JESUS AND ME (MY STORY)
Let me pick up my story from when I was about three years of age. My grandfather carries my twin brother and me to the Mahon Evangelical Church in South Africa. This church becomes a part of my life and over the years I imbibe evangelicalism. This church becomes a part of my childhood life until the age of seventeen. From that age on I experience a “natural mysticism’ enlightenment that makes me realize that Jesus and I are on a journey together. I got to know Jesus in the evangelical language. I also was told to stay away from theology and theologians as they would tell me God does not exist. In 1983 I get involved in ministry as a Pastor and help start a Church. In 1988, while visiting the US for conferences I begin to enter my “spiritual wilderness”, a wilderness that would last for a great part of my adult life. The wilderness later leads me into “closet agnosticism”. I became a “closet agnostic” while involved in my regular church work. JESUS and I walked the journey together through the wilderness of uncertainty, doubt, questions, despair, and aching loneliness. The trauma of self-consciousness and self-awareness became an integral part of my life. This lasted until the spiritual awakening in August 2007. Like Abraham of old, we kept on walking. From May 2004 to May 2005 it seemed like the wilderness had become a very dark bottomless tunnel. I was facing the Goliath’s of my life. Life appeared so lonely, difficult and bleak. I later discovered that the ‘Unknown God’ the Apostle Paul spoke about (Acts 17:23) was working behind the scenes, unknown to me, even when I could not pray. I met Jesus through unimaginable sources during this period. I could not however realize the hand of Jesus leading me out of this quagmire. I was just glad to see myself out of it. I move on with this Jesus and me story as on 17 August 2007. This was the day I got engulfed by something much bigger than me. Something I will never fully comprehend. I say more about my God experience later. I want to sketch to you the world that existed in my life when I had made a decision to be a “closet atheist”. Like Humpty Dumpty, my childhood faith, my adolescent faith, my teenage faith, my adult faith, my Pastoral faith, had fallen into pieces. I had moved from agnosticism to atheism. The cyber-world, the new cosmology, the Information and Technology worldview, the little that I knew about quantum physics, my travels around the globe, my scientific worldview experiences; all these and many more were in conflict with the supernatural theism of my Christian worldview. If the universe was truly enormous and infinite, where did a God “out there” fit in? I could no longer think of God as a being outside of the universe as this made God look so far away. The bigger the universe expanded, as scientists told me, the farther away God seemed. The following information, that I knew then (not known by bible writers), made God seem quite remote:
Firstly, my personal understanding of the word, science; etymologically, of course, science simply means knowledge. Wikipedia defines science as the effort to discover, and increase human understanding of how the physical world works. (it is from the Latinscientia, meaning “knowledge” or “knowing”). The oxford dictionary defines science as; an organized body of knowledge on any subject. Human beings have always believed that they possessed knowledge, and knowledge of such a kind that they had every confidence in it. I say more on ’empirical science and religion’ later. I knew that first century people could not have conceived the cosmology as we know it. Their science (knowledge) was a first century physical world. I knew they did not fly aeroplanes 35 000 feet above the skies and ended on the other side of the globe. I knew they did not take space shuttles that shuttle us millions and millions of kilometres from the earth into infinite space. I knew the first century man could not even imagine these things let alone have a vision of them. How can you have a vision of something not even imaginable? I knew that, when a plane goes up, it does not collide with the sky, does not go to heaven, but ends somewhere in tandem with the orbiting earth. Our galaxy, known as the Milky Way, has over 200 billion stars in it, most of them larger than the star we call the sun. The sun itself is some 152 million kilometres away from the earth. Jewish scholar and physicist, Gerald L Schroeder brilliant book mixing ancient exegesis and modern science, God according to God, says, ‘…we reside on a very special planet at a very special location within a very special stellar system, formed at just the right position within the right kind of galaxy. The earth’s distance from the sun, for the right amount of warmth, and its mass and gravity, for the ability to retain a proper atmosphere, put us in the only habitable zone within the solar system’. Our single galaxy measures over 100,000 light years in size; in other words, it would take light 100,000 light years (travelling at its approximate speed of 186,000 miles per second) to go from one end of our galaxy to the other. I had to embrace the fact that the whole visible universe, of which our galaxy is but a tiny part, contains hundreds of billions of other galaxies, with more being discovered as space continues to expand outward even as I am writing on this laptop and you are reading this book. I was in Japan one day, went to the ATM to withdraw money (in Japanese currency) from my credit card. Just when I pressed the final button on the ATM, my cell-phone, in less than a second (online), received an SMS detailing the transaction I had just done, and even indicating how much my balance was (in South African Rands!). I said, ‘WOW! How does it happen?’ Quantum physics! Faster than the speed of light! I knew what had happened! In a few milliseconds the ATM had communicated online through the bank server, through the space station, into the South African bank server, back into the space station, back into the server in Japan, back into the ATM and my cell-phone, in less than a second! It dawned on me, ‘this world was created by human beings, everything we use, was created by man’! My mind could no longer worship God, therefore my heart rejected God. God was just too, too, far away, millions and millions, perhaps billions of kilometres away from the earth. I would then go to church to hear a preacher take me back to the first century ancient, mediaeval, world for the 40 minutes to an hour of his preaching. I would then stand up, recollect my 21st century brain and go on with my life.
In his book, Technology and Spirituality: How the Information Revolution Affects our Spiritual Lives, Stephen Spyker describes cyberspace as not a physical place but a real place that we go into, visit, enter, and move into. For the past ten years before the spiritual experience, I lived in this world and it revolutionized my spiritual journey. I understood my earthly home to be a tiny planet spinning in space. This tiny planet is finite and limited. I knew that if I go far enough around the globe I call earth I would come back to where I had started. I could construct a fairly clear picture of the whole globe in my mind. I would watch the weather channel on my cable TV and see satellite photography from outer space. My global consciousness caused me to discover and acknowledge both my cultural diversity and cultural relativity. The more I involved myself in the Information and Communication Technology World the more Biblical ‘truths’ became mythical and ancient stories very hard to believe. What I knew as the truth from the new cosmology of scientific understanding and the truth claims (science) of the Bible were on a collision course. I would spend more than thirty hours in space, far from the earth, come back to earth in a totally different country, far from home. Where did God live? Where is heaven? The modern worldview had become in my mind, not simply an image of reality but a lens through which I saw reality. In my travels around the world, meeting Jesus amongst the Buddhists, Hindus, Shinto, Moslems, etc made the claims that Jesus and Christianity were the only way of salvation to be troubling for me. The more I became aware of the hundreds of millions in China, India, Japan, and all the other places I’ve been to, the more difficult it became, to believe that they were all going to hell. It seemed so grossly unfair. I could not understand how God chose to make Him-self known in only one religion (which happened to be my own). Moslems believe this about their own religion. Such truth claims became impossible to reconcile with the love of God. In fact, I was so impacted by some of my overseas experiences that I quit believing that Christianity was the “absolute” religion. The absolute claims of Christianity became problematic for me as I had to rethink the Christian position and its relation to other religions. I found the way of Jesus manifested by people I used to call pagans and came back home to find Christians treating me in so many unchristian ways. I saw the Spirit of Christ being manifested in observable and embodied ways by people who have never heard of Christ. This was a great turning point in my life. I therefore, found the Christian claim, that we Christians possess the absolute truth and all other religions are false or inferior very difficult to accept. How could I, in all intellectual honesty, deny the attraction I saw in the non-theistic and more humanistic character of the Buddhist tradition in Bangkok? The deep mystical spirituality of the Hindu tradition in India; The more physical practice of spirituality found in the Chinese tradition; the warm and attractive Shinto philosophy of the Japanese; The love from the Malaysian Moslems; Should I really come back home and live in denial of my experiences? My total experiences aremy faith! My faith is relative to my experiences and my cultural environment that is changing all the time. I hear this all the time from evangelical pulpits, ‘Forget your experiences, deny them, just believe what the Bible says, the Bible is truth’. Do not go where I have been! Do not believe what I believe! I invite you to come see the world through my eyes. However, your life may be changed forever, if you can dare believe what I believe.
11 September 2001 was the day the question of God took another level in my life. On this day, four aeroplanes were hijacked in the name of God and flown into various buildings in the US. Three of them hit the intended targets (Pentagon and World Trade Centre). The other one, intended for the White House, was supposedly shot down by the US army. When the anguish of this trauma had subsided the fundamentalist preachers in America got onto the bandwagon. Telling us how these attacks were of God, to punish sinful America. God was punishing homosexuality, abortion, same sex marriages, sins of all kinds, etc. Moslems in the Middle East were dancing in the streets, shouting ‘God is great!’ How can God be so cruel? I asked quietly. On November 2004, after the Americans had taken over Afghanistan and Iraq, in the name of God also, George Bush was elected American President for the second time, in order to finish God’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq. American Christians voted for war in overwhelming numbers. One American Evangelists, on CNN, called on President Bush to ‘kill them when he finds them…blow them all away in the name of the Lord…that is the only cure for barbarians’. Books by atheists hit the bookshops; Letter to A Christian Nation (2007),God is not great (2007), In God we Doubt (2007), The End of Faith (2004), The God Delusion (2006).The new atheistic books were very appealing to me, they spoke to my modern cosmology as opposed to the now unbelievablescience in the Bible. I could not deny the delusional aspect of belief as addressed by this “new atheism”, more on this later. In 2005 the Hurricane Katrina hit America. Televangelist Pat Robertson hit the waves saying that this was caused by a famous bisexual homosexual in New Orleans. So, God uprooted thousands of families and displaced them, destroyed so many churches that were under water, just to show his anger on this one homosexual? I felt, if God is real, He is not worthy of my worship.
The greatest problem however, remained the God concept. I could no longer accept God as a supernatural being “up there” or “out there”. My cosmological world view, my business vocation, my experiences, my travels, my understanding of the scientific world, all negated a belief in such a God as prescribed by the science of the Bible. The most basis religious question zeroed to; “Does God exist?” Are there any reasonable grounds for thinking that he/she/it might exist? And if so, is there anything to suggest what he/she/it might be like? The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins was the most convincing, appealing, readable and wisely written. I still think it is one of the most brilliantly written books I’ve ever read. Professor Dawkins introduces his book this way, ‘I have written this book in such a way that by the time you finish it, you will be an atheists’. It turned out to be a major keystone in my spiritual journey. I am forever grateful I had the thought to buy the book. It was in the morning of 17 August 2007, while in the shower preparing to go to work that my townhouse got engulfed with a presence I cannot explain. The experience confirmed that it is true that, GOD DOES NOT EXIST. This resonated well with the Biblical writer in Isaiah 55:8-9, who said;
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts
I have come to terms with the fact that I do not and will never have a corner on the ways of God. I have also come to terms with the fact that I cannot live without religion, yet the only religion I can endure is Christianity. I was born, bred, and ‘buttered’ in this religion and this religion has grown inside of me. It has become my very being. I have discovered the wonder of being ‘known by God’ as opposed to ‘knowing God’. Today I know what it means to be known by God rather than to know God. I feel like an infant in the arms of God. I cannot grasp God but feel transformed by God’s grasp over me. I feel like a child being held by a mother. The child does not know nor understand the mother but experiences the transformation that comes from being known by the mother. Like a child, I often do not know where I am going, but I keep going. David sums it well in Psalm 139;
“You have known me, you know my every thought when far away, you know what I am going to say even before I say it, you watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, you saw me before I was born, every day of my life was recorded in your book…”
Fasten your seatbelt for some controversial and highly heretical statements from MY world. Each of us lives in his or her OWN world. Fundamentalist Christians will find the nailing of my colours to the mast very annoying. I hope this is not too devastating to you, reader. I am confident (not over-confident) that with the current rapid evolution of change in our global world, a great majority of Christians, mainline and evangelical, will be where I am standing five years from today. I remain deeply spiritual and intensely religious. However I no longer have any beliefs. My “beliefs” have turned into “knowing”. I do not have a belief system – this is my belief system. When one fully understands religion one will also cease being a ‘believer’. My spiritual journey and the study of religions have made me a deeply religious and irreligious person at the same time. No one get be grasped by the ‘God talk’, whether theistically or atheistically, and not be spiritual. I remain a belief-less or a ‘beyond beliefs’ Christian, which I see as the future of Christianity. Dogmatic beliefs and second-hand religious convictions are no longer my taste. My spirituality has become my personal lifestyle and life-project. I am not ready to die or kill for any belief system. I am not ready to assassinate a character, blackmail, eliminate someone from society, or kill somebody’s soul for any beliefs. This version of Christianity works for me and is therefore true for me. I understand that it may not be true for you. My spirituality has become my destiny and calling. I have truly become and I am becoming. For the religious conservative, true faith holds on to something metaphysical, but for me true faith holds on to nothing, true faith lets go and just floats. I have become accustomed to living with relatively ‘thin faith’, which remains subject to review. What follows in this book is my free floating faith experience. True faith is the one I have personally appropriated and tested out in my own life. I am willing to engage in conversation to defend what I have articulated here. I just allow God to take me where the Spirit leads. I continue to embrace the religious truths of my religion without necessarily welcoming them as factual truths. For me, the meaning is more important than the mechanism. I no longer believe in the literal first century lens of viewing Christ but understand what first century to the twenty first century people used to point towards when they formed the creeds and the literal language. I seek to understand what they were pointing to when they used the literal language. Even though I have renounced my beliefs in literal creeds and doctrines I will continue to dig deeper until I discover that these literal beliefs were pointing to when they were framed by my ancestors. I will continue to dig deep into the words of the Bible until I discover the deeper meaning behind the literal words. I seek to discover the modern and post-modernscience (knowledge) inside the mediaeval science (knowledge). The science (knowledge) of biblical writers and the science(knowledge) of the twenty first century are on a collision course. This has been happening since Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, Darwin, etc. The evolution pace is now just fastest than ever. Faced with a choice between the first century scientific view of reality and the twenty first century scientific view of reality, I deliberately chose the latter. The latter is indeed in a collision course with the Bible.
As a post-modern man I have since discovered that I must indeed work out my own salvation or perish. I can no longer find ultimate satisfaction and fulfilment in external authorities, whether these are teachers of divine truth, a guru, an ‘infallible Bible’, an ideology, a political institution, a book, or anything external to me. I search deep within me to find God. God is no longer an external force outside of me. These outside influences are a mere help to attain the full potential of humanity I have been called into. It is the thesis of this book that the new atheism is a protest, in the interest of truth, against idolatry and false beliefs. A protest against belief in absolutes and religious dogmas, when these to have to be accepted as the final and absolute truth. A protest against the worship of graven images of men, ‘you shall not make any graven image and shall not worship or bow down before any likeness of anything in heaven or earth (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8)’. A protest against modern day religious slavery of power, fear and control, ‘you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt (Deut. 5:15)’
I no longer believe in – a literal, objective sky God with a literal HQ above the clouds or “up there” or “out there”. We know through modern science that “up there” is another country in our tilting global cosmos. God is real and personal for me, but notliteral, more on this later. I no longer believe in a literal Devil, literal demons, literal evil spirits and a literal HQ under the earth. In our understanding of the new scientific cosmology, the deeper we dig into the ground the sooner (hopefully) we will reach another country. I have, however been under vehement attack from ‘the Devil’ since I started on this book. I did meet Satan ‘face to face’. Satan is real for me but not a literal being with an ‘office’ where he operates from. I have also seen the Lord order my steps into the right books, right websites, and right sermons as I have been writing this book.
I no longer believe Jesus was born of a literal virgin but do embrace the meaning of a virgin birth and what it means to us as evangelicals. I no longer believe in Jesus’ literal resurrection, though I do fully embrace the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection and I see Jesus rising again in my time, after we tried to bury him under our creeds and traditions. He will continue to rise. Jesus rose after the dark ages, the Papal inception, the Reformation, and He will rise again in our generation. I no longer believe Jesus’literal cosmic ascension to heaven though I know Jesus ascended to heaven and this will continue as God’s Kingdom comes. I no longer believe in Jesus’ literal ‘second’ coming though I hope for the coming of Christ through a fresh Jesus explosion in my time. Jesus will come in my generation. This generation will not pass, this is my hope. I hope for Jesus to come and keep on coming for the poor, the marginalized, victims of war, diseases and oppression. Jesus comes through me and you. He comes through my hands and yours. This literal ‘second coming’ is not even in the Bible for that matter. I no longer believe in the literal truth of the Bible but know that the truth of the Bible which is deeper than the literal truth. The literal truth is filled with contradictions that are beyond questioning. A great majority of Christians unconsciously no longer believe these literal truths from our Greco-Roman cultural brainwashing.
My Christianity is no longer creedal, traditional or beliefs-centred. I have moved on to a Christianity of transformation and left behind a Christianity of beliefs. I distinguish between historical truths and eternal truths. The literal language is not historical fact but eternal truth. All religions survive on religious truths (myths) and not factual or historical truths. This is how the evolution of all religions has been throughout history. No religion will survive without myths. I continue to value my Christian traditions religious truths. Many religions share the same religious truths espoused by Christianity. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam claim the literalascension of their religious icons. Muslims even believe that their Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven with the original Koran in his hands. Muslims say the original Koran is in heaven with Mohammed. In China I heard of a religious icon which ascended to heaven on his pigtail. How do I say my truth claims are historically accurate and theirs not? The creeds and the language will have to be interpreted for the twenty first century person if Christianity will have a future. We can and we will have a religion without beliefs. This is the Christianity of the new millennium. I AM A BELIEF-LESS BELIEVER IN EXILE! I hope you will have moderate tolerance for my stand as I have moderate tolerance for yours. I have been delivered from the slavery of religion. What conservative theologians refer to as liberal theology is actually liberation theology. We feel the call of Moses to deliver Christians from the ‘modern day slavery’. I write what follows out of a deep sense of conviction to deliver God’s people from the ‘Egyptian slavery’ of religion. Christianity, as a religion of fear, power, and control, is dying. A new day is dawning. To others, this is deliverance from what Brian McLaren calls the religious mafia in his book, Everything Must Change:
An errant religion often functions like the mafia, which promises security and protection for a fee; but if you don’t pay the fee, it promises to destroy you. Instead of “protection rackets,” religions often become “forgiveness rackets,” creating guilt and anxiety and then offering forgiveness and comfort, but then creating more guilt and anxiety so that you’ll need more forgiveness and comfort tomorrow, and so on.