So, what exactly did I believe?
That thought rolled around in my head on my bike ride home from our bible-reading session at The Boomer’s place, and over and over again over the next couple of weeks. Your college years in your late teens and early twenties are supposed to be the time when you figure all that stuff out. And sure enough, it was pretty easy to come up with a discussion late at night on all sorts of heavy topics back when I lived in the dorm. But to be honest, after I moved into an apartment at the end of my sophomore year, the burning issues hadn’t done much more than smolder.
If pinned down, I would have said I was an agnostic. The safe, easy approach. Disbelieve a lot of things, not really sure about anything.
It’s relatively easy to disbelieve the details. If you have a reasonably discerning intellect and can approach the subject of religion with anything approaching an open mind, you’re going to get there eventually. Knowledge is deadly; one class on comparative religion is a strong enough antidote to counteract fifteen or so years of insipid Sunday School teachers. Science is even more so. That there is any such thing as a Christian scientist is indicative of the power of early brainwashing in eliminating the open mind (not to be confused with a Christian Scientist, whose existence is more indicative of the fundamental truth that a charismatic leader can convince at least a few people of practically anything).
But when you begin to question the faith of your parents, it’s a gradual evolution; the slow triumph of knowledge, logic, and the scientific method over ignorance and superstition. You first acknowledge that something totally unbelievable—probably the story of Noah’s Ark—is a legend rather than truth. I mean, when you see pictures of the ark, there’s always smiling elephants and giraffes sticking out the windows. But they never show all the bugs, a million different species and some guy with no biological training was supposed to sort out the boys from the lady bugs. Shit, a lot of those crawly critters, earthworms and slugs and such, are both. That doesn’t make you automatically get rid of the next tenet—the virgin birth, perhaps. But the next week or the next month, you realize that, nice try, Mary, I don’t even buy that any more. Next thing you know, it has become clear that every single one of those sacred teachings that got drilled into your head during those long and boring Sundays when you would rather have been out playing baseball or watching ant lions or even reading Browning (well, maybe not Browning, but Tennyson for sure) is just a story, no different from those primitive myths such as the turtle carrying the earth on its back or the creation of the great bear that you secretly snickered at from your exalted position of Judeo-Christian superiority.
Of course, none of the myths about the details have anything to do with the existence or nature of God. They’re just ways of explaining the world when you don’t have science to fall back on. But realizing that what you were taught was 90% bullshit makes it pretty hard to have much faith in the other 10%.
So my personal theology was still in transition. I didn’t believe in Noah’s ark or the virgin birth or magic or miracles. But I hadn’t made up my mind about whether Jesus was a real person or just a legend like Prometheus, much less whether there really was a capital-G God or not.
So now, what? I had in my possession irrefutable evidence that yes, there really was a person named (or at least called) Jesus Christ and besides that, he was a slightly deranged bum who had lucked into a magical cup from Atlantis that had given him the power to proclaim himself Messiah and met a good woman who transformed him into believing that God is love. Nothing happened like the Bible said, but I still didn’t know whose fault that was.
I still didn’t believe in Noah’s Ark. But what I did believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is this: don’t be so fucking sure you know it all.
Since I’d spent a lot of my life pretty sure I knew it all, that was a pretty big change. In a disturbingly short time.