This will be the last post in the sub-thread on spirituality. Although I could easily write another several dozen entries, I don't want this blog to be consumed any further with this topic, for reasons which should become evident below.
I think it was 1982. There were 4 couples gathered around a dinner table in a building that has since been razed on the University of Waterloo Campus. Each of the graduate students in the group had been working with a history professor in the graduate program who "specialized" in mentoring students from evangelical backgrounds through the treacherous waters of secular graduate studies. With some students, he was successful. With others, the result was what he would term an unmitigated failure. All of those at the table were "failures".
"So, Don, do you remember when you first began to doubt?" someone asked. It was a clear allusion to the testimonial type meetings often found midweek in Baptist and Pentecostal prayer services. Individuals were encouraged to relate how they first came to give their hearts ("and minds") to Jesus. Any further changes were, by implication, insignificant. No personal evolutionary development in spiritual thought was considered possible.
It was conversion only that was the reigning metaphor. Convert one way, and the keys of heaven were yours. Convert another way, and they would unceremoniously be ripped from your hands, indicating the worst of all possible sinners - someone who held the truth and then surrendered it willingly, wilfully.
The table erupted in laughter, with everyone else in the room clearly wondering what was so funny about the mystical Anabaptists, or the stern and "oh-so-assured" Calvinists and Zwinglians, or - my speciality - the tightly knit, mild mannered, proto-Fellowship-Baptists of a group led by Pilgram Marpeck in cities of southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Don't laugh! I could easily have made a very comfortable living teaching Radical Reformation studies in many university campuses across North America and Europe.
This story is meant to illustrate what it was the led me away from evangelical Christianity to where I am today. I will go into no further details. Each milestone has been part of a journey of development, a journey whose itinerary has given me wealth beyond measure.
It included, among other things, a decision to let questions of morality and ethics dictate my spiritual interests. Issues like the limited roles of women in the church, the fear factor used so brutally in the fight against rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
It included a refusal of the notion of the infallibility of scripture. Historically, one cannot deny the failure of Christianity, especially when dogma trumped praxis by means of proclamations of the infallibility of person or dogma or text - slavery, racism, and other 'isms throughout church history. Crises in the history of Christian religion and spirituality are often linked with surrendering logic and reason to revelation. When revealed truth is seen as limited and symbolic (the finger pointing at the moon is clearly not the moon), then I have no problems with most religious thought and practice.
It also included a realignment with modern evolutionary thought. Darwin loves you every bit as much as Jesus does.
So to conclude...
It wasn't about an emotional event, some kind of personal betrayal, failure, or conflict between ideal and actual. There were plenty of those, naturally, but they didn't determine my world view.
There were many milestones in the last 36 years, each of which was truly significant to me. My response, as it is with cancer, was further study, open dialog with others, and an inflexible demand that no matter how many mistakes each of us may make along this road, hindsight should never be confused with foresight.
Mistakes? I have made an incredible number of mistakes. But overall, when I hold up my evolving thoughts about spirituality and religion, and compare them with my responses to cancer, I feel pride. In either case, I claim nothing more than an attempt to find truth, to give words a chance, to tell stories, and to find peace wherever it might be hiding.