I left Christianity begrudgingly. I fought for every remaining tenet of the faith, strove to keep some faint object of faith alive, and ultimately succumbed to the myriad questions that traditional theism couldn't answer without resorting to tautologies, circular reasoning, or incoherent wish fulfillment. It was a difficult period, made worse by the fact that I worked in professional ministry. Many times I replayed the hose and push-up scene from An Officer and a Gentelman, wherein Lou Gosset, Jr. (Foley), demands of Richard Gere that he (Mayo) quit. Mayo continues to do push-ups while Foley wonders aloud why he doesn't quit. "I got nowhere else to go!" Mayo sputters. It was a poignant moment in the film, and I felt Mayo's confusion and fear as I faced my exit from the faith. What the fuck would I do if I didn't do ministry?
One of the last things I read that actually made an impact on me as I lost my faith was Paul Holmer's The Grammar of Faith. Holmer was a professor of theology at Yale (of course he was) and an expert on Wittgenstein, my philosophical idol. Holmer's thesis in the book was very simple: theology, rather than making us smart, ought to make us holy. It was a revolutionary concept in a grad school full of people who were painfully smart, people who ended up bruised and broken by the Church because they asked difficult questions or didn't settle for the same banal answers that passed for apologetics in church circles. My mentor, Dr. Steve Green, offered us Holmer because, I think, he thought Holmer could help heal us, and for a time, he did. But Holmer's ideas were viral in the best and worst way; the more you thought about them, the more they infected your thinking, and the more they infected your thinking, the more you applied them to church-thought like a template. How does this particular instantiation of church-thought measure up to Holmer's thesis?
Here's a random truth about me: I hurt when I see suffering. Really hurt. In most of my classes we begin the period with story time. Students are required to tell stories, but they must be about sadness or tragedy or arrests or unplanned pregnancies. I want to hear their stories about suffering because the sharing of suffering brings a class together. I'm not sure they ever figure that out, by the way. They just love story time without knowing why. One rule is no stories of animal suffering. I can't abide stories about tragedies that befall animals. This seems strange to my students, but the explanation is simple. Humans are rational creatures, and so we attempt to make sense of our suffering. Animals don't share that quality, and so their suffering, at least by my reckoning, is a moment of unredeemed pain. It's just shitty, inexplicable pain foisted on a creature that deserves better. It's why I change the channel when Sarah McLaughlin and abused pets appear. I hurt for the animals that have been wounded by people who are too stupid and barbaric to have a basic level of empathy for non-rational creatures.
If theology should make us holy, it should absolutely make us empathetic. Alas, that seems not to be the case. As Holmer says in The Grammar of Faith, "Theology is, then, an interpretation" (9). This, I'm sure, is a Barthian assessment. God revealed in Jesus is primary revelation. The testimony of the disciples is secondary revelation, including the Bible. Theology is tertiary revelation, at best. If all theology is interpretation, and it is, then theology is not "Word of God." Yeah, Barth, again. However, secondary revelation is not "Word of God," either. This is the theological problem with the discussions about same-sex marriage. Too many Christians treat a handful of verses as the "Word of God," but they understand the phrase as a description of the text, not an event, ala Barth and Tillich.
I'm not even going to discuss the Constitutional issues around which this conversation should actually be formed, as I'm almost certain there is no credible response from a non-religious perspective that could militate against gay marriage in a republic or democracy. Equal protection seems to need very little parsing, as equal is a zero-tolerance designator when it comes to rights afforded to citizens who are both of age and have legal standing.
Christianity has failed to make Christians holy, and it has clearly failed to make them empathetic. This should be a catastrophic failure of what they believe, but they have insulated themselves against reality shattering their theologies by insisting that God makes them holy by virtue of killing Jesus. No work is necessary. No attempt to understand a suffering world. No reason to reach out to "the other" with compassion. No actual laboring for a genuinely holy life. No. Only a triumphalist assertion of holiness that the recipient of grace has done nothing to earn. Indeed, this dependence is seen as a virtue. This redefinition of holiness is disastrous for those who are viewed as enemies of the tribe.
For gays and lesbians, who according to a narrow theological reading of an ancient text are "others," the redefinition of holiness allows for a subset of Christians to view them as "abominations" even as that same subset views themselves as "saved by grace," even as they work to ensure the suffering and marginalizaton of their "brothers and sisters" who are also "created in the image of God." The law, which the Apostle Paul clearly says must be accepted in totality if one is to follow it, is directed against these "others," even as the legalists, by practice if not self-definition, excuse themselves from the penalty of the law by appeals to a slaughtered Savior's death. It's a theology that is self-justifying even as it condemns the marginalized to injustice, said injustice being excused by appeals to an ancient law. The whole thing is so painfully bizarre, self-refuting, and hypocritical, that I'm befuddled that Christians don't repent of their own hypocrisy and beg their gay and lesbian neighbors for forgiveness. Instead, though, they will justify their beliefs by appeals to a holy God while they excuse themselves from the hard work of holiness.