Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Theism: The belief in one or more deities. More specifically, it may also mean the belief that God/god(s) is immanent in the world, yet transcends it.

Clew started a discussion on her blog asking people to say whether or not they are theists, and why or why not. I think I’m going to have trouble fitting my answer into a comment form, so I’m making a whole entry of my own about it.

I’ve actually been thinking of writing something along these lines as it is. The church I attend is Trinitarian in nature, and the theology is based in the Nicene Creed, which essentially states that the Father begot the Son, and the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as it is sometimes called now, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

My problem here lies not with the Creator or the Sanctifier, but with the Redeemer. For reasons I can’t quite explain, even to myself, I just can’t bring myself to believe in the Jesus part of the Trinity, even though I have wanted to. And if I am completely honest with myself, I have never believed in Jesus as a personal aspect of God. Look back through my other theology writings. I always speak of “God” or “the Spirit,” because that’s what I understand and feel comfortable writing about. It’s never about Jesus.

If I break down my beliefs to their core, I could probably best be classed as a panentheist. Panentheism is the view that God is immanent within all creation or that God is the animating force behind the universe. I touched on this a couple of entries ago, writing about comets. Everything that exists is God examining God’s self and seeing what happens. The part of God which transcends the knowable universe is the part which is observing.

I do believe also that part of the knowable universe includes a spiritual realm, as well as the material realm we can easily see, and that this realm contains beings which can interact with the physical realm in certain situations, or in dreams. For example (yes, I know it’s fiction, but it’s the clearest example I can think of), J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion describes the world as the unfolding of the thoughts of the creator-god Illuvatar, while other beings, the Valar and the Maiar, who were created by Illuvatar, are “in” the world as its caretakers. (They’re in a spiritual realm not reachable by ordinary means, but also not in the Void where Illuvatar dwells.) I have not yet decided whether I believe the spiritual beings to be separate beings who are part of the creator-god in the way that material things are, or if they are the way by which the Divine interacts with the parts of itself which are enfleshed. I could argue either way.

But you see my quandary here. I belong to a church. I love my church and the people there. But I don’t believe the same things they do. I’ve been feeling like a fraud since I started being more honest with myself. How can I say the Nicene Creed every week when I don’t believe a word of it? How can I accept the “body and blood of Christ” when I know that it’s just bread and wine, and no holier than anything I make for myself in my own kitchen?

I believe in my church and the love that is there and the work that we do in the world, the music we make and the prayers that are raised. I don’t know if that’s enough for me to keep going there without feeling like a very uncomfortable fraud.


At 4/18/2006 9:27 AM, Blogger clew said...

A great post, Bainwen. Really insightful. I see your confliction with continuing to attend your church when you do not believe their core foundation teaching. But if you feel at home there otherwise, perhaps you have been led there for a reason and it's "okay" for you to continue to be there. I do understand you feel like a hypocrite for saying the creed and taking communion. Maybe you could simply and discreetly refrain until and unless you are led to do so again.

Your point on the body and blood reminded me of a news story I heard a week or so ago, where a girl could not take the "usual" wafer for communion because she could not eat gluten - and the priest told her that she had to take the "official" wafers and any substitute would not do. I found this ridiculous. The "official" wafers are no more or less Christ's body and a saltine or a vinna wafer or a goldfish cracker. When Jesus broke bread with the discpiles and said "Take this, it is my body ..." was it really His body? No! Of course not. But it symbolized it. It's the symbolism of the act, not the literal contents taken ...

Dogma can really mess up spirituality.

But I digress ... Sorry - I'm off on a tangent.

Thanks for participating in my little round table, BTW. :)

At 4/18/2006 9:30 AM, Blogger clew said...

Ugh. typos. (furrowing brow)

Make that, "THAN a", not "and a" in paragraph 2, and Nilla wafer, not vinna ... I really should proof read BEFORE I hit the publish button. Sorry.

At 4/18/2006 10:30 AM, Blogger Bainwen Gilrana said...

Now see, that's just dogma carried to the point of lunacy. We have a gluten-intolerant person, and we have a gluten-free wafer for her every week. I have no idea what it's made of and it looks really weird, but it goes it with all the other ones and no one has a problem with it.

At 5/21/2006 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bainwen, perhaps this is too late to post but here goes: you are not alone in your questioning. When a person moves closer to the Divine (however you under-stand that), a person begins to separate wheat from chaff. The Creed was written at a time in history when people were struggling with who Jesus was and was written in the words and understanding of that 4th Century.
It's only the Roman Catholic official teaching that considers the bread and wine the actual body and blood of Jesus. The church you attend believes that Jesus is "present" in the symbols of that bread and wine, but the presence is a spiritual mystery.
I suggest you get a few books written by John (Jack) Spong, a retired bishop who, like you, questions and challenges. Amazon carries them, usually at a discounted price. Spong also has a web site you might find quite interesting.
Keep questioning. Keep coming. We miss you when you're not there. Your parish loves you.
Your priest


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