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.”

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