From the Messy Desk (and Mind!)
… (This is the first “installment” of a blog about “Inclusiveness and Christianity”)
I do not really know when it was that I first became aware of, and uncomfortable with, fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of anything, and particularly of the scriptures. I am a “cradle Episcopalian” whose parents were very active and held leadership roles in the Sunday school and Adult education programs of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ithaca, New York, when the “Seabury Series” was going strong. (I mention the Seabury Series because the one thing I recall about it is that it seemed to affirm, as my father would put it, “using one’s head for more than a hat rack” in matters biblical & religious).
I say all this to make it clear that my strong aversion to belief systems, (religious, political, and social), that denigrate rational thought, open discussion, and common sense; has deep roots in my “formative” years. The Episcopal Church and Christianity that I experienced while growing up was never that kind of “closed” system. It was, on the contrary, a system of belief that made increasing sense the more that I was open to exploration through biblical research and examination from theological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives. I understood from an early age that the bible was written by a number of different people, (not God), who were inspired by their quest to understand themselves, their world, and their perceived experience of God in connection with both. I have always taken the stories and teachings of the bible seriously, but also metaphorically and symbolically; not factually.
[Only recently did I come across the Buddha’s admonition to: “BELIEVE NOTHING, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense”; though that dictum has been the mainstay of my philosophical, theological and philosophical journey for as long as I can remember].
… (This is the Second “installment” of a blog about “Inclusiveness and Christianity”)
I grew up understanding that everyone, regardless of race, gender, status, sexual orientation, (or anything else), was created in God’s image, the Christianity of my childhood and adolescence was naturally inclusive and affirming of all persons. Our job, so to speak, was to live into that image fully, and in a manner that reflected our unique individuality. (When and how I came to that awareness I have no idea; it feels as though it just always “was”). There was never any talk in our home about “being saved” or having to believe in a certain doctrine or other in order to be fully acceptable to God. (I have a vague recollection of hearing that concern expressed occasionally by kids from other churches). I, along with others of my own age at St. John’s in Ithaca, went through confirmation class and learned the churches creeds, the Lord’s prayer, and various other teachings of the church in order to go through that “rite of passage” into “adulthood” in eyes of the church. But I never entertained the notion that if I did not “declare my faith” in that manner I would be “doomed to hell”; I just would not be allowed to receive communion. (The Episcopal churches policy of having to be confirmed in order to receive communion was jettisoned sometime in the 1970’s)
It was not until I was a senior at Hobart College and director of a local multi-denominational high school age youth group of about forty kids that I became fully aware that the bible and teachings of Jesus, when interpreted in a literal fashion, could create an environment that excluded large numbers of the surrounding population, myself included. Almost hand-in-hand with that awareness was the realization that one of the significant concomitants of such literalistic thinking in the sphere of religion was its applicability to the field of politics.
When a large segment of the population has been taught that they were not really capable of understanding the mysteries of the bible, and therefore were not to question the authoritative and literalistic interpretation of scripture as “handed down” to them; the transference of that same prescription of authoritative literalism to achieve politically expedient ends is rather straightforward. The threat held over those who would challenge the teachings of the church was “excommunication” and “hell fire & brimstone”; the sword hanging over those who dared challenge executive political decisions was to be labeled as “un-American”.