My personal faith is a complicated thing.
I grew up in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a very conservative Lutheran church body. It’s rather paradoxical then that my views are very liberal concerning religion. But, there is a comfort in attending a church in the same synod in which you grew up – the familiarity of the liturgy, the hymns – even if the orthodoxy of the church runs in opposition to my ideals is some ways.
The WELS believes in some things that I find difficult to accept – the sinful nature of homosexuality, the submission of wives to their husbands and denying women the right to serve in leadership positions or even vote in church matters. Those who know me understand my stance on these issues. I do not believe that homosexuality is a choice or a lifestyle, it is part of who a person is. I laid out my reasoning on this in a previous post.
I support women’s rights and the equality of genders. In fact, I know of very few members of my church who would disagree with me. However, the WELS feels that is a traditional value that women defer to men in marriage and church matters. This always makes me chuckle a bit, because I know that women in our church DO exert their influence through their husbands. But not allowing them to preach or participate based on a nearly two thousand year old decision to lay out Christianity as a paternal religion rather than an egalitarian one seems arbitrary at best – especially considering that it was a decision made by committee. I’ve been to churches led by women. Many were capable, intelligent and inspired. I have also attended a few churches led by men who had none of those characteristics. The idea that God would impart those positive qualities only to men to lead a church is, frankly, ridiculous.
The thing about religion – any religion – is that it is a construct of humans, and thus, flawed. Now this is not a diatribe against religion. I believe religion serves an important purpose. Many point to the evils wrought in the name of religion, and there are many, but has also been much good done. As an example, thanks to mission work in Africa, medical care has been supplied in remote and rugged places. There are many dedicated people who minister to the poor and destitute in the name of God. These are truly good people and, if it was religion that guided them to serve their fellow human beings so selflessly, more power to them. By the way, that kind of dedication to social welfare is not bound by religious beliefs. Every religion (or non-religion) has multiple versions of their own Mother Teresa. And as a musician, I cannot deny the treasure of music that religion has provided, especially in the Western tradition. When people are moved to do good things based on their religious beliefs, that is when religion shows its true value here on earth.
So, what do I believe? I believe that my faith is constantly in flux. At one point, I seriously doubted the existence of God. I have doubted the existence of Jesus. These are ideas with which I constantly struggle. I have thought and studied and reasoned and searched. And I do not have any answers. Religion ultimately is the search for meaning. Some of us need to believe we are here for a reason. My belief is that we all do have a reason. Finding it is what life is. Some find their meaning of life in religion, others find comfort in religion, others see religion as a distraction, some see it as an evil. I find comfort in my church. At the very least, it offers me one hour a week to connect with my past and focus on my personal journey of faith. At one point in my life, I was a “true believer”, unquestioning. But that seems to be a weak way to approach something as important as God. Isn’t it our duty to search and question and discover? That seems a much stronger faith to me. Even my fellow Lutherans have to agree that Martin Luther found his answers by questioning and doubting and researching for himself.
I believe that God set the universe in motion. Now this may strike some of you as superstitious – that I am merely substituting a myth for something we don’t fully understand. Well, there may be a bit of truth in that. But in my life, I have viewed things so complex, so beautiful and so perfect that I have a difficult time believing that this all came about through happenstance. Maybe someday there will be evidence that connects and explains all the complexity of this world… I don’t know. I do accept evolution as fact. There is a wealth of evidence to support it and really, it does not seem that God making the earth in seven days is important other than showing his power. In my opinion, setting all this in motion and guiding it along seems powerful enough to me.
I believe in love. And Jesus taught that love is the way. I don’t disparage those who believe other than I do, and ask for the same in return. Debate is wonderful and healthy, though, and any clergy worth their salt spends time with those outside their faith.
I don’t know whether I believe in heaven and hell. However, there is an afterlife of some kind, I believe. Maybe it is an eternal reliving of our lives where we make different decisions. Maybe it is a place where we observe those who are still alive. My guess is that it is something beyond our comprehension, so focusing on the “maybe” of that takes us away from the importance of what we are supposed to be doing now – loving one another.
One thing that angers me is when people insert religion into politics. The pursuit of earthy power by the radical religious Right is abhorrent to me. It reeks too much of trying to establish an earthly kingdom when Christianity is focused on a kingdom not of this earth. Imposing beliefs in that manner is not a path of love, but of power. You see… we humans have a way of mucking up a good thing.
So, as flawed, illogical and contradictory as it is, that is my faith. Right now.