Friday, March 19, 2010

Old thoughts on an old religion

So, I have been thinking about religion and faith and church hopping. When I was young, it was really easy to believe in God because everyone told you that you should and so I did. At one point, I learned my dad was an atheist and I was literally horrified.
But I didn't like my dad so it was easy to reject him and whatever he believed. He was surely the opposite of good and love and I rejected him and his beliefs.
When I was in middle school, I began to desire a belief in myself and I wanted to believe what I knew, not what people told me to believe. I quickly decided that sex with love was not evil and decided that the belief that fornication was sinful was outdated and silly and that I was already deciding that some things in the Bible were ridiculous.
I knew there was no way I was going to obey my husband- was not happening. For a very shy girl, I had some brave thoughts and they were not always the easiest to put into action.
But I didn't have a problem with faith- I believed because I did, because my mother did, because it seemed a very logical thing to do and now I feel logic is going to get me in trouble. It doesn't really bother my mother that my father is an atheist. I asked her recently, with all her education and all that she knew of the hypocrisy and sexism and inherent contradictions in the Bible- how could she believe in God?
I mean, my mother is a super educated woman- she knows the things that most of us don't. She's read the Dead Sea Scrolls- in person- she translates the new testament from Greek- she knows all about the co-opted holidays and the ridiculous rules of Leviticus. She knows things that shake faith, confound belief and make even die hard theologians scratch their heads.
And she said to me "Are you crazy? Of course I believe in God."
Because I have always known just because you go to church doesn't make you a Christian- and doesn't mean you believe anything that the Pastor says. Church is a social function- has been for a long time. It's what people do on Sundays- it's where people go to find acceptance and often find the single most judgemental people ever. But they want to be part of that clique, so they hang around.
I find the act of being an atheist one of the single most brave things I have come across. Many or most of the atheists I know live the most moral lives- and they live without fear of going to hell. I know a few brave atheists who are not afraid to say they are and I find them simply inspiring in so many ways.
My father is a hypocrite in many ways but he doesn't lie, steal and I truly believe he has never cheated on my mother. He has never cheated on a test- if a cashier gives him too much change, he gives it back. He doesn't drink excessively, do drugs or even look at pornography. He readily hands out money to the poor and to charities and has a code of ethics that he follows very strongly.
Weird, eh?
I'm not going to pretend that man is perfect. It would have been nice if he had it in his code of conduct to not beat up his wife and kids but, you know, everyone's a sinner. But I still have to say he puts some serious Christians to shame.
In the face of this, I have to say, I have had a pretty serious crisis of faith going on. I struggle with what I know versus what I cannot prove all the time. I struggle with logic to believe what logic tells me is probably a fairy tale.
Faith is an act of will. Sometimes just believing that everything will work out in the end gets you through the day. I think religion can be a dangerous addiction and also a saving grace.
My oldest brother ran away from home when he was fifteen- we didn't know he was alive until he was seventeen and called us up one day. He was a drug addict and only he knows what he did to survive those years on the street. When he was nineteen, he was 'saved' on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and we were all quite relieved. He straightened up, quit drugs, got a steady job- married and had a family and he was in the church for years- I was quite relieved he was in the church. I do believe it saved his life and gave him a new addiction- a bit more healthy than his last one.
When I was fourteen, I went to stay with him one summer and did the walk down the church aisle to be saved. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and was lighter than ever until I got home and reality crashed in.
This was not the drug that was going to make me happy. I was going to have to figure out a lot more. No, I didn't do drugs, no I didn't cheat on tests.
Once I asked God to show himself, to give me a sign that he was there- help me find my hairbrush- there it was. Faith is an act of will, a choice we make, proof is something very different in every person's eyes.
I know my husband loves me because I can feel it, because he does things that show it, but I have zero tangible proof that he loves me. Really I could be feeling it all by myself. How many people do you know that are deluding themselves in relationships? There are lots of things that we take on faith, that which we have no proof.
This will not be my last thought on this subject, I'm sure.


Contra Yogini said...

OH COME ON! You can not compare your husband's love to God. Seriously. There is nothing, NOTHING that could serve as proof of his love for you? I can think of about 15 good examples straight off the top of my head and I've never even met the man. I'm talking about love as a verb. Love that isn't some fluffy, cotton candy visceral reaction that makes you feel great - but something where you do your best to support someone, to put their needs first, to lift them up rather than to tear them down. Given that operative definition, I'm pretty sure you could find overwhelming proof of your husband's love for you, no problem.

Om shanti.

PS Great post. Really compelling, right up to that last point.

PPS Maybe your mom still believes b/c she has invested so much of herself in believing. What would she have left, if she gave up her belief in God. Would all of her efforts have been for nothing? Personally, I think no. But maybe she wouldn't agree with me.

PPPS I'm glad your brother found religion. Some people really do need it. As long as he isn't forcing his beliefs on anyone else, I think this is probably best for him...I mean, this or chocolate *shrugs her shoulders* ;)

VanessaMRR said...

You are so awesome, Jen. I think proof is such an intangible thing sometimes- the other day I posted on facebook "proof my husband loves me: he brought home do si dos"
And the example really is kind of an ironic statement- what is proof of love? what is proof of God? they are both things you can't actually touch or see but it just means that because I believe something does not mean it is true- I cannot physically prove he loves me, I can only emotionally prove it.
But he is here. And I have no idea where God is, or indeed if he is- I feel the spiritual connection of myself to the world and to the spiritual but I have no idea what that is...and my brother has now abandoned the evangelical and is a Buddist atheist-who does not believe in reincarnation- whoa!
There are a thousand things that I can see and feel as proof of my husband's love but I can never prove it to you if you don't believe it, do you understand now?

VanessaMRR said...

Oh and PS, my brother was intolerable trying to convert everyone and being embarrassing on street corners with the Bible and standing in front of the Rocky Horror show trying to minister to the sinners (roflmao) Thank God he found Buddism, so much more tolerable now.

Contra Yogini said...

Thanks, Vanessa! You're not so bad yourself :) :) :)

Oh, I understood your comparison originally. I just took issue w/ how you were defining your terms. For one, I think love is a natural, not supernatural, thing. As such, I'm pretty sure you could find biological/physical/material indicators of such (rises in hormone levels; changes in fMRI results; etcetera). Personally, I choose to define love in behavioral terms (my psychology background rears its ugly head), hence my stating "love is a verb." But, you could certainly disagree w/ my definition. To each her own, of course :)

As to your brother's proselytizing to the Transyvanians, they DO appreciate kitsch. It might not have been as embarrassing as you thought... Also, it takes some moxie to do that, so I sorta admire him in that respect. Honestly, I am not against people attempting to convert others to their way of thinking, it is more the movement to government mandate religion that I find intolerable.

VanessaMRR said...

LOL, I agree it was not the best comparison, but it was the one I grabbed on to as unprovable... but I digress...