Losing My Religion: At Home in the Wilderness.
—(Luke 11.9, Matthew 7.7).
Looking back on it, I think that I began to lose my religion just about when I was feeling closest to God. I was so close. So close and yet so far. I just didn’t realize that the door I was knocking on was, in fact, an exit.
So, here I am now. Welcome to the wilderness. Glad you stopped by.
Me? Been here a while. Oh, coming up on thirty years or so now. Yep, that’s a long time.
Yes, yes, I know; the wilderness is usually a place people pass through. I did think I was passing through. At first. And, maybe I still am. Slowly.
No, thanks. I’m not looking for a way out. I’m good. In fact, I’m right at home. I enjoy sharing stories with fellow travelers whom I happen to meet here, like you, and I’m always up for a genuine conversation. But I don’t want to tag along.
Yes, there is a lot to explore out there. But as someone who’s been here a while, you know what’s odd? Many folks never really explore any of it; they keep their eyes firmly planted on the ground, right in front of them, while they try to follow someone else’s footprints from point A to point B. Most of ’em don’t even notice me.
Except the evangelicals. They rush by every so often, usually in a bus with a guide, on one of their well-orchestrated “Without a Doubt!” tours. Poor people: they desperately don’t want to stop — every once in a while one of ’em jumps ship — and yet they can’t stand to pass anyone up. Evangelicals, you see, are the Amway salesmen of religion. Every conversation, every relationship, and every interaction is a command performance: exploit the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment, conquer your insecurity, and validate the pyramid. It just kills them to not at least try to bring you on board. But I gave up talking to them. It’s always a one-way conversation. Besides, once they figure out you aren’t going to buy in, they’re done with you: off they go, so sad that you didn’t see the light and so relieved to not have you tugging at the ragged edges of their well-woven doctrines.
No, I don’t tell them where to go. I don’t tell anyone where to go anymore. I gradually came to realize that I don’t have the temperament to be led, and I don’t have the character to lead. I just share where I’ve been and what I know. I like to help where I can, but I’m willing to let people have their own roads, even if they only follow the freeways. I’ve seen some people pass by several times. They bounce through, from there to there, and then back from there to over there, and then back again over in that direction. They’re always looking for a better Shangri-La.
An athiest? God, no (pun intended), I’m not an athiest. For me, atheism and theism are two sides of a currency that I no longer trade in, at least in the extremes. I don’t see much difference between the sour, arrogant, and angry atheists and their insecure, arrogant, and angry theist counterparts. Both are dogmatic fundamentalists: one of unbelief, the other of belief. If they can’t convert you or silence you they will have to kill you — and they will enjoy justifying it. Fundamentalists have no qualms about you dying for their beliefs. After all, it’s either you or them, and you are just getting what you deserve. I try to stay away from them both.
I suppose that you could say I’ve become an agnostic. But not a mamby-pamby, hand-wringing, “Gosh, I don’t know, I just can’t make up my mind” kind of agnostic; I’m more of a “Yes, I really do know that I really don’t know, and what’s more, I really do know that you really don’t know either” kind of agnostic. And, at this point in my life, I’m okay with that. I’m not struggling, in need of direction, or looking for guidance. I’ve come to see ambiguity not as a liability, but a source of strength, authenticity, and honesty. I don’t want or need leadership, mentorship, discipleship, edification, sympathy, or forbearance as a way to lead me to anyone else’s truth. I’m at home in this wilderness. It turned out to be my Promised Land. You see, I have this sneaking suspicion that God, if he’s really there, is out here, and most people rush right by him on their way to something that is really more about themselves.
And sometimes, when I lay awake at night and think about these things, I think that, maybe, God really isn’t here in the wilderness, but is the wilderness. But that’s enough of that.
So, yes, I guess I’m an agnostic. But a Christian agnostic. Sure, that sounds silly, but that’s the way it is. The sacraments and liturgy are in my marrow. So’s an Indo-European sensibility to be tragically engaged, rather than mystically disengaged. I know that the human condition is doubt-ridden. I know that life is absurd, punctuated with transcendent and sublime moments but doomed to overall failure but for the slim possibility of an impossible grace. But I think there is something noble in facing these facts and still choosing to embrace life, hope, and love, and still striving to do one’s best. And I think God, the universe, or whatever you want to call it has respect and compassion, rather than distain, for those who do that.
But I know I can’t count on anything, not even God. I tend to think that the Epicureans were probably right, but I continue to hold out hope, and if I wake up in an afterlife I’m going to be pleasantly surprised — and relieved. No, I’m not worried about a heaven or hell. If there’s a heaven, I am certain that St. Peter will let me in. Peter would understand people like me. So would Jesus. Paul, that charismatic but tortured, guilt-ridden, and rhetorically self-effacing control freak, is another story. He was the original evangelical tour bus guide. I think Jesus and Peter tolerate him only because he really does believe that his heart is in the right place. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Paul and a bunch of his ilk have gone off in a huff to found their own little gated community in heaven in protest at the riff-raff that Peter and Jesus have let in. If so, good riddance. I think heaven is probably better off without them. And a heck of a lot more fun.
But anyway, if there are many rooms in God’s mansion, I’ll probably have a little room in the back. I’m not expecting to get a suite. But every once in a while, when Peter or Jesus is tired of it all, I hope that they’ll drop by to see Susan and me and we’ll share a drink. And hopefully we can get them talking, because there’s so much that I would like to know.
And until then — who knows? — life, and the divine, has a way of interrupting where you think you are going, even if it’s nowhere. I’ll tell you a couple of stories of how I got here in the meantime if you stick around.