I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection just recently. What it is to lead the perfect life, to be the perfect son, husband, brother, worker, friend. In doing so I managed to trigger my depression and to emerge from the muddy water of my own thoughts into cleaner streams of rational thinking. The results of my meditations and pondering aren’t some celestial truth that I can carry down from the mountains to humanity, but rather, a reminder of things I already know and find hard to live day to day. First among those truths is that perfection doesn’t exist.
I can understand the reasons for humanity seeking the singular, seemingly divine concept of perfection. We hold within us a belief that there has to be something more than the mundane and our everyday experience. All the pain and suffering which we experience is tainted and imperfect. Because we see it for the pain, the response to an experience, it produces a negative response. After all a child putting its hand in a fire doesn’t want to repeat the experience. It feels pain, pain is negative, and it is as far from the perfect as we can imagine. Our lives become a series of imperfect experiences and painful memories. So in experiencing pain and suffering we too must be imperfect. With a little circular thinking we become convinced that imperfection is wrong in all circumstances and that the only way to attain perfection is to remove all imperfection. Cause and effect becomes an impossible goal but one that we seem to revel in. It becomes a self abusive behaviour that is culturally acceptable because the the groups we trust are doing it. What we and the forget to do is balance the negative “imperfect” with the positive experiences.
My own experience of learning this self abusive behaviour came from the church. I was born in the seventies and at the time a new wave of churches were springing up. These evangelical free churches were a response to the perceived imperfections of the established churches with their ritual and their priests. It placed religion in the hands of the masses, removed the altar rail and the priests and placed God in the hands of the common man. This I have no problems with. I like the idea that humanity can have an uninterrupted relationship with a deity on an individual basis. What this move actually did was create an environment where the loudest voice and the strongest will could control others lives in the name of god. It became less about encouraging individual thought and more about a collective belief that imperfection was all around. The free church offered a freedom only to those who conformed. They held tightly to the belief that the individuals of that church were the ones that had “got it right”.
Like all young children there is a need for correction when bad behaviour happens. The tragedy was that the free churches had no such discipline in their formative years. With no governing body each was able to grow in the image of its founder, who ever that was, and as they were human they were imperfect. So the belief sprang up that methodists, baptists, the churches of England and Rome, anyone who wasn’t a member of the free church was heading to hell because they were doing it wrong. That it’s these churches who are leading the war on human rights isn’t surprising. They have never been told “no”, never had a slap on the rump, and never been challenged when they displayed behaviour that would have had a toddler in terminal timeout. It’s my belief that in the desire to split from the perceived restrictions that they experienced in the “old” churches they lost their humility and their humanity.
In the early days, and to even today, the more radical members of this backwater of Christianity have chosen to reject this world as imperfect, focusing instead on the next world. They relish the idea of the apocalypse, the end of days, because they are safe. They are eager to leave this world where others are different to them, who dare to think differently, and live forever in a world where everyone is reduced to a single thought process. To them thats what heaven is. When you really read the bible and get to grips with what it will be like there is no individuality there. One focus, one action, one behaviour. Nothing is different, nothing is unique. Heaven is a single voice composed of millions all singing the same words, in the same way, to the the same tune eternally. The idea of what is perfect is the idea that we will be reduced to something with no personality, no distinction, no uniqueness, and the actions we perform will be eternally the same. When this is the goal of your life there can be no shading or colour in the world because things become either black or white, right or wrong, perfect or imperfect. When you add to that the concept of man being intrinsically sinful and god being intrinsically perfect then the self hatred becomes even easier. We have failed and so only by accepting a certain path or truth can humanity be saved. The question would have to be “does humanity actually need saving?” On a deeper level it becomes “why does a preacher have the right to condemn the world as imperfect?”
The Greeks had a very different idea of how humanity and the gods worked. The gods were the gods, they were themselves imperfect. They fought, they got things wrong, they displayed lust, hate, anger, greed, and all the other human frailties which the Christian church condemns. When it came to dying humans never went to become one amorphous whole. Instead they were judged and received the place that they deserved but there was no eternal praising of a god who didn’t deserve it, no becoming one mind and one being locked in a cycle of eternal celebration of a deity. Humans were humans and gods were gods. Even the essence of those gods reflected the differences in humanity. Hermes was the god of communication and travellers, but he was also the god of thieves and bodybuilders. Apollo was the god of musicians but he could also create plagues. Everyone on Olympus had a role from the birth to the death of a human being. They could choose the gods that meant the most to them as individuals, and there are no examples that I can find of someone missionizing Gaul, ringing on the doorbell of a Frank, or waging war on Persia because Demeter was better than Tistrya. Sexually too the gods displayed heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and even hermaphroditism. Everyone was able to be perfect in their difference and there was always a god or goddess up on Olympus giving the thumbs up.
Perhaps my summation of the Greeks and the beliefs they held is a little trite but it serves a purpose. The idea of a church where the individual member are truly free comes at the cost of allowing them to believe that their journey with God is the right one and that they have the right to interpret the texts as they believe them to be. A free church with a minister is no different to the established church. Freedom is just that. My walk with God is my walk and no one elses. My beliefs based on that walk and on my own experience allow me to be both imperfect and have free thought. What the free church does not have the right to do is censure anyone, be they members or society in general, for disagreeing. If you believe that humanity in its imperfection is something to be corrected and defined by your belief then you have failed to accord others the freedom you claim for yourself. As a Free Evangelical you’re right is merely to evangelize. That is your freedom. You are not free to seek to restrict others so that they conform to your belief of what is an unattainable perfection and you are not free to restrict others in the way they choose to live. Your faith, your religion is the freedom to practice Christianity as you see fit not to impose that on others. The true Free Evangelical church would have a membership of one and not worry about society but focus instead on their own preparedness for their individual heaven.
Our lives are a shadow of the divine perfection. It is in living them fully and without fear that we are able to benefit the planet. How many times have people who could have had a beneficial effect on society been silenced because they dared to think differently? In the LGBTQ community rejection because of religious prejudice is a major influence on the suicide rate and yet to try and conform is an empty way to live. There is no absolute proof that heaven or god even exist and yet we allow the loss of them to influence us and our lives. We clamour after the next life and forget to live this one fully, choosing instead to cover ourselves in ashes for failing.
My god would say I have given you a life and made you perfect in your imperfection now go be a blessing to the world and it’s peoples. My god is one who asks me to look to my life in this world and the consequences of my actions rather than one who gives me a pass so that I can destroy others and still gain a place amongst the blessed dead. My god is one that sees no difference between anyone and says “live well, live whole, and live gently”. The work of art which is my life is just a shadow of the divine perfection, but it is one where perfection is not based on conforming to a group. Instead it is based on me living whole and complete for myself. When I measure myself against another’s idea of perfection I fail. When another seeks to restrict my life because they perceive me as imperfect then I am not the one in bondage to conformity. It is in the living and the failing in this world that we attain perfection and that is an journey which is ours alone.