Pan Blog #1: Religious Experience

I am borrowing the following from thecrazydreamer and whatyoudream, who picked up this pan-blog from their friend Sweet Jane. I am blessed to have others on my blogroll who are interested in a good, clean existential fun about questions of faith and religion and the like.

Describe your most formative religious experience. I am assuming that most of us are, or have been, some form of a Christian (probably born-again), so what I have in mind is that sort of testimonial-type of event in your past that led you to, or closer to, God. If you are no longer a Christian, describe how you feel about that experience now.

My first religious experience occurred when I was four (at least, this is the first I remember). I later explained it to my parents at the age of five and six and even later as when I became 'born again'. I think my parents were a bit sceptical of how a four-year-old could experience Christ's presence and claim to be 'born again', but even at a young age I seemed to have an early connexion with the divine or the spiritual or whatever you want to call it. Anyway, what I remember is playing with toys alone in my room, and feeling God's presence. That's even how I described it to my family years later when asked about my conversion experience. I felt Christ telling me to pray and talk to him and ask him 'into my heart'. I don't know how accurate this memory is, but I remember being very sure of it at one point. A year later, during our very first day of homeschool, my mother led us in a Bible lesson that described heaven and hell. My mother told me that she would be in heaven with my father, and I needed to accept Christ to be with them, or else I'd burn in hell. I don't remember being terribly scarred by how she said it, so she probably was nice about it, but thinking about that now makes me cringe. It was definitely a fire insurance conversion, and I'm not sure if later I projected back into my past that first experience with Christ to compensate for the second less-authentic conversion. The first one seemed very real, so I guess it all depends on your definition of reality.

Another important religious experience in my life (and these all occurred when I still described myself as Evangelical) happened at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination's youth conference in Salt Lake City, UT. I was newly sixteen years old, and at the time pretty much obsessed with whether or not I was following God's will for my life. I had a very defined idea of what *I* wanted, but I was also convinced that it couldn't be that God and I wanted the same things. I had been wrestling with this for years, since as a young girl I felt God 'calling me' to full-time ministry in the Evangelical church as a missionary. My plans included being a neurosurgeon and 'helping people'. At any rate, it was during a service at the conference when I started to doubt my fire insurance conversion and my committment to the Christian life. I figured I mustn't be very committed, since I was constantly wrestling with giving over to God my dreams of being a doctor. During one service, I was overcome with what I saw as my own selfishness and told God that I would follow Him (I characterized God as a male entity, which isn't surprising) and not be a doctor if He wanted. That moment drastically changed my future plans and led me to study music, to be perfectly honest. I went home from that conference and re-vamped my academic plans for junior year, adding music study and telling my piano teacher that I planned to be a piano major. There was something about the speaker and what I felt was God's presence that caused me to change my life. To be honest, I'm extremely glad I never became a doctor. I would have been awful at it; all that memorizing of facts and details without original thought -- it would have bored me to tears. It would have been a lot of heavy science and math, too, and these are subjects thatt were not in my comfort zone. I guess you could say that a Christian fundamentalist religious experience eventually led me to academia, musicology, and postmodern Christianity! For that, I am glad to have had the experience.

Since slowly giving up Evangelicalism since ca. 2002, I can't remember having any more similar religious experiences or what many Evangelicals call 'mountain top experiences with God'. I can think of times when I attempted to create them. However, that doesn't mean that I don't feel God speaking to me. It's just that now she has become more rational, as I have become more rational. She does not overcome me and force me to listen, but quietly whispers suggestions and ideas and convictions into my ear. My conscience has become a more important vehicle for my newfound culturally-sensitive brand of Christianity, rather than a strict, blind adherence to a literal Truth outlined by the Bible or a religious zealot. In a way, I feel closer to God. Rather than needing an excessive emotional experience, I can experience her quietly and in my everyday life. I don't need a shouting Evangelical preacher or even a beautiful Anglican choir to experience God. She's right here, with me right now, and I can feel her love.


You don't have to answer this at all (in other words, I'm not asking you for a "defense" of your beliefs), but I'm genuinely curious: If you are calling God a female and not adhering to any literal truth of the Bible, in what way do you consider yourself a Christian?
Sammee said…
Why, to be a Christian, must I hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible and view God as a man? God is God; deity transcends gender and is not limited by it. God cannot be male or female, so I might as well just even the stakes a little bit and counter all the male pronouns and realizations of God enacted by the Evangelicals.

I am a Christian in that I believe in the main tenets of Christian faith, which I don't have to repeat for you. I might not believe that the Bible must be interpreted literally, because I view anti-interpretation as anti-intellectual. I also believe very strongly in Christ's first command to love others as you love yourself. I believe Christianity has to begin with a deep, unconditional love for everyone, and a desire to be truly Christ-like. However, in looking at Christ's behaviour, I see a very radical, liberal person who challenged preconceived notions about religion and life and worked against the Pharisees, who look a lot like the Evangelicals of our day. I am trying to be just as radically loving and radically counterculture.
I definitely respect your liberal, non-literal interpretation of the Bible, but am unsure where that overlaps with believing in the "main tenets of Christian faith," which to me means something along the lines of some creed or another, e.g. the Nicene (which are based on an at least partilly literal interpretation of some parts of the Bible, which begs the question of how to determine which parts to interpret literally).
Sammee said…
First of all, Lauren, you know that sometimes when I debate things I strongly believe I can come off sounding harsh. I think you know that and won't be offended if my answers take a harsh tone. Secondly, I understand your point about the tenets of the Christian faith being based on Christian creeds that engaged in literal interpretation of the Bible. However, I don't know if many early church fathers interpreted the Bible literally in the way fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians do today. Since you brought up the Nicene Creed, I'll begin there.

1. This creed states that there is one God who created everything.
2. This God had a son, Jesus, who was begotten of God (but existed eternally), who participated with God in creation, was born of a Virgin, and came to earth to be the Saviour of all.
3. In coming to earth, Christ suffered, died, was buried, rose on the third day, descended to hell, and will come again in judgement and to rule his kingdom forever.
4. There is a Holy Spirit, who gives life and is sent by God and Jesus, and who is just as deserving of worship.
5. There is one holy Catholic (universal) church, one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
6. Those who hold to this creed will look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the glorious afterlife.

Okay, forgive my pedantic summation, but it was necessary for me to organize my thoughts and is useful for reference purposes. I would say that there are basic tenets of the Christian faith that are based upon a more literal interpretation of the Bible, and without adhering to these basic tenets, it can be rather difficult to refer to oneself as a Christian. However, I suppose this is open to debate and personal reflection/conscience. I will now discuss each numbered point individually and state my opinion of its absolute necessity.

1. I don't really see the point of believing in a higher power or deity if this deity is not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Why place faith in a deity that isn't much more capable than humans? Therefore, I would maintain that it is necessary to believe God can create. This does not mean that I adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis. I align with Francis S. Collins's (director of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief) explanation of theistic evolution: God created the world through evolution. For sake of time and room, I will elaborate on this point only if requested.

2. and 3. If I am to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, it would be pretty pathetic if I did not believe in Christ and his acts of salvation. I maintain that every religion must have some kind of mystery to it, something that we cannot comprehend as humans because we trust that there is an infinite higher power at work. I believe that the Bible is true in its statement of what is explained in points 2-3, but that doesn't mean that I don't think point 2 can be interpreted. Does that make any sense? If you want, I can flesh that out for you at some point, too.

4. I think the Trinity is an important concept for Christianity, because it is how God has chosen to meet Christians' needs. If Jesus Christ is not God, how could be save humanity? If the Holy Spirit does not exist, then we should all be deists because God is not providing for a means to be active in the world since Christ's ascension.

5. Christians should be united and help one another, and view each other as part of a larger universal faith, even if we have denominational differences.

6. Whether or not you believe in an afterlife (I know people who define themselves as 'Christian' who don't; such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and their belief in the soul sleep doctrine), it would seem logical to me that it should exist. Heaven is not discussed in the Bible in very literal terms, as far as I know, so I feel comfortable believing that God exists and that she has a place to live. Since God is love, why wouldn't she want me to come join her there someday? If humanity was created to commune with and worship God, then it makes sense that there would be an afterlife.

So... as for literal vs. non-literal interpretation... I don't see where that hinders me in believing the basic tenets of Christianity.
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