Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why I Chose the Title I Chose

It's the story of my life, and yes, the story of my "spiritual" life in particular. Every time I think I can unreservedly embrace a particular religion or philosophy, something always seems to whisper in my ear, "Well, maybe not."

First, I'll talk about the one that started it all for me: the Southern Baptists. They tend to take a beating from just about everyone who isn't of some kind of evangelical persuasion, and from many who are. In many cases these beatings are justified. For one thing, they tend to dole out a fair number of their own beatings against pretty much anyone who doesn't adhere to the official vision of what a good Southern Baptist should be like. Before you ask, no, it doesn't matter if you're Jewish. That's what Jews for Jesus are for, silly! ;) And don't even get me started on their teachings regarding women. Even Jimmy Carter can't take it anymore.

But I guess like someone who comes from a run-down area, there will always be some comfortable familiarity between myself and the Southern Baptists. When I was Christian, I liked not having to follow a set service structure every time. I liked the lack of bureaucracy between ordinary churchgoers and church leadership. And this will probably sound crazy, but give me the old school gospel hymns over that contemporary Christian pap any day of the freakin' week. I'd much rather hear "Victory in Jesus" played in four parts on a slightly out-of-tune upright piano by a 75-year-old retired kindergarten teacher than contemporary "Jesus is my boyfriend" music (sorry, Dad).

Of course, there's the whole issue of my disagreement with the vast majority of their teachings, which is why I left in the first place. And it always seems like every time I think I've found a religion I can live with, I always reach what I call a "How could you?" moment. Don't get me wrong, I know that there's no group, religious or otherwise, that I can agree with everything they do or say. But it would seem dishonest to identify with a group if you don't agree with at least their core teachings.

To me, this raises an interesting question: what is the threshold of belief or nonbelief with regard to a particular religion? Obviously, the answer depends in part on the religion. Since I've talked mostly about Christianity in this post, that's what I'll stick with. Famous skeptic Michael Shermer said on a Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on the Bible that if you don't believe Jesus rose from the dead for people's sins, then there's no way you can honestly call yourself a Christian.

So, what do you think about that? Do you agree with Shermer's assessment? If you disagree, how would you draw the line between belief and nonbelief differently? What about other religions?

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