Unsightly Graffiti

Thoughts by Paul M. Delaney

Month: January, 2013

Crisis of Faith, Part II: There Is A Jesus For That

I recall a series of advertisements for the Apple iPhone a few years ago. The damn things were ubiquitous. They were even harder for me to escape since I worked in the wireless industry at the time. The ads were about how there was an application or ‘app’ for nearly everything to be found in Apple’s App Store. Need directions? There’s an app for that. Need vegan recipes? There’s an app for that. I consider the divine and it seems to me there is a god or a Jesus for every single person. This gives me pause. This keeps me up at night. This fuels my doubt.

Once again it all comes back to Jesus Christ. I see two Jesus Christs out there. There are probably more and I’m probably looking at this in a very America-centric sort of way but my perspective is necessarily limited and I acknowledge this. I see a Jesus that is very much like Dr. James Dobson or Mark Driscoll or John Piper or John Hagee. He sees the Bible as a literal guidebook for life on earth. He’s concerned with issues like abortion, gay marriage, personal responsibility, which political party to support, gender roles and he takes absolutist positions on these issues. He’s all about personal morality. Things are black and white. The other Jesus is all about economic justice, emancipation of women and homosexuals, racial justice, being against war. He isn’t absolutist. He isn’t a literalist. He’s very much concerned with acting in this world and isn’t overly focused on the life of the world to come. I know which one I prefer these days. I prefer a Jesus that is concerned with justice in this world and isn’t so concerned with issues of personal morality and theological orthodoxy. That may be my preference. That doesn’t make it true. It would make many people pity me but I must say I do not know who Jesus is. How could I? This was a man who existed in a culture that is alien to our own. How could I know him in a way that isn’t clouded or muddied by the peculiarities of the culture that I exist in? Maybe that’s why he’s great. Maybe that’s why he’s God. He can speak to us through time. He can transcend culture. Maybe that’s what I tell myself. Maybe that’s just a shallow intellectual justification for belief. Maybe I am truly an atheist and just don’t have the guts to admit it.

What do I make of the fact that there seems to be a God or Jesus for every single person? I suppose I can say that God is so big that he cannot be pigeonholed by ideology or theological orthodoxy. There are so many different kinds of people that God must necessarily manifest himself in a nearly infinite number of ways. This is what the hopeful mystic in me says. The part time atheist says that people simply are making it up. It comes down to the fact that man never truly worshiped anything but himself. It’s simply man creating God in his or her own image. It is man appealing to the ultimate authority for validation of himself and his opinions. I straddle the border between these spiritual regions. I sneak across the border several times a day with forged papers. Maybe the fact that I don’t just stay on one side is cowardice. Maybe it’s wisdom. I suspect at this point in my 30 years with little idea of how many years I have left that I prefer it that way. I suppose that wonder has it’s own splendor and beauty. I don’t want to get too certain about it because then I become what I deplore. Once again I have no answers. Don’t come to me for answers. I doubt that’s why you’ve come. I cannot bear witness to my faith. I can only bear witness to my doubts, to my questions.

Mark Driscoll’s Useless Inauguration Day Tweet

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know. -Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington

This was posted to Twitter by Seattle’s resident clerical controversialist-in-chief Pastor Mark Driscoll. I am probably being generous calling him that as I consider the man to be a troll playing parson and a ghoul who uses God as a blunt instrument. I am not a fan of his and I judge him and his ministry harshly. I do not support it and I don’t buy the “It’s all about Jesus” line that is used as some sort of mantra by him and his sycophantic supporters to drown out dissent. I should also mention I am not a fan of the Obama administration. I did not vote for him and I did not vote for his opponent either. Now that that is out of the way let me address the tweet (Hate that term) in question.

Obviously Mr. Driscoll is not privy to the President’s innermost thoughts. This is a truism I shall not discuss in any depth. The issue I have is what occurred in the time that it took to compose and post this tweet. How many children died of starvation? How many infants were born into poverty with just barely a fighting chance of getting out? How many people lost their homes to foreclosure? How many workers committed suicide to escape endless hours assembling the iPads owned by so many in his congregation? I don’t know how many but I do know Mars Hill tends to be quite OCD about numbers. Attendance numbers. Number of baptisms. Number of members. What about the lamentable numbers? I know that in the time that it took to compose and post that tweet all those lamentable numbers probably went up by a bit. That tweet did nothing to address those injustices. It did nothing to inspire people to act to bring those lamentable numbers down by a bit. This tweet did nothing to inspire his congregants to alleviate suffering in any practical, earthly way. This tweet in my estimation was god damn useless.

What is Pastor Mark’s malfunction? I’m in a crisis of faith. I am straddling the fence between belief and agnosticism so many would say I am not qualified to speak on matters of theology. I suppose I could counter that I’m not sure who the hell is. Mr. Driscoll’s theology is defective and useless in the real world. He is madly in love with the idea that an avenging Christ will return one day when he has had enough injustice. Maybe that will happen but for now that’s little more than deus ex machina. That can only inspire complacency. Avenging, scary tattoeed thug Jesus will fix everything some day. It’s that mindset that leads to this useless, sad and pathetic sectarianism. It leads to worrying about whether Presidents are on speaking terms with mysterious ghosts in the sky while real suffering goes on. It’s a god damn shame.

Crisis of Faith, Part I: The Narcissism of Faith

 I am a god damn narcissist. We are all narcissists. I detest this. Everything I do is evidence that it isn’t a bum wrap. The fact that I changed my religious views on Facebook to ‘Crisis of Faith’ and thought people would give a damn says I am a god damn narcissist. The fact that I write of my thoughts and put them on the Internet for someone to stumble upon by accident while they look for their favorite flavor of hardcore pornography says I am a god damn narcissist. This scrawling on the bathroom wall of the internet is about my crisis of faith. I am in a submission grappling match with the divine and have been for at least three years. I am not sure of gods or devils or angels or an afterlife or an objective purpose or meaning to our mystery laden lives. I am not sure I care. Some days I believe. Some days I do not. Sometimes that changes several times throughout the course of a day. My perspective on the divine is limited in the sense that it is exclusively Christian. It’s difficult if not impossible for me to address things from any other perspective. This essay addresses one facet of my crisis of faith. This is what I see as the narcissism of faith.

The popular Christian blogger Jon Acuff once wrote a post addressing his “haters.” He castigated his critics for dragging him back to average when he was afraid of being awesome. He said he was actually starting to believe he was created for more than average. He was created for more than average? The eternal God of the universe specifically created him to be extraordinary? The fundamentalist Christian is fond of accusing the atheist of arrogance for the elevation of human reason and the products of human reason like the scientific method. It would seem to me many atheists are quite humble in believing that the vast, ancient universe we inhabit isn’t here simply as a playground for human beings. It is so many Christians who believe an all powerful God intends for them greatness. You might say to me that God intends for his children to prosper and it says so in the Word of God. This assumes the Bible is the word of God and that the exegesis of this divine document is sound. That’s another matter entirely. It is my contention that the belief God intends any man or woman for greatness is arrogant as all hell and is the height of narcissism. Human beings are narcissistic enough. Why baptize that narcissism? Why take that narcissism and shoot it full of divine steroids? I also must wonder if a belief that God intends a human being for greatness is healthy.

I observe. I watch. I analyze. It’s what I do. I see people who believe God has a plan to make them a successful entrepreneur or an evangelist or an artist. I suppose that such a belief could be useful in achieving such a goal since maybe it can become a positive self fulfilling prophecy. The idea that a human life needs to be extraordinary places quite a bit of pressure on a person. What if you fall quite a bit short of the goal you believe God intends for you to achieve? What if you are persistent in trying to break into the recording industry despite a lack of talent because of a belief that God intends for you to be a recording artist and win a truckload of Grammy awards? What I observe most with this belief is a lot of angst. People constantly spend their time wondering if the plan they believe God has for them is really the plan. Did they hear God correctly? Did they correctly understand the significance of every event in their life? Every single event in their life, even the ones that seemed meaningless represented road signs that were supposed to lead them to their destiny and they constantly wonder if they made a wrong turn. That is a helluva lot of pressure. It’s not just the pressure. The tragedy is the tremendous self absorption such a belief entails. A person spends so much time navel gazing. Too much time spent within yourself can only make you miserable. While you’re navel gazing maybe your friends are lonely or in pain. They might need you. Strangers might need you. You can quote scripture. You can give me dubious exegesis clouded by a culture that is completely different than the one found in the pages of scripture. Do that all you want. I’ll point to Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Murray as Phil Connors is a self absorbed asshole concerned with career advancement among other things. He ends up repeating the same day over and over again and cannot escape. He cannot commit suicide to end it. He’s stuck. The only thing that breaks him out of it is that he reaches outside of himself. The moments of kindness and compassion and friendship that you share with your fellow human beings are infinitely more satisfying than trying to discover exactly what it is an Almighty God intends you to do. Why mystify it all? Why not just accept that if there is a God that he, she or it might not have a specific plan for you? Maybe God wants you to find your own way and love your way through the darkness and basically not be a total and complete asshole toward your fellow man. Why not just forget about it? Forget about what you don’t know about the ultimate purpose of your life. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if God has a plan for me. What I do know is that I’m on a planet with billions of people. I’m going to encounter some of these people. I know that I don’t want anyone to be worse off for having known me. This is all I can truly say with any amount of confidence.