This post is the first in a series exploring religion in the context of being a survivor of sexual abuse. Jackie and I are very interested in this topic and have seen how conservative religious dogma has historically been demeaning to survivors. Rather than walk away from religion, we would like to face it head-on and demand change.
“Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
― Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
“My Grandfather’s Blessings” is the only book I have read multiple times. Usually, when I finish a book, I give it away and start on a new one. But this book is like a comfy blanket that makes me feel all wonderful inside. It’s full of stories of hope and healing.
Rachel also writes in this book that Meaning is the language of the soul. I believe this. I think we all search for meaning. I also think that far too many religious people have instead settled for explanations. I have even heard religious people say that if you can’t rely on specific “truths” in the Bible, then religion is meaningless. I could not disagree with this more.
It’s not that I don’t believe in truth. I do. I believe in meaningful truth, not explanational truth. The best example of settling for an explanation vs. searching for meaning is found in the overused phrase “It’s all in God’s plan.” No. No, no, no. God has a Desire for all of creation. God’s desire gives meaning to everything in life. But saying “God has a Plan” that will someday be revealed in the face of senseless, horrible experiences is a cop-out for trying to explain the unexplainable.
Saying “God has a Plan” heaps more damage on an already-wounded person who has survived sexual abuse. No-one planned the abuse that happened to you, other than the abuser. Certainly God didn’t! What message do we send to a victim of abuse with this theology??? “You’re an expendable part of a greater plan.”
I have found it very helpful to apply a Third World Test to religious belief. Because God is also the God of people who live and die every day with famine, genocide and violence, a valid religious belief should be one that you could defend while looking a third world person in the eye. It may sound comforting to explain our troubles with a Grand Design, or a lesson orchestrated or imposed by God, but you know that famine and pestilence don’t work in this paradigm.
Another theological phrase that doesn’t pass the Third World Test is, “there’s a reason for everything”. Nope, Sorry. Many things happen randomly, with no reason. As spiritual beings, we can seek (not necessarily find) meaning in everything that happens to us. And where there is no meaning, we can either create one by moving forward and working for change, or walk away from it without requiring an explanation. We don’t need to attribute luck to God in order to be faithful. It’s not that neat and tidy.
My God is a messy God, an omnipresent God, a loving God. My God is an awe-some God. My God does not need all the answers to be God. And my God doesn’t require us to be certain in order to be faithful.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and you have been turned off by religion, please know that there are faithful believers who struggle with you. Religion doesn’t need to be reduced to trite catch-phrases that dishonor the pain you have endured or try to make you responsible for finding an explanation for the random, senseless violence that was perpetrated on you.
There are several resources for exploring a questioning faith, including a few of my favorites: Living the Questions, Progressive Christian Theology, Kissing Fish, NALT (Not All Like That), and “My Grandfather’s Blessings.” These are all mainly Judeo-Christian resources. I’m sure there are similar meaningful resources in all religions. Just keep pursuing unanswerable questions and you will find yourself in good company.
What religious teachings don’t pass your test?