Earlier this week Adam and I went to visit with a family whose daughter attends the same preschool as our son. The kids had a great time, playing together happily, whilst we adults sat around talking, drinking delicious strawberry mint “mojitos” and eating amazing meatballs. It was a great party! Somewhere in there the conversation turned to my background in theology. As it does. I had an experience I haven’t had in a while: I was asked if I believe in God.
I was surprised at how the content of the conversation was only slightly different from the kind I had when I was a Christian. The awkwardness was exactly the same, even as my position was radically different. I remember being asked if I believed in God when I was a Christian, and feeling uncomfortable because, while yes, I did believe in God, I didn’t believe in God the way the questioner usually meant. Even ten, fifteen years ago I had a much broader understanding of ‘God’ and certainly didn’t think God was a He (or a She, for that matter).
This time I felt that awkward, uncomfortable pit in my stomach and I got specific. I said I believed that Yahweh was A god, but not THE god, and he wasn’t MY god. I came out as a polytheist. It was weird, but also very freeing.
Other questions were asked: Do I believe that Jesus is the king of kings? No, if he was I think the Jews would have jumped on board with him. Does that make him less of a god? No. He’s just not MY god.
See, a polytheist view-point sees the world as full of gods, full of possibility. I actually think it helps me be agnostic about a lot of things, folding in my own experiences without denying the validity of others’ experiences, without breaking my brain trying to fit it all into a monotheistic framework in which “there can be only one.” I feel completely liberated from having to work everything into a monotheistic framework; my brain is so relieved about that.
Another question to answer was, had I read any CS Lewis? I feel bad when people ask me this. You might be surprised at how often this question comes up! I am a huge fan of Lewis; I’ve read most of what he’s written, including his academic work in literature and his fiction. (Hm, I think it could be good fun to revisit a bunch of his work with my “new eyes.” Does that sound interesting to you?) Usually I’m far more familiar with Lewis than the person asking the question. He’s a smart, thoughtful author, who is completely a man of his time, place, and circumstances. For the average American those circumstances and that time and place are just not relevant anymore.
Many of Lewis’s arguments and the evangelical arguments for Christianity rest on a purely monotheistic way of looking at the world. In fact, most atheist arguments rest on this framework, too. If God (as the Christians envision him) does not exist then there is no god. Or, if there is a god it has to be Yahweh. Why I couldn’t see the profound lack of logic in this for so many years is a testament to just how much the Christian view-point dominates our Western thinking. Why does the Christian viewpoint (or Jewish or Muslim – the monotheistic view-point) have to be the only one? It doesn’t. It isn’t.
We got to talking about experience. My host said that he had a life-changing experience in his mid-20s while driving for work. He said it was revealed to him that the Bible was true. My response was, that’s wonderful! Having a spiritual experience like that is joyous thing. I absolutely think that he ought to worship Yahweh and Jesus. But please don’t expect me to. Don’t demand that of me.
I put in my time. I didn’t give Christianity a mere fortnight. I gave it close to twenty years. I expected Jesus to do what the New Testament says he’ll do; I had hoped that I would have the sorts of experiences and relationships that my other Christian peers were having. But I never did. I had other experiences. I really think that Jesus and I are not meant to be in relationship with each other.
But what if you are being deceived? I was asked that in full sincerity. A good question, but one I don’t need to entertain. If my sincere heart and efforts dedicated to knowing God led me elsewhere, why would I assume I was being deceived? Why not assume that I was being led by a God of Love to where I was meant to be? To deities that wanted me? Assuming that I am being deceived actually makes Jesus out to be a real dick. Why keep me waiting all these years? Oh, it’s not for me to question? Well, I’d rather go where I’m wanted, where all the skills and gifts I gained in my years of Christianity are used, welcome, and produce fruit.
My lack of relationship with Jesus and Yahweh in no way invalidates the experiences of Christians. When looking at this topic from a purely monotheist point of view the choices are either Jesus is the single only truth, or he is a liar or, worse, an insane person; I am either being deceived by the devil, or Jesus isn’t true. I don’t think we need to be so zero sum about it. I am not deceived, nor am I lying, nor do I diminish the truth and beauty that many people find in the Christian tradition. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, that still doesn’t make him The Only god.
My embrace of the polytheist world view has given me new eyes through which to see the world, a new mind with which to accept my experiences and those of others. Indeed, I have a new heart with more compassion and less judgment than ever before.
I can appreciate the sincere desire of Christians to represent their truth to me. My only hope is that they will accept the truth of my experience – hard-earned – too.