sunsetBackground of this post:
These words were taken from a 2011 email to the director of Lipscomb University‘s relatively progressive Center for Spiritual Renewal, with whom I had recently reconnected at a Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ speaking engagement in March 2011. For some reason, I decided to give the director a brief account of why I am no longer a member of a conservative Protestant Christian congregation. C.M. never did receive my email due to a technical issue, and I did not resend it. More recently, C.M. returned to Lindsley Avenue Church (March 2012); I was in attendance as a guest of Steve Garrett, the minister — so C.M. and I talked again, this time setting a firm time and date for an April 2012 appointment!

Art, sketches
The sketches on this page are drawings or caricatures of Bible teachers at then-David Lipscomb University in the early 1980s. I hope Lipscomb readers will enjoy these, and good luck in guessing their identities…

Taking a risk: Being more open about locally controversial beliefs

Critically — personally, at least — this is the first time these "highly controversial" subjects will be discussed in detail by this writer with a prominent Nashville conservative (fundamentalist) Christian. Why have I decided to become so open about this, even to the point of risking total rejection and reprimand from someone who knows my folks? It is also very important to note that I have kept my opinions — including these writings — largely hidden from most conservative Christians — including my family, close friends of the family, Lipscomb University officials, church members, and so on.

Such secrecy about one’s religious beliefs will surely sound silly, or even ludicrous, to some readers; however, let me assure you that religious beliefs are no small thing within the local circles of Lipscomb University and community Churches of Christ. When one raised as I was, in a family of relative prominence, leaving the church is considered to be a scandal in some eyes!

It might have been much more serious, had I been vocal about my evolving religious and spiritual beliefs while my father still served as an elder in a large local Church of Christ. Technically speaking — and depending upon the degree of literal Bible interpretation by the other elders, deacons, and even the members of that particular church congregation — having an "unbelieving" son would have required his resignation from the eldership… no trivial matter.

So I kept quiet about my "different" beliefs for a decade and a half. Only recently — the last couple of years or so — have I begun to publish articles about religion and spirituality. Even then, as you may have noticed, the name of the author is Samana. (Samana is not my name!)

sketch by Stephen Frasier: Tom Holland, Bible teacher at David Lipscomb University and preacher Nashville, TN in the 1980sI have spent much of my life carefully studying religion and spirituality, their contrasts, how religion and spirituality relate to science, history, philosophy, and numerous other subjects, etc. In a sense, the seriousness and depth of my ongoing spiritual quest (largely held close to the vest) and the related experiences have been a roller-coaster ride!

To me, nothing is more important in life than the quest for spiritual truth and development; interestingly, this opinion has been one of few to successfully carry over from my early, frequent exposure to Nashville-style religious fundamentalism!

As a tween or early teen, I sensed — on a deep, personal level — that there was something missing from the legalistic, fundamentalist worldview to which everyone in my ken seemed to subscribe. I seemed to be more curious than the average young parishioner. While others seemed content to accept all the religious teachings and dogma at face value while refraining from asking the notoriously “difficult” questions that plague religion (evolution, origin and nature of evil, et al), I was not prepared to blindly follow them. I had an earnest, unrelenting desire to conduct independent, relatively objective research in order to confirm the teachings of the church, and in the process, hopefully reassure myself that what we were being taught at school and church was congruent with reality and truth.

sketch by Stephen Frasier - Bible teacher at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN in the 1980sI began to think then as I have come to believe now: that, although spiritual matters are certainly beyond reason and intellect, they ought not conflict with reason and intellect. In other words, I do not subscribe to fideism on any level: the belief that truth-telling tools such as logic, reason, science, philosophy, and intellect are actually enemies of religious faith! (For inerrantists who take the Bible 100% literally, there are numerous passages in the Bible that confirm, encourage, and support the employment of human reason in the process of discerning one’s religious beliefs.)

I was quite rebellious in my early college years; I believe I was the only student in my Christian Evidences class [1] to argue for the “other side.” I think I still received a B- in the class, in which we used Sproul’s Reason to Believe as the primary text. For a short time around age 18, I suppose I was leaning toward atheism. Fortunately, that did not last very long.

sketch by Stephen Frasier - Bible teacher at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TNAround the year 2000, I decided it was time to get very serious concerning my beliefs; I decided to devote my full time and attention to the study and research of religion and spirituality, and how they relate to truth, reality, science, history, etc. I spent months doing little apart from contemplating and examining the errancy/ inerrancy debate, the "special creation" vs. macro-evolution debate, intelligent design I.D.), comparative religion, the differences and similarities between Eastern and Western religious views and philosophies, Christian mysticism, New Thought, the perennial philosophy, and much more.

Over the years, I practiced and/or adopted belief systems including fundamentalist Christianity (as I was raised to believe at David Lipscomb first grade through college and at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ), "true" or "Jeffersonian" Christianity, Deism, agnosticism, secular humanism, atheism, pantheism/ panentheism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

sketch by Stephen Frasier - Roland Pack, Bible teacher at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN in the 1980sI wish everyone could (or would) take the time to conduct an objective, big-picture study of these matters; I would not trade that experience for anything in life!

These evolving views and beliefs have had several side effects: some positive, some negative. Relatively speaking, my widely varying experiences seemed to bring about a great deal of perspective, appreciation, freedom, compassion, perhaps even a mild enlightenment. On the negative side, I suffered socially from my beliefs since almost everyone in my life up to that point was from the Nashville world of Christian fundamentalism. I became more distant from my immediate family, though this was probably more of my own doing than anyone else’s.

sketch by Stephen Frasier - Bible teacher at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TNI gained a tremendous respect for those spiritual giants of all paths who encourage interfaith dialogue, tolerance, acceptance, universal spiritual principles, and syncretism: People like HHDL (His Holiness the Dalai Lama), Thomas Merton [2], Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and so many others. My heart clearly and firmly led me in the direction of openness, oneness, and spiritual unity – and away from closed-mindedness, fideism, legalism, and fundamentalism.

For many years now I’ve been writing about these experiences: the related study, research, and practice; religion and spirituality, etc. However, given my conservative heritage and environment, I’ve kept most of my writings and beliefs to myself — sharing them only with close friends and a few others. Perhaps to those who do not know me, one of the only outward signs of my faith has been the drastic reduction in my church attendance! The casual observer might posit that I either do not care about religion and spirituality, or have turned against it. Thankfully, neither could be further from the truth!

I am no longer content or satisfied to keep these things to myself; I am no longer willing to remain silent on such important matters — especially with the push of the Hard Right into modern national politics and the associated threats to pluralism, separation of church and state, the twisting of what great rational thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson really thought about religious fundamentalism, etc. (I’ll end my political references here; these potentially touchy subjects are covered in separate posts on the Search for Truth blog, as well.)

Therefore, it is with tremendous relief and some excitement that I have finally begun to publish a few articles, essays, and posts on these subjects on this Search for Truth blog and elsewhere. Goals include encouraging critical thought and deep contemplation re: spirituality and religion, spiritual unity and oneness, emphasis of unity over division, acceptance over judgment, truth over tradition, and so on. [ Mission, goals of Search for Truth, About Search for Truth… ]

Resources

Notes

[1] Christian Evidences course: A study of the evidences which support the Christian religion, dealing with such matters as the existence of God, the origin of the universe, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the divinity of Christ.

[2] Even some of the most positively influential Christians of modern times cannot avoid being publicly condemned by radical, far-right religious fundamentalists. Apostasy Alert and its berating of Thomas Merton is a great example of religion gone haywire.

  • Biblical errancy vs. inerrancy debate
  • Special creation vs. macroevolution debate
  • comparative religion
  • Eastern and Western religious views and philosophies
  • Christian mysticism
  • Basic universal spiritual principles
  • Syncretism, New Thought, perennial philosophy
  • Aldous Huxley, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Neale Donald Walsch, etc.

Removed content
(I realize I must trim back the level of detail – otherwise, this email will take up too much of your time! As a writer, I tend to be verbose…)