Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Take the baby out of the tub first

Christian agnosticism isn't simply about being very ambivalent about whether God exists.

Superstition is rampant in American Christianity, and I don't just mean finding the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. When people speak too confidently about knowing God's will regarding a specific situation, this is idolatry. Superstitious Christians are generally too quick to try to discern God's will in car wrecks and coincidences; this, too, is idolatry.

Superstitious Christians are inclined to see mundane problems as having a supernatural source. Even if this were true, it would be prideful to say that we could have some understanding of this.

I remember clearly asking a priest for advice about my problems with anxiety. 'It sounds spiritual.' he said. That's what I'd thought, too.

I thought that if I would learn to root my identity in God's love for me, if I meditated on God's grace that frees me from guilt, if Jesus could heal me, I would be free. Spirituality did help me, a lot, but not completely. As near as I can tell, my problems with anxiety have a strong physiological component. I don't blame anyone else for this, I don't blame myself, but I do think that my religious beliefs kept me from getting medical help with anxiety because looking for supernatural answers obscured the problem.

I have friends who deal with difficult problems, worse than anything I've faced myself. They get pat answers to their problems from Christians. My friends are told that Jesus wouldn't employ their coping mechanisms. They are told not to worry, and then my friends have to worry about worrying and dread what Jesus thinks of their feelings. When things don't go right for my friends, Job's comforters assume my friends' lack of trust in God is the problem. (Meanwhile, these same hypocrites blame their own problems on Satan.) Abuse victims shouldn't be told that they just need to think about how much God loves them.

Of course, I don't think these pat answers and misidentification of real-world problems are rooted in an orthodox understanding of Christianity. I've seen them less in traditional churches, and I've heard less nonsense by believers with good theological training.

The Christian agnostic method of acknowledging the good in Christian teaching, while being slow to say that one thing or another says much about God, separates Christianity from superstition.

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