In response to an article about how folks who end up rejecting Evangelical Christianity frequently become Atheists1 I wrote the following comment in reply:
I’m an “Evangelical Church Survivor” myself. And would have ended up an atheist if it weren’t for an Experience. When I was a teen I survived some really terrible family calamity. It threw my youthful ‘Baptist’ beliefs into question and finding SOME sort of answers became a matter of almost life and death. The pastor at my church had the patience of a saint, but one day he said, “If you just learned Greek you can answer all your questions for yourself.” I can do that! So I did. And because when reading it’s too easy to gloss over the hard passages, I did my own translation as a massive devotional exercise. Which simply transformed me. Most of all, when translating the Gospels, I could palpably experience the presence of the Divine – Holy, Ineffable, All-embracing. That experience was as real as the chair I am sitting on while writing this. No matter how much else I deconstruct (which largely amounts to deconstructing the Nicene Creed for all intents and purposes), no how much theology, doctrine and dogma I’ve had to reject generally, that Experience remains axiomatic.
Hopefully it’s not generally necessary to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Underworld to experience the Christ (perhaps I’m just so thick-headed that extreme measures were necessary!). But I *do* think that particularly as a consequence of the Enlightenment we have given a primacy to Reason that isn’t serving us well. (Or at least we’ve been giving LIP SERVICE to the primacy of Reason.) Any more, I think the Gnostics were on to something (without embracing all of THEIR theology & dogma either) — namely GNOSIS: first hand knowledge (not second hand from preachers and books). It’s the difference between reading about swimming and getting in the pool. After all, GNOSIS is the word group in the Bible for “a man knowing his wife”.
Any more I think that Gnosis is generally possible. That when Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,”2 He was dead serious. That to the extent that I can remove sin and negativity from my heart with G-d’s help, it’s like removing the bugs and mud from my windshield and I will be able to SEE Her. It’s the Buddha’s Eight-fold Path3: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is not to EARN G-d’s favor, but rather to remove — in partnership with the Holy Spirit — those things which I MYSELF HAVE PLACED between myself and the Christ. It is work — without being Works. It’s like having to take up a Cross to follow Him…
Generally, I no longer think the options are just Evangelical Christianity vs. Liberal/Progressive vs. Atheism. It’s been a little over 500 years since Luther’s 95 theses. It seems to me that what is needed is another Reformation/Renewal of the Church along fresh philosophical/theological lines. Maybe that fresh direction includes Gnosis, maybe not. But I think it’s clear that the options we have now aren’t working, and, to quote Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.