I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I used to believe that The Bible was the inerrant word of God; that it was the clear, explicit, absolute, ultimate Truth, never to be questioned; that those who believed otherwise were either ignorant or intentionally turning a blind eye.
At least, I thought that’s what I believed.
When I had my “quarter-life crisis” and started really desperately searching for Meaning and Purpose and Answers, and started really studying the Bible in depth for the first time, I realized that I had been basing my life on one interpretation of the Bible that existed among thousands, one that was selected for me by the chances of birth and education.
That realization was partly what forced me to open my mind and consider that I could have it wrong; that somewhere out there among the billions of other people who believed billions of other things, there could be someone who had it more right.
I consider that dawning to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
I was home for Easter a couple of weekends ago. I spent time with my parents and brother, sharing meals and goodnight hugs, talking in depth on topics that are too touchy for over-the-phone conversations, attending Sunday service with them at my old church.
And I had a horrible wake-up call: I realized I was in danger of becoming a fundamentalist all over again. Not as a Christian, this time, but as an atheist.
When I was young, the certainty with which I held my Christian beliefs was perpetuated by the homogeneity of my social circle. I was never forced into close contact with anyone who thought much differently than I. Everyone I knew and trusted supported me in my perspective. We all believed the same thing. We all talked in the same terms. Our beliefs were affirmed and reinforced daily as we continued to talk mostly with each other.
My world now is much less homogeneous. I live in the middle of a large and ethnically diverse city. I come in contact daily with people from many different backgrounds and persuasions. I have friends who are gay, friends who are Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist; friends who are older, younger, single, married.
You’d think this would keep me pretty open-minded.
But here is the problem. Deep down, I want to be affirmed. I want to be right. And so I gravitate toward those friends who make me feel that I am. They are the ones I am most honest with, most vulnerable with. They are the ones I spend the most time with, the ones I really let into my heart and mind.
And that is not good.
Because it isn’t until you really let someone in, really learn to love them, that you can really understand them. And without understanding, it is far too easy to let our tribal nature take over and turn the Different into Evil. We need understanding. We may not always agree with a person, but we do need to try to see where he/she is coming from.
Being at home with my family and old friends, I remembered again how the world looks from their perspective. And I remembered that, just as my beliefs are the product of the chance encounters and experiences life has brought my way completely apart from my own volition, so are theirs.
I have a good Christian friend who went away to grad school and fell in love with a “flaming liberal.” It totally took her by surprise. And it was really a shock for him too, to find himself in a relationship with her. We he left his hometown for the school (which happened to be in the South), his friends teased him about falling for a “fundie,” which is pretty much what she was at the time.
Oh Life, you are so ironic.
Though the relationship didn’t last, and involved the hurts and complications that many relationships do, I think it was good for both of them – to come face to face with “The Enemy” and realize that underneath the unfamiliar style and mannerisms and terminology, they really both wanted the same things: to be happy and healthy, for the world to be happy and healthy, to be forgiven for their shortcomings and loved unconditionally.
I wish every person could learn to love someone different; someone they might once have thought unlovable. I think it would make the world a much better place.
In closing this post, I need to say two things:
First, to Christians or theists reading this blog, I apologize if I have ever made you feel belittled or stereotyped. I may not agree with you about some things, but I understand why you hold the convictions you do, and that just like me you think what you think and you do what you because you believe earnestly that it the most best/right thing to think and do.
Second, to Christians and atheists and people of all creeds and colors, let’s not be “fundies.” Let’s not pridefully and unbendingly assume that we have it all figured out and the rest of the world are idiots. Let’s honestly and humbly engage in conversation and try to understand each other.
Let’s try to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all part of one tribe. If there is an enemy to be fought, it is the tragic need we have to protect our own egos and cling stubbornly to absolutes that bring us a false sense of security.
We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to be free.
In Matthew 18, Jesus urges his audience to “become as little children.” No matter what you believe about the Bible and it’s origins or the identity of Jesus Christ, that is good advice.
Because the thing about children is that they are free; free of shame, of fear of judgement, of the need to judge others; free of assumptions and certainties. They recognize the incompleteness of their own knowledge. They live with humility.
In their unassumingness, kids build bridges. Fundies build walls.
Let’s be kids.