This is a piece that explores the changes I’ve undergone in my perspectives on the Christian faith using a brief story from Orson Scott Card’s book, Xenocide. For those who have yet to discover the depth and brilliance within science fiction novels, I hope my brief analogy from the third book in OSC’s Ender series does not bore you. (If you want to skip the sci-fi intro, the bold sentence is where the “meat” begins.)
In the future of Xenocide, the colony of Path is inhabited by religiously devout humans called the godspoken. Chosen because of their hyper intelligence and obsession with cleanliness, these select few are taught that life’s greatest and most sacred ambition is to follow the will of the gods. Thus, their lives revolve around ruling the people responsibly and appeasing the gods through their habitual body purifying.
Qing-jao, daughter of the most honorable godspoken on the planet, has become the most recent prodigious godspoken. Because of her unwavering devotion to the gods, she is given a task that confronts her entire identity: continue to obey the will of the gods and thereby allow the genocide of three sentient species, or disobey her religious ways of life and simultaneously save an entire planet’s population.
As the scene ends, we shift to Ender Wiggin, who reflects on Qing-jao’s decision to remain devoted to the gods:Qing-jao, you are such a bright one, but the light you see by comes entirely from the stories of your gods…you are only guilty of too much belief in a story you were told. Most people are able to hold most stories they’re told in abeyance, to keep a little distance between the story and their inmost heart. But for you, Qing-jao, the terrible lie has become the self-story, the tale that you must believe if you are to remain yourself. You are so filled with the largeness of the gods, how can you have compassion for such small concerns as the lives of three species? I know you, Qing-jao, and expect you to behave no differently from the way you do. Perhaps someday, confronted by the consequences of your own actions, you might change, but I doubt it. Few who are captured by such a powerful story are ever able to win free of it. (p. 307)
Why does Qing-jao’s tension strike such a deep chord in my heart? Nearly two years ago, I attended a week-long conference that thoroughly challenged my understanding of Christian faith. Called A Taste of Seminary, this program helps young adults of color discern if seminary is the right path for them. But their definition of seminary, perhaps of faith, was much different than what I was raised to believe. My definition (at the time): seminary trains one to read and teach the Bible with intentions of growing in one’s relationship with Christ. Their definition: yes that, but also seminary raises more questions about God, self, community, and Church than providing formulaic answers. For example:
- Does the construction of the Bible, especially crafted largely by literate, well educated, European men affect its authority, inerrancy, validity?
- What are the lenses by which we interpret the Bible? Are these lenses beneficial or detrimental? If the latter, what lenses do we then approach Scripture with?
- What does the Western Church’s capitulation to and reinforcement of certain systemic and global injustices, such as poverty, racism, and an other-worldly perspective that neglects the earth, say about our faith?
At the time, raising questions as these was tantamount to heresy! My understanding of Christian spirituality could not cope with such life changing/altering arguments. I could not equate faith in God with exploring all the problems of biblical construction, for the Bible was supposed to be my rule and meaning in faith. If the lenses we approach the text with are all tainted/sinful, then how can we trust our interpretations? Analyzing the historical development of American Christianity meant challenging the centuries of tradition upon which I stood.
I was faced with a Qing-Jao-ish tension: devotion to the Divine at the expense of these questions, or disobedience for the sake of diving deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole. My entire Christian life up to this point was indoctrinated in a certain story about a certain understanding of the Christian faith. And prior to this trip I was staunchly and unwaveringly bound in this version of the story. I was the Qing-jao, the one who had to believe the tale if I was to remain true to myself and to my God. But unlike Qing-jao (actually, I haven’t finished Xenocide yet so I don’t know how she’ll turn up), I made that decision to keep asking, keep exploring, keep uprooting, however moral, devout, or sacrilegious such a decision was.
Perhaps I am a tad guilty of heresy because I believe (or at least am interested in) things that my church-tradition is expected to reject. Perhaps I tend to be overly humanistic in my worldview because I value human life, flourishing, and goodness while resisting firm declarations on the topics of biblical interpretation and salvation/heaven-hell/Christ-as-only-way. Outsiders can look at me and put all those “leading others astray”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, “Rob Bell universalist” labels on me. I’m well aware of my location in the rabbit hole and its stigma.
Or perhaps, simply because of my decision to enter the rabbit hole, I am continually finding my way through God’s path, uncertain of latching on to any quick answers/solutions because it’s the “orthodox” thing to do, or “for the Bible tells me so.” Perhaps this is my way of owning my faith, of becoming an independent and critical thinker who must come to his own conclusions/convictions about these vitally important life-questions.
Thus, to those who have chosen to journey alongside me, I’m thankful for your support, acceptance, and affirmation. To those who walk at arm’s length and dialogue with me, I’m thankful for your perspective, challenge, and desire to help me find foundations/convictions. And finally, to those who may view me with suspicion or threat, I’m hopeful that we can not only agree to disagree, but also find some common, constructive ground to move forward together.
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