Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Christian Intolerance and Forgiving the Past

One day our Sunday school class added a new member, a young wife and mother who had moved to GA from another state.  She had previously belonged to a different church and had found a new spiritual home in the church where my family and I were members.  During class she would occasionally speak out against her past beliefs in defense of her present beliefs.  Her attacks on the old church were never addressed by anyone in our class, not even the teachers, and I soon became aware that I was the only one who was uncomfortable with her open hostility.

In spite of my discomfort, I also understood her intention—or I think I did, anyway.  In attacking her past beliefs she was defending herself but because she was not very strong in her new faith she was unable to speak from a solid position of confidence.  After all, spiritual conversion or commitment is not unlike any relationship; who isn’t defensive and even insecure in the early stages of falling in love?  This is why new lovers often immerse themselves in one another to feel the security in seclusion.  As the confidence in the mutuality of feelings grew, the lovers are more able to go out into the world where their love and relationship are inevitably exposed to criticism, to judgment, and even to attacks. 

This woman, who was eventually my friend, was not secure enough in her own beliefs to frame them without disabusing another belief system.  For my part, I eventually talked with her about some of her attacks explaining them from a Biblical context and even suggesting that her old beliefs were not wrong and nor were they, as she had come to believe, downright Satanic.  I even lent her a booklet written by a minister of her new path in defense of those who believed what she used to believe.

She never returned the booklet to me.  I don't know if she even read it.  And I don’t know if she ever arrived at a place of peace with her old beliefs.  Did she ever reach a point in her own spiritual growth where she believed her parents were not damned to hell for their misguided beliefs?  Did she ever come to forgive herself for choosing a spiritual path without question only to confront its ineffectiveness in her own life?  After all, I think ultimately it was not the old church’s belief system that angered her so very much so much as it was her own blind belief and then personal spiritual awakening that made her so angry.  Angry with her past mistake(s), she attacked the object rather than acknowledging her own duplicity.  And this too is not unlike the lover who compares her new beloved against the old and finds the old inevitably falling short to the point of vilifying him for being a bastard, unworthy, selfish, hateful, and even evil.

Thinking back on all of this, I know that my intention in sharing the booklet with her was not to say she was wrong or immature or whatever.  I merely wanted to invite her to see things differently, to gain a new perspective.  Could she have appreciated her new spiritual path had she never walked the old?  Perhaps but absolutely not in the same way.  Her old beliefs established a foundation for her future faith.  Had she chosen to remain with the church of her childhood she would have simply become more rooted in what she already knew to be true.  She chose, instead, to leap from the foundation of her past into a new truth and because of this she was able to appreciate the teachings she came across with the same openness and vulnerability of someone falling in love for the first time. 

I believe she could have fallen in love without uprooting herself from her past beliefs.  I also believe that she fell in love with a new belief system that was right for her.  Love is a funny thing and lovers are often fools for their beloved, whether the beloved is a person or a spiritual path, a belief system or a denial of a belief system.  The peace that comes with familiarity can also lead to contempt; keeping love fresh within a commitment is the challenge we all face regardless of the objet du désir.  

This is what I would like to believe.  I would like to believe that my friend reached that point of peace—peace with her new love, peace with her past love, and peace with herself.  Or maybe what I really would like to believe is that she grew so confident in her new love, was so immersed in her beloved, that she no longer felt the insecurity of her past shadowing and even threatening to overshadow her present.  I would like to believe that because of her painful past she was better able to love her present choice, the commitment she made as an adult that outshone her childhood beliefs.

I like to believe she is standing secure on her new foundation and rooting herself deeply in what she came to love.

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