greybeta: (Jesus Saves)
So, in my most recent update to my religious views on Facebook, I have entered “Contradictory Christianity”. Nope, I’ve never heard of before it either, but it has to do with the one fundamental principle that I cannot fully accept. It is what I consider to be greatest weakness in fundamental Christianity, and therefore its greatest strength.

Before I get into that, I need to say what I consider to be the fundamental principles of Christianity. There are actually a lot of ways to state this, but the one that made the most sense to me was what I learned from a discipleship study called MasterLife.

The author postulated the following six principles of being a disciple of Christ:
1. Spend Time with the Master
2. Live in the Word
3. Pray in Faith
4. Fellowship with Believers
5. Witness to the World
6. Minister to Others

Spending time with the Master is fairly obvious. If one is to follow Christ, one must spend time with Him. This is what most Christians would call their “quiet time”, most often done early in the morning in order to get one’s day started.

Living in the Word involves constantly studying the Bible. How can one follow Christ if one does not even know His Word? Related to this is memorizing Scripture. A disciple of Christ should keep His Word close to his or her heart, in order to avoid being tempted by Satan.

Praying in Faith is all about putting supplications before the LORD. You can go with the George Carlin theory that prayers are only answered 50% of the time, but there is something behind the power of prayer. Whether it’s psychological or spiritual is up for debate.

Fellowship with Believers is perhaps the easiest of these disciplines. I mean, it involves hanging out with your friends. Who doesn’t love having a good time, sans alcohol and the like?

Witness to the World refers to the fact that disciples should bear much fruit, to His Father’s glory. The fact that you’re following Christ should inspire others to follow Christ as well.

Ministering to Others serves basic needs and is the chief reason why there are so many church outreach programs. It’s a tangible service to the good Lord, and one where results can be seen and measured.

So which of these six do I not fully accept? It would be number five, witnessing to the world. I’ve never felt particularly called to missions. Perhaps it’s my Buddhist upbringing, but I’ve always been taught to respect other people’s views and beliefs on things.

My parents were always harping on me to think from the other viewpoint. This is why I’m very talented at reading other people’s minds because I’ve thought about what they’re thinking about ever since I can remember.

And yet, I also believe that number five is the lynchpin to the Church. Without it, the Church ceases to have meaning. So, I don’t believe in the most fundamental principle of the church and yet I go anyways.

You might ask, why is that?

Because I’m a contrarian by nature. While I’m a history teacher, I was also fairly good at electrical engineering for three years. I didn’t particularly like circuits, but I have a powerful analytical mind. And that analytical mind will run contrary to whatever I’m facing.

I’m one of those scary people who believe that you must try to disprove your theory to prove it. If I am a pessimistic person who believes that life is meaningless, then I must do my best to find meaning in life.

On my Facebook, I quote myself once. “The universe is entirely random, but we can only comprehend it by giving meaning to coincidences.”

For some reason, many people do not believe omniscience and omnipotence can go together. How can someone be all-knowing and all-powerful if by definition being all-knowing and all-powerful means knowing nothing and not having any power whatsoever?

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Or, I think of it this way. I don’t believe in randomness because I can’t believe in randomness.

Let’s use one of those strange philosophical arguments here. Say the universe is completely random, but God granted us the power of choice. He already knows where all of our choices lead to, good or bad. He has the power to change it, but he doesn’t.

Wait, why wouldn’t God wanted to change all the bad things that could happen to us? Well, for the same reason our parents quit telling us to do things at a certain age. Unlike the love of a child that is forced, the given love of a child actually means something!

What I don’t hear often enough in the church is that we should do things how we want, the way we want. Because if we don’t fully give ourselves to God, we might as well give nothing at all. Admittedly, it says in Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

However, I can’t admit that Jesus is the only way. Oh, to be sure, Christ is my way, but that isn’t quite good enough. He must be the only way through to the Father. I must give not 99.99992% of my heart, I must give the full 100%.

You see, all of my Christian friends are praying that I will do so one day. That’s because they truly believe in Jesus’s weakest and strongest teaching.

Heh, you can’t disagree with me now, can you?
greybeta: (Jesus Saves)
The army man Maph and I used to go to his old elementary school at night to play around on the swings. We would often ramble about our future and philosophies. And one night he asked me what I thought the perfect world would be. I defined the perfect world as one without strife. In other words, my perfect world was one where everyone was dead. After all, heaven’s full of dead people, ain’t it?

Of course, so is hell. So my perfect world isn’t so perfect after all. But I suppose that was the ultimate idea of my faith, that in the end we were all going to die. So it never made sense to me to try too hard in life.

Something gnawed at my mind, and one day it surfaced years later when I was discussing the exact details of my faith with a girl I had nicknamed Kimono-chan. She furiously stood by the Bible and the fundamental aspects of Christianity. Curiously, I chose to tell her that my faith was based on people…

I don’t believe in randomness. While some coincidences are merely that, a large part of coincidences are set up. The people I meet and interact with, they all have had some impact on my life. My life intersected with theirs for a purpose.

My mom once told me that when my sister was born, there was only a dime in her purse and that dime represented her net worth at the moment. She had arrived in America six months pregnant and three months later was saddled with a daughter in a foreign land. She didn’t have any family or friends to turn to.

How did my mom and dad overcome their long odds? Of all the groups helping out Vietnamese Refugees, Southern Baptists were among the most helpful in Arkansas. They taught my mom how to take care of her child, all the while explaining the power of Jesus Christ. If their God is that powerful, why not worship him?

So off I went with my sister to church. My parents stopped coming after awhile, but I kept going since it had been a habit ever since I could remember. And yet I was stuck between Buddhist and Baptist ideals. They shared a lot of philosophies but of course their differences were accentuated each time I came home from church. I wasn’t sure who to believe.

Going to college at the University of Tulsa, I had a half-hearted intention of joining the Baptist Student Union. I felt like I owed it to my American grandparents to undergo a deeper inspection of my faith. There were two reasons. First, was the recognition for high school seniors at my church. Second, my American grandparents had given me my name of “Daniel”, which means “God is my judge.”

To address the first point, they had a slide show of all the high school seniors one night at a dinner at the church. I was struck by how few pictures of myself I was in and by how many things our youth group had actually done. Eastside Baptist probably would be considered one of the wealthier churches, in terms of its active members having well-paid professions, so it would only be natural that the youth group would follow suit in its passion to serve Christ. I laughed to myself as I realized that I reflected no such passion.

For the second point, I believe names are important, so much so that I love asking how people got their names. We often don’t ponder on this, but our names usually represent some sort of hope. Yes, our names are given at both, when we have near unlimited potential. As we grow up, people give us nicknames to describe our true character. I’m fond of giving people nicknames for that reason.

At the Activities Fair for freshman orientation week, I was handed a big pen with the words FOCUS, the name of the weekly lunch for the BSU. Wednesdays at noon, free food. I’m a sucker for free food, so I took them up on their offer and to my surprise it was delicious. But I wasn’t naïve enough to believe this lunch was free.

As a freshman, they strongly encouraged us to visit the freshman Bible study known as BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ). I remember the intern that year. I remember wanting to live like this guy, confident in my faith and confident in the path that I’m walking. His future wife almost screwed it all up, though.

One of the traditions in the BSU is that upperclassmen will invite freshmen to their churches so they can sample a range of worship styles. Some people like traditional worship, some contemporary, and some in between. Well the blond girl, serving as a freshman leader, invited me and my friend Stevo out to her church.

“I’ll meet you guys there,” she said. Well, we were there, but she wasn’t. At that point, I got angry. But more than that, I started thinking, “Man, if this is the kind of people who are leaders within in the BSU, I’m not too sure about these guys.” But Stevo, ever the personable guy, explained that stuff just happens. I would later find out that she “slept through her alarm clock.”

I didn’t attend many of the BSU events or activities my freshmen year. But, one day during freshman Bible study, the intern and his future wife asked us to plan one of the Sunday night worship times. We would form a Freshman Leadership to plan such a thing. We needed to have a message, a drama, and music.

The “Arkansas Connection” formed to take on the message portion. Stevo, Noise, and I decided to split the message into three parts. I would go first, setting up some problems. Stevo would knock them down. Then Noise would use up the remaining time with his message.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that we had an unusually strong freshmen class. When we were seniors, we would comprise seven of thirteen leadership team members. This Sunday night service displayed our potential. And it revealed something about me.

At that point, few people knew who I was in the BSU. I was a quiet, self-effacing freshman in the honors program. But during that message, I asked what bothers you most. For me, I blurted “I just wish everyone would just shut up every once in awhile!” to quite a bit of polite laughter. Later on, Danny and Nick would tell me that was when they knew I’d be a good guy to have in the BSU.

From there I would join the leadership team, going to a retreat known as Glorieta during my freshman summer. I met and interacted with other BSU leaders, finding out joining leadership team meant that I needed to attend as many BSU activities as possible, a stark contrast to my freshman year. I’d also participate in intramural sports, which I was terrible at but they encouraged me to participate anyways. It was during flag football season a guy named Quade stuck me with the nickname of “D2”.

Officially, I was in international ministry. However, I see now that I was the one being ministered to rather than the one doing the ministering. A lot of things never made sense to me, but my elder leadership partner patiently explained her views on things. And so I did international ministry for two years.

Also during this time, I completed the MasterLife course in four semesters. Well, it was more that I learned the techniques of discipleship rather than discipleship itself, but that was my own fault. Regardless, the deepest friendships I would have with at the BSU would be formed in this class. For example, I would have never known the prayer warrior Ryan if it wasn’t for that class.

One of the things that I noticed was that people are hesitant volunteer to pray in large groups. I clearly recall several instances of where an open call to prayer was met with a few seconds of awkward silence. Eventually, that changed as Ryan started volunteering almost every time for that duty. I think I started volunteering just so that he wouldn’t have to do it every time.

At this point, I began realizing that I wasn’t cut out for international ministry. I didn’t say this directly, but it was strange being the one ministered when you’re expected to be the one to do the ministering. So I asked to be on the freshmen ministry for next year, where I hoped to avoid contentious religious issues.

Something unexpected happened one day. Steve called me into his office and explained that Lauren was going to be the intern for my coming senior year. That made sense to me. Nope, what surprised me was that I had been on the short list of candidates to be the next intern.

At this point, I began to realize that there was a dissonance between how others perceived me and how I perceived myself. I knew inside my head that I would be a terrible intern, but at the time I couldn’t grasp what others saw in me. What seemed natural to me, like regularly attending events, serving drinks at FOCUS, or selling the parking lot were things that people picked up on.

I had been developing signs of depression, but my personality refused to let anyone know that. On the outside I was a highly intellectual person, brimming with confidence and curiosity for life. On the inside, I was a lazy, spoiled brat, bored to death by mundane everyday routines.

Then I just went home for awhile to cope with my depression. This probably caught a lot of people completely by surprise. And during that time I said some terrible things. I wasn’t right in my mind, but I lashed out anyways. Eventually, I would calm down enough to return to TU.

My voice of conscience spoke loud and clear, telling me to do strange things. I purchased a calling card to call up a friend studying abroad in Spain. I bought a girl a pink shirt because she had never owned a pink shirt before. I organized a welcoming party for a girl I had never met. I attended an Episcopal service just to hear a red-headed friend sing in the choir for her birthday. I tried playing a piano song in front of an audience, forgot my sheet music, tried to play that song, tried to play another song that I forgot, and finally played a third song correctly.

People actually believed I was okay, but the fire inside out of me was burning out. Once it did burn out, I disappeared. My parents found me and brought me back home. People called me and emailed me to try to find out what happened, but I didn’t answer any of them. I didn’t touch a computer for several months as I just slept and slept and slept. It would be awhile before Phil figured out a way to drag me back.

When I fell out of belief, I realized something. The dissonance in my life was caused by my own dishonesty. I claimed to be a straightforward person where I was not. I had to do something unthinkable: admit the truth. Admitting Jesus was not the only way to heaven would certainly be a betrayal of my time on leadership, and for that I can never do enough to make amends for.

But all these experiences have helped me regained a burning fire for life. Then I realized a perfect world was not one in which everyone was dead. No, it was one in which everyone had a passion for life, a world which would be alive. I seek to brighten other flames in life, so heaven can wait while I teach history at the high school level.

In conclusion, this was a long-winded way of saying “be yourself”. The person you are is who God wants you to be. You cannot live a happy life otherwise.

This means that for those seeking to explain to me the deficiencies in my faith, you don’t have to worry.

I’m the type of person to seek you out.
greybeta: (Hedgehog Mirror)
So, recently I’ve changed my religious views on my facebook to “Agnostic.” defines an agnostic as:

1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.

To put it more plainly, I believe in God but I simply cannot acknowledge that Jesus is the only way to know him because I don't believe knowing God is exclusive to Christianity.

Then there must be a question that arises. Why, if I believed in Christianity before, would I be willing to switch to agnosticism now?

Well, it has to do with my time off. I meditated and I realized something heinous about myself. I was one of those people who had faith that the good Lord would take care of anything and everything in my life. All I had to do is sit and wait.

But the more I thought about it, the more irrational it seemed to me. I mean, I’d always wanted to study history but my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Even when I did switch I could never feel their full support. It seemed to me that if I fully pursued my wishes to teach history, I’d fail to meet their expectations. But if I went back to being a doctor, I’d fail at meeting my own expectations.

This is what you call a vicious circle. Or, as one of my electrical engineering professors said, it’s a circuit that just keeps the room warm (before it burns out).

The rational play for me is to resolve this cognitive dissonance. But, to do that, I would have to do the one thing that I thought I would never do. And that would be to become an apostate of something I held very dear.

I had to renounce my faith.

If I came back to Christianity now, I would return to my former state. If I am to quit blaming God for everything that goes wrong in my life, then I have to put that responsibility on myself.

Now, I know many of those who I worked in ministry with might say that is not much different from their faith. Fair enough.

But then if you put a gun to my head and asked me if I believed that claiming Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the only way to heaven, I would say no. I would deny the exclusivity of Christianity (or any religion for that matter).

But…Jesus died for our sins, didn’t he? We’re all the children of God. We can’t store up so many good deeds and commit crimes to balance the ledger. Salvation is a gift, it can only be given, not earned.

And yet, I think about all the terrible things that happen in the world today. God does a lot of good in this world, and yet he allows a lot of evil.

And in that lies the fearful power of Jesus. I mean, my goodness, if people didn’t believe in Jesus then how could so many good things happen in the first place?

Then again, plenty of other religions allow people to cope with reality. What makes Christianity different?

Jesus died for you.

That’s the first thing you have to admit if you are going to be a true believer in Christ. My problem is that I had it backwards.

In other words, Jesus already died for me. I still had to die for him.

In the Baptist Church, believer’s baptism signifies one’s death to be reborn. I had it wrong. I thought that one baptized one’s self to die, but the truth is that you’re already dead before you become baptized.

The belief is that “once saved, always saved.” Then the answer in my case was that I was never saved in the first place. Rather, I claimed to be and followed the outward forms of being saved, but inwardly I had no such intention.

That’s what Christians talk about what they talk about denying themselves. No, they’re not going to starve themselves to death. It’s a denial of who they are, and it’s not a one time thing. Nope, they’ve got pick up their cross and carry it daily.

Or to sum it up more tidily, the exclusive nature of Christianity is irrational to me. I remember Jesus saying that one should be cold or hot because he would spit out the lukewarm people first.

If I am to be a true believer, I can’t just believe in the parts of Christianity that make sense to me. I also have to believe in the parts that make little sense to me.

In that case, the rational thing to do is to reject it in its entirety.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that I’m a rather irrational person.
greybeta: (D2 - Silver and Gold)
Sometime in the 1960’s, TIME magazine printed a headline “Is God Dead?” It lost a million subscriptions and it had to officially apologize to all of its readers.

This example is often cited by ministers as proof that America believes in God. A good Christian would say it is the God of Abraham and Isaac.

There are numerous studies showing some sort of biological necessity for God, that humans have some sort of emptiness in them that they feel a pressing need to fill. But what do most humans fill it with? Alcohol? Sex? Drugs? Mostly temporal things, right?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to fill it with something everlasting, something eternal? And yet, we know we attempt to fill our emptiness with ephemeral things. I try to fill it with anime, Magic: The Gathering, video games or blogging. And it’s never really enough.

That’s because I don’t have Jesus in my heart.

Isn’t that the answer my friends in the BSU want me to say?

I don’t have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, the one and only son of God. And Son of Man. And Holy Ghost. It’s that divine Trinity thing, the whole three faces as one thing.

What do people tell me when I ask them what a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ means? Curiously enough, I get a lot of different answers.

And you know, I don’t know what to think. Or maybe I just think that it’s okay to say Jesus was a madman, liar, AND divine.

Then again, they’re asking me.

Right now, I would say I don’t know. I don’t think it’s as blindingly obvious as some people make it.

They want me to say the Bible is God’s Word. Fine, it was divinely inspired, I really can’t argue that. But what makes the Bible so special?

See, I grew up in a dualistic mindset, with both Buddism and the Baptist form of Christianity being compared side-by-side all of my life. But see, someone told me that both use circular logic. All knowledge is based on assumptions, and it is trapped within circles.

Let me explain. If my first assumption is that there is a God, well then everything I know will be in terms of that assumption. I will see patterns in the universe that reflect intelligent design. This is also known as the a priori argument, a teleological argument that our Creator must have designed everything so perfectly that we are where we are now because of it.

On the other hand, if my first assumption is that there is no god, well then everything I know will be in terms of that assumption. I will still see patterns in the universe, but I could explain those away in terms of random chance. We might not want to admit it, but we could be the result of extreme luck.

What C.S. Lewis argues is that you can’t use one circle to determine if the other circle is incorrect. There must be something outside the circles to let us know which one is correct. It’s like the piano sheet music. Do the notes on the paper let us know we are playing it correctly, or is there something outside the sheet music that informs us that we playing the song correctly?

My Christian friends pray fervently that I discover that Jesus Christ is that thing outside the circles that lets me see the absolute Truth. Something about faith, they say.

I accept the challenge. I will go and seek this Truth. Now I may not find it before the end of the semester, before I graduate or maybe not even for sixty years, but I will find it. And yet the pessimist inside me says that I will come to a conclusion that will not be agreeable those praying for my soul.

But I will try my best because they say that people seldom regret failing, but people always regret not trying.

July 2009

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