Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pure Hearts in Lost Souls

Throughout the years, I have struggled with my relationship with a higher being and the following that has convened in the name of that entity. I have battled with the corruption of the very foundation of religions as the roots of belief systems have been torn from the ground and implanted in a pot of carefully manipulated lumps of soil, nourished with tainted holy water.

I cannot, with a clear conscience, completely banish the idea of God from my mind. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown, the possibility of some dark retribution awaiting me in the flickering shadows of a fiery afterlife. Perhaps it’s simply the wiping away of an ideology that has been deeply ingrained into my mind since I was a small child that I find impossible. Or, perhaps it’s the simple comfort He provides, an omniscient guardian to keep us safe.

A host of questions arise, with answers upon which one can only postulate. What would become of a society that has no basis for moral values or beliefs? Who would we become without the looming threat of eternal damnation, or the glorious promise of paradise after death? Would people still be generally good without being morally accountable to anyone but themselves? Such inquires send the mind hurdling back to the ultimate question of human nature: are humans inherently good or evil? Without the social influence of theology, would we grow to become saints or swine? Or would we simply exist, driven by biological forces of survival rather than of greed or just rewards?

Having a host of friends who are active atheists, I have many times had this discussion with them, debating the existence of God and the purpose and benefits of believing on pure blind faith alone. Being a lover of science and the knowledge it has provided me, I’ve struggled with the notion of blind faith and am usually left questioning, always questioning, with no answer given. I remember as a small child in Sunday school our teacher was arguing against the Big Bang Theory, stating “someone had to create the Earth, you can’t say that it was ‘just there’”. I raised my hand, in innocent curiosity, and asked “Well if God created the Earth, who created God?” My teacher fumbled briefly for an answer before sputtering out, “well…he was just there”. And as I sat back in my chair, I knew the answer was not satisfactory, but my religious education continued on. We moved to a new church and for a moment, the experience was fulfilling. I became a diehard Christian, bumping Christian rock music, joining the Christians on Campus club, doodling crosses and crucified hands on my notebook, preaching and recruiting to anyone who would listen. I loved my faith and my church, before we merged with an upscale church from the hills where snobbery and presumption was not in short supply. The hypocrisy of Sunday do-gooders drove me mad; you know the types, those Christians who do God’s thing on Sunday and do their own thing every other day of the week. Jaded by superficiality and morning preaching of religious superiority, coupled with a deepening crippling depression, issues with my sexuality, and dwindling faith, I finally threw in the towel and left the church before my 14th birthday.

Though I had given up on believing that God actually gave a damn about me, I could never quite bring myself to believe he wasn’t there at all, and in spite of walking away from the church, I never walked away from aspiring to be the best human being I could be. As a 13 year old, I used my miniscule allowance to support a starving child in South America. Throughout my high school years, I donated to various causes and participated in charities, rejecting the extra credit my fellow students needed to be motivated with to take part. During my college years, I worked with foster children and emotionally disturbed teens, I volunteered at an after school program, and I started a cancer fund raising over $2,300 for cancer research. Post graduation, I became an advocate of tolerance, specifically for the Muslim community after 9/11, and I became a therapist, working at a non-profit organization for autistic children.

Now, am I providing this repertoire of activity in some vain attempt to secure my status as a pompous ass? Not so much as to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to be perched on a pew, singing some poorly adapted verse, keeling over a man-written document in search of a purpose and an explanation to be a good human being. Having an understanding of our shared humanity, being an active global citizen, taking care of one another and trying to have the most positive impact on the world around us that we’re capable of makes us good human beings. In fact, getting away from the church and out into the world is probably more beneficial to anyone’s spiritual journey. Where God fits into this, and how much, is dependent upon the practicing individual. For me, he’s there, and I’m here, and we acknowledge each other’s presence. I do what I feel I need to do to sleep at night, hoping I’ve done the best I could, and if it’s in agreement with him, great, if not, maybe next time. I do believe we can be an ethical and moral community without accountability to a higher being. Likewise, I don’t believe the immediate presence of that being automatically makes one ethical, moral, or accountable.

The hypocrisy I’ve previously mentioned is rampant in all organized religion. Many people, especially as of late, pick and choose which parts of the Bible they wish to enforce and which they wish to sweep beneath the rug. They utilize their religions as a vehicle to further personal agendas and cite their holy books as justification for discrimination and hatred. In the process of writing this blog, I was compelled to track down my old youth pastor, and found a site pushing religious superiority and a video of a panel he participated in arguing against homosexuality and equal rights. Many just don't practice even the most basic of principles that they preach. Last week I was set in a Christian school awaiting a lecture from my boss, and found myself in the throes of a mini-sermon, discussing Bible passages of delighting in the Lord and praying before my boss took center stage. I made a conscience effort to keep an open mind before a slight cutting comment towards Jews was made, then I shut down. But the tone of the room was one of devotion, love, and kindness, a tone which quickly changed once my boss, there to lecture on teaching techniques and brain functionality, began her speech. Met with criticism, snide remarks, and constant argument, a level of unexpected, unexplained hostility slowly rose through the three and a half hour presentation. It ended with a verbal battle between entities, one I did not witness because I left out of frustration and anxiety. The tension in the room was overwhelming and the difficulty of seeing a colleague and a mentor being attacked was too much to handle with quiet grace and decorum. While it would be unfair to overgeneralize this experience to all Christians, I think it’s fair to say, given this situation and numerous others, that the presence of God in one’s life does not guarantee that individual to be moral, ethical, accountable, or even to have an ounce of integrity.

I still struggle from time to time with my relationship with this God, but I figure at this point, I will continue to do my best and hope it’s enough. If God’s there in Heaven, I’m sure he’s watching, and if he’s not, well I’ve still done my duty as a human being and helped someone here on Earth to have a slightly easier existence than before. And in the end, that’s what makes it worthwhile.

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