'Believing was so much easier before I started thinking'

by Kieran Bohan

from Signs of the Times No. 59 - Oct 2015

BLOGGER AND CARTOONIST David Hayward was a Christian pastor in Canada for more than thirty years before leaving the clergy and setting up thelastingsupper.com, ‘an online community for spiritually independent people’. Questions Are The Answer describes in word and cartoon his own journey towards ‘spiritual independence’.

You may be more familiar with his cartoons, which he publishes on his popular blog nakedpastor.com, where he describes himself as a ‘graffiti artist on the walls of religion’.

Hayward believes most religions ‘discourage doubt and questioning’ but, in many Christian churches, we see fewer people joining and more leaving, which could result rural churches disappearing within ten years, as The Telegraph reported in February.1

Hayward observes that many of those leaving the church are set adrift, or set themselves adrift, with no resources to help them become spiritually independent. Many rebound into other belief systems or no belief. Rather than using previous religious experience as food for the journey, many reject it as wasted time, thought and effort. He writes:

My hope is that this book will encourage people to continue their search, to integrate their period of confusion, doubt, and questioning as a necessary and important part of their journey in order to grow into their own spirituality in healthy ways.

Hayward considers himself a spiritual person. Baptised and raised in the church, he studied at Bible College and became an ordained minister, leading several churches over many years. Eventually he came to realise that, for all his theological answers, he felt spiritually cold and further from the truth he sought.

In 2012, Hayward decided ‘to leave the black-and-white world of the established church to seek out the colours in between’ and set up The Lasting Supper - an online community aiming to help people achieve ‘spiritual independence’. He reflects:

I saw many people riddled with questions, crippled with doubt, and ashamed of their confusion.

Questions are the Answer tells the story of Hayward’s search for understanding and spiritual contentment. The text is conversational and accessible, interspersed with cartoons, some funny, some angry, some poignant. I read it in one sitting, but it warrants re-reading, perhaps a section at a time to aid reflection.

Hayward splits his journey into three stages; a practical application of Fowler’s Stages of Faith2

  1. Closed Questions – a simple yes or no answer, black and white world view.
  2. Swinging Questions – yes and no, or another option we haven’t considered, which he characterises as a state of confusion.
  3. Open Questions – ‘the answer to these is that there isn’t an answer’, which he characterises as a state of contentment, free from the need to pretend to know.

Each stage delineates a significant development from immature spirituality (closed), through growing spirituality (swinging), to mature spirituality (open). He recognises the limitation of the word ‘stage’, ‘These aren’t really places, but ways of seeing.’

Having surrendered his role as an authority figure, and reduced his own reliance on external authority, Hayward wants to ensure that Questions Are Not The Answer is NOT seen as an authoritative guide to spiritual maturity. He quotes American writer Wendell Berry:

My work is best, I think, when I talk as a person who’s not an authority on anything but his own experience.

He advocates an evolving spirituality which embraces mystery, paradox and the individual’s right to question and search for meaning and understanding for themselves, to welcome and wrestle with questions as an important part of the maturation process. His aim is to encourage people to push through doubt to become comfortable living with not knowing, rather than seeking firm foundations and certainty, or getting stuck in spiritual angst.

Responding to those who accuse him of anger toward the church and Christianity, he argues that his critique of the abusive, toxic or misleading is motivated by love. He does not advocate leaving a church if the experience is liberating:

If you can find a church where you’re free to be who you are and to question, then by all means stay. I’m all for it if it works.3

Notes:
  1. Church of England: Rural churches could disappear within ten years, John Bingham, Daily Telegraph 10/02/2015.
  2. J W Fowler Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (1981).
  3. Radio interview, Steve Brown Etc., Key Life Network, 24/08/2015.