Head First: Questioning God from way down here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Questioning God from way down here.

I printed the Allen quote yesterday because (like most Woody Allen material) it struck me as funny. But I noticed something this morning. The presupposition of his comment (like most Woody Allen material) is that he, himself is at the center of his own attention, and everything else (including God) is judged according to the skew of his self-centric stance. It's good fodder for a punchline, but I have trouble seeing it succeed as a worldview.

One of the problems, as I see it, is that it's almost impossible to come to the conclusion that God exists without coming to the simultaneous conclusion that this spot where I stand is not the center of all things. Add to that the claim of Christ that "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me," and my importance to all creation is even further marginalized.

While in Washington recently, my wife and I attended a service at the National Cathedral. I have trouble knowing how to describe that place. Built over the course of 83 years from Indiana limestone (NO structural steel) and with no federal money, this anything-but-humble architectural wonder towers 301 feet over the surrounding neighborhood. Inside, next to one of four fluted stone support columns measuring 27-feet across, the Dean of the Cathederal, Dr. Sam Lloyd delivered a challenging, Christ-centered Lenten message from a pulpit carved from a stone taken from Canterbury Cathedral (aka The Mother Ship).

Now, if you know me, you know that few people scream louder than I when churches spend a gajillion dollars on buildings. But I have to say this: as the speaker's words echoed up into the 100-foot ceiling of this great gothic structure, I suddenly glimpsed at least part of the logic of building such an enormous and majestic house of prayer. In that place, at that moment, there was no way I could mistake myself for the center of anything. No, as I bowed my head and confessed my selfish heart, I felt appropriately small.

Richard Dawkins will think me a mindless dolt, but, while I have a million questions for God, and about God, I don't feel the need to question God (does that make sense?). As I told a friend recently, I have come to loathe Christianity only because I love Jesus Christ. I have come to terms with the non-empirical nature and mystery of faith. I consider the message of the gospel and its apparent incompatibility with reason to be more an insufficiency of man's ability to reason than a deficiency of faith.

The problem with many theists and many athiests is that they each insist on being arbiters of an absolute truth. And, as they do, they occupy that spot in the center of the universe that belongs to Another.


Kc said...

This one is going on the wall! Outstanding!

Keith Jones said...

This is an interesting carry on from the Allen quote, and is somewhat along the same lines.

If we are to not question God, then we submit to Him and His will. In that, we have complete faith in Him that He will take care of us, and that anything that happens to us (whether that be getting mugged, or sticking our tongue in a typewriter, i.e. our actions vs. someone else's) is part of His will. As painful as these events are, He lets us go through them for a reason.

I'm not much on Christianity (nor any organized religion) to be honest, but I agree with your thoughts on the majestic churches. We really just have to learn to be humble, and the architecture and symbology of some of these "houses of God" really do achieve that feeling.

Recovering said...

Bravo! Good post. I appreciate your feeling at the National Cathedral as my reaction was very similar.

sandytrif said...

wow! I can understand how you feel about spending "gajillons" of dollars on buildings for church, but they I appreciate the wonder of the old buildings and the majesty of them. I wonder if thier motives back then , to bring glory and honor to God, were purer than our motives of today to build bigger only to seem better then those around them~I am better than you mentality.
Good points about both sectors putting themself in the center when truly only one can/should hold such an honored position.
Take care

the_burning_bush said...

I'll start listening to Richard Dawkins when he can honestly explain love.

I especially liked the 2nd to the last paragraph.

SocietyVs said...

Dorse, I seen your apology on Burning Bush's site - and I thank you for your humility.

I read a lot of atheists also and actually chat with them - and believe me they can be a little rough around the edges - but I find some honesty in them. Dawkins and others are just asking questions for us to consider - which I also appreciate.

I think the idea of questioning our faith is something we all do. I have questions for God also, yet at the same time I have ultimate respect for God - which can co-exist. But I really like the point about 'the centre of the universe' that you made - I agree 100%.

I think it is a healthy thing to say 'I don't have all the answers' and that life is about the seeking of those answers to questions. I am a very limited person on how much I can actually know about everything - at some point 'faith' is the only option left.

Ausbury said...

Great, honest, insightful. I think there could be an entire Donald Miller-type book in what you have to say. And you are just the dude to write it.

JP Manzi said...

Good post, this grabbed my attention "Now, if you know me, you know that few people scream louder than I when churches spend a gajillion dollars on buildings". Would love to hear your thoughts on this. I live in south NJ too and "my" church is raising money for a new building right here in good ol' southern jersey.

Ha Kohen said...

I wonder sir, how can you say that you love Jesus and yet say also that you hate His wife? (Ephesians 5:25-27)

I hear people sometimes say similar things but it always bothers me. I think perhaps it is better to say you hate the unfaithfulness of the Church. But that is just my opinion.

dorsey said...

I'm pretty sure I didn't say that, but even if I had, you'll have to pick another example. I have several friends whose wives I can't stand (to be fair, I think it's mutual). LOL.

Dude, when are you going to post something? Your site's hilarious.

Steve said...

I am consumed with it and tired of it all at the same time.... know what I mean.

For me, a lot of these discussions has to do with our view of scripture... I personally think we pick and choose too much for my taste. Sometimes I feel we either need to be literalists or atheists. But even that simplifies things too much I know.

Steve said...

The above post is from me.... I hate the new blogger, tied to gmail... and then I switch accounts and it... well... ergh.... whatever.

dorsey said...

I agree, Steve (about both things--Steve Jobs, start a blog hosting service, please).

Evangelicalism has engaged in what Dr. Randall Balmer calls "the ruse of selective literalism" for so long that I have a hard time disengaging myself from that lifetime of conditioning. It's difficult to see the "big picture" of scripture, especially when there are so many people with so many agendas who are trying to distort it (or refute it) to promote their own viewpoints.

Ha Kohen said...

Dorsey, I am assuming that you’re talking to me about the site (I could be wrong though)...if you mean Letters from a Concerned Follower I’m posting quite a lot (it is actually the site run by the original editor of the pre-realist "manifesto" who is good friends with Jenny (from Steeples and Peoples).

If you mean The Realist (online version) I just got something from Cutty this morning (we just went skiing last week and talked about this) and have posted something he sent as an e-mail. I hope he keeps it up.

dorsey said...

ha kohen (funny, you don't look Jewish), your profile only points to the Realist site. Funny stuff. I didn't even know about Concerned Follower. I listened to a podcast. I like it.

Anyway, I want to make sure I didn't dodge your question. I love God's people, sometimes desperately so. What I abhor is the mindless, self-preservative insanity of the system of organization that glories in itself at the expense of the truth (I know that's kind of a wide open statement). I wrote this post a couple years ago when I was making the gut-wrenching decision to take a step back from ministry in response to the above-mentioned insanity. I don't know if it will shed any light on my place in this world (the discussion which followed immediately headed south because I said "bullshit"), but it still reflects my heart toward the church and the Church.

Rock in the Grass said...

Post Modern culture has little time for mystery. We need cathedrals, or mountains, or deep canyons to remind us of internal spaces where we are deeply moved but for which we have no explanation.

Jason said...

Our heavily Americanized Church would be a great thing...without the "mindless, self-preservative insanity of the system of organization that glories in itself at the expense of the truth." I'd write my own list, but you hit it.


JimmyBob said...

I realize this is a bit off topic perhaps, but I have thought it interesting for some time the use of the phrase "Americanized Church."

Can the significance of the phrase be melted down to wealth and how it is handled?

For those with the knowledge: What is the difference between American churches and foreign churches? What does that say about us Americans?

Jason said...

I don’t think you’re off topic; people say they need more money. But, riches are deceitful. Having more wealth may enable us to do more and more (and build freakin’ ridiculously expensive buildings and entertainment systems that no one knows how to use...sorry), but that doesn’t afford us any more happiness than we have now. We [the Church] can look around and find people with tons of money. That’s not hard. If we’re paying attention, soon we’ll realize that they’re just as miserable as we are. Or wait...is that the point?

I’m not really that knowledgeable, but I’d venture to guess that we get bored with our faith, and start other things. We get tired of stuff that becomes stale. We then get tired of things associated with organized church, and quit. I’m getting more and more fed up with churches spending so much time on fellowship and fun than teaching the Word of God [the reason we congregate in the first place]. We’re attracted to stuff that we can see, touch...and count. In our churches, it’s great that we’re attracting numbers, but what significance does that have in the grand plan of God for our lives? What’s at stake if we’re not investing into people’s lives?

In other foreign countries’ churches, are they as caught up with the material garbage (Phil. 3:8, NLT) as we are? Or, are these saints consumed with the reality of Christ? It seems that they’re hearing the words of God with more fervent receptiveness, and showing Christ to others. I like that plan better.

Zeke said...

When I think "Americanized Church," I think on one hand of the prosperity gospel and on the other hand of the conflating of conservative doctrine and conservative politics. All mashed together with tacky consumer culture.

MJ said...

"The problem with many theists and many athiests is that they each insist on being arbiters of an absolute truth. And, as they do, they occupy that spot in the center of the universe that belongs to Another."

As a former atheist, I agree. I have never heard it put so well.

I have been coming to the same sort of place with ideas of buildings, etc. You know, I used to judge this a great deal, having grown up Catholic...hence the atheism....I decided a long time ago that this was "not the spirit of Christ" who "didn't even have a place to lay his head" But then I thought of Cathedrals as a humble and guilty response to his lack here on Earth. I thought of this like pouring very costly oils over his feet, and you know what? I don't know how I truly feel about it. I am deciding to reserve judgement and enjoy beauty. The flipside of churches being so "no frills" is that they really don't invite you into the sacred the way you described. They don't express the awesomeness and wonder that orients us appropriately to God.

As I mature in faith, I find myself becoming more a lover and less a critic. I guess that's a good thing.

ninjanun said...

The beautiful cathedrals of old didn't have completely pure motives--it was often a community's big "draw" to bring more tourism/pilgrimages to the area (hence, more money). I think the difference with the $$ spent on those cathedrals compared to the $$ spent on modern cathedrals is still significant, however.

For one, the entire community invested in building the cathedral, both financially and with their own back-breaking labor.

Two, the cathedral was rightfully seen, from a design standpoint, as a way for the community to interact with God as a community of faith, and for the design itself to remind everyone who entered of their humble position before the majesty of God.

Nowadays, it seems church communities have not approached the endeavor of building a church building as a way to enhance and enrich the community landscape at large, nor have they seen their building as a gift for anyone who enters to appreciate. More often than not, the church community seems to view the building as "theirs" (eg., only members can come in during "off" hours; only members can hold weddings/funerals there, etc.), AND they overlook the opportunity for the actual architecture of the building to enhance worshipers' experience of God (instead of just the awesome, state-of-the-art sound system).

Probably no one else will read this comment but you, Dorse, since I'm coming so late to the discussion. But that's okay. It's just comforting to know that you will, Dorsey. :)

Miss you!