Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Such a Strange Way

One of my favorite professors used to quote the Scripture that reads, "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind," and then follow it up with "In my class, two out of three is not a passing grade." He wanted to engage our minds, not just the heart and soul part of us, which all too often was done in an all too "Heart and Soul" way -- four chords, inane words, lather, rinse, repeat.

The more I exercise my mind, though, the more saddened I am by the fact that the tenets of my faith seem to require a suspension of disbelief that would stretch even the most dedicated Trekkie. (Granted, this may have something to do with the fact that it's easier to learn Klingon than to really get your brain around the concept of eternal life.) At the heart of our faith is a resurrection. Our God is invisible and inaudible. Our holy book is inconsistent. The heartfelt convictions of ten different believers may lead them to ten different conclusions, each equally sure that God is leading them, none with any proof more credible than the others.

I've grown up around Christian intellectuals, and as much as the unbeliever might scoff and mutter about oxymorons, they are for real. They are deep thinkers, committed scholars, writers, teachers, brilliant minds dedicated to a pursuit of truth. My father is one, and while his thoughts have led him away from some of the more nonsensical and hidebound traditions, he is still a firm believer in the core doctrines of Christianity. I cannot bring myself to call him illogical and misguided.

The problem is that the logical construct of Christianity seems only to work with minimal outside interference. The advent (or plague, depending on your perspective) of systematic theology that arrived with the Age of Reason built a complex, interdependent structure of concepts that purports to explain everything from the problem of good and evil to the reason for the prohibition against divorce. From the inside, the concepts work -- they tend to be predicated on God's holiness and our ignorance, which is a neat catch-all for anything we have difficulty explaining, but they do work.

But from the outside, which is increasingly where I find myself standing, they are like a beautifully constructed Jenga tower. Remove one block, and the tower stands. Remove a few more, and the theology still stands. But the more you remove, the more careful you must be not to touch the others, or the whole thing will collapse in a meaningless muddle of dogma.

If God had the opportunity to express himself to the world, why do it this way? Why the confusing, conflicted words of Scripture? Why make the road narrow? Why not make it wide, downhill, and with clearly marked street signs? Why require so much blind faith that a thinking person feels obligated to check his brain at the church door, parking it next to the coverless Bibles and forgotten umbrellas?

A Christian music group from the nineties used to sing, "This is such a strange way to save the world." A strange way indeed ... I must admit that I would be more attracted to a plan of salvation that could also be embraced by the inexorable logic of Spock. Heart, soul, and mind -- without the third, I find it harder and harder to engage the other two.

Such a strange way to save the world.

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