When I first joined the Greek Orthodox Church in 1990 I argued the finer points of theology and church history with my long-suffering evangelical mother and sisters. (Dad was spared, having died in 1984.) I argued as if any church I happened to join was ipso-facto the gatekeeper to heaven. I argued in a way that implied that a human could find THE TRUTH and judge others by it. I argued in a way that denied that our brains process what we hear and see and touch and, therefore, all information is just another story. I even wrote a book (Dancing Alone) about all that is theologically and historically wrong with the Protestant Reformed tradition I’d fled. I laced my book with the zealous spirit of proselytizing certainty typical of the fundamentalist born-again religion I thought I’d escaped.
Eventually, I had to admit that I didn’t join the Orthodox Church for theological or even religious reasons. I joined it for a psychological reason. My new church wasn’t my childhood faith and I needed a change.
When I began to go to an Orthodox church, I wanted to find a way to escape my past, my culture and myself. Eventually, I came to see that a little honesty is in order. First off, I hadn’t become anything. I hadn’t gotten “saved.” The Orthodox view of salvation is that it’s not a series of magical steps, akin to the one-time born-again experience, but a journey. According to the Orthodox tradition, a person never becomes saved, because we are always becoming.
To the extent I was becoming Orthodox, it was mostly for aesthetic reasons. I couldn’t stand the American evangelical experience any longer for the same sort of reasons that I prefer swimming in the ocean to a swimming pool.
Where we go to church, or whether we go, isn’t the point. The point is who are we becoming? Does church help you to become the sort of person you’d pick to be stuck on a desert island with? Good! Go! Does it hurt your chances of becoming that person? Run!
Flee from exclusionary certainty. As the bumper sticker says, “Mean People Suck!” And that goes especially for people who are mean in the name of love.
There is only one defense against the rising, worldwide, fear-filled fundamentalist tide engulfing all religions (including the intolerant religion of the New Atheists) which once engulfed me: the embrace of paradox and uncertainty as the virtuoso expression of love…
You have been reading an excerpt from my book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace. Please buy the book on Kindle or as a paperback and read more. Please note: Contact me to speak to your school, church or group in 2015… and please use this book as a study group book.