Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Place for Saints, Sinners, Doubters, And Jilted Lovers

I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people.
– Mark Twain

A new Pew Forum Survey report that came out last month reveals that many Americans are mixing their religious practices. Our country is truly becoming a marketplace for faith and practice. This survey highlights my view that there has to be a place where everyone can come, even those who have been shut out by customs and creeds; a place for people who harbor doubts and disillusion; a place to find some sense of community. A few years back I saw an interview on Book TV with Ron Powers, who has written a biography called, Mark Twain: a Life. Samuel Clemens was the man who wrote under the pen name of Mark Twain. In discussing some of Samuel Clemens’ philosophy, Powers made the observation that “his bitterness [toward Christianity] was like the bitterness of jilted lover.” Later in the interview, he went on to add, “What he believed in and worked for often betrayed him… He suffered deeply when his beliefs proved hollow.”

Samuel Clemens was in many ways the quintessential American, much more so than Walt Whitman before him, even though Whitman intensely wished that role for himself. Clemens looked at life, religion, and politics in a distinctly American way. He readily saw the hypocrisy and shortcomings of American society, and used humor to bring them to light. Probably, he used humor to deal with his own disappointments as well. He once said that, “The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” In that vein, Clemens might serve as a role model for some of us as we attempt to reconcile faith, hope, and reality. Keeping a sense of humor as we examine the life we live helps to put things into perspective. There has to be a place where everyone can come to find some sense of community.

There are many of us who thrive on intellectual discussion and dialogue. It occurs to me, however, that there are also those among us who may have felt betrayed by their faith. One of my times of greatest disillusionment came when I realized that there was no place for me among the Southern Baptists who had nurtured and guided me for so long. During that time I remembered the words of one of my seminary professors regarding disillusionment: “If it was an illusion to begin with, is it such a bad thing to be disillusioned?” I knew then that there had to be a place where everyone can come; a place to find support; a place for community. It doesn't have to be the same place for everybody, but everybody needs a place

I wonder what Mark Twain might say about the religious scene if he were here today. I’m sure he could find something humorous to say that would be both insightful and incisive. I wonder if he would find a place where it is permissible to explore faith, reason, doubt, and hypocrisy, all on the same page – like on the internet. There is a good site on the web: which seeks “to provide an open, non-judgmental, private place for ANYONE interested in exploring spiritual issues.” I have no connection or association with that website, it's just one that I am impressed with. Nothing beats being actually present with like-minded people, but there are some helpful sources avaiable electronically.

Everyone needs a place to go, a place to find community. No one should be denied the opportunity for some sort of spiritual life that is congruent with his or her world view. The American spiritual landscape is such that today there are many places that people can go to affirm life and spirit as they understand it: a place for dialogue and discussion; a place for hope and community; a place for saints, sinners, doubters, and jilted lovers.


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