NPR did a series last week called “Losing Our Religion.” In this story–the only one I heard in full–the interviewees talked about their ambivalence and in some cases rejection of faith. The ones that really struck me were those who experienced suffering and untimely death in their families, and concluded that God couldn’t exist, because deity is not compatible with suffering.
“So at some point, you start to say, why does all this stuff happen to people? And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be, I’m being tried? I find that almost – kind of cruel, in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. You know, eventually, that gets just too hard to believe anymore.”
It’s hard for me to put my thoughts together on this, so it may be a bit disjointed, but here goes.
In some ways I understand doubt very well. Like many others in the modern world, I respect reason and am skeptical when people claim things just are because they are. I want to know things for certain, and the things taught by faith cannot be known for certain.
Another quote that really stuck me was this one, from Daniel Radcliffe:
“I have a problem with religion or anything that says, ‘We have all the answers,’ because there’s no such thing as ‘the answers.’ We’re complex. We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.”
How did he come to that conclusion? In my experience, religion is excruciatingly nuanced and complex, if you take the time to dig into it. And yet an awful lot of faithful people do paint religion exactly as he says.
Maybe it’s human nature to try to simplify the world so you don’t have to wrestle with it anymore. But faithful people have done the faith a real disservice by trying for so long to make it into something that provides “all the answers.” Because Christianity is a constant wrestling match between belief and doubt, between the best and the worst of your nature as a human being.
Here’s what I know about faith:
- I doubt all the time. It seems irrational to believe there could possibly be Somebody out there bigger than everything, with a Capital-P Plan. And yet there are moments in each of our lives, regardless of religious belief, when we suddenly become overpoweringly aware of something Bigger Than Me. Motherhood provides those moments to religious and non-religious women alike. And I have found that when my brain quiets and I become open to the power of nature around me, I can feel God. Perhaps one reason faith has suffered such a beating in the modern world is the fact that we are never quiet, never free of music and texts and tweets.
- Faith that you can claim by words (“Are you a Christian? Have you been saved?”) or wearing a pretty little cross, is okay as a first step, but if it doesn’t challenge you and make you uncomfortable two or three dozen times a day, then it’s pretty immature. Faith is something that should always be needling you, challenging you to be more than you are. Not affirming your own self-righteousness.
- Faith can be a comfort, but that’s not its purpose. Anyone who thinks religion’s purpose is to make us feel better, I submit, is completely stagnant in their faith, and when tough times come calling, it will shake the foundations of that faith. Why do bad things happen? Because people do bad things. Blaming God for it is a copout. But if people–especially children–are given an insipid, watered-down, feel-good kind of Christianity, how can we be surprised when they recognize it as woefully insufficient for the real world?
- There is much more commonality between faith and science than the current monologue would lead you to believe. Faith and reason do not stand at odds. The underpinning of my advocacy of natural family planning is the belief that a human’s body and soul/mind are connected. That where the body goes, the mind tags along for the ride. How often does science demonstrate the same thing? All the time. Thus, a woman who is raped has not only bodily injuries, but injuries to the mind and soul. And how many times have studies shown that when you exercise and eat healthier (physical), you feel better, too (spiritual/mental)?
Even many people who have sworn off formal religion still recognize the inherent spirituality of these last two examples. Shouldn’t this tell us something important? Namely, that there is something beyond us in this universe? Whether it’s God or The Force, something is out there, built into the very fabric of our beings. Let’s at least start from that point of commonality, and seek truth beginning from that point.