As a public figure (that’s a funny term, isn’t it? What are we saying here, that I am a “figure,” which is to say, “an abstract representation of an actual thing,” and that I am, what, “public?” What do we mean by that? I guess just that I write things like this for public consumption, and that I create content that people outside my immediate sphere consume? Anyway, funny phrase that one, “public figure”), where was I... oh yeah, as a public figure who writes, talks, and teaches about spiritual matters I am often asked what I believe about any number of topics having to do with religion and faith.
Which makes sense. This is an entirely reasonable thing to do. I myself have at times asked other public figures who teach on spiritual things what they believe about X, Y, and Z.
But that’s not why I say it’s reasonable (just because I’ve done it). No, I think asking spiritual teachers questions about what they believe is reasonable because on some level we think/hope they have an answer. And as curious creatures, with minds seeking answers to life’s deepest questions, why wouldn’t we pose such questions to people who’ve perhaps spent a lot of time and energy working out a possible answer?
For instance, when our freezer’s ice machine stops working and the repair person comes to the house to work on it, it is reasonable of me to ask them why my freezer stops making ice for days at a time.
When something with our church’s payroll gets wonky, I go to our bookkeeper to seek an answer as to why.
When my ears are abnormally itchy, but I’ve already done all I know how to do to clean out the wax, I schedule an appointment with an ENT doctor, possessing a reasonable assumption that they might have some answers I can rely on.
So, when it comes to some of life’s big questions, humanity has historically sought out those among us who’ve given themselves to the study of spiritual matters—which explain the many stories about climbing to the top of a mountain to seek out some enlightened monk who lives in caves so that we might inquire of them, “What is the meaning of life?”
All that to say, it makes sense to me when people ask me about my beliefs. I’m not suggesting I’m a wizened guru who knows any of the big answers, but I do at least present myself as someone who has set aside (and continues to set aside) significant portions of my time, energy, and brain-power to sorting out and working through matters of spirituality and religion.
WHO CARES WHAT I BELIEVE
And yet, while I can appreciate the reasonableness of it all, I still find myself thinking, why does it matter what I believe?
No, seriously, think about that for a minute. Other than perhaps being an interesting tidbit of trivial information (“oh neat, that guy thinks this thing... moving on...”), what possible value to your life could it be to know what I think about a particular topic?
Now, if I’m actually writing or talking or teaching on a certain subject and people ask questions related to that topic, that’s one thing. But the phenomenon I’ve been curious about lately is when folks send a completely unsolicited message asking me what I believe about some random topic. Or, I’m writing about one thing over here, and then someone jumps in with a comment to ask what I believe about something entirely unrelated.
Every time this happens my first instinct is, Who cares what I believe about that?
I’ve thought a lot about this, for it happens regularly. Thus far, here are a few of my working theories.
Some people ask “What do you believe about _________” because they’re trying to figure out how to sort me. More specifically, they have in their minds what orthodox Christianity is, and they’re trying to figure out if I qualify. Of course, I’m convinced most people in this camp don’t understand (or refuse to acknowledge) that whatever they think is “orthodox Christianity” is only just that: what they think it is. The plethora of protestant Christian denominations, the diversity within Roman Catholicism, and the uniqueness of the various Eastern Orthodox churches all should give ample warning that such a thing as “orthodox Christianity” is an illusion at best, and a fool’s errand at worst. Nonetheless, many Christians are under this illusion that they have, in their tiny corner of the world, been shown the Truth about what is Right. And in their reality it’s often the case that a failure to achieve their version of orthodoxy is grounds for either evangelistic efforts (I must get you to believe the right things!) or heretical excommunication (Do not listen to this guy, he is a false teacher!).
Others, though, ask “What do you believe about ______” from a place of genuine curiosity. It’s less about assessing my level of rightness (and whether I’m on their team or against), and it’s more about a desire to understand different perspectives. This is probably the most rare category, where folks are truly just curious for curiosity sake. They might already know what they believe, and they might truly not have any interest in trying to save or condemn me. They’re just that rare type of person who enjoys learning from other people and hearing different perspectives.
Finally, some people ask what I believe about this, that, and the other thing because they themselves are on a journey of discovery and they perceive that I might be of some value in their quest. This might be the person who’s on a sort of deconstructing journey, and they’ve been disassembling parts of their belief system for a while and now they’ve come up against a piece of the puzzle that they’re not sure what to do about. So they reach out to me or someone like me because they might feel like I could help them sort through their various shifting beliefs. Do I keep this one? Should I edit it? Or do I entirely leave it behind?
WHEN I RESPOND TO SUCH QUESTIONS
Since most people aren’t upfront about their motives in asking what I believe about any given topic, or—perhaps more charitably put—a lot of people may not themselves be entirely aware of why they’re asking, I’m usually left to my own to figure out where they’re coming from.
If the evidence indicates that they’re coming from posture 1, I have zero patience for that. I am not your monkey to jump through theological hoops of your spinning. I don’t really care about meeting your definition of orthodoxy. No offense, but why should I believe that you—of all the billions of humans who’ve ever lived—have figured out the corner on Truth? Hard pass.
If I get the sense the person is in the second camp, where they’re just genuinely curious, then most of the time I don’t respond, or I’ll respond very simply. Don’t get me wrong, I value dialogue and I enjoy spirited conversation for sure. But I have limited capacity in my life, and responding to strangers on the internet ranks really, really low on my priorities.
However, if they reach out and it seems like they’re really trying to figure out what to believe anymore, or they really wondering how and why I believe what I do because perhaps they themselves are asking the same kinds of questions, then most of the time I will do my best to respond. I see this as one of my ministries in the online, public sphere. Again, not because I think I’m enlightened and worth people ascending a mountain for, but because I have given a lot of my life to these sorts of matters and I appreciate the fact that others have not.
Which is to say, I’ve studied why fridges break and your ice machine stops working, so perhaps I can help. I might be wrong in my answers (obviously), but I’ll do my best to be open and honest with you about what I’ve learned so far, or what I’m thinking right now about X, Y, or Z.
ASK ME ANYTHING
Which leads me to part of the reason I’m sending this newsletter and writing this article.
Back when I launched my live show, The ALTER, I mentioned that one of the segments I’d be doing was responding to readers/viewers questions. But I didn’t have an efficient way to do that just yet, until today.
You can now go to: colbymartin.live/question and submit any question you’d like! And from time to time, on The ALTER, I designate a portion of the show to responding to your questions.
These could be questions about the Bible, questions about topics in the Bible (Jesus, Old Testament stories, parables), or questions about theological topics (salvation, the rapture, the trinity). Or they could be questions about spiritual living and trying to figure out what it means to have/practice faith.
If you’re on a journey, curious about what to think and why, and you sense I can be of some help to you, then friend, I am here.
Over the years I’ve had several individuals in my life who opened themselves as a safe place to ask my questions, and I’ll never forget just how important that was to me.
So if you need a similar person, my inbox is open and my heart is true.
TODAY on The ALTER
Today (August 11th) I celebrate my 50th episode of my weekly live-show, The ALTER!
To celebrate, I’ve invited a new friend of mine, Jon Steingard.
Jon is the host of the podcast and YouTube show The Wonder and The Mystery of Being which invites us to set aside long held assumptions and fears, and participate in--you guessed it--the Wonder and the Mystery of Being.
Plus, Jon is the former lead singer of Hawk Nelson, a world famous Christian rock band that's been making music for two decades. Upon his leaving the group, Jon has also had a rather public deconstruction of his evangelical heritage.
I've invited him on to The ALTER because, A) I think he's a quality human being and I enjoy talking with him, and 2) because I want to ask him what three beliefs he is most grateful to have Alter'd.
Tonight on The Kate & Colby Show
Then, tonight at 7pm PST, join Kate and I as we welcome our dear friend and verrrry special guest, Paula Stone Williams!
In her gripping new memoir, “As a Woman,” Paula Stone Williams tells the many stories of being a transgender pastor who transitioned from male to female--all that was lost and gained along the way.
Including the many unique insights and observations about power, sex, and the patriarchy.
We've been friends with Paula for several years now, learning from her wisdom and experience in ministry, as well as being the recipients of her giant heart for humanity.
Check out her book, "As a Woman: What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy after I Transitioned"
Plus, if you haven’t yet, watch her TED talk, which now has over 4 million views!