Does anyone else ever think reading the comments following blogs or articles about religion is horribly detrimental to spiritual and mental health? (Not the comments on this blog, of course. That’s different.) Often as I am reading comments I ask myself, “Why are you reading this? You know it will only make you angry or depressed?” So, I tear myself away from the computer but alas the damage is done.
Yet, it is important to hear opinions which differ from my own, even if they make me angry and tug me back toward cynicism. It is important to hear such opinions because they help me to step back and review my own beliefs with an eye toward seeing inconsistencies and areas where I might be wrong. Sometimes opposing opinions help me to see the underlying differences, the foundation from which our differences arise beyond surface politics.
Such was the case this week. I read two thought provoking articles about young people and why they do or don’t go to church and how their faith and world differs from that of other generations. I often assume the underlying difference between my own opinions and those of more conservative brothers and sisters is our view of scripture. The comments following these articles helped me to realize this may not be the case. The source of the conflict may be more basic: a completely different understanding of the world. It boils down to this: do we believe we have all the answers? Do we believe God as revealed in the bible, answers all questions, explains suffering and death, explains why things happen the way they happen, what we should do, why we are here? Do we believe God has given all these answers in a way which is easy enough to discern so any good spiritual leader can provide any answer you need?
Mallory McDuff’s article Why I Made My Teenager Go to Church talked about a highly articulate young woman who admitted to questioning the Creeds. This young woman said her church was a place which encouraged such questions and gave her a way to have faith even when she doesn’t know what she believes. To me, this was a beautiful statement of faith and meaning from a thoughtful young woman. Some of the comments which followed lamented no one was there to give this young woman the answers. This reveals such a different worldview than my own and helps me to see why I am uncomfortable even with some people who do allow questioning. If we assume we have the answers than questioning might be okay in a patronizing sort of way but ultimately one must surrender to the answers sanctioned by a given church. I see the world and God as much more mysterious, perplexing and troubling. The idea of the bible as a big answer book falls apart within a few verses, Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind.’” If humankind hasn’t been created yet, who is “us”? Sure this can be explained but if it has to be explained this already throws out the window any idea of the plain truth of scripture which anyone can read and understand. Which introduces human interpretation and any knowledge of history reveals the fallibility of human interpretation.
Then there are the violent passages of scripture which advocate genocide. Reconciling those scriptures with a loving God requires some major interpreting and explaining.
Then we only have to lift up our eyes and see the suffering and injustice in the world to be swamped with more questions and explaining.
So, I just don’t get how anyone can possibly think any version of the church has all the answers. This worldview is so foreign to me it suddenly makes more sense why conversations with such folks are so very difficult.
And it also makes more sense to me why some seem troubled by articles such as Heidi Haverkamp’s, Why Congregations Shouldn't Work So Hard To Keep Their Young People. This article tells about a teenager who is an active participant in his synagogue, thoughtful and engaging, open to seeing the beauty in other spiritual traditions, concerned about justice issues, and yet doubts he will participate in any religious institution in adulthood. If we are concerned about people getting the right answers to all their questions, then this young man is headed away from the source of those answers. But if life is a journey, exploring questions while growing in love for our neighbors and the world, then this young man’s life is the unfolding of a beautiful story of God at work in the world.
Our young people are amazing. They question and they doubt and their faith may not look like many of us think it should. Yet it is a beautiful faith which continues to astound me with its openness and justice seeking love. Our young people have much to teach us. Maybe we should stop trying to give them the answers and learn from them instead.
But then, that’s just me, operating from my worldview in which there are no easy answers and always much to learn.