It’s hard to live in a world of believers.
Have you ever noticed the way “believers” as a label gets thrown around, a marker determining who is in and who is most definitely out? We say things like: “I became a believer when I was 20;” or we ask the question, “When did you first believe?”
And beliefs are good, I suppose. Or not.
Most days I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole thing and I wonder why it is that we have traded in good old fashion trust for the modern certainty of belief. And, of course, we call it faith, as in faith=belief.
I guess I can understand how living in this world of uncertainty, of limited employment, of the good ole-fashioned American dream spinning down the toilet, of the widening chasm between rich and poor, produces a need to embrace certainty, if only in one aspect of life. So, I guess, people chose to be sure about God, and eternity, and love.
But this blind following of what we’ve been told and really better believe even if you have to clinch your teeth really hard and make your knuckles stark white in order to hold onto it is pretty unsatisfactory when we decide to admit it. I can’t tell you how many students tell me this, so I’m almost sure it is true.
The undoing of my faith as belief began in earnest during college. Upon graduation I remember telling people, “I know less now than I did before.” Duh.
And my desire at the time, a critique of my education, really, was that my faith had been deconstructed but no one had helped me enough to reconstruct it.
Looking back this was such a pretty silly statement. As if faith can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a matter of a couple of years.
So, here is my confession about deconstruction: God is dead.
My God, the masculine one who lived in the sky and provided protection and other good things if you asked hard enough and for long enough, the one who watches everything you do waiting to pounce when you mess up, the one who cares most about personal sin such as drinking and smoking and probably dancing too close or kissing too long (if you aren’t married, and then, well, it’s required as often as one spouse wants it, usually the guy), does not exist.
And, frankly, I could not be more relieved. But here’s the thing: when are churches going to get rid of this God, too? When are faith communities going to let go of the certainty and begin to embrace the wonder? When will churches return to faith as trust and not belief? And by doing so, encourage people to expand our minds and hearts to contemplate a more all-encompassing divine reality, one who truly calls all of us to embrace our humanity as reflections of divinity?
It is long overdue, too, for women to reject patriarchal constructions and begin to embrace alternative visions. And, there are many people helping us to do this, if we will only listen and invest the creative energy to make this reconstruction a reality.
Recently I read Breaking Up with God by Sarah Sentilles who in the course of sharing her faith story, suggests a necessary re-evaluation of our Christian story. While this work will be resisted and will not be easy, if we truly believe in the inherent equality of all persons, then we must put behind us the patriarchal privilege that has shaped the Christian tradition in harmful ways.
And this re-envisioning work cannot be employed simply by women and a few men who really care while the rest of the church turns a blind eye hoping such “nonsense” will end with little fanfare and certainly without any substantive change. Yet, this is usually the excuse given by many. It goes something like this: it doesn’t matter to me, I mean, I know God isn’t male but I’m still going to use masculine language and images because it isn’t a problem for me.
So, I guess, these are the limits of our community? Can you image a similar approach to other challenges (well, actually there is another: homosexuality and same sex relationships)?
Alternatively, Karen Armstrong, the well-known religion scholar says that the main goal of any valid religion is that it helps to counter self-focused living making it possible to connect more fully with the divine and with others. If she is right, it seems to me this problem of patriarchy should not be borne by a few, but should be the work of many.
And here is at least one way to get started according to Sarah Sentilles:
Go back to the beginning, back to the garden, to the sleeping Adam and the rib removed, to the man who gives birth to his wife, to the serpent and the woman and the fruit of the tree, to the curse of an angry God and the punishment of painful childbirth and desire for a husband who will rule over her, to the promise of sweat and bread and returning to dust, to blaming woman for the fall of the world. Tell a different story.
It’s time to leave the Looking Glass society, where women function as mirrors that reflect men at twice their actual size. Time to go beyond God the Father. Don’t you see? If God is male, then the male is God.
Reclaim the right to name your self, your world, your God. The liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves. Be a wild woman. Shift the shapes of words, of worlds. Why must God be a noun? Why not a verb? God is not A Being. God is Be-ing. (pg. 128 in Breaking Up with God)