset.
It’s when your life on earth is governed by what makes heaven perfect. When your circumstances are ruled by what makes existence a paradise.
I think the story below is sort of a parable about that.
Andromeda and Perseus
It’s an old Greek story. Andromeda was a princess of AEthiop—Ethiopia. Andromeda was sacrificed to the sea monster as a way to appease Poseidon, the sea god.
So there’s Andromeda, chained to a rock, about to be eaten by the sea monster.
Perseus was flying over the area and saw Andromeda. He fell in love with her instantly.
Flying? Yes, Hermes, the messenger of the gods had given Perseus winged slippers and a curved sword. Athena the goddess of wisdom added a “helmet of invisibility” to the gifts.
Invisible, Perseus flew down to rescue Andromeda, killing the sea monster with the curved sword of Hermes.
Perseus then married Andromeda and took her to his island home, and together they became the parents of the Persians.
Symbols in motion
Like most myths, this little tale parallels important elements of the human story.
Perseus flying around, is symbolic of his living between the perfect (heaven) and the practical (the ground). He has a vision, an ideal situation, in his mind, but no way to make it real in the world. He’s in-between. He flies by the winged sandals of Hermes, the messenger of the gods. He knows how things should be.
That’s the place many people find themselves in. They ‘fly’ in vision but can’t get down to the practicality of making the vision real.
Moving on—Perseus sees and falls in love with Andromeda. She is the beauty and nobility able to attract the flying dreamer back down to earth. She is the motivation necessary to actually realize his dreams.
Her name means “ruler of men” because the drive to act practically—to act on this earth—rules human societies and shapes people’s realities. It’s also beautiful and noble.
HELMET OF INVISIBILITY
Perseus is invisible because he’s wearing the helmet or cap of Hades. It comes from the underworld. It represents a mind that’s become aware of the subconscious with its drives and obsessions . It knows about the darkness and irrational urges within. He’s invisible because he faces within. He knows it’s only by facing the challenges on his path that he can conquer the beasts within and vice versa.
This is also why he’s the hero who kills Medusa, a monster whose gaze paralyzes and petrifies men. Medusa is that inner demon that stops us from being able to solve our problems. It turns us to stone.
The helmet of Hades, or of invisibility is being willing to confront beasts within us, beasts that are part of us but against our well-being.
It’s being willing to look into our own personal underworld, our own little inner hell, and to kill the things in there that stop us from facing and conquering our outer world.
SWORD OF HERMES
Our hero also has the curved sword. This represents the eloquence of Hermes. In some versions of the story, the sword was given by Hephaestus, the god of technology rather than Hermes. In this case it represents skill and technique in action rather than in speech (eloquence).
He uses this to slay the sea monster, which along with the sea itself, is an old symbol of chaos and complexity. Then he frees Andromeda from the rock to which she’s chained.
He uses speech essentially, or language (or skilled action), to eliminate chaos before it kills his motive and motivation, Andromeda. Then, marrying her, he takes her to his island home, which is paradise on earth.
In simple terms
We usually have all we need around us. The tools required to turn our realities into reflections of the ideal are mostly within our reach.
We need an ideal or vision (winged sandals), the capacity to face our inner inadequacies and willingness to change (helmet of Hades), and we need to banish the chaos in our lives and bring order using the right words/techniques (curved sword).
This last bit is what we’re doing when we write down our goals. It’s also what we do when we write journals. Words are a weapon against chaos and darkness. It’s what we’re doing when we make daily schedules and To Do lists too—banishing chaos using technique.
But having everything we need, even knowing what we need to do, is as useless as Perseus in mid-air. We need to ‘touch down’. For that we need an attractive motivation.
That motivation could be self-preservation, personal self-belief, ambition, rivalry, whatever. In the above story, it is love. By loving our Andromedas we get and maintain fuel to build paradises all around us and live in them.
So Am I Christian?
In my opinion, yes. I think I’m more Christian than I ever was. But not traditional by any stretch of the term. I still consider myself part of the global collective of Christians. And I have some Christian friends, who—though they don’t think I live exactly right—are willing to genuinely have me as a friend.
And that’s all I have to say about church and faith, I think.
Boa noite e boa sorte