Thursday, June 04, 2009

So I listened to an interview with Bart Ehrman last week. I've mentioned him before, he wrote Misquoting Jesus, among other books, and I've listened to several interviews of his now. We have a lot in common. He, too, is a former Evangelical. When I read Misquoting Jesus, I believe he still considered himself a Christian, although no longer an Evangelical. But he has subsequently published another book, God's Problem, and is now an agnostic. The parallels are obvious, so of course I find him interesting. I haven't read his most recent book, but I listened to a podcast of him on Fresh Air where he discusses it thoroughly enough that now I feel like I don't need to. ;)

Ehrman's point of departure from Christianity is over the problem of suffering. He discusses it so well that I won't bother. Listen to the podcast, or read the book. It interests me the things that provide that break, that point of departure, for different people. As I've said before, for me it was prayer, and the inconsistencies in the theology of prayer and my experience of it. For him it was the problem of suffering. Doubtless someone will come along and write an eloquent defense of why what Ehrman calls "God's problem" isn't really a problem at all (as Timothy Paul Jones did with Misquoting Jesus), but I don't think being able to prove or disprove your point is the point, if you'll forgive (as usual) my convoluted grammar. The point is that at some point (sorry), if you are open to it, Evangelical theology breaks down as it bumps up against your experience of the world. As any theology would, no theology is perfect. And you either accept that, put it behind you and keep believing anyway, or you can't ignore it, and you leave your old belief system behind (sometimes slowly). Ehrman and I and a few others I know of are in the latter category. It's a pretty small group, and I'm grateful every time I find someone else who has made similar decisions.

Ehrman no longer attends church. He stopped when he realized that he could no longer say the creeds, and he began to feel that his continued attendance was almost a slap in the face to those who are true believers. I've felt this before, but I still go to church. This may be partly because of the nature of the church I attend. I don't talk about my beliefs very often: I don't enjoy controversy and I have no desire to stir it up. But it comes up occasionally and I don't lie when it does (although I do word things carefully). And no matter how outrageous the things I say, no matter how surly I become about (what I perceive as) people's complacency about the contradictions of Christian theology, the people of our church still seem to accept me and want me to be there. I've said things in my women's group that I thought would get me tossed out on my ear, but they still seem to like me. And miss me when I'm not there. It's remarkable. And humbling.