I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had a little while ago, and I fear that I really didn’t respond adequately to your questions and concerns, so if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take another shot at it. Please bear with me if it reads like I’m repeating myself!
When we met, I remember your talking about how difficult it’s been to approach the subject of coming out to your family, and how you’ve been going through a crisis of faith recently. I’m very sympathetic to the struggles you’re having. I won’t insult you with platitudes like ‘I know/understand how you feel’, because you know what you feel better than I or anyone else does. However, I do my best to listen closely to what people say to me in occasions when I have the opportunity to offer pastoral care, and I hope that what I write will be helpful to you.
First, I can appreciate that coming out to family is a really tough ‘nut to crack’ in this society, more so than many other societies. It’s not only because of the strong influence conservative Christianity has here. The heritage of neo-Confucian philosophy, with its strong advocacy of the hierarchies of relationships, the continuance of bloodlines, and the demonstration of filial piety, is very influential here, and that influence dies hard.
As someone who is on the outside looking in, it seems to me that the conservative Christian tradition has embraced that philosophy wholeheartedly, seemingly to the point of taking it lock stock & barrel and putting an ‘in the name of Jesus’ stamp all over it! Much like many strains of conservative Christianity in the United States, I openly question how much the embrace of conservatism has to do with the mission and Gospel of Jesus, but it is what it is, and it wields influence within many sectors of Korean life.
I know this is really easy to say, and I said this to you before in our conversation, but it bears repeating: in the end, you can’t take responsibility for the happiness or comfort of other people, including your parents. I know that goes against the grain of what your culture has traditionally taught, but there is truth in this. You can honour the love and support your family of origin has given to you without being beholden to live in a particular way just to satisfy their ideas of what ‘a good life’ is.
Second, I remember your comments about your faith crisis, asking yourself if you believe any of Christianity’s claims about God, the Bible, etc. any more. This is something I’m very concerned about, not only for you but for anyone who is going through turmoil concerning Christian faith, so I’ll do my best to address that now.
I can figure out from what you’ve told me about your background that you were raised in a pretty conservative Christian background. I won’t pull any punches here – as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to religion, you have been sold a bill of goods which is not going to help you in a 21st-century world!
I’m not just talking about the issue of sexual orientation, or of sexuality in general. Accepting premises like the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture (that every word of the Bible is equally inspired by God) means that it becomes next to impossible to accept the insights of modern science. To my mind, this is nothing short of ridiculous. This line of reasoning leads to incredulous conclusions like ‘the universe is 6,000 years old’!
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The heliocentric (sun-centred) universe, the evolution of species, the effect of human activity on the planet’s climate – all these areas and more are either denied outright or given some unbelievable twist by conservative evangelical Christianity. The ultimate irony is that people who believe this nonsense are using modern information technology, a product of modern science, to promote it!
And as you know, this narrow-mindedness leads to a rejection of the scientific discoveries which have been made about human sexuality. You’re no doubt aware where I stand on this!
Then, there’s the whole ‘God’ thing. If we can’t accept the Scriptures as being literally true on every premise that it puts forth, what does that do to God? If humans can keep finding out more and more about the universe which can be investigated, and for which rational, materially-based explanations can be offered, what need is there for ‘the heavenly Father in the sky’? It becomes impossible to see the universe as a one-story bungalow with an attic called ‘heaven’ and a basement called ‘hell’, doesn’t it? If these things fall apart, why believe any of it – Jesus, the Trinity, sin, eternal life, the final judgement, doesn’t the whole premise of Christian faith fall apart like a house of cards?
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the most part, it does. Much of the metaphysical constructions of historical Christian faith simply don’t make sense any more if you’re going to take a modern world-view (Or is it post-modern? Or is it post-postmodern? Whatever, I can’t keep track!) which takes into account the insights of academic research, not only the physical sciences.
‘Well’, you’re probably wondering, ‘what CAN I believe in?!’ You probably think you have an ‘either/or’ choice – believe all of what conservative Christianity has told you or believe none of it. There’s only ‘that old-time religion’, or atheism. Let me tell you, that is a false choice which does not exist!
What’s left, then?
In my perspective, there are two things which the scientific world-view cnanot adequately explain – love, and awe. For what it’s worth, I’ve concluded that science and the academy can accurately describe the chemical and mental attributes of love and awe, but they can’t encapsulate the experience itself. In some way, which I can’t fully describe (try if you wish, anyone else out there!), the totality of experiencing love, or being in awe of someone or something, is just greater than the sum of its constituent parts. This is definitely a non-rational view (not based on rationality), but it’s not necessarily irrational, in the sense of unreasonable or ignorant, although I concede there’s lots of that out there. I view it as a different mode of knowledge/reality, but not an invalid one.
I am awed by the complexity of the universe, the things that have been and are being discovered about it, about the possibilities which may be just around the corner. In fact, the late religious thinker Phyllis Tickle (of blessed memory) saw this complexity as being so important to understand that she suggested anyone wishing to study theology or divinity should get a first degree in physics!
The complexity of the universe also includes connections, which I most often experience in love. Whether it be with my wife; with close friends; with a gathering of others; in the surroundings of nature; or even when I’m cross-legged in my living room practising my mindfulness meditation, listening to the hum of the refrigerator, the gentle sound of traffic rushing outside my balcony window, and the footfalls of people walking through the corridor on my floor, on their way to work or school – I have a sense of being in touch, in connection, with the world around me. When experiencing all this awe and connection, I’m able to make a leap – this is my ‘leap of faith’. It can’t be logically argued, but I don’t believe it to be senseless. I sense a type of energy, electricity which pulses through my experience of the universe. For me, that’s God.
I admit, it’s an impersonal view of the Divine. It does not identify God as ‘a Being’, even if s/he/it is ‘the greatest of all Beings’. I trust that this energy is greater than the sum of all things in the universe, but I also trust that it is present in all parts of the universe. I realize this is not a view everyone shares – traditional God-believers might say I don’t have enough faith, and atheists might say I’m making unfounded, unreasonable projections onto the universe. That’s OK. I’m not concerned with convincing people of the rightness of my position.
I readily accept that it’s a subjective view, but at the same time, it’s a view which helps me deal with the universe, human society, people, and religion. I can accept the impulse which has brought all that we know into being, and I can appreciate the poetry and story in the book of Genesis which bring together two perspectives on the creation of everything, without having to accept it as a scientific theorem. I can be moved and inspired by the stories of a group of slaves liberated from oppression (the Exodus) without having to prove it through archaeological evidence which may or may not be there, or having to accept that the Divine directed that this wandering tribe to conduct genocide in order to find a home (you know it’s there, you’ve read the stories in Joshua!). I can find inspiration in the Gospel stories of Jesus and the witness to him in the New Testament and also accept that many of the words attributed to him and his earliest followers were inventions of people trying to tell others about what impact encountering these people meant to them.
In short, I can find the wisdom and insight into human nature that’s found in the Scriptures without having to accept every last word of it as THE ABSOLUTE WORD OF GOD FOR ALL TIME (TAWOGFAT, if you like acronyms).
Does that mean ‘I don’t believe in the Bible’ or ‘I don’t believe in the power of God’? No, I reject that line of thinking as absolute nonsense! In fact, the type of thinking behind those statements is NOT FAITH OR BELIEF – it’s CERTITUDE, an attitude of absolute certainty. THAT’S NOT FAITH! In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say THAT’S THE ENEMY OF FAITH! Yet, I see that certitude peddled as proper religious belief in so many churches, including lots in this country. Sometimes that just makes me ill!
To my mind (and spirit), it seems that real faith in the Divine Energy of God, revealed in Jesus, means that we can doubt and wrestle with the big questions of life. We can accept new insights about the origin of the universe, human history, technology, sexuality, or anything else, without abandoning the idea that there is something greater than us, yet intimately a part of us, that we are aware of and can tap into. I guess there’s your Holy Spirit for you! Through this, we can say, as the United Church of Christ does, ‘God is still speaking’.
I realize that this is your journey, not mine, and that you have to make your choices & come to your own decisions – I get that, and I respect whatever choices you make about your life. However, I share these things with you in the hope that you can find hope – that in some way, you can be a person of the 21st century, a person of a sexual minority, and a person with a modern faith. There is no contradiction between any of these things, I’m convinced of it.
You’re always in my thoughts and prayers.
With much love,
 Thanks, Gretta Vosper!