As a Christian, I wandered through a few theological camps: the Dallas Theological Fundamentalist camp, the Jesus Freak Charismatic camps, the Mennonite pacifist camps and a few others. Each camp, each sect, had its own amazing theories — and those theories each contradicting the others. Every flavor of Christianity has its amazing authors and charismatic teachers. And when I’d talk with an enthusiast from each camp, their certainty was clear and palpable. They had undoubting certainty in their carefully knotted web of theology. And I craved for a bit of that certainty. But my skeptical temperament allowed me to see through the patterns, and their comfortable nest of belief did not trap me. I would leave.
After leaving the Christian world behind, I traveled for more than a decade through Pakistan, India, Japan and China where I intimately encountered Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism — each full completely different sects just like Christianity. During those years I also discussed and debated religion with these folks much like I had with Christians before. These Asian believers had the same excited eyes, the same certain witness, the same miracles and changed lives to prove to me the truth of their paths. But their theological knots were done with different texts, different histories, and different saints.
In my illustration above, I could have drawn a Hindu theology knot, a Buddhist knot, a Jewish knot, a Muslim knot or many others. But a knot is a knot. A tangled web is a tangled web. That is the insight that struck home so clearly to me.
With all these conversations and observations, I came to see that all these theology knot-makers were just people doing very similar things. I began to see the same silly, yet serious efforts to gain certainty, direction, a banner, an identity, hope and much more. Yet under or inside the knot was a simpler person who the knots obscured.
Some folks settle into one of these complex knotted nests, but I just saw the weaving at its deepest level (the mind) and began to feel just fine without needing the theological clothing, without the saints, without the texts, without the certainty. And all of a sudden, I shared much more with everyone than I did before.
Now when people witness to me about their wonderful beliefs and their certainty, I see a knot maker who is fascinated in the complexity of their own little contrived world. I am happy for them in a way, except that for most, they use their knots to keep others out. Those are weavers whose only goal is to get you into their exclusive tangled mess.