What does it mean to be human, and where do I fit in? That’s a question that I have asked in some form or another ever since I was in middle school. I wanted to understand people so that I could understand myself. I knew that what I was, for sure, was human. If I could understand what that means, how other humans thought, what being human meant to them, what things we shared in common, then maybe I could understand who I was too, and where I fit in to this thing we call existence.
I grew up Christian. Beginning in a Pentecostal church in the Bronx, where I attended for about 12 years. Suffice it to say, the pervading idea was that Christians were republicans, we were conservatives, and there was no “buts” about it. About 2 months before graduating high school, I had what many would call a “spiritual experience.” I had been intending to go to one of the City University schools for pre-med, having thoroughly enjoyed a medical magnet program at a high school in Yonkers. I opened up a bible one night, randomly (mostly because I had no idea where to begin) and opened up to Joshua 1. The words “be strong and courageous” stood out to me, and I read them over and over as I began to have this feeling that I wasn’t just reading, but something was happening, something was happening to me in that moment. It wouldn’t be long after that when I would decide that I wanted to pursue religious studies. Something that seemed to get me closer to answering my burning question, what it means to be human, had happened that night. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew that if I wanted to answer this question I needed to go further.
I would end up with a lot of questions, a few answers, and mostly confusion. Attending conservative Christian colleges, it just seemed that there was exposition of what this or that group of Christians believed, but not much in the way of answering life’s major questions. The only time any big questions would come up was maybe in an apologetics course, where canned answers for defending belief in God against the horrors and injustices of the world would be offered. I would end up finishing my bachelor’s in religious studies with Liberty University and am now at the end of a master’s program in biblical studies with the same university. The expectation is still that Christians are conservatives, and life’s questions, and the main question of what it means to be human, remain unanswered and even un-asked in the courses. There’s a lot of emphasis on what conservative Christians believe, proof texting those beliefs with bible verses, assailing belief in evolution as obviously ridiculous and anti-Christian, and of course, an ethos of support for the republican party, with the President of Liberty University coming to the regular defense of President Donald Trump.
I was once in-line with all of this. I thought being republican was the only option for Christians. That capitalism was somehow a good result of Christian ethics, and I had no idea of human solidarity. I was against anything hinting of “liberal” or leftist ideology. I did my duty of verbally assaulting and insulting people who identified as homosexual or anything out of line with traditional gender norms, not even thinking that I was not attacking some idea floating in space, but real people, really living with the reality of large segments of society demanding that they be ashamed of who they were. I questioned climate change, believed American military aggression was mostly justifiable, went along with those who defended confederate monuments and the list could probably go on a bit longer. I was the ideal conservative evangelical young person, part of a resurgence of what many termed the “Young, Reformed and Restless.” All along however, I felt as if there was something still missing. I never felt like I had arrived, or that my positions were settled. I felt a disconnect between myself and anyone who didn’t think like I did. My question of what it means to be human and how I fit in still was unanswered, and I began to realize that the conservative evangelicalism I had been a part of thus far wasn’t providing me with answers.
As I realized that getting an education in religious studies in conservative Christian schools wasn’t going to help me towards answering my questions, I studied elsewhere on my own. I would move from Pentecostal, to Baptist to Reformed Presbyterian as a result of studying and trying to find who had the right interpretation. Eventually, I realized I still wasn’t finding the answers I was looking for. I would then run into the work of philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart. His work (even after so many years of religious education) was incredibly difficult to follow at first. I had to study just to read Hart’s work and understand it, but it was worth it. The language and categories were brand new to me. I learned about classical theism, how all major religious traditions have essentially the same view of God and have for thousands of years, and I learned how the concept of creatio ex-nihilo, creation out of nothing, would be the very foundation of understanding life’s basic questions, and most importantly, to begin to grapple with the mystery of what it means to be human.
In classical theism, God is not some “being” among beings. God is not a “grand architect” or the “designer” of Creationist thinking. In classical theism, God is the source of all existence. As the New Testament states, God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. God is infinitely near, and yet infinitely transcends all things. God is in and through all things, and yet God is distinct from all things. God is, in short, the continual source of existence itself, and all that there is exists as a finite expression of the infinite reality that many people call God. Creation then is a continuous expression of the goodness of God as the eternal overflow of God’s own fullness and love.
Finding classical theism, the idea that all things share in a singular Source and ground of their being, put me on to the solidarity of all humanity, and not just humanity, but of all things. As a Christian, and more broadly, as a classical theist, I believe that all that there is has one continual and infinitely good source, and I must train myself to see the world through that lens. Me and my neighbor are both expressions of God’s goodness and love. In terms of the ground of our very existence, we are exactly the same. The beauty of it is how every individual person, having the same ground for their existence as everyone else, can express that reality in boundless diversity. We are the same, and the beauty of that sameness is the endless wonder of its infinite expressions.
This ground of being, this foundation of existence, if true, means that to behave in purely individualistic ways, to live in self-interested ways, is to live in denial of the very ground of existence which we all share in common. We are all human, and for those who believe in God, we all live, move and have our being in God. To live as if my problems are only my problems, and my neighbor’s problems are my neighbor’s problems, is to divide what in God is brought together. To live as if a Honduran migrant’s suffering is not a human problem, but just “their” problem, is in many ways a functional denial of the God many profess to believe in.
In this sense, socialism seems to me to be an affirmation of belief in God. Yes, many socialists did not and do not today believe in God, and perhaps that was because the presentations of God available to them were and are incompatible with the obvious reality of the unity of all things, a unity that can be clearly seen without needing to be religious. Socialists could and can see how interconnected societies really are, and how individualistic ways of structuring the economy would result in massive inequality and threats to democracy. However, believing in God and being a socialist is not in the slightest way incompatible, socialism being even a logical outworking of belief in God as creator. As God gives of God’s own being, indeed, God’s giving of God’s entire being to all that there is, a self-outpouring phenomenon of infinite proportions, it makes sense that within that phenomenon called the created order there would be giving as well. In a world after the divine image there would be the outpouring of a societies wealth to fill those places which are in need, to regard others as more valuable than ourselves and to ensure the loving expression of God’s own act of creation is visibly seen and tangibly felt in every corner of society. That there would be no inequality, as God gives fully to all things without favor for one over another, so society would give fully to ensure one group is not favored over another, either in the accumulation of wealth or of political influence.
Studying theology, and eventually running into the work of David Bentley Hart, put me onto socialism, encouraging me to pursue learning more about what the idea of creation means for society, and socialism is where I landed. For me, socialism means that we are all equal because at bottom we are all the same, and further up-stream we are all one in the divine source of our existence. Socialism means love your neighbor as yourself, it means give to those who ask, and it means God loves justice for the poor, oppressed and rejected of society. Socialism means a humanity united in practice as a realization of the unity humanity already shares.