Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Want to Believe


In the never-to-be-forgotten TV show “The X-Files” there is a poster on the office wall of the character of Fox Mulder. The poster features a shadowy, grayish image of a flying saucer accompanied by the words “I want to believe.” Of course Mulder, played with broody and damn-sexy intensity by David Duchovny, was desperate to believe in the little green men from outer space. Because, if you were a fan of the show, you’ll recall that Mulder’s little sister was kidnapped by aliens when they were both children. So there had to be aliens…otherwise, our man Fox had to be, well, crazy. 

However the show solved the “are aliens-are-real-or-aren’t-they-dilemma” I don’t exactly recall, but I do vividly remember that poster on Mulder’s office wall. But for me, it wasn’t aliens I wanted desperately to believe in. It was God.

Wha--??? Me, having doubts? Me, the avid church go-er? Me, devoted fundraiser for the church’s capital campaign, the former Sunday school teacher, et al? Yup. Me. But then, I’ve never been one to take anything on face value—as much as I may have wanted to. The idea of God—or the concept of an omnipotent being who controls every single aspect of life in this world, from whether the Patriots win their big game to how many seconds the light stays red when I’m running late for work—is extremely difficult for me to get my head/heart around.

The last decade has seen my most concerted effort to truly believe. Because I do want to—after all, who wouldn’t want to believe in a God who takes care of everything, who has it all handled, who can help and guide and love unconditionally? Sounds good to me—life is freakin’ hard most of the time, and there is great appeal in the idea that someone bigger than me has it all under control. That there is a plan.  That all the crazy, painful, maddening, confusing stuff that happens in the world has a purpose. We just don’t know what it is yet. (*sigh*)

But the more I attended church the last 10 years, the farther away from God I seemed to get. I did all the right things—went to church every single Sunday, volunteered like a mad-dog on every church committee I could get on, donated hours of time on the capital campaign committee to raise money to build a church-affiliated school, joined a Bible study, and committed to raise my daughters in the church. I figured eventually I’d find my faith, or faith would find me.

But listening to sermons left me cold—every week we were told again and again how horrible we all are and how only Jesus’ love will save us. What I wanted to hear—what I needed to hear—was how you take a 2,000-year-old story and apply it to modern life. The volunteer committees were good—I’ve always been passionate about helping others—but the things I would suggest were politely rejected. And to be fair, they had been doing things a certain way for a very long time and I was doing my best to shake things up. My Bible study was a flop—the first one I went to I brought a bottle of wine and the women looked at me so askance you would have thought I’d come in with horns sprouting out of my head. I laughed out loud when the Bible study leader asserted with calm confidence that the earth was only 6,000 years old—I thought she was joking. But she looked at me with such pity and sighed a deep, heaving sigh that basically communicated to me that I was a hopeless case.

Coming around to faith has been easier desired than accomplished. I have too many questions, ones that I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer to. “You just have to have faith” isn’t working for me. Some would argue it’s not my place to demand answers of God, but I would answer back that it’s not fair to demand belief but not provide proof.

I’ve been admonished to read the Bible, that I will find all the answers there. I’ve read it. Several times. Perhaps I need to read it again, but if there are answers then either I am inept at finding them or they’re so deeply hidden only another reading—or another 10 readings—will reveal them to me. But I lose patience with the Bible. Or, I should say, I lose patience with people who tell me that every single word in the Bible is true and inspired directly from the mouth of God. The idea of Jonah surviving three days in the acid-laced belly of a whale unscathed is just….not possible. Or that Lot’s wife turned into an actual pillar of salt. Or that Noah managed to put two of every single animal and creature that walks, crawls or slithers across the Earth into a big boat to save them from an world-destroying flood. When I offer up that perhaps the stories in the Bible are just, well, stories, I’m told I’m not only misguided but willfully choosing not to believe.

But perhaps the most perplexing to me of the Christian tenants is the idea of being saved. I love the idea. It is an extremely comforting idea, that simply by believing I will live a life of everlasting peace and joy in a place so incredible that my pea-sized brain cannot even begin to fathom it. I have a choice to either “accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” or not. And herein lies my problem. They say it’s a “choice” but it’s a false choice. “Either you love Me or you go to a lake of fire and fry. But hey, it’s your choice.” That’s the spiritual equivalent of a mother saying to her child, “You can chose to eat this dinner or I’ll feed you to the alligators. But hey, it’s your choice.” I mean, really? What kind of “choice” is that? That’s not a choice, that’s extortion. Either I believe or I spend eternity in a lake of fire. Huh? I want to believe because my heart has accepted and my head agrees, not because I’m threatened with endless torture.

Which brings me to my final thought on religion and Christianity. According to the teachings of my church, if you don’t believe no matter how good a person you were on Earth, you die and you’re in eternal torment. It doesn’t matter if you were honest, forthright, kind, considerate, et al. Yet if you were the worst kind of serial killer in the world, if you “accept” Christ even one second before you die, you’re living it up in Heaven at the right hand of God. It just doesn’t make sense to me. My beloved dad, for example, not being a “believer” (he believed in a higher power, certainly, but generally felt as tepid about religion as I do) is roasting on a slow spit down below. He was a wonderful man, a man who would give you his last beer or the shirt off his back. I asked about this once in Bible study. And was told (kindly, I suppose) that, well, yeah. My dad was in Hell. Not really what I wanted to hear. And if the person saying it thought I would feel closer to God after she said that, well, her words had the exact opposite effect.

Why did I choose to share all this? This is the longest post I’ve ever written. I did so because I cannot be the only person out there who has these thoughts, feelings and fears. It seems like it sometimes. My husband has no patience for my musings—he has had the not inconsiderable advantage of being raised to believe unwaveringly. (Plus he’s fairly convinced that I’m going to hell anyway because I’m a Democrat.).

I have several friends who are big believers—one in particular who awes and inspires me with the depth of her faith. But I worry about offending them by telling them my doubts. My girls are being raised strong Christians—I can give them that. I think it’s extremely important to give kids that foundation of faith so that later on, they aren’t tormented by questions like I am. Or, if they have questions, they have the security of knowing there is a path home to faith.

And I guess the final reason I’ve chosen to share this is that it’s a way for me to reach out to others who might be able to help guide me on my journey. But I don’t want to be pushed or pitied or punished. I’ll resist. But I do wish there was someone who could patiently walk me through it all without judging. One thing for sure, I didn’t write this to disparage religion or God or believers. I have nothing but the deepest admiration for people—of any faith, of all faiths—that have a true and heart-felt commitment. Christianity is a marvelous thing, and I’d really like to be a part of it. But right now, I feel like there’s a locked door keeping me out…but there is a small window in that door, and when I peer inside I see that true faith can fills those holes in people’s hearts and lives, and especially, in their souls.

Maybe this post will help me find someone who has the keys to open that door—or, if not the keys, at least knows another way in. And then I’ll have my own poster—much to Fox Mulder’s chagrin—that will simply say, “I believe.”



5 comments:

  1. Your words always amaze me how well you express yourself. I really wish I had that gift. With that being said I regrettably have no help for you. Where I to believe and actually feel I have witnessed him answer prayer I also have questions and reservation. I wish I had the absolute faith that a few of my friends have but I am not there.♥

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  2. Poor Kim.

    Questioning Christian Fundamentalism isn't weak and may not even be an indication of 'lack of faith'. It is, on the other hand, a sign of sanity and reason.

    Come on, you're an educated woman - can the Bible really be the inerrant word of God that should be followed verbatim? Are dinosaur fossils really just a few thousand years old (or wait, maybe God only made them appear to be much older)? Jonah and the Whale is a classic. Face it, if it weren't for the (perceived?) power that right-wing, fanatical, Christian groups hold in this country they'd be the butt of as many jokes as the followers of Joseph Smith and Xenu.

    Alas, we appear to be stuck with these homophobic, elitist, xenophobic, mis-guided pricks. My experience has been that the most ardent followers of this belief system were, as you noted, brought up in the faith and have never questioned it from childhood or have been "born again" usually after some personal downfall (infidelity, drug /alcohol addiction, etc.). In both cases their faith is unshakable and immune to logic and *gasp* scientific reason. You simply cannot when a fact based argument with them.

    Luckily, not all Christian faiths subscribe to this ridiculousness. If you personally have the belief, at a fundamental level, that Jesus Christ is the son of God born to man. That he died on the cross to save your soul from original sin and that his teachings are the pathway to heaven, then you need to seek out another church. One that is little more tolerant and realistic, one that gives you comfort and not turmoil. A church that leans more on the philosophy of the teachings of Christ and not on the words in a book that has been translated hundreds of times over the centuries - - - BY MEN. Read the Gnostic Bible and the Gospel of Thomas. Find a church that subscribes primarily to the proverb of The Good Samaritan - you'll end up a happier person.

    If, like me, you're not quite committed to the fundamentals of Christianity (Jesus was a cool dude with some hip and groovy ideas - but the Son of God? Well, I'm not sure about that. Mohamed seems pretty hip, too. So does Buddha.), look for a Deist community and seek out some of their teachings. It sounds a bit like your father subscribed to this train of thought (and I personally believe that he's up in heaven playing golf or whatever he liked to do).

    Unfortunately (?) you're stuck with your husband and his blind faith. However, consider this, are you really doing your girls a justice by bringing them up in this 'faith' or are you just perpetuating a long line of ignorance and inhumanity?

    Remember Mulder's other famous mantra: Trust No One.

    My thoughts go out to you, best of luck in your search.

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  3. Thank you guys for your comment!! I love "anonymous" comment--you made me smile. You have a great wit & way of writing! I actually am taking a break from going to church right now--for the last 2 months I've been staying home on Sundays. I really think it was my church that was the big problem--but the problem now is that the fam is till going there--and are really committed to it. Wherever this journey leads me, it wil be interesting along the way!

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  4. Great post Kim. A friend once told me that it takes as much Faith to believe in Evolutionism as it does Creationism. You are right, life can be very hard and God does have a purpose. However, I disagree that we do not know what that purpose is...it's to draw us closer to our creator so that we can experience JOY. More joy than we can find in anything else. I know you won't find that kind of joy by "volunteering like a mad-dog or raising money for a church school. This joy can be found by sitting at the foot of the cross and reflecting on a God that loves you so much that he would send his son to die and pay the price for our sin.

    Before coming to faith, I also felt that I was a pretty good person and questioned why a loving God would send me to hell. I think this was because I didn't understand the character and nature of the holy, just and perfect God. I think the problem is that we measure our goodness by the world’s standards. We simply cannot fathom the goodness of God. The chasm between us and God is huge and so we have been given the gift of Jesus to close the gap.

    If your pastor is preaching each week about how horrible you are, then find a different church. I was disappointed to read about your experience with you bible study group. Remember, Christians aren't immune from making mistakes, being judgmental and causing harm. Find a different bible study.

    There is a quote from the Manhattan Declaration that says, "Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become a rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts".

    Now that's something to believe in...the God of the universe, the creator of everything loves us and is working in our lives for the conversion of our hearts.

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  5. A supreme being who takes the time and trouble to punish inferior creatures for their innate behavior? Not likely.

    The space in which we exist is a byproduct of what we all put into it. Enlightened and supreme beings know this. They do not burn the ants or pull the legs off the frogs because an act of aggression affects the aggressor as well as the victim. And they do not condemn the lesser creatures for their innate behavior.

    A supreme and enlightened being might guide a lesser being toward the best elements of its nature. Might help it achieve what it is capable of - even with challenges. But to punish for failure to worship the supreme being appropriately? No... that's the realm of an inferior creature, the realm of ego, the behavior of a self-doubting being. A supreme being does not need others to affirm the supreme being's existence nor does a supreme being dole out misery for failure to do so.


    If a superior being has any affect on a lesser being, it is to guide them toward productive behavior, including self-love, confidence, strength, kindness, generosity, independence as well as healthy dependence, and many other superior behaviors. In short, a superior being helps others realize their potential by encouraging it - NEVER by threats and punishment.

    Any description of a superior being behaving in an inferior way is the invention of an inferior creature.

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