Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Life in the Box

Rules comfort me.

While I enjoy freedom and autonomy, I still find solace in boundaries and guidelines. I suppose this preference is one of the reasons why I still remain a fairly fundamental Christian.

Like many believers, my faith was not something I got to choose early in life. My parents had me oiled up and greased down in a church pew almost every Sunday. Later in life I chose to continue on the course they set for me, but I will readily admit that my spiritual path was probably decided well before I understood faith.

As I've grown older and spoken to more people, I've found that many people who share the beliefs I have on social issues are often vehemently opposed to organized religion of any kind. It was a strange experience for me to arrive on a college campus and meet people who proudly proclaimed to be atheists, although there weren't that many of them since I did go to an HBCU.

After engaging in several debates and discussions I often found that people were opposed to religion because they rejected the dogma that accompanies most traditional doctrines. Rules about sex, drinking and a host of other sins seemed outdated and arbitrary to many folks, and even those individuals who professed a general affection for a particular religion struggled with embracing all of its guidelines.

I thought about the struggle between personal preferences and the rules required by certain faiths when I read a recent New York Times editorial discussing the Catholic Church's decision to consider updating its list of sins. You can read that editorial here.

As the article points out, it's a tricky dance that all religions must engage in to remain relevant while retaining the core values that should separate them from any other social club or group. Plus, anytime religious tenets are updated to bring them in-line with the current political or social morays there is the potential for a catastrophic disaster. Previous church teachings on slavery, civil rights, colonialism and the Holocaust are proof of that.

Yet, at times, religions must set guidelines, even those guidelines that are unpopular or seem unacceptably harsh. And human beings must search their own hearts to determine just how closely they will adhere to the rules of their faith and when they will let their own morality be their guide.

Personally, I've adopted the mindset that the rules are the rules whether I agree with them or not. This means that while I frequently break the rules (I've got a filthy mouth), I rarely complain that the rules are unfair and agitate for their repeal. I also rarely try to rationalize my failure to adhere to biblical guidelines by pointing out that my own moral compass says this is the correct course of action.

For example, while I thought pre-marital sex seemed like a good way to test out the car before you bought it, I never claimed that my stance was better than the one advocated in the Bible. Instead, I just accepted that what I was doing was wrong and resigned myself to the consequences.

Obviously, it was much easier for me to take this stance than someone whose core existence challenges the basic rules set out in the Bible or other religious faiths. I'm sure "the rules" are much less comforting to a homosexual attending a traditional Baptist church, or a budding feminist being raised under an oppressive Muslim regime. These rules surely seem to strangle and constrict, rather than reassure and strengthen.

And, while I acknowledge this dilemma, I still cling to my rules because I find the world an easier place to navigate with them in place. Some might argue that this is the easy way out; letting some anonymous higher power legislate my actions so that I can avoid making the difficult choices myself is a coward's approach to life.

Perhaps they are right. But, in my heart I find a world where everyone creates their own morality, where everyone makes up their own rules as they go, a much scarier place. I've seen human beings rationalize the most heinous actions by cloaking them in religion or objective science when they are really just satisfying the darkest desires in their hearts.

I do not trust my fellow man.

So, I sympathise with the Catholic Church and its members as they try to determine the next set of rules that will govern their lives. I understand those who argue that it is past time to take a holistic approach to qualifying sin, and I understand those who argue that some things are better left alone.

Personally, I believe that the core tenets of most faiths--love, respect and fidelity--should be a good enough guide for all people to co-exist together, but the reality it that those vague values do not suffice.

So, we have rules.

13 comments:

Ferocious Kitty said...

**Personally, I believe that the core tenets of most faiths--love, respect and fidelity--should be a good enough guide for all people to co-exist together [snip]**

This really resonates with me. I recently blogged about finding a church home, distinguishing church attendance from "being a Christian", and what happened when I went to college and encountered, for the first time, black folks who didn't go to church.

When you write about your parents setting your spiritual path earlier, I think about my daughters. I want them to have a head-and-heart faith, not just tradition or ritual or because Mommy or Daddy said so. I'm not saying that this is your situation, Big Man. Just thinking out loud...thanks for the food for thought.

WNG said...

Wow, Big Man - I just finished reading Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult, last night and thinking about what I believe anout what is right and wrong and what the punishments should be for sin. If I ever figure any of it out I'll let you know...

Danielle said...

I believe in God. However, I am one of those individuals that has issues with organized religion for the very examples you cited (lack of acceptance for homosexuality, lesbianism, patriarchy, etc).

I don't trust my fellow man much either, but given the scandals with pedophilia within the Catholic Church and the failings of the Black Church in many ways, they don't have my trust either.

I don't knock anyone's faith and I know we all must find our path and believe in something greater than us.

However, I have my own thoughts, principles and beliefs about how to treat myself and others and I remain true

I trust God and that's about it. Thanks for the post Big Man. It made me reflect and that's good.

Big Man said...

I'm glad everybody found the post useful.

I wrote about rules because I find that they are the one thing that most people have a problem with when it comes to religion. Yet, I find the rules one of the most comforting aspects of my faith. It provides a balance to my tendency to question and wonder about everything. With rules, I can disagree with a rule, but I still must admit that it is a rule. How I choose to deal with rules is up to me. I like that.

Deacon Blue said...

Well, Big Man, I know it won't surprise you to find that I totally agree with and heartily FEEL your post today. I can speak to the Catholic Church's dilemma a bit as someone who was raised Catholic (despite have "defected" to a more Baptist slant as an adult). The Catholic Church has institutionalized so many special sin-related things (venal vs. mortal sins, the use of the confessional, etc.) that it is probably way overdue to update things. I will have to explore this a bit more though, as I am very curious to find out how much in still in line with the Bible and how much is cleaning out the crap that a multitude of popes, cardinals and bishops added to confuse things for the poor, defuddled average believer. ;-)

The Christian Progressive Liberal said...

I feel you on this one, Big Man. I guess I must be a weird Christian, because everytime I hear something about Gays and Lesbians in the church (in terms of treating your fellow man), I tend to get nauseaous, because Jesus wasn't going around being violent, but befriending everyone "society" chose to cast aside.

The faith is foolishness to those who can't or won't believe. I know of "Christians" who have spent their entire lives in the same Church, Sunday after Sunday, and are still spiritual runts in terms of their maturity walk - plus they can't stand the Pastor and wasted 20 years or so sitting under someone they couldn't stand and learning absolutely nothing about Jesus.

We can't point fingers at the Catholic Church or any other denomination until we get that beam of bigotry out of our own eyes.

Preachers like Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar make it worse with their "prosperity" doctrine that makes them wealthy and living "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famouse" while the communities surrounding their churches are tore up, and shows no input from their organizations.

Go figure. I agree that the Catholic Church has as many problems (covering up for pedophile priests, yuck)as any other church, particularly the Black Church, because you may have equally predatory preachers pimpin in the pulpit and in Jesus' name, too.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

your parents sound like great folks. and u right on eligion, man makes the divisons not god, he/she needs to speak cause his reps and doing a good job

Truthiz said...

Great post Big Man! Your parents sound a lot like mine.

LAWD knows I really TRIED to remain silent and simply ENJOY the flow of this discussion; but quite frankly, the responses got me up here Witnessing!

“head-and heart faith NOT just tradition or ritual or because Mommy or Daddy said so.”

@Ferocious Kitty: Well said! I LOVE IT!

Danielle wrote:

“I don't trust my fellow man much either, but given the scandals with pedophilia within the Catholic Church and the failings of the Black Church in many ways, they don't have my trust either.”

And let the Church say AMEN!

CPL wrote:

“We can't point fingers at the Catholic Church or any other denomination until we get that beam of bigotry out of our own eyes.

Preachers like Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar make it worse with their "prosperity" doctrine that makes them wealthy and living "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" while the communities surrounding their churches are tore up, and shows no input from their organizations.”

I agree that the Catholic Church has as many problems (covering up for pedophile priests, yuck) as any other church, particularly the Black Church, because you may have equally predatory preachers pimpin in the pulpit and in Jesus' name, too.”

PREACH CPL!_cause you ain’t said NUTTIN but the TRUTH!!!

Only ONE point I would differ with you. It’s not a matter of we "may" have predatory preachers pimpin in the pulpit and in Jesus' name, too.

We DO have "predatory preachers pimpin in the pulpit and in Jesus' name, too." In fact, you named TWO of them, “PREY-For-Dollar$” and “Trick” Eddie Long.

But the truthiz, “the Black church” is rife with so-called “Holy” folks_ from the Pastors on down _"BANGIN" everything (on the “DL,”) they can get their slimy hands on, MALES, females and CHILDREN!

Dare I say, it's the Worst kept “secret” in the Black community.

And in the words of my Beloved grandmother (now deceased) I think “it’s a SIN and a shame before GOD!”

Imhotep said...

Big Man. My man Dwil is down so I decided to walk accross the street an look you up.

First, very good read on many levels. I agree with much of what you say, but I feel differently about rules.

I'm an agnostic with a spiritual disposition. I believe that God's inspirations are continious and dynamic, whereas rules are static and fixed, and ultimatley are unable to keep up with God's dynamic forces. Hence the Catholic curch attempts to update it's sins and non sins to match life in the 21 century.

I believe that the church always lags God's true intent. And in fact have to be forced to recognized God's true intent. Notice the church's position of the eradication on the native populaton, the enslaved africans, the second class status of women, the acceptance of discrimination in the church and pulpit. Where was the church when people were being oppressed? Counting their money?

We talk about these modern preachers, praying for wealth, atleast they do it in the open. The catholic church built it's empire on stolen treasure from the western world.

I'll take God over dogma.. and I can always use some prosperity!

Big Man said...

Imhotep

First, thanks for coming through and please look around and come back again.

Second


I think that Catholic dogma goes far beyond the rules set up by the original church.

You are being unfair to lump all religious rules in with the rules dictated by the Catholic church. Or even comparing the Koran to the rules set up by the different versions of Sharia (sp?).

I've found that mankind loves to embellish and add on requirements to the original words of God, and these requirments typically reflect what mankind would like to see happen, not the will of God. Shoot, it was even a problem in the Bible if you check out Acts.

Like I said, I've found the rules in the Bible to fit with my life. I readily admit that my outlook would be different if I was a homosexual. But, because I'm not, I think the Bible's rules seem reasonable and comforting.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, I'm not a biblical scholar, so I cannot engage you on that level. Further, I ask that you put up with my generalities.

The will of God? Really and truely who amoung us can truely claim to know the will of God? IMO, at best we can gather our beliefs and teachings and conjecture that they are from God. I don't have a problem with that, because whatever makes us psychologically comfortable, is cool with me.

You are correct, I should not lump all religious entities together. But I will say, the Anglican church, Catholic church, have long embraced a racism and classism that exist today. In the Islamic world there is a discrimination against dark skin people. So the Koran may speak to a brotherly love, but race discrimation is very real in the Islamic world. In the Hindu religion, they may speak to a brotherly love. But we know about their caste system, and the untouchables.

In short, the will of God (whatever that is) was highjacked long ago, and it's left up to each of us to find God in our own way. Or not.

skinnylittleblonde said...

Lol...I usually try to follow the rule of 'don't talk politics & religion' ;) but I just found your blog and have to say...beautiful!
Without rules we would have complete anarchy ... socially, morally, politically, ethically etc. so, imho, rules are good. I also believe that we all break rules, maybe not the same rules as one another, but they all get broken...just not everyone admits it. Herein lies my issue with organized religion or perhaps really just organized religions' impact on some folks. Living in the bible belt, I find so many folks profess the 'Christian' thing to do... yet, their actions speak louder than their words. Eke...let me catch myself & just hush, before I go on a serious ramble. Lol...your posts are certainly thought-provoking!

Big Man said...

Thanks for stopping by Blonde.

And it's ok to point out the hypocrisy many Christians exhibit. You're telling the truth.

However, don't let the failings of man cause you to shy away from examining religion. There is no human institution that is not rife with hypocrisy.

Raving Black Lunatic