Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How Do You Keep Faith?

Someone emailed me today with a question that I think may haunt many of us. (They had just read my book Patience With God) where I describe my loss of faith in the Evangelical religion that I was raised on by my pastor father.

The question was:

"Frank, how do you pick up the pieces after your faith falls apart? How do you bring some order back to the chaos?"

Here was my answer and I share it here because I think that this person (and I) may not be the only people wrestling with this question.

I don't think there is a "how to" because of something I've learned along the way: There is no final arrival.

I think that one side effect of the "born-again" way of looking at things is that we tend to think in terms of in or out, lost or saved. Some days I'm an atheist, on others an agnostic, on other days I believe and feel God's hand "on me" as we used to say.

So what? Some days I'm in love with my wife, others not, some days I love to see my children, on others I don't. The journey of faith is a struggle and there is no destination because (I believe) the life of the spirit is real. Therefore we never arrive because the spirit never dies.

So then what matters? And what may keep us going on this journey and make it seem worthwhile?

Love is the only answer, and I mean that in a very basic and ordinary way.

Love of a child, partner spouse or friend. Love of art and beauty. Love of seeing and being in the moment. This love points to a greater meaning. So what if we will never fully know what that meaning is?

As far as specific Christian faith, well, admit it, it is all about geography. You were born here, not there. That is why a particular theology challenged you. If you'd been born in say, Saudi Arabia, you'd have other questions about theology.

Theology per se, let alone theological correctness, doesn't matter because it isn't universal.

What is?: The longing for meaning.

That is why I believe in God on the days that I do. And that is why some -- not all -- of Jesus' teaching resonate with me. Because some of his words tap into a universal love of meaning through Love of other people.

Stick with your love of beauty, and stick with the Sermon on the Mount and forget the rest.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of 'Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism)'


Espiritu Arete said...

Right on Mr. Schaeffer!

SAURUS said...

I refer to Frank Schaeffer as My spiritual Guru, very nice and well written .

Ex-Crusader said...

Thanks for the nice post. I like your honesty. The only question I have is why you feel there has to be some larger/cosmic/theological meaning to everything. Is the meaning you infuse your life with not enough?

Also, what do you do with the dire lack of evidence for the Jesus of the bible? What do you do with the fact that the bible was compiled by fallible and politically motivated men? Do these facts not bother you at all when it comes to choosing what kind of cosmic or theological meaning you ascribe to life?

dianedp said...

I am having such a struggle right now deciding if I should remain a part of the Catholic church.
It has been so much part of my life for 56 years.
But how can I support a church that has let child abusers go free? Or does not recognize the equality of women at the highest levels?
It is so hard.

Morrison said...

Frank, why do you title your post differently here than on the Huffington post.

It gives it a different meaning and your know it.

Ex-Crusader said...

@dianedp: That is a very uncomfortable place to be. I don't envy you. My break with the evangelical church was a long and tough process. And I hadn't even been brought up in an evangelical family. I can only imagine what you are going through.

Morrison said...

Ex, sounds like you Denied Christ, not just the "evangelical church".

If you think the "facts" support the idea that all existence, life, mind, and reason itself are explained by mindless processess you are the one operating on blind faith.

As to meaning you infuse your life with, so what? Lenin found his meaning, Mao found his, and Sartre found his.

But it didn't save them from utlimate accountability.

Morrison said...

And Frank, come on sport, you never had much faith to begin with.

"forget the rest"? The Resurrection?

Frank, you bailed because the evangelicals didn't fall all over praising your movies and you got pissed.

Ex-Crusader said...

@ Morrison: I do deny that there is evidence for the person of Jesus as described in the bible that is sufficient for me to believe. You don't find it at all odd that there are NO secular accounts of Jesus in contemporary history? What about a report or two of the miraculous deeds he supposedly did or of those who supposedly rose from the dead and wandered the city streets on the day of his resurrection? Funny, that there is NO mention of ANY of this when the god of the universe is supposedly trying so hard to reach men with his message.

I also find the FACT that the bible was compiled by men troubling. There are no original manuscripts for what is supposedly the very word of god. That happens to bother me a great deal. The idea that god would so shoddily handle a message that is supposed to be the most important information any human will ever receive is troubling. You may choose to do the mental gymnastics required to believe that the bible is anything but an ancient man-made compilation of politically selected manuscripts. I don't.

Morrison said...

Ex, once you accept the undemonstrable proposition that all existence, life, mind, and reason itself are the product of mindless forces, then there is NO PROOF, even in principle that you would ever accept.

Am I wrong? Give me an example of some proof that you would accept, and I will show you how, on the basis of the undemonstrable irrational propostion detailed above that you would in fact NOT accept it.

Even if someone were to rise from the dead.

As far as your Christ Mythicist theories go, which does not reflect mainstrean scholarship, you ignore that fact that we have NO original documents from the first century, that we have no orignal copies of any Roman Manuscripts from the first century, and that we do not have the complete works of ANY Roman historian.

So your claims about what they don't say about Jesus are simply an inadequate argument from silence.

Further, the Christians were not just personally persecuted and killed, and that IS recorded by secular historians, but their records were destroyed whenever they were found.

Nevertheless, the manuscript evidence of the Christian records is far superior to that of any other records from that era.

For example, Julius Caesar is said to have written about his Conquests, and yet the oldest manucript is dated well over 700 years after the original. And yet no mainstream historian questions that we have an accurate account of his campaigns.

You problem is not intellectual, it is that you don't want to hear the truth.

Auburn Abbey said...
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Auburn Abbey said...
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Auburn Abbey said...

Irregardless (my favorite non-word) of the origins of fact and/or proof concerning all things "christian", the larger point Ex-Crusader is making is the undeniable truth that "christianity" has been used by people in power to manipulate history to their advantage. And, not surprisingly, this continues in the present.

Also, I would be curious to see a poll showing the percentage of christians that believe we are currently living in "end times" - or that the "rapture" is imminent. For the record, let me proclaim that this follower of Jesus does not. And how could a belief (or non-belief) of such a notion like a "rapture" even become so foundational to one's faith?

Obviously, that puts me at odds with those who adhere to a strict literal interpretation of the "bible". Unfortunately, including myself, this way of thinking has been ingrained into the minds (read brainwashed) of most evangelical fundamentalists, that anything we do should be done with a conscience that keeps the "return of christ" at the forefront of any and all choices we make. The effect of this cripples people from actually living - which is the entire point of receiving the gift of life, and i don't mean the "saved" kind. But this "rapture" mindset is exactly where the manipulators want you to be. If christians think this way, then they are easy targets for coercion.

Every time I see "the christians" get all worked up over some petty "injustice" that some non-christian or non-caucasian supposedly transgressed upon them and their culture- you know, the ones they like to call "they", them", and "those people" - i cant help but chuckle inside. But then it turns to a kind of sadness. These "christians" aren't actually at fault for the way they act. Because, ultimately, they are simply being coerced by the shadowy minions of the christian machinery (the ones Frank helped create). They are the people and organizations who have figured out a long time before any of us were born the formula to controlling the masses: take the profoundness of the gospel, the Way of Jesus, and turn it on its head so that it becomes a tool that creates division. Otherwise known as "divide and conquer". Once the masses have alienated themselves against one another, all that is left to do is to twist the gospel into how holy "we" are and how evil "they" are. The "leadership" moves in with a "plan" (mostly recycled, reinforcing, echo-chamber stuff) just to get everyone all lathered up against everything that is different from them and their "rightness". Oh, and did i mention how they like to vote? Gobs of them, all the same way, and without ever actually thinking...

Thus, power is secured for another monger to continue prEying on the next generation of innocents.


Brother Nelson

Auburn Abbey said...

If you like metaphors, I find this pop-culture example from "The Matrix" quite poignant to the topic:

"The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120 volt battery and over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion the machines had found all the energy they would ever need.

There are fields, Neo, endless fields where human beings are no longer born. We are grown. For the longest time, I wouldn't believe it. And then I saw the fields with my own eyes, watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth.

What is the Matrix?


The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this. {Holds up battery}

As long as the Matrix exists the human race will never be free."


What is christianity?



Jesus came to save christians...


The kingdom of heaven is WITHIN you.

Brother Nelson

Morrison said...

Brother Nelson, I quite agree that Christianity has been used sometimes by people in power to manipulate, although Chrisitianity has also exposed people in power.

But other things have been used by people in power to manipulate, like, for example, Science, but it does not follow that the thing that has been "used" is therefore "false".

But what I am seeing more and more of is that those people in power are choosing to Deny Christ when...for whatever reason...they no longer see Him as useful for their purposes. It is not suprising that would happen at a critical time.

But the Lord allows them that privilege, so that is their business.

And they won't be able to complain about it later.

Ex-Crusader said...

@ Morrison: I love how people like you revel in the idea that god would send some people to burn for eternity in hell. That idea just gives you all kinds of pleasure, doesn't it?

Speaks volumes about you and your "loving" god right there...

Morrison said...

"Ex", you know God exists, and that the Lord offers salvation to everyone.

The world is not so forgiving, does not really forgive mistakes, and makes it clear that if you are not useful in some way it does not want you. For all the world cares, you can go die and cease to exist.

But the Lord also offers choice.

In your case, you have chosed to Deny Christ, and even encourage others to do so.

You know you have nothing to offer now, except ruin, and you are as angry as hell.

Auburn Abbey said...

The bottom line here is that Ex-Crusader and Morrison do not worship the same Jesus.

Which is perfectly acceptable.

Morrison's Jesus demands a blind faith with no tolerance for anything but lock-step adherence to law (or his perceived interpretation of said law). This Jesus is short on peace, love, joy, compassion, justice, hope, etc.

Ex-Crusader's Jesus is allowing him the space to wrestle with his identity, explore the depths of his soul, and question the doubts within his mind. This Jesus wants to first capture our hearts before any of the other "noise" enters into the conversation. If we fail to embrace the simplicity of the way Jesus teaches us to live, (The Sermon on the Mount, for example), then no enforcement or practice of "law" will ever turn our heart towards God.

But, with any Jesus, He first loved us.

It's called grace.

It's for all of us.

It's even for those that may think they have it all figured out.


Brother Nelson

Morrison said...

Brother Nelson, apparently you think YOU have it all figured out. LOL!

Which may explain why you are lying about what I think of Jesus.

I never argued for blind faith, and I gave many reasons for what I believe, but you and "ex" simply dismiss it.

And "ex" does not "worship" Jesus...she even suggests, in conspiracy theory fashion, that he did not exist at all.

But if you want to critique blind faith, take a look at the atheistic proposition that all existence, life, mind, and reason itself are the product of mindless forces. That proposition is undemonstrable and self refuting, and yet people like Frank say they believe it on "some days".

But, nevetheless, I believe Jesus offers grace.

For ALL of us.

But he is not going to make anyone accept it, and many don't want it. He makes that clear, no matter your wish to avoid it. In fact, if the world had its way, they would wipe it off the face of the earth.

But you know this.

So does Frank Schaeffer, but he has let his anger Deny it all.

Mem's Political Scrapbook said...

Hi Frank, again great post. Being raised in a home like yours and even marrying the preachers son, living a very republican life I can identify with everything you write. (I walked away from all of it) Today I do NOT believe in religion, legalism and feel it has nothing to do with God. Religion is Man Made, Not God Made. I consider myself spiritual and just like you, some days I have a relationship with a higher power, something greater then myself and other days, I don't think about it. If I do want to talk to God or this spirit that I consider beyond my powers then I meet with him in the bathroom, the porch, the kitchen or wherever I might be. If I am present then so is this power that I don't even try to understand anymore. Like you Frank, I believe that it is about Love. That does not mean that I have to agree with everything a person says, or let people walk all over me but I have to realize that in the end...I am not their judge. My biggest reward for letting go..was no longer living in the fear that religion forces on it's believers!

Jeff Elvis said...

@Morrison......Your wrongly assuming that there is utlimate accountability.Most religious people take what they believe by faith and turn it into fact. Ultimate accountability is one of those beliefs that are based in faith alone, and have nothing to do with tangible truth.

Morrison said...

Jeff, or so you hope! LOL!

Ex-Crusader said...

Wow, Morrison. What else would I expect? It's just like that god of yours. Laughing while sending billions to hell. You and your god have fun together while the civilized among us expect better.

John Myste said...

I would be terrified if I felt God's hand on me. I have read what He has done to others who were unfortunate enough to feel His hand. I love this line: "That is why I believe in God on the days that I do." And I would enjoy a post that speaks of the other days.

IDEvo said...

I just don't understand Frank Schaeffer's position. This is very simple - either Jesus is risen from the dead and He is Lord, or, all Christianity is one big hoax which you can just forget about and just get on with your life. But what's this nonsense about sticking to those parts of the Bible which you find "meaningful" and which "resonates" with you?

I am a Christian, but I admit that I struggle with some things in the Bible which seem meaningless or wrong to my fallible mind. But that doesn't in any way take away from the Lordship of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures. It's God who will judge me, its not for me to judge God. It's not for me to pick and choose based on what I find "meaningful".

Paul Eckel said...

Absolutely right IDEvo. Jesus is Lord or He is not. You can't have it both ways. Frank should know that.

Gregory said...

"...stick with the Sermon on the Mount and forget the rest."

Can you please let the Orthodox Christian brethren of yours know what happened? You're apostate. Is your convert-to-Orthodoxy wife? What does your daughter think...the one who married the Orthodox guy from Finland? Do you still have that large, coffee table book on the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra? You say you have had a "loss of faith in the Evangelical religion," but didn't you write a book on your (at the time) newly found faith in the Orthodox Christian religion called "Dancing Alone"? You make it sound like all there is, in terms of Christianity, is protestantism, and that now, you've lost faith in it. You even bash the Holy Scriptures in an attempt to make fundamentalists look foolish. You're skipping over the part of your history in which you left protestantism and converted to the historic Christian Faith of Orthodoxy. You came into the Church in late 1990, I believe. Orthodoxy ain't fundamentalism, as you know. And it sure isn't the secular humanism you profess now. And you also know that the Scriptures aren't given for one's private interpretation, as you advocate, they aren't flawed and imperfect, and aren't to be read according to human reasoning. God didn't say, "think for yourself and if something in there is stupid, then throw it out." You're fully aware of what Holy Tradition says regarding Scripture. You've not only written it, but have said it,...many times. You know there's an alternative to fundamentalism, yet you act like there isn't. And since (according to you) there isn't an alternative, then Christianity must be false! And that's why you spend all your time bashing the Holy Scriptures while exalting same-sex sodomy and baby murder! Quo Vadis Frank? I thought the Orthodox Church was the last stop on the train?. . . . When did that other shoe drop, Frank?. . . .