Editor’s Note: Wrestling with Contradictions

Making room for Christianity and rationality

May, 2014

We all live with beliefs that are not perfectly compatible. Look deeply and think carefully, and you can find contradictions or at least tensions within your morality and worldview. Excuse me for being presumptuous, but if your whole belief system is all neatly arranged and wonderfully harmonious, you are either deluding yourself or a very shallow thinker.

I admit I am full of intellectual inconsistencies. For instance, I am a firm believer in science and reason, and they help guide my work and my personal life. But I also value religion and my Christian heritage, and they guide me, too.

As I write this, Christians around the world are about to celebrate Easter, marking the three days that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Except, I don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he rose from the dead. It may seem odd for a Christian not to believe in a central tenet of the faith, but there are many Christians who think this way.

I do believe that the story of Jesus dying to save all of us from sin and damnation is a powerful metaphor for our lives: a metaphor for parents who are willing to die for their children or for anyone who makes the ultimate sacrifice for a greater cause. I know that for most Christians, a “powerful metaphor” is a poor and unacceptable substitute for a faith in the resurrection, but it is enough for me.

Here’s another unChristian belief that I and many Christians and rationalists believe: The Bible is not the word of God, but the imperfect wisdom of men and women collected over many centuries. I cannot accept Genesis’ version of creation, the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality and its guidelines for the subservience of women. Much repression, intolerance and violence has been done in the name of the Bible and religion – and is still being done. As Christians, we have a special obligation to battle that hatred as it is also part of our legacy.

What I know of other great religions, including the traditional faith of Native Hawaiians, is similarly true: imperfect, guilty of historical and modern sins, yet also full of wisdom for morality, personal relations, raising children, respecting the environment, enduring suffering and death, caring for the sick and destitute, and living life in general.  Not science, but another version of reality tested by time and interpreted differently by people worldwide in different eras.

Studies suggest that going to church regularly makes you happier and live longer, but that’s not why I go. Going to church on Sundays makes me a better husband, father, friend, co-worker and person. Not necessarily a better person than anyone else, but a better person than I would have been if I had stayed home. I think that’s a good way to spend my time.

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Author:

Steve Petranik