Over at ScienceBlogs, Rob Knopf of Galactic Interactions has bravely outed himself as a Christian and explained part of his theology. I have gone through some changes in my beliefs lately, and have decided to explain my current religious beliefs here. If you are not interested in nonmusical topics in a music blog, go ahead and skip this post.
I believe in God. When I needed to acknowledge that I was not in control of everything in my life, I opened my heart. I was already feeling very vulnerable, but paradoxically I made myself even more vulnerable by loving something that might not love back and perhaps not even exist. To my amazement I felt my love returned, with myself surrounded by peace and joy that I had not felt in a long time.
I call myself a Christian, because that is the tradition I was raised in (UCC - Congregational) and the tradition that my wife and children are involved in (Episcopal). I don't know what I believe about Christ's divinity, and I don't think it matters. My first efforts at prayer were directed at God alone, and I even tried some Jewish prayers that I had heard when playing the shofar. But I didn't know those prayers well, or the traditions behind that religion, whereas I did know the Lord's prayer and a variety of the traditions of the Episcopal and Congregational churches. To me these prayers and traditions are ways of connecting with God, and it doesn't matter which path is used.
I follow all of the liturgy of the Episcopal service, including the Nicene Creed, because it represents my surrender to God, not because I believe every word of the Creed. Rob talks about three forms of God: Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. I equate similar roles to the Trinity: The Father is the Creator who is within all things and all people; the Holy Spirit is the connection between us and God, that inspiration, guidance and healing that God gives when I listen very carefully; and Jesus represents the love of God. As I said, I don't know if I believe the divinity of Jesus, if he was resurrected, or if he performed miracles. To me that doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm inspired by his teachings as written in the Gospels and interpreted by various wise people. What matters is that the story of Jesus's crucifixion is a story of unconditional love. This is representative of the kind of love God wants us to have for Him* and for each other.
I believe that God does not affect the physical attributes of the world. No miraculous parting of the waters, or stopping the sun in the sky. Where God makes miracles is inside each person. Creating love, inspiration, bravery, these are the things that God can do, but only if the person is open to such creations. God has given us free will, because He doesn't want us to be slaves. I consider this to be the same as meaningful relationships between two people. If one person forces the other to do something nice for the first person, that act of "niceness" isn't meaningful. Likewise, God doesn't force us to obey His will, because He wants our love to be genuine. I believe that God has a plan for each of us, because of His love for all of us. Our job is to discern that plan through prayer, meditation, listening to nature, whatever. I believe it is possible for atheists to discern and follow their proper path in life without ever believing in God, and I believe there are many religious people who have not either discerned or followed God's path for them.
Because God allows free will, there will be many people who do not do as He wishes. Thus He cannot know exactly what happens, though He is aware of all possibilities. So our plan in life can change, due to someone ignoring God's call or someone making a mistake. It is comforting that God can work with mistakes. I got this notion from Anne Lamott. He will ask us to do difficult things, but never anything that is impossible.
I'm new to religious thought, so my ideas are still in flux. But this is what I believe.
*I use the masculine to refer to God, but I don't believe He is masculine. God is beyond our ken, beyond any human conceptions of gender or personality. But "It" makes God seem like an object, and "She" is also gender specific. It is my nod to Tradition (one of the three pillars of Episcopalian theology).