Quite a while back I wrote about "Ten Things You Don't Have to Believe to Follow Jesus." I was considering adding to this list. Things like: "You don't have to believe God is some dude in the clouds" and "You don't have to believe God is a dude at all neither in the sense of having all the requisite genitalia nor in the sense of being a person." But then I got sidetracked. Part of why I think one doesn't have to believe in a personal god in order to follow Jesus, is because for most of history the bible and other religious or faith stories were not intended to be factual accounts or literal descriptions of reality. I went in search of references to support this point and found lots of articles which reference the likely starting point of biblical literalism to about the time of the Reformation. As I was reading it dawned on me in all the arguments between atheists and fundamentalists or conservative and liberals there is often a voice left out. Not the voice of mainline protestants. Not agnostics. (though perhaps these too at times) Rather artists.
By artists I don't mean only those who create works of art, but those who have eyes and ears and hearts attuned to the indescribable, the truth beyond fact, the beauty beyond form. It was the artists who reminded me I could pray using personal forms to address God even if I no longer believed in God as some dude. After all the forms of prayer are simply human attempts to communicate with and reach out toward the spirit of love, the force of goodness, the something beyond what meets the eye. It was artists who reminded me claiming my identity as child of God does not have to mean meeting someone else's description of Christian. For me it can mean laying claim to rebellion against oppressive status quo, rising up to stand with those the world casts aside, and embracing my own value not above but alongside other human beings.
This artistic vision does not reject facts or science only hears them with different ears. The historical accuracy or inaccuracy of scripture are interesting and can add depth and nuance. Yet the facts cannot lay waste to the story of God come to dwell amongst us. The holy dancing amongst us with love only to be met, tragically, by hate is a story which reverberates with timeless truth. This story can dance alongside and within the story science tells of a vast, beautiful and mind stretching cosmos of which we are a part.
Artists are not the only voices which matter. Scientists further illuminate the profound beauty of nature, philosophers help us to think and communicate more clearly, historians give us context, and so on. But as the scientist and philosophers take on the fundamentalists, the artists will go on singing, dancing, writing, painting calling us to deeper understanding of life, suffering, joy and beauty.
So, the next time I find myself arguing with fundamentalists or attempting to explain myself to atheists I think I will stop
and invite them
or paint instead.