I've been having a long correspondence with an old friend about Christianity, both personal and philosophical. As some readers may know, I call myself a Christian because I believe it historically true that Christ rose from the dead. I have confessed him as "Lord," but I don't feel it. In truth I get more spiritual nourishment from Nature and loved ones. To be fair, theologically, that is also God acting, though I think Nature too often spared criticism.
"Red in tooth and claw" wrote Tennyson. Why must nature be so filled with violence, from the praying mantis to the great white shark? The Christian explanation is that nature fell along with man, and man did not become a carnivore until after the flood. But given the fossil record, it is obvious that nature was red in tooth and claw long before man appeared. Just look at T. Rex! And there are thorns and thistles before man's appearance. Thus linking fallen Nature to man's fall is anachronistic, though some believers like to think of the Jurassic period as a time of monsters, of nature gone awry. Nonsense. So when did Nature fall? When man appeared? Rubbish.
If in paradise "the lion shall lay down with the lamb" (my, what big teeth you have, Grandmother, for grinding grain)-- the lion would have to be completely re-designed to become a vegetarian. Then one could argue all these animals we cherish will be resurrected like us, not needing material sustenance. But here: When the resurrected Christ re-appeared to the disciples near the end of The Book of John, he cooks fish for them. That involves killing; the finny tribe bleeds red just like the furry one. So the resurrected Christ blessed the killing of animals, did he not? Not surprising since the practice of Old Testament Judaism is all about slaughtering animals, and Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. All very neat. The example of the resurrected Christ shows no change in man's attitude toward nature. One can make an argument that he practiced the norm while in this world, but he could have as easily toasted some bread for his disciples.
You can't argue anything from Nature except beauty. Justice? Love? Goodness? A good lion kills.
Robinson Jeffers is the one poet I know who looks at nature realistically, without any contaminating anthropomorphism. His God finds war as beautiful as peace, the glow of an atom bomb as pleasing as a sunset. If we are honest with ourselves we will dispense with the illusion that Nature is some kind of soft landing, some example of kindness and goodness. We will see that sea otters are predators, however "cute" theyi appear. (BTW, "cuteness" means anything that resembles a human infant. I have established this to my satisfaction. Note that those kindly disposed to aliens give them big heads and big eyes and small noses, just like the human infant.)
So if one cannot derive the nature of God from Nature, it must come from revelation. Then revelation must arrive through the fallen beings who record it, and where does that leave us? With a spotty record of the truth, surely. One thing that makes me believe the New Testament is all the unflattering things included, like Christ cursing the poor fig tree. Still, if we object to that action, a good Christian would likely reply, "Who are you to judge God?" To which I say, "Sorry, I can't help it, I was born with this prickly thing called a conscience."
Back to my original discussion. I am a Christian philosophically but not emotionally. In other words, I believe in forgiveness but I don't feel forgiven. This is the perplexity that tortures me when I attend church, which is rarely, because I weep for loss--partly the loss of my early concepts of God, as I was converted to the "Jesus Movement" when I was 16. With my mind and mood disorder, a simple faith doesn't seem to be an option, but I envy those who have it, like my friend. He not only believes in forgiveness, he feels it. He experiences God. Since most of my experiences can be questioned experientially on the basis of my mental illness, how would I know if I really felt forgiven anyway? Maybe it would only reflect a leap in serotonin levels, though the two (feeling and brain chemistry) are by no means mutually exclusive.
What am I getting at? I don't know; like Robert Burton I write as an escape from melancholy. In a nutshell I don't trust my feelings, thus I am prevented from having a religious experience. All through the Bible one is supposed to love God with all one's heart; that is no easy proposition for me. A leper cannot "feel" a doorknob, thus may break his wrist trying to open a locked door. In the same way my feeling sensors are diseased and I don't know whether I'm feeling God or not. (I don't care how long this blog entry is, I want to know the problem.)
Why is it I can't embrace God? Why is it that I can't feel as if I believe? Where is the joy of forgiveness? And if the Christian God is all powerful, why can't he break through my illness and give me the gift of feeling forgiven? My argument is that it is not just a lack of faith on my part, but a consequence of my disease. Before I was diagnosed manic-depressive I had many religious "highs" which in retrospect I realize were most likely manifestations of the disease. In a very real sense, this disease has robbed me of my former faith. What I end up with is what I call "beef jerky Christianity," a faith stripped of experience, a dried up philosophical commitment to truth.
Is this noble or foolish? I don't know. Ever since I had electroconvulsive therapy at the age of 30 I have not been able to re-connect with God. The closest I've come is taking the Eucharist at an Episcopal church I attended in Mexico. At that moment I feel as if I can believe; as soon as I leave the altar I begin to doubt my experience, though I confess there is a faint glow in that action.
Maybe I should convert to Catholicism and be done with it. I've tried Buddhism, but it was an inferior sect. I dabbled in spiritualism when very young. Hinduism is a great comfort but for me no guide to life. Judaism is Christianity unfulfilled. Sikhism and Zoroastrianism are attractive, especially the concept of asa (truth) vs. lies in the latter. Islam holds no attraction for me; it seems a step back from both Judaism and Christianitiy. We all know the dangers of its fundamentalist version.
In these speculations I have stopped crying. The cats play; it's a sunny day; Kathleen is reading upstairs, dizzy with her ear infection. I look forward to my youngest daughter's visit on the 27th. Life ain't half bad, no matter how bad I get.
Another poem from my archives that reflects some of my struggles with Christianity:
There is a pillar of light
stuck in the rocks like Excalibur
above a harbor of heavy water,
hushed and heavy with suffering,
where waves swallow their foam—
but much can obstruct your view
while your eyes crave on.
I used to lose sight of it, thinking
the ocean's furious slam dance the thing,
me roped to the mast between
the cold salt walls of death,
or ships would block it,
horns and radios distract me
until only a slip of light in the marbled sky
recalled its jeweled foghorn,
a dog whistle for the deaf.
Do I dare now? Do I dare say
I see it always, through iron bars
and self-revulsion as if the great stone
of the world were rolled away?
What terrible temptations do I then tempt,
What unexpected holy thing
may morph into evil,
baiting my inner eye
me a blind man beating
his dog with a stick?
(published in Mindfire, where you can enjoy Kathleen's poems as well)