Internal or external exile? Deformity or expulsion? Hungry lion or starving tiger?
The choices offered by modern religion in a post-modern world do not console.
In ancient imagery existed the dragon. The dragon embodied wisdom/intelligence and power/authority. The dragon had the serpent’s body/head (wisdom/intelligence) and the eagle’s wings (power/authority). Later imagery added the destructive power of fire breathing but that was much later. Even later in history came the image of the dragon as capriciously destructive, an enemy to all.
The dragon was a monster. That is, an artificial force embodied in a form not existing in nature. For many of the ancients the dragon became sacred, that is, recognized as possessing certain powers above the norm and so worthy of reverence. The dragon became the "Sacred Monster" of antiquity.
The problem is, no one wants to live with a dragon. They are not cuddly, fire breathing or no.
The ancient Christian Church, not nearly so ancient as the dragon symbol, entered history as a combination of heavenly wisdom/power suddenly embodied in the God-Man Jesus Christ. Divine wisdom and power became available to humankind because the Christ entered this world to become Jesus, the one who saves from sin.
The ancient Christian Church grew because it included all (slave to slave owner), stood for something (monotheism in a pluralistic culture) and because it persevered in connections ( the Phillipian jailer and all his house). Divine wisdom and holy power met in the Body of the ancient Christian Church, representing Christ on earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Third Person of the One Tri-Une God.
The ancient Christian Church began to splinter, early, over different patterns of thought on matters Jesus might have found absurd. Absurd means "without hearing, sound," so devoid of accurate historical transmission. The Church got its fire-breath, to its own undoing.
Naturally, every generation since Christ and certainly since the Church got its fire-breath, wants to return to the way Jesus did things. Church history groans under the burden of "back to the New Testament" movements.
So came the Sacred-Monster, the Church, and all its little dragons. Nor is this syndrome peculiar to Christianity among major world religions. Shi’a or Sunni? Ali or the elected Caliph? Hinduism is a deformed reform Buddhism.
Judaism? Observant, Hasidic or Reform?
The Sacred Monster, the Church, the Temple, the Mosque, the Ashram; look, even sample, but do not touch. The Monster bights.
We are, one supposes, the sum total of our experience, combined with genetic predestination (I cannot jump and burn easily in the sun, being overly Caucasian) and the inferences we can make, with our individual giftedness, from our experiences. Kant may have been correct when he supposed truth, for each of us, was the filtration of information through our own ability and sense of need. The intellectual, replete with dour mock austerity, tries to verify reality by personally imposed "objective" standards, at best taking into account every rounded curve of the circle, at worst, dividing arguments into "sides," where one must win and another must lose so others may act.
In fact, the intellectual argument against the Church/Faith/God/Religion may appear fresh because the observer/opponent moves to look back across a self-constructed box to criticize faith assumptions believers have been told but perhaps have not examined critically. In short, the intellectual-only approach is cheating. The intellectual is neither an internal nor an external exile from faith. He is an expatriate, who violates his own credo to "expose" Church/God/Faith/Religion to rationales he would not apply to other schools of thought.
In fact, the intellect only school of thought is a left-over from logical positivism, which was neither logical nor positivistic, but mostly limiting. Rationalists should now shrug mightily from their slumber and attack. I will not help you by "circling the wagons" but let me supply you some ammunition, at least.
This is a memoir, so I am entitled to say my early experiences were religious, in the sense of wonder and awe, though we were not much "churched." Since I grew up in a small Texas town in the 1950’s and 1960’s, my religious sense found its expression in the usual triumvarte of local religions, that is, Baptist, Methodist and "Church of Christ." Had I been born in Baghdad or Peiping or Bangalore, my sense of wonder/awe/mystery would surely have set up in other forms.
Since the day I first made a "profession of faith" in Jesus Christ as Savior/Lord/Sacred Head, I have had to decide over and over again about matters of faith. I have had to reexamine the Faith, then my faith, in light of ever growing mounds of information, disappointing encounters and inevitable "dry" periods. I have had to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, again and again, seeing through a glass darkly, waiting for final revelation in the form of reconciliation.
I have decided over and over again for Jesus, rejected other Faiths for my faith, learned to observe the benefits offered by Eastern emphases on meditation/expansion and Moslem good works, felt admiration for Jewish perfectionism, while all the while holding on to Christianity as the ultimate expression of God’s pleasure with creation.
I have become an external exile from the denominational forms I once accepted in the process. My sadness is reserved for the internal exiles, whose denominational homes turned not out to be portable.
Let me explain. An external exile is that one who holds tenaciously to the culture he/she loved, believed/accepted but who can no longer live in the geographical surroundings where the culture was once practiced. Intolerance, first in the national convention, now evident in the state convention, deforms life by scrutiny, pressure and repression. One emigrates or abandons truth for the misshapen present reality.
An internal exile makes another choice. He/she is devoid of authenticity. Even genius is deformed among the internal exiles for it must support the Chosen Path. Men and women must be all they have ever been but must "sign the statement" or "take the pledge." Where the external exile must emigrate or abandon, the internal exile must submit or be expelled from service.
Who is it who wrote, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made…?"
Out of the mouths of the internal exiles come deformed statements, usually couched in spiritual terms, devoid of meaning. They stay because "of the Kingdom," or "for the sake of the Work," or believing "this too shall pass." Somehow, internal exiles lapse into liberal gradualism, asking for "more time" and progressing in half-measures sure only to frustrate.
So, I am now an external exile, not choosing to leave the culture but not comfortable in the circle.
So, why cling to faith at all?
I suppose because I think this Faith is the truth of little faiths. That is, I believe religion is real if history can be made to bow before the sheer stubborness of one human conscience. Humanism does not allow for this, secularism does not accept it and pluralism reduces it to statistical probability.
For those reading this memoir mostly to get dirt on the BGCT, here comes the dirtiest, most obscene thing I can tell you. The BGCT does not exist for any "reason" I can think of or it can postulate any longer. Ditto for the SBC, SBTC and so on and so on.
Tomorrow I will try to say why.