This post will undoubtedly get me into trouble. Those who stumble across it will be divided into two camps; those who agree and those who don’t. While it may not set off a firestorm of commentary (nothing I seem to write nowadays has that impact), people will draw conclusions based on their own experiences and what they know about me. As you move forward, let me caution you with the following statement of beliefs:
· When it comes to the existence of a God or Gods, I am agnostic. I believe it impossible to possess the knowledge of such things.
· My faith comes and goes in correlation to the events of my own life.
· I am on a never-ending quest for the truth.
· I try not to judge people for the faith they possess.
· I believe faith in a higher power or your fellow human beings is deeply personal.
As many of you know, I am from a small town in southwestern Oklahoma. Frederick is a town of roughly 4,500 people. Football reigns supreme. Family is of the utmost importance. There is a church on every street corner. In many ways, life revolves around religious life. As a kid, I was often in church or church related activities multiple times a week for Sunday morning/evening worship, Wednesday night youth group, bible study, church camp, vacation bible school, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations of all sorts. When there isn’t much to do in a small town, a church serves as a gathering spot; a place to be social with likeminded people.
Last fall, in my deeply religious hometown, a classmate’s sister lost a two year old child to a battle with cancer. Needless to say, my former home was rocked. Naturally, people turned to God for solace and comfort. I read comment after comment from well-intentioned people expressing faith in a higher plan and purpose. Friends and family that I adore dearly were doing the only thing that they knew to do; they were giving their pain to God. I don’t judge them for doing so. Grief is both a powerful and humbling experience.
As the dust settled and I watched from 2,500 miles away, I couldn’t help, but think, “When children pass away, it is hard for me to believe in a loving father.” This isn’t the first time this thought has entered my mind. On September 11th, as the twin towers fell, I was consumed with this emotion. Mass shootings, terror, and a loss closer to home, my brother’s passing, all summoned this same emotional response within me.
I understand this sort of reaction to something so painful is natural. Like any relationship, our relationship with God ebbs and flows. I’ve heard those who believe express moments when they felt God’s embrace and other times when they felt he was nowhere to be found. Here, I guess I am wired differently. When these moments happen, whether forced by the hand of man or not, I can’t help, but push back from the table and question the whole thing. My questioning began on 9/11 and is still an ongoing process.
People often point to the good than comes from tragedy. Towns, states, countries, and perhaps the whole world seems to reflexively rally together in such moments. People often talk about this being a part of God’s master plan and his use of our pain to strengthen the faith of a community. Whether this is true or not, I can never know, but I can’t help and think, “Isn’t there an easier way to bring people together?” Why is pain, heartache, and tragedy the instrument of choice? Are humans so improperly wired that we only respond positively to negative things? Again, these are questions which I cannot answer. As an agnostic, I proudly admit my own ignorance, but I do so as a member of the human race wishing that such grief wasn’t necessary.
People also point to how their faith is strengthened during brushes with pain. They find these moments humbling. In their darkest hour, when all seems lost, they cry out and turn to God for refuge. I understand this notion of needing something or someone to turn to in our hour of need. We human beings are wired to believe someone is always in charge and there is a hierarchy in all things. Yet, these moments have never made me feel closer to accepting the existence of God. Rather, they have depleted my faith and replaced it with questions that most seem unable or ill-equipped to answer. Which is why my quest for truth continues to this day. I try to engage with the universe’s oldest questions in all that I do, but I search with little need for blind-faith. I want answers. To believe, I need them.
As my hometown rallied together or as I watch communities around the world do the same, they often turn to their religion and the comfort it provides. Standing on the outside looking in can be a lonely experience, especially when you don’t feel comfortable with faith. More than I can count, I have felt the push and pull of faith. I have been a pagan during the good times and have wanted to scream, “I believe” in hopes that my pain would end. I wrestle with the knowledge others seem to possess; knowledge which seems to ignore me. I often feel as if I am in algebra class and everyone understands the lesson, but me. Much like the tragedies that bring us together, I too fear death and finality. I can’t say definitively what happens after our eyes close for the final time. I do wish this with every fiber of my being though, I wish I didn’t have to wait until that moment to figure out if I am right or wrong.
With this thought in mind, I would like to close with this: I don’t think it is wrong to question. I try to do so respectfully and with a true sense of curiosity. I know this of myself and people like me; we are unafraid to ask the big questions. We are but men and women trying to make our way through this world and this thing called life. Just like you, we are trying to make sense of life, heartache, tragedy, and the good fortune that visits too rarely. We feel the push and pull in all that we do. If there is a supreme being, I hope he understands our quest. If he does possess mercy and grace, I hope he will look kindly upon our ignorance and willingness to fill the gaps. I hope he looks upon life’s tragedies with the same bewilderment as we do. I hope he knows man better than we do and can forgive our many flaws.
Be good to each other,