while i generally try to avoid the use of labels, if it helps the reader to better understand my perspective, a more precise way to understand/engage with my current outlook is as an “existential deist christian.” in other words…
(1) existentialism makes a lot of sense to me as a philosophical outlook, as it takes seriously the life that we are living right now (as opposed to countless religious notions that are primarily escapist). irrespective of what may or may not come to pass beyond this life, what it emphasizes is the importance of being in the moment + the value of actually enjoying what we have in the present. yet, while existentialism is characteristically a-theistic, i’m persuaded that there was some “Source” to all things (i.e. “God”). so, i cannot conclude that i’m entirely existentialist, but mostly.
(2) i do desire to be a “theist” or one who believes in a personal God who is actually present/involved/with us today (which i do see glimpses of from time to time). but i tend to err on the side of “deism” (which recognizes the intelligent design of all things while seriously questioning/wondering about God’s constant immanence/intervention). the image of a “cosmic clockmaker” has always resonated with me as it does a decent job explaining both the origin of life as well as the apparent absence of God in the realm of our experience (i.e. if the universe is like a clock, God can be seen as the one who designed it, wound it up + let it go to essentially function on its own). still, this isn’t an entirely satisfying explanation either, as any concept of a detached/uninvolved/indifferent God is simply unappealing + ultimately unhelpful.
(3) finally, although i no longer associate myself with what i would consider to be an assortment of misguided christian derivatives – especially conservative/fundamentalist/neo-evangelical groups – i’m nonetheless drawn + simultaneously not prepared to completely abandon a life that’s informed/influenced by the teaching + example of Jesus. it needs to be said that not every christian or expression of church truly embodies the love that should be their first + last defining characteristic; but i think there’s still tremendous value in contemplating + enacting those good/revolutionary/loving principles that we find within many of the judeo-christian texts themselves (e.g. caring for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, etc). that’s why i am unable/unwilling to completely jettison the “christian” aspect of my identity. and while in many ways i’d prefer to just separate myself entirely from those who unequivocally give the church a bad name – i.e. from those who would consider me + others to be heretics/anathema because of certain supposedly “unorthodox” views – the remarkable message of Jesus is one of inclusivity, grace + compassion for all (i.e. for both “them” + me alike). the reality is that i’m far from perfect myself + as much as i’m demonized by “others,” i vilify “them” in equal measure. yet, what if we all let go of the illusion that any of us really know what we’re talking about? and what if it’s not about being right all the time, but instead about making a commitment to establish/maintain good relationships with all of our fellow human beings?
i want to believe there’s a better way to be a christian than the stereotypical (but unfortunately existent) judgemental, narrow-minded, agenda-driven, holier-than-thou kind of approach. and i do believe it is possible, if people deliberately stopped scapegoating/maligning/ill-treating one another all the time for quite arbitrary reasons. but this won’t happen until people soberly admit that spiritual matters aren’t as unambiguous as we’d like them to be. in life, everyone makes their best guesses with the information that’s at their disposal, because so much of what we think we comprehend is uncertain/unknowable/unprovable.
i don’t expect everyone will understand who i see myself to be, as it’s something a person would need to experience oneself for empathy to take full effect. what’s more, i don’t wish on anyone the faith dis-integration that i went through, as it almost consumed me. but it’s also one of those hindsight situations, where i’ve come to realize i’m in a better place now having staggered through the despondency. contrary to the popular cliché, what doesn’t kill us doesn’t make us stronger…it can actually wound/weaken us profoundly. however, like jacob’s hip, our injuries can have a surprising effect on our character, whereby we’re fortuitously never the same again – those scars being a constant reminder of the limitations of our self-sufficiency. we need each other to stumble through the darkness together, because it’s often only through forthrightly admitting our shared powerlessness, ignorance + monstrosity that we can know genuine freedom, contentment + peace.
m. w. powell