Sunday, June 21, 2009

feigned acceptance

i have long considered the conservative christian designation to be an oxymoron. i started to say always, but that would not be entirely true. i was raised in what could only be described as a conservative christian family. i struggled to believe the doctrines that i heard preached and was taught in sunday school, but the best i could do was feign acceptance. i wanted to believe the things i was hearing, but i just could not.

for much of the time growing up, i tried, with varying degrees of desperation, to believe things, which to me, simply made no sense. at least not the way i understood it.

the message i had come away with was something like this: the bible [i.e. the king james version] was the literal word of god, dictated by the holy ghost to people who wrote word for word what was whispered into their ear. you were not to question anything therein, under threat of a literal burning everlasting hell. god, jesus and holy ghost were practically interchangeable terms in many instances, but with the caveat that jesus was the literal son of god, having been born of the physical union of mary and the holy ghost, and that his death on the cross was a necessary precondition for a loving god to forgive the sins of mankind. jesus' physical body was resurrected and physically ascended into heaven [passing through the atmosphere]. at any moment now, a trumpet will sound which everyone will hear, the 'dead in christ' will physically rise from their graves [with glorified bodies], and they, along with the sanctified who are alive, will ascend through the atmosphere into heaven.

for most of my youth, that was the message i heard. to question the message would, i was sure, consign my soul to an eternal burning hell. but, try as i might, i could not make the things i was being taught fit into any logical framework that made sense. despite that, i tried. really and truly, i tried. i went to off to furman university and studied religion with the intention of entering the baptist ministry. all the while, there was this uneasiness as i tried to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to fit the 'doctrines' i had been taught as a youth into some sort of framework that i could tolerate.

choosing furman for my education saved me. soon after arriving there, i realized that there were people who actually held beliefs that were different from those to which i had been exposed and their beliefs actually made some sort of sense to me. i learned that it was okay to ask questions and seek answers that were logically consistent. it was at once liberating and bitter-sweet, as i realized that much of what i learned would never find it's way into the church that i loved. i also learned that it was okay for me to think for myself and that i didn't have to have someone else tell me what i should think.

to say that furman changed me would be an understatement. it opened my mind and set me on the path to be the person i am, and i am quite happy to be who i am today. had it not been for my experience at furman, i would likely have nothing to do with the church today.

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