It’s been a busy few weeks. I’m taking a couple classes at a seminary (online, thankfully), and they’re certainly keeping me occupied. So far it’s been the good kind of busy, though, and I’m definitely enjoying what I’m learning.
I once heard someone refer to seminary as the place faith goes to die, or something to that effect. That hasn’t been my experience, although it does help that I’m not actually Christian; I’m monotheistic, for sure, but more Christian-adjacent. I don’t subscribe to some of the core tenants that you have to subscribe to in order to actually be Christian. But I’m still interested in theology, history, textual criticism, all of that stuff, and I’ve wanted to improve my religious education for awhile.
But I do understand how learning some of this stuff could affect someone’s faith. The early history of Christianity is full of examples of things being done differently, at the least, and it’s easy to question whether things have improved (I personally think that in many ways it has not). Meanwhile, being exposed to how different the early Christians were on various doctrinal issues could also be difficult, as it shows there has never really been a consensus beyond some broad strokes, and even that took a few hundred years to develop (depending on the issue). The same is true for theology more generally: having to think about how you got to where you did could doubtless be disconcerting.
For myself, I’ve noticed that I have to be careful trying to over-analyze certain aspects of my own faith. There’s a point after which reason just doesn’t work anymore, and trying to force it is not going to lead anywhere good. Trying to cram a logical framework on religious belief is simply using the wrong tools for the job.
While I’ve enjoyed what I’m learning, as I said, I did find myself facing some disappointment at one point. Exploring this further, and I realized that on some level I was looking for some new truth about my own faith and its basis. As I’ve said, of course, this can’t be based on logical extrapolation (or at least not predicated on it), so this was doomed to fail.
Take the Bible, for example. I’ve studied it some, but still don’t quite know how to take it in my own personal theology. There is no original text, really, as it was copied hundreds of times and things changed as a result. (My copy of the Greek New Testament is the best we’ve been able to reconstruct so far.) Meanwhile, it didn’t even start being written down until after Jesus’ death. There are also plenty of things that, to me, seem clearly to have been done to make Jesus sound more legitimate (the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew, for example). Did Jesus really take on the godhead? Examples abound. But this doesn’t mean everything it has to say, particularly in terms of Jesus’ specific teachings, aren’t really worth listening to.
Anyway, I think I was hoping for some kind of guidepost about how to approach Scripture, and so far no luck. Even the discussions about Biblical theology that we’ve had so far have assumed a Christian take on the Bible, i.e. as a legitimate source of Christ’s life and teachings. The debate is more about literalism vs. types vs. allegory, how to apply historical criticism, that kind of thing. Not useless, but not really what I was hoping for, either. I’m not incredibly surprised, looking back, as this kind of substantive change just doesn’t seem likely based on learning more history or whatever.
As I think about it more, I think it’s really that I’m feeling stuck. Or better said, I’m afraid that I am. I’m worried that my religious life isn’t really growing anymore, and that I’m somehow tailoring my religious beliefs to justify what I already think. At the same time, I don’t feel like blindly following some other teacher (living or dead) is the right answer, either. But it seems unlikely that I’ve “solved” my own faith, either. Meanwhile, it seems like so much of theology is concerned with things that are either unanswerable or irrelevant. It’s the reason I’m non-trinitarian, for example: it’s a fight about an arbitrary way to conceptualize the Divine, which is not something we can fully conceptualize anyway. Analogies are the only way we can remotely understand, so I don’t understand most of the fuss over how those analogies are formulated. Rarely is it going to make a practical difference.
There’s a related feeling here. I was recently talking to someone I know online about his finding a community and source of identity in the nation his ancestors came from. He talked about feeling like having a home for the first time. Since then, I’ve been realizing how much I myself feel homeless in this way. I don’t identify with my country, I’m not a member of a specific religious group, I don’t even have a sports team that I care about. I really don’t understand how these kinds of identities develop, and how I would go about finding one. I think having something by which to define my faith is part of this, and that on some level I was hoping my studies might lead to some kind of group identity. A sense of belonging, perhaps.