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I am a Christian.
Yep, that controversial religion that has caused deaths, crusades, and chaos… That’s the one. This is a short essay about my journey on faith. While presented as a case, my intention is not to persuade, but to describe the process of my thought on the subject. Faith is not for people who assume to know everything or resign themselves from what they cannot examine. It is for others who recognize that our human experience stretches beyond scientific and agnostic appreciation. Christianity for me was first a result of upbringing and then, with growth and independence, unfolded into hundreds of hours in study. Over time, it has become the outcome of a deliberate process in my inquiry about God and a secure area of my being requiring no external reassurances and validation. While generally up for conversations around spirituality, I feel more inclined to an interlocutor whose curiosity carries some meaningful investigation with it and typically overlook anyone merely talkative to luster their insecure cleverness or egocentricity. I do not indulge in arguments for God – not out of respect for other beliefs, but rather because I deem a Supreme Being potent enough to answer for Itself. We have only to be secure in what and Whom we believe.
I find that most people with faith are not necessarily clear on why they believe, and many of those that argue against it are usually as clueless about the basis for their disbelief – hence, the hot gas around the subject. It appears that only a handful of people know what they particularly believe, disbelieve, and why. For some, the rub around the subject is history, science, and hear-say. Those in this category usually regurgitate the commonplace arguments or a repeat performance of some lengthy nerdy-like speech that is obsessed and streamlined to the boundaries of logistics and science as we know it. One tends to hear more of a community in those conversations than an original contemplation or a soul. I love science, and consider myself active in that domain. The continued discoveries of science enable us to understand the universe in ways we never did before, and better yet harness the functions of nature and the world around us. It is both an empowering and fascinating feeling! In so short a period in our history as a race, our knowledge of the universe has expanded wildly and, like kids entering a puberty era in our understanding of the world, we suddenly realize how much there is to know and how little we previously understood – along with the sheer scale and pace of what continues to unfold before us every day. It is much like the way it suddenly dawns on an eleven-year-old how little she knew at nine, and the significant increase in her understanding of the world in the brief span of two years. We are overwhelmed. We do not need Mom and Dad anymore. Their very existence is questioned. We have become the universe’s teenager: hell-bent on independence.
Then there are these folks called Christians. It is a puzzle to me whether or not I’d be a Christian if for them. Some of the most petulant, two-faced, manipulative, pompous, and yet humility-feigning people I ever met in my life were Christians. An experience working in a Christian organization some time ago describes the familiar narrative. This was supposedly the epicenter of faith and goodwill, which I took at face value and engaged with zest expecting the highest standards of nobility, honor, and ethics. I was naive, committed to radically doing everything with integrity. Well, how did Niccolò Machiavelli put it, “…how we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.” That was the stark reality gleaned from that experience. In a futile effort to tie religion into workplace culture, Christian environments sometimes suffer the most unnerving incarnation of hypocrisy and politics – often resulting in a rather awkward and arbitrary environment. The aftermath was a wrenching feeling of disillusion. Could anyone actually love, screw you over, and be self-righteous in their actions? Turns out the answer is Yes. They are probably Christian or close to one. As more of a straight-shooter, my disgust was intense. If you’re going to be an arse anyway, what’s the Roberta Flack’s Killing me softly for? Why cloak your attitude in feigned morality and “praying for you” assurances while busy undermining the same person?
Many people and societies, both present and in history – notably Rome, have experienced similar disappointments with circles of faith. Contemporarily, one intriguing difference between a Christian that goes to church on Sunday and an unreligious person that goes to the clubs and bars on Saturday night is that the latter understands their defects and are well aware of their imperfection while the Christian who is just as imperfect feels no such awareness for their imperfections since they are decidedly perfect as declared by their God, regardless of their conduct. Thus, a Christian will grind you to powder in the most mean-spirited way with God on his side. While the unreligious feel guilt and may seek improvement, the Christian has no need for such guilts or commitment to change because his God created him that way and already recognizes his fallen nature and has given him a pass anyway – so he acts with impunity. Life under grace, it appears, excuses Christian persons from making even the least effort to be decent human beings. Why try to be a good human being? Why grow and mature as a person? They’d rather acquiesce to an innate weakness and conveniently pass the responsibility to an abstract God Who apparently loves just them at the expense of other inhabitants of the planet. Having a divine pass, they go about immature and prickly – certain of exemption by God. On Christian television, many know the distaste from seeing the religious antics, sophistry, and outright con-tricks. One can hardly observe such people and choose to identify with them. It’s easy to claim forgiveness, royalty, blessings, and the riches of some “gentile” to become yours while sitting on your hand doing nothing but prophesy and pray, driven by petty impulses and self-interest. Yet, as Milton wrote in Paradise Regained, “he who reigns within himself, and rules passions, desires, and fears, is more a king.”
Still, my admissions here are not necessarily to find solidarity with those that condemn the hypocrisy of religious life. As I already alluded to earlier, faith is one of those areas I hold personal with impunity. While welcoming a good conversation on the subject, the most intimate aspects remain off-limits to communal dialogue – whether it be with Christians or non-Christians. Here’s how I see it: I can introduce my spouse and, together with my spouse, share a good time with a group of people that may have known her much longer than me, or are even related to her biologically. They may tell me stories about her that I have not known whilst living with her. Yet, that doesn’t entitle or welcome them into our intimate life. I feel the same way about God. He is known and identified by many people. Many times, I’m enlightened by what others know about Him that I didn’t, but much like my mother-in-law telling me stories about my spouse, neither my mother-in-law nor the people that know so much about God, in this case, define my private life with Him. The most fundamental journeys of any smart couple are best traveled alone, even though aided and supported by many others.
Spirituality is like one of those effects that people become awakened to by themselves, whether or not indoctrinated. At some point, everyone begins to find that they are asking questions that simply transcend reason, even though so evident. People sense the inexplicable depth of these questions, as well as the frustration they make of logic. As John Milton puts it in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place…”. It dawned on me during my mid-teen years that anything with such relentless prominence in the history of humankind, as faith and spirituality have been through all ages, deserves personal inquiry – especially when that subject holds to have meaning. Every culture and even remote isolated societies have, in some way, independently identified spirituality. Spirituality seems impossible to ignore in our existence, and at the same time plays a fundamental role in our experience of life. Something so important cannot be crowdsourced or left to the consumerism of tales and hearsay. I believe it is one of those journey’s everyone must make for themselves. Like education, no one can acquire it for you and the difference between cultivating it and refusing to do so obviously affects the quality of one’s life; regardless of whether a person insists on burying his/her head in the sand. Religion and spiritual consciousness, like vegetables to a growing child, is primarily good for us first, not God.
So if there is a God who is both loving and interested, how then can there be so much suffering in the world? It’s a popular question and, as profound as it comes across on the surface, it’s actually witless as an afterthought. We simply have to be smart enough to put our own human existence into its proper context. We do not have the view of the entire fields at play to make grand assertions about causes and effects. The notion of spirituality, in the first place, is that life, as we know it here within spacetime is not the whole story. If it were, if all we see now is really all there is to life, then the question about ‘God relative to suffering’ holds merit… but this is apparently not the case. Science also concurs that there is more to the world around us than what we perceive or comprehend, and the night sky steadily presents us with a glimpse of a bigger world infinitely beyond our mind’s finest grasp. Even infants after the stage of object permanence become aware, too, that things do continue in existence and effect beyond the reach of tangibility. Subsequently, if our experience of this world is only a fragment of a larger context beyond our apprehension, then it would be insufficient to give universality to the question, ‘why does a good God allow suffering?’, that is itself an assumption made from our closed-experience within the fragment.
Even so, momentarily delaying intervention or making inconvenient concessions to adversity for a broader purpose isn’t exactly a new idea or rocket science – instances abound around us on how both nature and people exercise this kind of judgment all the time, which is also the basis of maturity and delayed gratification. For instance, in the name of integrity and honor, people are known to sometimes tolerate and endure all kinds of seemingly needless hardships on them or their young. Their concessions aren’t because of approval or particular fondness for the unpleasant condition they bear, but rather because of their reckoning of a broader picture beyond the present situation. Basically, they will value and rather adhere to a principle, which they deem more immutable. Therefore, if we as humans can come to such sense in acknowledgment that not every situation is best handled by an impulsive intervention, even when the adversity affects our most precious ones, how much more should we expect that an absolute Being whom we credit as the origin and center of wisdom and rectitude exercise a similar restraint – whether or not amenable to our awareness. The world before our eyes and encounter is neither the endgame of reality in sum nor the big picture of all there is, and coming to that realization in outlook draws a whole new meaning on how we perceive God’s interest and involvement.
History is always a good resource during research, and upon examining the notorious Christianity history, especially from around the 11th century, the theme I frequently find about religion exemplifies human nature more so than it actually validates any faith. Human nature is zealous and insecure. To prove its point, it will do anything. People make idols of just about anything – good and bad, and will violently defend their position if it means proactively imposing it on others. No ideology or religion is immune to extremism and exploitation. Even the most beautiful things of life can be soured in the hands of a zealot, and as the English real estate entrepreneur and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, William Penn, once observed, “Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than the arguments of its opposers”. Philosophies and well-intended teachings have been turned into causes for wars and political gain, and Christianity is no exception. Medieval Christianity was a proposition for alliances, not faith. Rulers accepted the practice or religion of Christianity solely on the grounds of alliances and bonding with other powerful rulers. In other words, religion was an asset for survival – not faith. The Catholic Church’s story is similar. At the climax of the dark ages, Christianity emerged dominant and was harnessed into a state religion, and since every political state acts in its own self-interest, the Vatican was opposed to any enlightenment that undermined their dominion and strongest leverage over their subjects: ignorance.
While Christianity remains my focus, it by far isn’t the only religion that has been co-opted for political power. Nor is political power the only culprit to co-opt Christianity. Parents co-opt the religion of faith over their children. It’s a quick and easy way to make people do things without complicated explanations. It makes the perpetrator appear innocent, no more than a harbinger – so the victims can hold their misery over the ideal, and not the usurper. It’s a shortcut, and we all like and favor shortcuts in one area or another. Religion makes it easy to convince other people to think a certain way, and it has been used in both past and present generations for exactly that purpose. In addition, when there is enough power behind the one or political system trying to convince the other, then a genuine understanding or acceptance becomes irrelevant because there isn’t much of a choice for the victim. Hence the saying, might is right.
This is the reason historical claims are not sufficient justification for or against any faith – because we can all identify with the differences between the baby and bathwater. So it comes down to us, individually, to inquire further for ourselves if so inclined. That’s the responsible approach for those interested in handling that area of their life regardless of their rearing environment and culture. One of the motivations I had towards the endeavor is the overwhelming evidence around us that our physical experience of life and the world simply doesn’t cover it. Another intriguing thought for me was the notion that with every new discovery eventually ending a plague, many died amidst the undiscovered cure. Ignorance is a killer. I thought to myself if there is more beyond this realm of life, do I have the luxury of waiting until everyone proves and adopts it before I consider it? Well, for my personality, that mindset is definitely incongruent. Science teaches that energy cannot be destroyed, but is only converted from one form to another. If that’s true, I thought, then a reality metamorphic to the one we perceive isn’t a stretch to imagine.
My favorite aspect of faith is that when it comes down to a decision, it is always personal. Everyone makes their own effort – free from circumstances outside their control or external pressure. One can be forced to conform physically, but the mind is always free to reach out to whatever it seeks. And when attained, I think the core aspects of faith should always be personal and intimate to the individual. It should not be surrendered to a herd of people or dogma. We may not have all the answers amidst the many noises in the world, but we certainly can reach out. If there is a God that’s interested, then He should be able to respond and meet us at the point of our pursuit, otherwise, He is unjust to hold any accountable. A God that is incapable of responding to a person reaching out to Her/Him/It, or that needs [your] tender loving devotion to feel secure and accepted for Its survival, is not worth your while. That thing or god should be serving you instead. On the other hand, if there is a God strong and also vast enough to shape the universe known and unknown to us, then He shouldn’t be intimidated or compelled by your unbelief, despite our self-importance.