Sunday, March 27, 2005


Certain events earlier this year caused me to think deeply about my relationship to my religion -- why I choose to practice the Christian faith as opposed to Buddhism, say, or Judaism, or simple old-fashioned atheism. My continued adherence to Christianity has been a question in my life for a while now, actually. . . . My college classes on the role of women in Christianity and on the historical roots of Christianity; the His Dark Materials trilogy; September 11 and the horrifyingly absolute religious certainty with which the terrorists drove the planes into the towers; my conservative Christian friend Hilary and her personal certainty regarding what God intends for her life (a certainty I've never been able to share): All of these things have led me to think much about whether God exists and whether Christianity is the way to approach Him. Then Heaven (ha) knows I don't want to be associated with the Christian right, who I almost invariably find insufferably self-righteous and way, way too prone to cast themselves as long-suffering victims of a secular world (she says with insufferable victimized-liberal self-righteousness). And perhaps most important of all, I do not feel a connection with God as often as I did in my more orthodox-Christian days, which grieves me, but which I do not make the effort to change.

Given all this, I've tended to described myself as a "Christian agnostic" the last few years rather than a plain straightforward Christian: I cannot and will not claim that the Bible is the absolute literal truth and the Christian God is the only God that should be worshiped, that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and everyone must be saved by him or be damned. I don't know or feel any of that enough to stake my identity on it. But I do believe in God; and as I thought about Christianity as a religion earlier this year, I realized that I believe fiercely in the values Jesus Christ represents as a symbol and a man: love for one's neighbor as for oneself; the humility that allowed him to sacrifice himself for others; forgiveness, which according to doctrine was the reason he died on the cross, so humankind could be cleansed of its sins; a desire for justice that reaches across all differences of race and gender and class; and all the fruits of the Spirit according to Paul: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, trustfulness, and self-control. I do not always manage to live by these things; indeed, sometimes I deliberately contravene them. But that is who I want to be and what I want my life to mean.

And, contrary to all conservatives, Christianity is the faith of radical change. Today is Easter, the day of Christ's resurrection. If you were raised in the church, as I was, this is such a commonplace fact that it's easy not to think about what it means: A man who was dead came back to life. What then shall be impossible? Love thy neighbor as thyself: If we all did this, who would go hungry? Love those that harm you, pray for those who persecute you: The mere act of looking beyond yourself is revolutionary. Easter means that all the old rules are gone: You can change your life; you can change the world. I want to live in that faith.

And that is why I am a Christian.


Usually on Easter Sunday, I attend church in the morning, then take the N/R to 59th Street to walk up through Central Park -- saying hello to nature again after the winter's cold. This year, however, I went to a most excellent late lunch at Jeremiah and 2.0's (which nicely complemented my equally excellent dinner last night with Melissa and Mike). We ate lamb, potatoes, and asparagus, and talked long over wine and coffee; and as I walked back to my apartment, I saw the trees getting nobbly with buds and the first daffodils dumbly lifting their heads in Prospect Park. Spring is coming at last, even to the city. Happy Easter, everyone!


  1. Hmm... I note a few things, and shall write more later.

    You should call yourself christian as well as Christian. It's ridiculous that a bunch of self-important, middle-aged white guys has deluded a significant core of our population that theirs is the only right way of being "Christian" and that they are the only ones entitled to call themselves "Christian."

    C.S. Lewis's version of christianity, which I've always thought of as a stripped down, sugar coated version of christianity should be a counterpoint to Pullman. Reread it if you have the time--I've often said that Lewis makes a pretty persuasive argument for being a christian in the series.

    Don't believe the hype, christianity is a radical religion. You're right. What other world religion speaks so fervently of an upending of the existing social order: where rich and poor, man and woman, black and white, straight and gay, and young and old are all equal?

    One of the greatest debating accomplishments that a mentor of mine achieved was getting a bunch of neo-conservative, Ayn Rand followers to admit at a televised Boston College debate that socialism is the natural outgrowth of christianity.

    What does the lord require of us? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your lord.

  2. I first must impart that I have been a faithful and somewhat obsessive reader of your blog and many times have I thought about replying - but alas you have stirred me into finally saying something, so I will also take the time to cover some past posts as well. (I tried to reply on your blog, but there was a strange internal server error.)

    Firstly, in regards to religion and redefining what Christianity means to you: I ask why you choose to stay within the confines of the name? As a non-Christian (circa 1998), I too believe there is a higher being of some sort and that the Christian religion has some very good points that one can live by. But also,
    Christianity has a lot of bad points as well.

    For example: How many women can you name that are mentioned in the bible and what are their roles? (silenced wives, subversive sexual deviants?) The selection of truths by the church - the bible says that it is a sin to eat shrimp and wear more than one clothing-fiber at a time, and they blow it off such passages as being selective to the time period yet Christians desperately cling to passages defining creation and the disgrace that is homosexuality.
    Even the fact that the entire religion has been significantly changed due to the influence of politics; large parts of the bible have been removed at the discretion of the ruling power (hence the name, the 'King James version').

    The reason I bring these things up is because you obviously have seen the flaws in the religion. There are key values of the religion that you do not agree with - yet you still confine yourself within the name. So, if you don't believe the same things as the Christian church, why do you call yourself a Christian?

    I ask you to take the next step - if you are defining or redefining your
    religion - why not be a healthy and dedicated follower of the Church of Cheryl? (or the Temple of Cheryl, the Mosque of Cheryl, etc.) You can mix and blend religious teachings into the blend that is right for you. Who is to say that a self-defined religion isn't as important as any other?

    Secondly, I must suggest some music for you to listen to that fills your
    qualifications of "acoustic, soulful, and with good lyrics".

    The Postal Service - if you don't have it yet, get it. It's in a league all its own, both in complexity and simplicity. (It's an oxymoron, but it's true)

    The Garden State Soundtrack - you should own this, if you don' might need to hurt yourself. Zach Braff won an Emmy for this compilation and it is well deserved.

    The Wicked Soundtrack - it's hard to get into at first, but once you hear the songs "Popular" or "Defying Gravity" you're hooked in and you will be singing the songs for weeks on end. Even my dad has gotten hooked on this one.

    Kings of Convenience - a new aquisition into the Hans music collection. This Norwegian duo has been called the next Simon and Garfunkle, and I can see the
    resemblance. I have their latest CD, "Riot on an Empty Street" and it is very well done. Think Simon and Garfunkle meet Damien Rice. (By the way, if you don't have Damien Rice, get it too...he's Irish and he's awesome.)

    Gillian Welch - Her CD, "Time (The Revelator)", is a piece of bluegrass/folk gold. She has a haunting voice and smart lyrics.

    Jamie Cullum - "Twentysomething" is the best album to put into your iPod and bicycle around Central Park. All of his songs are care-free, jazzy, and summer-ish.

    Tori Amos - The album "Scarlet's Walk" is, in my opinion, the best thing she has ever put out. If you don't have this one - get it now.

    Zero 7 - This British chill-out/down-tempo group is really just...phenomenal. I'm a big fan of their album "When it Falls", it's perfect music for hanging out with friends and drinking wine.

    David Gray - The album "White Ladder" is perfection. I really can't get enough of him.

    That's about it! Some of those you may have, but I figure that I might as well put my favorites on there in case you don't.



  3. And perhaps most important of all, I do not feel a connection with God as often as I did in my more orthodox-Christian days, which grieves me, but which I do not make the effort to change.