Sunday, January 28, 2007

Is There a Place for Doubters at Holy Trinity?

Keywords: Holy Trinity Church; virgin birth; theology; resurrection of Jesus; calling; liturgy; awe, poetry; Robert Bellah; faith; belief; prayer

My church has an e-mail list, and today Carole Clark posted this entry on it:

“Many of us came to HT [ in Toronto; see photo) because we no longer felt that we could
continue in our rather conservative home parishes. We were
questioning so much of what was being taken for granted there. We
started looking around for another church where we would feel more
comfortable. At first we were attracted to HT because of the more
relaxed dress code, seating arrangements and alternative service.
There were lots of social justice issues being addressed and we were
welcomed as participants on the various committees. Yet, we were
still troubled about some of the basic questions. Many of us turned
to the writings of Bishop Spong. Like him, we were able to agree that
we could no longer believe in the Virgin Birth or the physical
resurrection of Jesus, or many of the other Christian beliefs that
shape our church liturgy. Like him we felt that we were theologically
in exile from the Christian church. Some of us welcomed Harper'’s ‘’ because it allowed us to stay in the church
while seeing the Christian story as a set of metaphors which we could
apply to our lives. Lately, some of us have been caught up by the
writing of , who postulates that atheism, is the only position
to take to the world. Some of our community have felt alienated by
their thoughts and have decided that they cannot continue to attend
any church with integrity. Others, like me, are still here, still
questioning, not at all sure of whether I will continue here for much
longer. I, and I’m sure others, would be interested in hearing what
other Holy Trinity people think.”

Here's my answer, which I also sent to some friends who never asked for it and maybe don't particularly want to know:

It's wonderful to have this blunt question put out here in public.
My answer would go something like this:
I have a lot of and very few . I wouldn't know what to
believe, except that nobody will ever be able to understand the mind
of God, or the nature of ultimate reality. We may get closer or
further from understanding but we'll never get all the way there.
Hence whatever I believe is mostly false. I take that as the starting

I also believe (and here I owe much to the sociologist )
that if I could understand the ultimate truth, I would be satisfied.
It is good, whatever it is. Instead of calling that a belief (since
it has no specific referent) I call that "faith." I think I hold that
faith 24 hours a day. But it doesn't tell me what specific doctrine
to hold and never will. I have to go on fumbling in the dark, with
only faith to work with.

On the other hand, there are odd experiences that give me the sense
that there is some kind of guidance available -- indeed, that it is
working all the time. I am being led, in a way, by having particular
challenges put before me and feeling obliged to undertake them. I
guess that's what is sometimes known as a "." It's a dangerous
thing to believe, because over half of the crackpots in the world
have the same cocky belief, and they obviously don't contribute
anything much except to sow dogmatism and self-righteousness in the
world, which we would be better off without. Yet I can't help
believing that I get nudges from time to time from sources that are
not empirically demonstrable, and I try to keep on the lookout for
them. (Dawkins and his ilk must miss out of those hot tips from the
ineffable.) I am never sure whether I'm doing the right thing in
response to these nudges, and I hope I don't go around bragging that
I do. This is an area where one should basically shut up.

Then there is liturgy. Since I don't believe any doctrine anyhow,
it's not necessarily important to improve the , since no
revision will actually get us significantly closer to expressing the
truth. I see the whole thing as . It moves you or it doesn't.
Or it moves you a little or a lot. I used to get momentary goosebumps
and a little shiver of awe once or twice in a good service, and I
think that was helpful for me somehow. That's basically what I go to
church for, plus the pleasure of being in a community. Unfortunately,
both are declining for me lately, for reasons that I cannot explain.
I understand the lack of community; I'm just not putting enough of
myself into the in order to get much out of it. I don't
know, though, why the shiver of is diminishing. I wish it were
not. I don't know that it is an objective indicator that the service
is poorly done; probably other people get their shivers in different
phases of the service and maybe as often as before. It is probably
something in me, not in the service, though I can't be sure -- nor do
I necessarily think that's important. What seems more important is
that my faith is undiminished -- this inarticulate faith in the
goodness of all creation, including the unpleasant stuff. So I keep
going to Holy Trinity about half the time. I think I'd survive
spiritually without going, but it's worth doing. What doesn't count
at all in my calculations is whether to believe in the virgin birth
or such doctrines. Of course, they are poetic , and they
work for a lot of people, so I would not seek to replace them with
scientific statements, though I do believe that science and religious
insights are compatibly part of the same whole reality.

Oh -- and one more proposition that I think probably counts as a
belief: that there is no hole in the universe, no location where God
and love are absent, and no place where the whole thing is not
working properly. The universe is working out just fine; God doesn't
make mistakes, even though I sure cannot figure out what the game
plan is. I guess that's a belief, though it feels more like an aspect
of faith.

Thanks, Carole, for asking the question. I'll forward this to a few
people with whom I have not shared this before. I am working on a
paper on love that actually relates to this, in that it asserts that
is not finite and hence not measurable. I've been stuck working
on it for several weeks, making very little progress. So for me,
please. (And no, I don't know what that will accomplish -- it just
seems like a good idea.)

Metta Spencer


Anonymous Rex said...

I have solved this problem for myself by assuming that the word 'God' refers to the whole of reality. The part of the problem I can't solve by (or for) myself is when others use the word 'God' as though God is a person to whom we can talk & who 'talks' back to us (& sometimes changes the rules whimsically). I grant that reality does 'talk' to me but only as I my understanding of that reality increases. My understanding then has to be put into words BY ME in order for me to talk about my understanding with others in order to make my understanding more complete.
The other thing we have no control over is how the other person will understand our words, so I suggest that we just keep trying to understand each other until we have plenty of evidence that we really do!

8:35 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

I like your notion that God is the whole of reality -- but it's a little more than that, I think. There's some kind of dynamic directionality in this reality. It's reality that's headed in some direction, and there's something for me to do to contribute to that motion. So yes, I listen for answers. I don't hear voices, but I get a sense of what I'm supposed to do. (Except when I don't. That's an uncomfortable phase.)

10:49 PM  

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