The Push and Pull of Faith
(From the perspective of an only somewhat convinced but still pretty devout lifelong Christian)
By Sarah Ortner
Intermission: (Let’s stretch our legs and take a second to acknowledge all the reasons why Faith might be nonsense!)
I don’t want to pretend there aren’t very, very good reasons to give up this strange and restless pursuit of God. First of all, as mentioned, who knows if He exists? I mean, I think He does, but I think a lot of things (Ann Coulter is a the most brilliant and long running satirical performance artist of our time who donates all her proceeds to the most progressive, anarchist causes she can think of; whole milk is actually the healthiest thing for you and someday science will vindicate me on this; my cat has a deep and abiding affection for me and wouldn’t eat me if I died of stroke and no one found me for a week) that are, at best, unlikely. More seriously, while I can’t point to any current beliefs I hold that are definitely false (by definition, I think the things that I believe to be true are, in fact, true), I can point to times in the past that I’ve believed things that are manifestly untrue (that my mom could actually read my mind when I thought impure thoughts about a boy I had a crush on; that protesting abortion clinics was the best way to save a child’s life and totally a respectful thing to do; that generally speaking a person in a place of power will stop doing the harmful thing he or she is doing once the harm is pointed out to them in a clear enough way)- and I can extract from that painful experience of misunderstood existence that I will, undoubtedly, continue to be hugely wrong about all manner of things that I stake my understandings of the world on.
Secondly, the world is full of people who are having the *exact same degree of certitude* that I have that God exists (or considerable more) - about a very different God, or type of God, or numbers of gods. I’m pretty sure that the Westborro Church is dead wrong. I bet, if they read anything I’ve written so far, they’d say the same about me, though possibly more energetically because they sure are a people motivated by other people being wrong, while I’m just kind of excited if I get up and out of the house with my hair brushed at a reasonably not too late hour. Viewed from a distance- any distance- isn’t there something fundamentally absurd about these squabbles of the nature and characteristics of a Being who has done very little to allow for any definitive ruling about those characteristics- or of the existence of said Being, itself? Might a whole lot of trouble be saved- not just from a less hurtful sign waving perspective, but from the perspective of centuries of war and carnage in said Being’s name- if we could all agree that actually we don’t have a lot to go on besides tradition and feelings and the occasional improbable circumstance that can as easily be explained by coincidence as by anything?
There are more arguments, of course. There is Occam’s razor and there is the demonstrated hypocrisy and absurdity of many religious people who seem to on the one hand fanatically promote a book that, on the other hand, they seem to rarely if ever have read, particularly as it pertains to the conduct its adherents are supposed to maintain towards the poor and dispossessed and the disinterest they are supposed to cultivate towards their own comforts, power and material goods. There is the very serious problem of suffering and what is an almighty God doing in the face of all that suffering. There are arguments against gullibility, against the notion that humans need a crutch and a carrot and a stick to be good.
There are excellent, excellent arguments about the misery and suffering that whole groups of people (people struggling with mental illness, women, LGBTQ folk, Native Americans, people of color, people of other religions, questioners within the faith, children, folks struggling with substance abuse or unemployment or just somehow out of syncness) have experienced at the doors of churches and at the hands of the religious.
Those are really good arguments. Each of them. I wish I had an answer for them. I really, really do.
I don’t have any answers for them.