Coming from the religious background I do, I get asked fairly often, "Are you still Christian?" In my view this is a rather cheap way of doing business. I would much rather be asked questions about the mysteries such religions are based on, such as: what does "heaven" mean to you? What is the relationship of man to so-called nature?, man to divinity? Why are we gifted with free will? What does talking to God mean to you? and other questions of that sort. The problem is though, those questions aren't formulas where neat answers can be given, as it is with simply "Are you Christian?" In other words, these sorts of questions aren't rigid classification but an attempt at wiggly understanding.
To answer this question then, I'll have to explain in a sort of roundabout way.
I have a few main issues with Christianity as it is "preached from the pulpit" today, and they are as follows: First, and I know there are exceptions abound, but still, as it stands for me, Christians as I have experienced them have assumed a real and damaging sense of superiority over all other belief systems. They believe that their Mystic, Jesus of Nazareth, was the Supremely Gifted Mystic and that their book, The Bible, is Supreme in Knowledge and Law. It is fine and even necessary for a person to hold tight in their belief and sort of, in a way, feel privately supreme and content, but the supremacy in the minds of Christians today has outwardly pitted them against the world and their neighbors. They have privately for so long deemed non-Christians as "needing help" and diseased of the mind and spirit, condescendingly offering an empty platitude of the nature of "I'll pray for you." They don't pray for you though, they pray for themselves, their spiritual security, and out of pity that you aren't as fortunate as they to be "in the know". Fearing their own spiritual safety and that of their offspring they take a defensive, yet aggressive, stance against other religions and declare that there exists a War on Christianity by this infectious disease called "nonbeliever". After all, anything based on something other than the Literal Word of God is just an attempt by the devil to lead them astray.
These types are utterly closed off to information challenging their own, and are entirely capable of never questioning a damn thing that comes down the pipeline, or from the pulpit. At the slightest whisper of subversion they scream "devil!" and shut it right up, as if the devil doesn't know the Bible too. That is, as if there weren't an element of "irreducible rascality" in them as well. These people shut away half of their humanness out of fear, and shame, as if one side could exist without the other. Black without White, Up without Down, Reason without Instinct, Good without Bad — Altruism without Selfishness.
The words of Lao-Tzu come to mind:
High Virtue is non-virtuousness; Therefore it has Virtue.
Low Virtue never frees itself from virtuousness; Therefore it has no Virtue.
In this, the Old Boy is is saying simply what I am fumbling to communicate: You cannot escape your own rascality in this world; so embrace it. Don't misplace your ego so on high as to claim Virtuosity — Supremacy. Those who claim purity are likely impure, those who claim infallibility are likely phony. There is, in this Christian community and society, the basic assumption that the exact opposite is true. (Again I stress the obviousness of exceptions.) Because of this, and the subsequent guilt people feel when they do inevitably stray into rascality, this entire side of human nature is repressed. This is probably the chief reason so many Christians are accused of being hypocritical — they have no room in their circle of acceptability to be selfish or doubtful or any other less-than-ideal emotion, or at least to admit it. They know what is expected, what they should to be like, and yet against their best efforts rascality persists. This balance of the two sides is the ideal goal, not the domination of one from another. There are, to be sure, bad people and bad acts; this is not moral anything-goes, this is saying that "people can be trusted to be a little bad just as they are trusted to be a little good," trusted to be selfish as well as beneficent. If people aren't trusted to be selfish they will conceal it and deceive everyone around them; these people will be the most problematic of them all — to themselves and others — and to keep the ruse of perfection up, they'll turn to persecution of anyone who outwardly expresses these rascal tendencies — attempting to prove their own validity and innocence. These are the stone-throwers from Matthew 7 of our world, who need to be told from their own book: "Judge not lest ye be judged. .. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" These people choose to ignore their own natural tendencies by turning their attention to "lesser folks" who are simply not so sly about hiding it.
My second issue with Christianity as it stands today is it's rather severe lean to a literal understanding of spiritual things and scripture, namely of course, The Bible. Rather than taking things literally — I'm not quite sure the correct alternative word to use, so I'll try to enlighten this with an example: the Hindu myth of creation. Firstly, their fundamental understanding of things is cyclical, so their myth is of creation-destruction, not one or the other. Alan Watts and others liken this myth to a game of hide and seek played by the Supreme Self, who is called Brahma in Hinduism. Now, when Brahma is aware of himself, the world is void and nothing, and he is content. And when he gets bored of that he wants a surprise; he wants to see something and play a game, so he puts on a myriad of masks and plays the part of all living things. When he plays, the universe creates itself anew, and this cycle goes on and on and on forever. The course of time that this happens in is called Maha Yuga (The Great Year: 4,320,000 human years), or a kalpa, which is separated into four smaller yugas, with each subsequently becoming shorter and more violent, leading ultimately to the universe's destruction. The first, and most harmonious and peaceful, is the Krita (or Satya) Yuga, lasting 1,728,000 years; then the Treta Yuga lasting 1,296,000 years; then the Dvapara Yuga lasting 864,000 years; and finally the Kali Yuga ending in the destruction of all things, lasting 432,000 years. I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of writing those details down if it weren't for my point that they are representative of a natural principle of birth and death, they aren't taken literally. They are meant only to represent an unspeakably long amount of time. (Although, there are some who do take these measurements more literally and presume that the Kali Yuga started in the Iron Age exactly at midnight on February the 18th [or the 21st, there is some discussion] 3102 B.C..) As I understand it though, these yugas are less used to predict the future than they are to portray symbolically the cyclic nature of the universe and the interdependence of good and evil, creation and destruction, and the duality principle of existence as we know it. Hindus also think that this Kali yuga that we are supposed to be in, supported I suppose by observed evidence, is the point at which humans are farthest away from God (Brahma) and most in need of exercises like meditation and a calming of the mind. Also, close translations of Kali are "strife", "discord", or "contention", all of which could be used to describe the present state of world affairs, generally, — historians in hindsight might even call these last few hundred years, give or take, the Age of Wars, as did Hermann Hesse in his book The Glass Bead Game, which is very much worth a read. These associations are not, however, taken from literal interpretation of his myth; meaning is extrapolated in the same spirit as you would apply a parable from the Bible. If one were to take these things literally there would be all sorts of hangups and inconsistencies, as it is with "creationists" who think literally that Jesus walked with dinosaurs (In a newly opened creationist museum Jesus is seen petting one . . .)
Originalists, Literalists or whatever you want to call them, people who boil down whatever belief to their perceived most basic principles, are seeking for a neat list of rules of engagement for life that they'll never find. If the Bible were everything we needed to know, what would be the fun of going on? Yes, fun. Some people don't place that as such a high priority but it is indeed one of the highest. In a talk by Alan Watts, he recalls a story where, after speaking, a rather religious man asked him, "You know, if one can believe that this universe is in charge of an intelligent and beneficent God, don't you think he would naturally have provided us with an infallible guide to behavior and to the truth about the universe?" And he knew he was talking about the Bible so he replied, "No, I think nothing of the kind. Because I think a loving God would not do something to His children that would rot their brains." Because we would no longer have to think for ourselves! and free will would be an act of rebellion. We would have no surprises and life would be no fun. Fun encompasses surprises, and we do need those. After all (symbolically, of course), when Brahma knows himself and can do anything, he gets quite bored of such a state, he wants a surprise, and so he plays the parts of all these strange creatures, and some of those wiggly things do indeed have free will! Who knows what they're going to do next. This makes me think of one of my favorite poems by G.K. Chesterton called, The Fish, where he says of free will: I have heard the hoarse deniers, / I have known the wordy wars; / I have seen a man by shouting, / Seek to orphan all the stars. / I have seen a fool half-fashioned / Borrow from the heavens a tongue, / So to curse them more at leisure— //. See, he understood that that there is no infallibility to the guidelines we as humans follow in life. And this is the problem with originalists — they want to define the undefinable (life, to be clear). What's worse: when they come up short they grow frustrated and use force to squeeze this wily beast into a clearly identifiable formula and it just won't work!
Thirdly and I suppose my final reservation with modern Christianity is the subject of mystics. Mystics are people who have glimpsed, to some degree, the same state of mind or consciousness as did Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama the Buddha, Mohammed, such obscurities as The Báb of the Bahai´i faith, and many more. My problem arises in that Christianity as a whole fails to even recognize these other mystics, and further, it's followers are usually found to slander and disrespect these persons while simultaneously refusing to learn about their lives; and, I might add, demanding respect for their own mystic. My eyes were opened to this after realizing that in their world, in their Kingdom of Heaven (which incidentally was simply modeled after the government of the time), there is only one King and His son can have no competitors. That would be introducing democracy into the kingdom of heaven (Watts, On Being God). Christians have safely labeled Jesus the Boss's son and given him a permanent room upstairs. Because of this, and the cause of repeated accusations levied against Christians for being hypocritical and "holier-than-thou", they can't see and understand the Gospel clearly — that is, instead of seeing it as from a mystic and so with mystical understanding, which they've since all but outlawed, they've doubled down on and "institutionalized guilt" — have you been to confession recently? This ties into my earlier point of a fruitless attempt to hide and suppress their natural rascal tendencies. When you're in such a situation as trying to deny your very nature, you, naturally as well, search out someone worse to elevate your self-sense of "good".
The good news as heard from the podium is basically, "You are all very nasty people, and thank Me that I've given a sliver of my nature to you in Jesus Christ. He is the Boss's son and no one can challenge that. The only way to save yourselves is to repent and admit what an awful person you are. You'll never be as good as Jesus but you've got to go on trying, one day near the end I'll give you something real good for your earnest efforts." They've got half of it right — we humans are quite nasty to each other, starving and ignoring one another; and yes these people should repent and change their ways, realize the unity and interdependence of all things, but it can't be forced or taught or strictly learned. Mingle with the poor, lower oneself, be humble - generous - loving - honest. Do all these things sincerely and the real good news will be revealed: that Jesus was a squarely and utmost decent, altruistic man and he received real, profound joy from doing so — even on the cross as he begged, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". For he also realized that death is not the end of the real Self, only the earthly ego identified by whatever particular body. Capital "y" You, as spirit, as Brahma's face behind the mask, is only in part lowercase you as ego. He knew these things and received joy, or the Beatific Vision, not as a reward for hard work or a necessary amount of charity hours, as a capitalist would think, but by with "no worry for the morrow" — and the joy came. This joy, also, is not to discount Jesus' suffering, as when he truly felt forsaken on the cross, it is more an all-encompassing knowing of unity with all creation — more profound than what we'd assume as the everyday feeling of joy.
"Happiness depends on right happenings,
but even when things go wrong —
You can have joy."
The real good news is that Jesus was divine and knew it; and you are too.
• • •
After coming to know Christianity through leaving it, I wish more than ever that I could call myself one, but alas I cannot, and I feel no rush to choose a replacement. After all, Jesus didn't need Jesus, or Christianity, to save himself from his sins, and neither do you. He needed only a glimpse of God and his unifying presence to know the truth and live it plainly. I've grown more concerned with my own individual inner understanding of the primary problems that these religions deal with, such as the questions mentioned at the beginning of this post; whether I explicitly call myself a Christian or not matters very little in my view. Christians yesterday thought it best to burn heretics at the stake; Christians today think they are at war with Islam; Christians tomorrow will think something new entirely, and better, I hope. I have no need and feel no rush to claim what I know will change in meaning in a few short years, or decades. Inner understanding is longer lasting and in my experience more outwardly impactful.
"Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "Ye are gods."?"
So be it.