I spent fifteen years in a fundamentalist Christian space, and another five trying to recover from that, reconciling what I was with what I was being shown was okay. In this time, I fervently, aggressively, desperately tried to believe in it, tried to make it so it worked for me because I was terrified of the alternative that was the reality I was slowly coming to terms with.
It was in this time, I keenly began to feel pinched at the edges by the desperate smallnes of the god of the infinite and untouchable universe.
See, in the fundie space, there’s a lot of very empty talk of absolutes. It’s hard to escape, in hindsight, the way that I think of literally every major position and promise as being empty rhetoric. Oh, I know it’s not nice to act like they don’t believe things; we give the benefit of the doubt, and it’s also just flat out impossible to say for sure what a person does or does not believe, because their belief systems are always personal and can be internally unreasonable. People who believe the world is ending in five days still pay their power bills and that can be true because people don’t have to make sense.
It’s not that I think any given individual member of my church didn’t believe what they said, though there were quite a few of them who did let slip that they had doubts and their fundamentalism. There’d be some moment, some serious spiritual conversation with a mentor, and they’d say ‘well of course I have some doubts,’ or even more terrifyingly, ‘act like you have faith, and faith will be granted to you.’ The whole point of the faith is that it’s meant to connect you with an immortal all-powerful creature who has a plan for your life and whose choices have directed the very fundamental materiality of your experience…
And you kinda gotta wing it.
You gotta hope you got it right.
This is the best way for that immortal entity to connect to you, to talk to you, to relate to you and your cohort. Obviously, that’s unsatisfying, it’s meaningless, but the thing that stands out in those same moments, like peeling paint on old walls, when you realise that something you thought was an absolute is still a thing that falls apart and weathers and can get old and fall apart, is how much there is that their god can’t do.
Healing, sure, you get some mention of that, though not in any way you actually know is a miracle. No returned fingers or restored limbs. I know, I did working bees, I knew more than a few people who lost a piece of a hand or a foot in the name of giving the church free labor. God wouldn’t fix that, hospitals fixed that, or nobody fixed that.
Evolution had to be a lie, because it was complicated and difficult. If God used evolution, then it eroded everything that god could be. If the world was older than six thousand years, then the Bible could not be literally true, and that would destroy our icon of God. Homosexuals and feminists had to be wrong, because the Bible had no place to talk kindly of their complexities. Everything had to be seen in terms of if God had a hand in it, and if he did not, then it was discarded, as if it did not exist.
It was an idea better expressed than I ever realised by Carl Sagan, possibly before I was even born. He wrote about how the faith met new discoveries and could only reject them. I think in part this is because of a lack of control, an inability to synthesise or incorporate those ideas into the nature of our faith as we could wield it. I think in part it was because of a limit of understanding; the people I know who confidently dismiss any of these realities are completely uninformed about it. Ken Ham is an internationally successful explainer of evolution and he doesn’t understand it at even a level a child can. Being rock stupid isn’t a function of brains, it’s a function of choices, and Ken Ham sure chooses to be that fucking stupid.
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”Carl sagan
It’s a kind of rhetorical dead-ending, a drain that sits underneath your soul as you try to keep throwing things down it. The world is full of interesting things, systems and perspectives and art and ideology and even just like material objects doing weird shit and at some point, something, eventually, sometihng mundane enough that you can hold it in your hand is there and present and you realise that the god of the infinite space and Abraham who counted the stars in the sky has about as much power as one shithead can manage to maintain over a hundred people, and that seems very small for a god.
It never made sense! It never got a satisfying explanation! I’d discover something interesting and ask about it, and so, so, so often, the answer is ‘the world is not so complex; god didn’t do that.’ And this sounds bizarre, I know, but fundamentalist christianity involves so much denial, so much ignoring and discarding. Imagine thinking that millions of people working in laboratories are all just playing grab-ass and inventing results, and nobody’s bothering to check or point it out!
The solution that comes in there is conspiracy.
God is small, god is petty, god didn’t do that, can’t do that, can’t be that complicated, those things can’t exist.
because our god is a small god.
And he needs you to think small.