Posts Tagged 'faith'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Judaism (and Other Thoughts on Religion and Vampires) Part II

(The first part of this blog post, written a mere 11 months ago, discussed why I no longer feel connected to my childhood religion of Judaism. Now I wish to explain why it’s unlikely my spirit will be swayed by any other organized religion).

People say faith is hard.

I think it’s easy, at least compared to the alternative.

In a world filled with senseless tragedies, in a life filled with incredible emotional and physical challenges, in which nothing is guaranteed except its end, how comforting would it be to believe in a higher power, to align myself with a community of like-minded individuals, to accept the teachings of a holy document, a genuine life instruction book.

How I envy the faithful. It’d be so nice to believe.

How could anyone, really, not want to believe??

A true, abiding faith is a security blanket, and those that hold tight to it have little need to question why the innocent suffer, to fear what lies beyond, or to agonize over the devastating possibility that all is nothing.

Faith provides meaning, protection, comfort, love, immortality.

But the one thing I believe faith – at least a faith in any particular doctrine – does not provide, is the truth. It’s the missing ingredient, and without it, I must remain faithless.

That’s not to say I’m an atheist. Not in the least. Atheism requires a faith as well, and one that truly is hard as it provides few of the benefits of a religious faith. If it’s a security blanket, it’s made of cold steel (or perhaps, more appropriately, a titanium-tungsten alloy).

And worshiping at the altar of science to the point where one cannot fathom that after all the questions we can ask have been answered, that on the other side of that, something mystical and grand and forever unknowable might yet remain, strikes me at least as foolhardy as having faith in the foolhardiest of religions.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been keenly aware of the ‘splendour in the grass, and glory in the flower’, and felt that a larger purpose could be out there, waiting to be found – and if not found then at least waiting to be sought out –  and now that I have watched my two daughters be born, I can’t help but hope even more that this is so. I’m afraid I could buy into the story of Xenu before I could ever wholly embrace we are nothing but cosmic accidents.

No, it is not the leap into the realm of the mysterious and illogical that faith requires which bothers me; it is the specificity of the endeavor. To believe that the mysterious and illogical things you believe, about matters of almost immeasurable importance and complexity, are, in fact, the correct ones, seems so utterly presumptuous and outlandish to me.

Most people, after all, just end up having faith in whatever it was their parents believed (and presumably taught during those most impressionable years). We’re not just talking here about adopting your folks’ political leanings or taste in literature; these are the Big Questions, and I think the fact that our search for spiritual truth begins with such ingrained biases makes success rather unlikely.

I know that personally, even though I have questioned or rejected much of the Jewish laws and tradition I was taught and surrounded by as a young person, it would be nearly impossible for me to completely overcome my childhood indoctrination. Even if Jesus Christ himself knocked on my door one night and told me he was indeed the Messiah, offered up some proof of the fact (say, the water into wine trick), and implored me to get my ass in gear in order to avoid damnation, I would still have a very tough time actually becoming a Christian. A conversion would devastate my parents. It would isolate me from my community. In some ways, I’d have to learn a whole new way of life. Such costs may seem small compared to the gifts implicit in finding eternal salvation, but it just serves to illustrate how difficult stumbling upon the truth can be with all the obstacles placed in our way.

That said, at least I know something about Christianity. Not enough to rock a New Testament category in Jeopardy, perhaps, but a decent amount. But what if Allah or Shiva or Biame knocked on my door? Heck, I wouldn’t even recognize them if I looked through the peephole (I’d probably just not answer and pretend I wasn’t home).*

The religions I’m familiar with are far eclipsed by those I have little knowledge of, and likely surpassed by those religions I haven’t heard of or know absolutely nothing about. I can’t imagine I’m alone in my ignorance, either; I would think that even those that dedicate their lives to the study of religion have yawning gaps in their knowledge base.

Yet the faithful dare to presume that somehow they have found The Answer. It’s like how my 2-year-old daughter Macy thinks I’m the funniest person in the universe (her vocabulary hasn’t quite allowed her to express that sentiment exactly, but you should see the way she laughs when I bounce balls on my head). Still, she hasn’t even seen a Louis C.K. stand-up special or one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, so, really, what the heck does she know??

Now, I could go on and on about what I perceive are the deficiencies of religion and the problems with faith, but sometimes, I wonder if all of my hand-wringing is beside the point, even counter-productive.

After all, the search for meaning in life is one of the key attributes that separates us as a species.

For many years, I was devastated I didn’t know my purpose on this Earth. On more than one night in my youth and young adulthood, I would look out the window in my bedroom at the magnificent, awesome world I was trying to navigate to the best of my ability, and beg for some sort of insight to hit me, so that all would be illuminated, and that I, too, could feel the comfort and peace of a strongly held faith. The yearning was so intense that tears were not uncommon.

Lately, though, I’ve grown so skeptical, and so burdened by the pressures and minutiae of day-to-day living that I’ve just resigned myself to the idea of a faithless life … and death.

When I realize I’ve reached this point, I feel even more devastated, for one thing I do believe is this:

To lack The Faith is understandable; to stop The Search is unforgivable.

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*Interesting side note: My best bud from college once thought the gods of all religions were like the players on the same team in an NBA All-Star Game. And that each god has his strengths – Jesus can nail the trey, Buddha’s a beast in the post, Yahweh dribbles and drives like nobody’s business, etc. – but the goal was the same for them all: Getting the ball in the basket. And that the only real problems occur when fans demand their guy get voted Most Valuable Player.

I’m not an NBA fan, but I like that stupid analogy. It makes about as much sense as anything I’ve heard.

USAir Flight 1549: Do you believe?

So I was watching next-day coverage of the Hudson River airplane crash on CNN today and at some point one of the anchors brings up God and says something to the effect, “And if you’re not already religious, something like this may make you believe.”

And it made me wonder,

<—————————

IS THIS PROOF OF GOD??

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Well, of course not.

Look, what happened in New York yesterday was amazing. I’ll go even so far as to call it a miracle, in the sense that the very happy outcome was also a very unlikely one (although this fascinating and potentially useful Time article says a surprisingly high 76% of passengers in serious plane accidents survive).

But it’s another thing entirely to believe that God was responsible for what transpired, that He or She or It was the reason why the 155 people aboard USAir Flight 1549 survived yesterday’s crash.

First of all, that kind of blind faith minimizes the heroics of the people involved in yesterday’s events – the pilot who steered an engine-less plane safely into the middle of a river in one of the country’s most populous metropolitan areas, the passengers and crew who took charge of the plane’s evacuation, the ferry boat operators and other good Samaritans who helped in the rescue effort.

Secondly, if we are to give credit to God for yesterday’s good news, mustn’t that mean we also hold him responsible for all the crappy things that happen in this world. If we are to say that for some reason God thought those 155 people yesterday were worthy of being saved, then we must also admit that God thought all 230 people on TWA Flight 800, and all 1,836 people in Hurricane Katrina, and all 2,974 people in the 9/11 attack, and all 225,000 people in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and all 6 million people in the Holocaust, that God thought all of them deserved to die (of course, some evangelicals have argued just that – that these tragedies have all served some sort of divine purpose).

Don’t get me wrong: It’s nearly as tough for me to understand how someone can be an atheist, certain of God’s absence, as it is to understand how someone can be just as certain that there is a God (and even more incredibly, that they know what such a God is like). As far as I’m concerned, the Hudson River Airplane Miracle is no more evidence that God exists than the picture of the two towers above is proof that He doesn’t. But I’d venture to say that if you were to line up all the wonderful miracles that occur in this world alongside all the awful tragedies that happen, the list would be overwhelmed by the depressing side of the ledger.

But true believers have an easy, pat response when a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy occurs: “God works in mysterious ways.” I’ve heard people say that all the time to mourners who have watched their children die or suffered some other overwhelming loss, and the insensitivity of the sentiment astounds me.

If it gives comfort to you to think that there is a just and merciful God out there who has a plan for each and every one of us – a plan that we will never in our earthly existence fully understand but one that may at times require the deaths of innocent infants, the destruction of entire cities and the occasional systematic slaughter of millions of citizens – then who am I to take away your comfort and solace?? I cannot prove otherwise.

But as for me, I’ll stick with what I know. That life is usually short and sometimes sweet. It is precious and precarious. That bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. That for no other reason than there is already enough pain and suffering in this world, that I must do what I can to balance out the scales – by enjoying myself while I’m alive and able, by spreading joy and love to others, by being grateful for the blessings I have … and by celebrating happy moments like yesterday’s miracle, without ascribing to it some kind of divine meaning.


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