(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.
*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.