Paradigm Shift


So I find myself trying to find the way out of the forest of agnosticism.  Honestly, I am not quite sure where to “go.”  As I have mentioned many times before, I grew up plenty-hostile…Pentecostal.  Pentecostalism is a very ethereal segment of Christianity.  Your faith and your perceptions of God and others are emotionally centered.  The focus of most church services growing up was to invoke religious ecstasy.  Glossolalia (speaking in tongues), crying and experiencing emotional catharsis were routine events carried out at the church’s alter.

That is a perfectly legitimate way to conduct a church service.  My parents to this day embrace the Pentecostal church.  At some point in my 20s, I realized that the faith of my childhood no longer fit.  I still had faith, though it was far less exuberant.  I began to embrace more liturgical high church forms of worship.  I thought that I was worshiping God with my mind instead of my emotions.  That was what I told myself anyway.  Really my faith was led by my emotions as much as it ever was, though not as outwardly expressive (and far less intrusive on the life of serpentsJ).  I am not sure it is possible to follow any faith tradition without a healthy dose of emotion.

It is during this period that I had the strongest religious experience of my life.  At an Emmaus retreat, I felt that I was called to serve in the clergy.  It was by far the most potent and “real” encounter I had experienced with God.

But because of risks I was unwilling to take, that calling was denied.  I was left with only a few of plausible explanations.

  1. God did call me and I lacked the faith to follow through.
  2. God did not call me and my most profound religious experience was a fraud to the point of delusion.
  3. There is no God and I am part of the biggest fraud of all time.

When I first backed away from my calling, I thought it was 1.  Over time my faith deteriorated to the point that my explanation was 3.  But I am just not wired for atheism.  So now I my thoughts lean towards 2.

Problem is religious experience was at the core of my faith.  I am now dubious of any kind of emotional reaction.  My view of God is in a state of freefall.  I keep trying to redefine my understanding of God and I am failing miserably.

I think the modern church places way too much emphasis on a personal relationship with God.  In my opinion, relationship is not possible when one of the parties is completely silent.  If God routinely communicates with people the most plausible mechanism is through the language of emotion (ya just “know” when it is right).  But if that were true, would we really have such a thing as denominations or even whole religions?  There is by no means consistent sentiment when it comes to God.  Heck in our own country Christianity is split by political affiliation.  Republicans fervently think their ideology is consistent with God’s point of view.  And there are others who feel with equal strength that God is primarily concerned with the plight of the disadvantaged.  They tend to vote Democratic.

That being the case, I find emotion completely unreliable (not that I am embracing Vulcan mysticism…but I can no longer rely on my emotions).  And I no longer think the personal relationship model works, at least for me.

Is it possible to be religious and/or spiritual without having a personal relationship?  I think so.  I respect and trust the president with the managing of my country.  But I have never met nor see Obama.

So where do I go from here?  I am not exactly certain.  But I will try honestly reflecting on my journey in the months and years to come.

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2 comments on “Paradigm Shift

  1. You comment “In my opinion, relationship is not possible when one of the parties is completely silent” points to where I was at in my spiritual journey a few years back. I gave up on god, mainly because I never believed that I ever had an experience with god like I was guilted into believing was the only way to find true faith. I had no desire to have an experience with a god. All I wanted was an honest relationship if that was possible. But I felt, and feel, like you do…such a relationship is not possible if one party is silent.

    So, in an attempt to meet God, I decided to go into an honest and silent spiritual exploration in an attempt to find something real. The only thing thing I knew for sure was that there was no reality for me in the experiential religions that I was forced endure.

    Now, I am not bitter, not really even questioning anymore, just quietly listening. So far I am hearing nothing, but I don’t feel guilty in listening in honesty. I believe that any real god will respect honesty over fraudulent exploitations passed off as truth.

    You are not alone in your journey. There a lots of us still trying to find our truth.

  2. OK – I read your post, and then read it again. I decided what you say jibes with a lot of what I’ve been thinking, especially the stuff having to do with experience and calling. We Pentecostals somehow have developed a “scale” to judge things by. Are you saved? Check. Been Baptized? Check. In the Holy Spirit? Check. The next step? Calling… Got your calling? How many of us has been dumped by a girlfriend/boyfriend who was “called to the mission field” suddenly during the night you got a bit too sexually close for comfort with her?

    But I’m digressing. I think Calling has become the fourth “step” if you well, in the Pentecostal spiritual progression. And I’m not sure if that’s either Biblical *or* healthy.

    First, it assumes everybody *should* be called (we’ve both seen this a million times. “Go ye therefore.” “Take up your cross.” “Follow me and I will make you fishers…” I can think of a zillion other scriptural references where for 15 centuries, nobody but the clergy paid attention, and suddenly, in the last 5 (Protestant reformation), we decided these verses are speaking to us. And if you haven’t received your calling, you have something fearfully wrong with your spiritual life.

    I know I’m not speaking to the idea of experience, but when it comes to it – this IS experience. To follow? How do we follow a 2,000 year old sage? We have a book allegedly written by guys who knew him. How does that apply to modern-day stuff?

    I don’t know the answer. And I’m not denying that you had a calling. I am concerned that we put so much weight on it as Christians. I think it’s very unhealthy to the Faith in general, and to the people who practice religion in specific.

    I’m not gonna give you advice. Maybe “Earthquake Survivor” has it right. For too long, we’ve based our spirituality on doing. Maybe it’s time to rest, and let stuff be. Doing takes care of itself. Being is much harder.

    Gonna write a longer blog on this, back at my site.

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