Losing Our Religion: A Response

Religious symbols

Religious symbols (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NPR did a series last week called “Losing Our Religion.” In this storythe 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.

14 thoughts on “Losing Our Religion: A Response

  1. That’s alot to think about. I think that you’re largely correct in thinking that one reason we don’t recognize God is that we very rarely have the quiet to hear the still small voice. There is a lot of discussion in the Bible about God being in the silence and if there is never any silence, how are we to hear Him?

  2. Very well said, and I especially appreciate your conclusion. One thing I have never understood is how many adults have their faith torn by personal tragedy, as if it were somehow okay for bad things to happen to others, but God must not exist if something terrible happens to *me*.

    • In all fairness, I think people are shaken by tragedies like the tornado in Joplin, too, or Katrina, or Sandy. I think people respond with empathy because that’s how we’re made–among the “best” of that “best & worst.” I just wish we’d form children–and adults–to a less myopic vision of good and evil. Oh, heck, I can’t get my thoughts to come out coherently with Electric Company and two kids yelling in the next room. 🙂

  3. “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.”

    Religion so often comes across as having all the answers. And people who are looking for ‘the answers’ believe that religion can provide them.

    But I’ve come to the conclusion that questioning is part of faith. If something is out there and that something wants us to know about it, that something is going to WANT us to find it. And what is questioning but the search for that something?

    (Shameless self-promotion) http://allpartoflifesrichpageant.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/question/

  4. Colleen

    I agree that blaming God is a copout. I agree that faith is not a “feel good” kind of thing. I agree that faith and reason are not at odds.
    We don’t have all the answers. We can’t. God is so much more than we we know or can comprehend. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.
    Sometimes we make God too “little”. That is where faith comes in. We do not know and we do not understand. We just believe.

    • Yes, that’s also something I thought of in writing, but didn’t include because those are thoughts that resonate with those who already believe, and I was aiming a little more toward those who don’t. But you’re right.

  5. How did I miss this one??? (Oh wait. I had a sick kid.)

    Doubt is a useful skill in faith because it’s during times of doubt that we grow. One of my favorite authors (Rachel Held Evans) wrote an entire book about her doubts which was the book that launched her as an author.

  6. I enjoyed your very thoughtful post. I agree that, in these modern times, with all the mobile devices and internet, faith suffers from lack of quiet. I also think, that in some cases, if one is not looking for God, one won’t find Him, and will find plenty of reasons to justify why He doesn’t exist. (I know this reasoning first-hand, as my husband is a firm atheist.) But then again, sometimes you’re on your way to Damascus and He throws you off your horse. It could be that faith itself is a grace from God. Certainly, we can cultivate it once the tiny shoots peak out of the ground. But Someone had to plant that seed.

  7. barbaraschoeneberger

    I wonder why people use suffering and death as a reason to question God’s existence. Does that mean that they don’t question it when good things happen? If nothing bad ever happened in their lives, would that make it easier to believe in God? Or are we trying to make God conform to our image of Him when He cannot be confined?

    The Catholic Church has always taught that suffering is a great mystery, and I agree with the comments here that doubting is a great excuse to dig deeper into faith and understanding it.

    Yes, let’s turn off the racket and ask for the Light to come into our souls. If we’re so busy running around seeking fulfillment of our wants and needs then we don’t have room for God. We shouldn’t be surprised then when we think He’s not there.

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