This is really a landmark post, even though it's not my 1000th post or even my 500th. But it is an exploration of how I feel about something that has become very important to me. This is the first time I've ever tried to write it down, and I couldn't think of a better place to share it than at Hatrack.
It's long, so be forewarned. But if you do read it, please don't just limit your comments to what I wrote (although I'll certainly appreciate whatever you have to say ). But I'm equally as curious as to how you reached your own convictions.
Church, Religion, and Faith: Finding Truth
I?ve never been able to properly sort out my religion. I?ve always had one, technically, but I?ve never believed in one. I was baptized Lutheran, went to a Methodist church for awhile, was confirmed by the Presbyterian Church USA. I go to church on all major religious holidays and sometimes in between; the church I go to now had a great youth group and an awesome contemporary service. Too bad I started working Sundays.
For me, though, church was always different from religion, and religion was always different from faith. Church was the place where they had the little pencils and notepads, and you could draw funny pictures or play tic-tac-toe with your little sister until it was time for Sunday school. It was the place where they talked a lot about a guy named Jesus and how he walked on water or broke bread and cried in some garden. I remember thinking about how much being hung on a cross must have hurt.
Church always stayed on Sunday morning; it never spilled over into any other day. In a lot of ways, it?s still that way. But religion, on the other hand, began to creep in around the edges. As I got older, I began to understand what all of this really meant. I learned how much people really cared, how offended they would be if you said something wrong. I also started learning that other people that went to church with me expected me to care like they did, to believe like they did. Supposedly, God (who was this big mystery in the sky that I could never seem to get ahold of) created heaven and the earth. ?Wait a minute,? I said to my Sunday school teacher (I think I was about seven). ?My teacher told me that human beings evolved.? She looked astonished for a second, but she covered herself quickly. ?Well, dear, some people believe that,? she said in a condescending fashion, ?but us, we believe in the greatness of God. You believe that God loves you, don?t you dear?? Well, I certainly knew that Jesus loved me (who didn?t, after singing that dreaded song approximately sixteen million times); but what did that have to do with God creating the earth?
My teachers told me more things as I got older. And they told me why. They taught me about Darwin, about Descartes, about Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. They taught me why the sky was blue, and even showed me how to prove that a ball falls out a window at a rate of 9.8 meters per second. But they also told me that there are some things that we don?t know, some things that have no why. They could tell me about Darwin and evolution, but they couldn?t tell me how the universe arrived in the first place.
The people at church, they could. They had a why for everything. Even when my hamster died, they knew why. ?It was God?s will, dear. Why don?t you go get another hamster?? I just thought he was old.
And while I know that most people find great comfort in knowing why, I don?t. I think the universe is one of the most beautiful, incredible creations. One of the most extraordinary things I have ever felt was standing on the side of a mountain in Colorado, looking down at the forest and river and trees below, or up at a limitless sky, and being completely overwhelmed by beauty.
I don?t want that beauty explained. I don?t want to know that there?s a reason for it. For me, it?s more beautiful in its simple existence. That?s why, as a little kid, I never wanted to believe the story of creation. I?d rather believe in beauty I know is true, beauty I?ve felt.
And so for me, religion is different than faith. Religion is a collection of stories, a list of rules, a record of explanations. Faith, on the other hand?faith is truth.
I have faith in the unknown, and I have faith in change.
I have faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity, and I have faith in freedom. I believe that these two faiths necessitate each other, and it is because of these two faiths that I have not embraced religion. I have faith in humanity?s freedom to make choices.
So what I have is not so different from faith in God. But the nature of my faith means that I have faith in my own ultimate goodness, in my own ability to make choices and determine my own values. It means I understand I do not, cannot, know everything.
And it means I have that same faith in everyone else.
[Edit -- author's full name removed by request.]
[ August 10, 2005, 06:01 PM: Message edited by: Papa Janitor ]
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