I can’t say enough good things about the book, “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.” by David Dark. I recommend it for several reasons, as this is one of those books that speaks to people on many levels, and can be of useful for working out many issues regarding modern religious beliefs.
For myself, this book will now be my response to people’s questions regarding Christian rescue missions for the homeless. For so long, I had difficulty describing the rescue mission environment. When I would tell people that rescue missions were counter productive toward helping homeless people escape homelessness, they would ask me for details. And for the most part, I could not adequately answer those questions. I just didn’t have the right understanding, the right language to express what I witnessed on a daily basis in rescue missions. Now, if anyone asks me to tell them what life is like for the homeless in missions, I will first recommend this book.
Now, I hope I don’t get into too much trouble with the author, who is an acquaintance, or with the publisher, but I really want to give people every good reason for picking up this book, and giving it a thorough study. That is one thing about David’s books, there is so much in them that they are best studied, not just read.
The following extended quote is from the beginning chapter of the book. It is a metaphor for what happens in many churches.
Dig, if you’re willing, this picture: a tiny town with a tight-knit community. The people share joys and concerns, woes and gossip. They keep a close and often affectionate watch on one another’s business. They talk and talk and talk.
What an outsider would notice within minutes of listening in on conversations are constant and slightly self-conscious references to “Uncle Ben.” A beautiful sunset prompts a towns-person to say, “Isn’t Uncle Ben awesome?” Good news brings out how thankful and overjoyed they feel toward Uncle Ben. Even in tragedy, a local might say, in a slightly nervous fashion, “You know, it just goes to show how much we all need Uncle Ben. I know – we all know – that Uncle Ben is good.”
Uncle Ben is always on their minds.
Even when the magnificence of Uncle Ben isn’t spoken of aloud, he’s somehow present in facial expressions and actions. It’s the look of stopping a train of thought before it goes too far, or letting an uncompleted sentence trail off into awkward silence, of swiftly changing the subject. It’s as if a conversation can go only so far. People hardly ever look one another in the eye for long.
At the beginning of each week there’s a meeting in the largest house in town. Upon arriving, people get caught up in the good fellowship and animated discussion of the week’s events, with conversations straining in the direction of Uncle Ben. When a bell sounds, talk ceases. Everyone moves to the staircase and descends into the basement. Each person sits facing an enormous, rumbling furnace. Seated close to the furnace door, as if he were a part of the furnace itself, is a giant man in black overalls. His back is turned to them.
They wait in silence. In time the man turns around. His face is angry, contorted. He fixes a threatening stare of barely contained rage on each person, then roars, “Am I good?”
To which they respond in unison, “Yes, Uncle Ben, you are good.”
“Am I worthy of praise?”
“You alone are worthy of our praise.”
“Do you love me more than anything? More than anyone?”
“We love you and you alone, Uncle Ben.”
“You better love me, or I’m going to put you….in here” – he opens the furnace door to reveal a gaping darkness – “forever.”
Out of the darkness can be heard sounds of anguish and lament. Then he closes the furnace door and turns his back to them. They sit in silence.
Finally, feeling reasonably assured that Uncle Ben has finished saying what he has to say, they leave. They live their lives as best they can. They try to think and speak truthfully and do well by one another. They resume their talk of the wonders of Uncle Ben’s love in anticipation of the next week’s meeting.
But they’re limited, in myriad ways, by fear. Fear causes them to censor their own thoughts and words. Fear prevents them from telling anyone of their inner anguish and fright. Fear keeps them from recognizing in one another’s eyes their common desperation. This fear is interwoven, subtly and sometimes not so subtly, in all of their relationships.
End of story.
I find this story both jarring and entirely familiar. It captures some of my worst fears concerning the character of God. And I suspect a good number of people live their lives haunted by a nightmare similar to this one. Perhaps you entertain fears like these. Perhaps Uncle Ben forms your image of the divine even now.
Something akin to the Uncle Ben image might be what a lot of people refer to when they speak of religion as the worst thing that ever happened to them, a nightmare that damages everything it touches. We might protest that there’s much more to religion that such tales of terror. But I find it hard to deny that the image of Uncle Ben lurks with an awful lot of what is called popular religious belief…
….For a long time, I was in the habit of praying a prayer, (“I Love you Lord”) that was something of a gamble, like Pascal’s wager. I wasn’t sure I loved this God at all. In fact, I believed this Uncle Ben-like God was unlovable, determined to consign most of humanity to eternal torment for believing the wrong things. But given the terrifying outcome of not loving him, I sensibly said I loved and believed in him anyway. If, somehow, I succeeded in loving this God, lucky me. And if I didn’t love him, I’d be more or less damned anyway.
Having faith in this brand of God is akin to Orwell’s “double-think” – a disturbing mind trick by which we don’t let ourselves know what’s really going on in our minds for fear of what might follow. We learn to deny what we think and feel. The resulting mind-set is one of all fear all the time, a fear that can render us incapable of putting two and two together. Never quite free to say what we see..
When we think of belief intertwined with such fear, we might begin to wonder if self-professed believers caught in the grip of unseemly ideologies, religious or otherwise, are as fully convinced of what they claim to believe as they appear to be. Many are trying to prove their ultimate commitment by eliminating doubt – and fear – ridding themselves of the last vestiges of independent thought through force of will. Responding to the push that demands as much can become a kind of survival instinct. We do it without thinking about it. We witness the loss of independent thinking in a wide variety of settings – in offices, training camps, schools, political parties, clubs, families, and other religious assemblies. We’re instructed to believe and to silence our questions and our imaginations. Like Orwell’s Big Brother, Uncle Ben thrives when questioning is out of the question.
~~From the book, “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything,” by David Dark.
(Although the publisher says the free audio version of the book is no longer available for download, I just tried it, and the download still works. You can get the book free, the download starts immediately, when you go to Zondervan.com