Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood...

I keep coming back to this same fork in the road, and arrogant as it may sound to simplify the nature of this fork, I find it consisting – at least initially – of only two choices:
  • Pursue a faith in a God that aligns with my innate sense of right-and-wrong, that calls me to greater good, deeper discipline, and greater personal sacrifice, but does not fundamentally conflict with my conscience or my understanding of love.
  • Pursue a faith in a God that asks me to reject what my heart tells me, to abandon my own morality, and to ignore my conscience, all in deference to a collection of documents that are historically questionable and oriented to an ancient world and a pre-modern mind.
Orthodoxy would likely (a) seek to find paradoxical tension, with truth in both statements, and more likely (b) find my reductionism and oversimplification here unconscionable in the first place.

Those leaning to the conservative will no-doubt find the first statement arrogant, far too existential, and deeply problematic. It is certainly problematic, because it subordinates Scriptural testimony to personal bias, feelings and convictions. The latter choice stands firmly in the conviction that truth can be both fully known and universally-applicable. But the truth is, everyone is already subordinating Scripture (and religious tradition and doctrine) to the tyranny of personal bias – some systems merely hide the fact, better.



Those leaning to the liberal side (like me) find the former choice an easy one: you do what’s right. You do what is good. And goodness cannot align with oppression, judgment or exclusivity. There is some arrogance here, especially the idea of our contemporary sensibilities being somehow “superior” to ancient wisdom.

But if I can die to my arrogance and humble myself, can I still choose to acknowledge that what seemed true to Israelites 6,000 years ago does not seem true today? And that perhaps our conception of God’s exhortation is imperfect, changing, and susceptible to both human corruption and human correction? As well as spiritual correction (if we believe the Holy Spirit does what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do).

For me, it’s not impiety, or my inability to believe in something counterintuitive. Faith itself is counterintuitive. The Beatitudes are counterintuitive. Jesus is counterintuitive. I choose the former oversimplified position because it seems less instinctive – less tribal – less based on the needs of cultural/societal survival, and more on transcendent principals for being a neighbor, a friend and a human being.

And just articulating this comes off as very arrogant.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…
I confess I have already traveled both…
One does not seem as fair.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by--
More politically correct, yes, but less traveled by, nonetheless,
And it is starting to work in me a difference.

5 comments:

Brent said...

I would go with the first one. Less pride will arise from it than the second.
I don't think arrogance or humility are dependent on which one you travel but the attitude you take in traveling your choice.
And isn't either one still base on your conscience of what you think is right?
My only thought would be why does this weigh on you; this "fork in the road"? I'm mean if its settled in you why would it continue to rise in you. I'm not necessarily saying your conscience is bothered by the choice you have taken but am asking what is the origin of the conflict in you. It could be the choice you have taken or it could be a stubborn feeling from growing up in a house that advocates strictly fundamental theology.
Even in my adulthood I still find a nagging feeling of my parents biblical translations in my thinking. Maybe this is a little of your struggle or maybe its something like the social morality of other Christians nagging on you. Or it could be something completely different. As for me I'm not worried about your choice I believe your conscience is closely linked with the Holy Spirits guidance.
As for the second one I would ask does God cease to exist if we had no Bible? I believe the truth "abides" or dwells in the Bible and its not always literal or easy to understand. We need the to be of the truth first then the truth that abides in the Bible can start to become evident. But we will always be lacking in someway the knowledge or context to understand the dwelling truth in the Bible.

Hope you been doing well! :)

nathan said...

Just out of curiosity, how exactly would strict adherence to the "ancient documents" conflict with your personal beliefs (i.e. what specific beliefs?).

I also struggle with choosing a metaphorical road. However, there are relatively few issues in the Scriptures (esp. the teachings of Jesus) that conflict with my personal sense of rightness. Many (Most?) of the teachings of Scripture are compatible with a deep sense of justice/equality. Yet, there are specific issues in the Scriptures that trouble me (spec. the lack of support for women and gays). These issues really leave me in a quandary, because my personal sense of justice/equality does not align with that of the Scriptures.

On a final note, the very core of the Gospel (as I see it) is contrary to the moral sense of many: Who really feels that the most evil individuals (rapists etc) should be offered forgiveness?

Peter said...

Good clarifiers. I am making certain assumptions about the experience/understanding of my audience, and I guess I'm speaking here to a very specific group of Christians who would still carry the worldview and scriptural view I used to. For me, that entailed believing that God literally told the Israelites to kill women and children in the Hebrew Bible, that God literally snuck up on Moses and tried to kill him while he slept in Genesis (AFTER sending him back to Egypt with a mission), and that everything Paul said is universally applicable for all times and situations. For example. I don't believe those OT narratives were objectively correct interpretations of YHWH's actions, and I don't believe 1st Century Roman Citizen/Post-Pharisee Paul translates directly to 21st Century Postmodern America.

Can such literalism as mine actually be worked out, pragmatically? No. And every fundamentalist has provisions and exceptions - as I did - but it is an underlying ethos that colors one's overall attitude toward God and Scripture, and ultimately toward humanity and the world.

Nathan, you mention "specific Scriptures" that we would probably both now consider the exception, not the rule. In my original approach to viewing the Bible, there were no exceptions: a single obscure reference to something held as much power as recurring themes throughout the entire Canon. So while I absolutely agree with you now Nathan, I also know that is not a universal view - certain not within Evangelicalism.

Rhiannon Y Orizaga said...

Pete I could talk about all kinds of things but I won't. What I want to say is that you are an amazing writer. This is so moving. You have such a great talent and I am happy that you are using it for good. May God bless you & bless your hands as you write. I know he is working through you and helping you. Good job man.

Peter said...

Rhiannon, I feel undeserving of such praise, but thank you so much. That encouragement means an awful lot to me.

Blessings friend,
Peter

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