My Confusion About Whether or not I Should be Confused

Lately, I have been thinking about the fact that there is no such thing as “Christianity.” I mean this in the descriptive sense of the word. The beliefs and practices of those who are following Jesus are so varied and contradictory that they defy easy categorization. The numinous experience of billions of people across thousands of years and thousands of miles will not be pigeon-holed. However, there is, perhaps, such a thing as Christianity, in the prescriptive sense of the term: who I should be as a human being who seeks to follow the Divinely-Inpired Deuteronomist’s dictate.

And this is where things get confusing. Because there is no such thing as “Christianity,” the varying strains of the aforementioned religion that defies classification offer conflicting prescriptions about my epistemic relationship with God: one group says that the Divine transcends reason and to try to understand it is to destroy the beauty of the epistemically offensive nature of Christianity and another group (e.g., process theologians and reformed epistemologists) that seems to be doing a pretty good job at reducing the epistemically offensive nature of Christianity.¹

As I read the thinkers on both sides of this issue, I can not help but taken in by the attitudes and arguments that are expressed. The result is that depending on who I am reading at the time, I may feel either that Christianity is fundamentally ridiculous and therein lies its beauty (like in my post “No Love for ‘Love Wins'”) or that the absurdity of Christianity is a stumbling block to spreading the Good news, an essential component of Christianity.

In short, I am confused about whether or not to be confused. I am unclear about how much should be unclear. I am quite comfortable with not having certainty on a lot of issues. I have enthusiastically embraced the project of wrestling with the Divine in order to be “blessed” both in the ethical and epistemological senses of the word. But this confusion is new. Can I at least be freed of this confusion about being confused?

The question would be a lot easier if the arguments that were put forward by the epistemic euphemisers (those who seek to make “Christianity” less epistemically offensive) were terrible. It is easy, for me to read Kierkegaard and echo his sentiments saying, “Yeah! It is about faith! The project of rationalizing religion is going terribly anyway, so give up and embrace the beauty of being a true Believer, i.e., a Lover.” until I encounter arguments that are actually successful in making sense of the “nonsensical.”

Indeed, my attitude about the value of epistemically offensive presentations vs. epistemically euphemistic presentations of the Gospel is contingent on the success of these presentations. This, I think, is an important discovery. Insofar as I am an addict, this discovery reveals that I want a gospel that does not make me feel like a loser. In other words, if the epistemic euphemisers are “winning” the argument, then I am inclined to get behind them and say in an insecure way, “Yeah! We are not crazy!” But if the euphemisers are “losing” the argument, I want to say, with Kierkegaard, “Yeah! We are crazy, but this [Christianity] is the best shit ever!”

However, insofar as I am a disciple, the conflict between the two presentations of Christianity concerns me because it has important consequences on how the message is receive and therefore, who will be able to usher the kingdom of heaven here and into their own hearts. If God really is into retaining the epistemically offensive nature of God’s existence, then God must feel something like what Kierkegaard writes in The Sickness Unto Death,

This is precisely the sorrow in Christ: “He can do no other”; He can humble Himself, take the form of a servant, suffer and die for man, invite all to come unto Him, sacrifice every day of His life and every hour of the day, and sacrifice His life-but the possibility of the offense He cannot take away. Oh, unique work of love! Oh, unfathomable sorrow of love! that God Himself cannot…make it impossible that this work of love might not turn out to be for a person exactly the opposite, to be the extremist misery!

While I sit here confused about how to understand and present the very way of life that I belong to, we are supposedly all dying.  If we are really all sick and addicted and dying (and this seems to be a big if- here is my confusion on this matter), then my confusion sucks even more. Perhaps, however, I can take some solace in the idea that whatever angst I feel qua a disciple, is infinitely multiplied for the One who is Love.

1. I recognize that this binary, like the categorization of “Christianity,” is descriptively problematic.

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4 Responses to My Confusion About Whether or not I Should be Confused

  1. david says:

    Hey guy, its rohrer. I wrote a long response and realized it was cluttered with crappiness.

    I feel like I am going through some similar thoughts. There are some differences, so I do not want to make it seem like I understand what your thoughts are; however, I have been thinking about this one concept in particular lately, and I am wondering what you think about it.

    Basically, I am feeling like language is driving a lot of my spiritual search in the moment. I think that is a good thing in a lot of ways. I know through a million conversations with you, I have found spiritual nuggets that will stay with me until I die, and I am a more loving person because of it. However, I think I am missing out on the other side.

    Doesnt it say somewhere that you can learn a lot about god from the mountains and birds or something? I also know Buddha held up a flower and spoke no words (weve talked about this a few times too) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower_Sermon

    I dont know if this language thing is holding you up, and I certainly dont pretend to know the answer. The only thing I know is that for me, pursuing god with no explicit purpose or language barrier is something I have not done much of and do not really understand how to do. Because of this, I would not have smiled during the flower sermon. I am wondering if I could have a nice balance of language and non language, maybe I would have less of my personal confusion.

    In the end, I effectively retyped my first response. It still feels all over the place. What do you think about this language thing?

    • Kevin says:

      When you talk about wanting learning about God without language, are suggesting that you want to have some sort of “mystical” experience? Uh…If I ask that question in an attempt to analyze exactly what you are looking for, do I miss the point of what you are talking about in the first place?

      I have actually not given too much thought to seeking God by non-language based means. I probably should though. I actually have read some interesting things recently regarding this very idea. Apparently, there’s been a lot of religious folk who think that God transcends language, and that talking about God at all already taints the conversation.

      The very few times that I have actually tried to be silent and “listen” to God have had mixed results ranging from frustration to awe. I am not sure that there is a “way” to do it…although I have a feeling that if we looked at some monastic writings we would find some formulaic instructions on how to learn about God through meditation or something.

      I am glad you brought this up. If there is merit to silence (and there probably is), then I have definitely been missing out.

      • david says:

        Hmm… I dont know about a “mystical” experience. I dont even know what that means. I guess I just think about how sometimes I use a lot of language logic to come at some truth.

        I think of it like this: when I was younger I was stressing about where I would go to college and what I would do. My grandma said, “ah, dont worry about it. Itll all work out one way or the other.”

        Normally, when I am given that advice by people I think, “Well, fuck you then! I am cleary upset about this, and you saying it work out doesnt really help me!”

        But with my grandma, I didnt really get mad. I didnt know why, but I think I understand now. I think she was trying to say, “Listen, I dont know what you should do, but I have lived 80 years, and I have realized that life is full of little things that get you confused and worried about the future. I have found that as long as you try pretty good you dont really have to stress out because there is so much more at play than the variables you are worrying about now.”

        As I have gotten a little older, I have learned some things that I could not have learned in any other way. Just by virtue of living, I have gained some wisdom, and in many ways, feel closer to god. That was process was not facilitated by language, and so I am wondering if I can engage in some behaviors that might help me get knowledge from things other than language.

        Like, thinking in english is really important to me, and maybe it is the most important thing. I just know I have one example that says language thinking is not the only piece in this puzzle of getting closer to god, so it makes me think I should not just ride the language thought train…. but who knows?

      • Kevin says:

        Gotcha….btw, I love the email address.

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