(I first wrote this almost… Jeez… eight years ago, now. Today, after a bunch of terrible stuff happened in the world, I decided to go back and read it again. It’s not bad, in my not-so-humble opinion. So I’m going to share it all with you again. I hope you all get something out of it, too…)
I was chatting online with a good friend earlier, and I learned that she is a devout Christian. Now, I don’t mean the sort of fire-and-brimstone, hellzacomin’, “kill-them-thar-heathens” types that scare most right thinking people (and who seem to be becoming more and more powerful in our society). No, she is a Christian in the true sense of the word… someone who tries to live their life according to the teachings of Jesus. And, regardless if one feels that some of his followers have twisted those teachings, I think that most people can agree that living life based on those basic teachings is a noble thing.
She got me thinking about faith in general.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic, in the early post-Vatican II era (the Second Vatican Council was an attempt to revitalize the Church, and it lead to a period of more liberalized thinking throughout the 60’s and 70’s), but currently I consider myself an agnostic. My agnosticism is not a cop-out (it’s not “I don’t know WHAT to believe, so I won’t believe in anything…”), but a conscious choice. I have not had the personal experience of God in my life… at least, not in a way that couldn’t have been explained in some other, non-spiritual way. And faith, as Paul of Tarsus said, is “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is belief without objective basis… knowledge without fact.
I do not have faith.
In my own mind, there is what I know, and what I don’t. I “know” that I exist. I know that the sun will rise, that the earth is not the center of the universe, and that I really don’t like brussels sprouts. I know that which I can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. I know what I experience, to the extent that any of us does (that’s a whole other essay, though!). But I do not KNOW that there is a God. Belief does not even enter into the equation for me, because quite frankly the universe doesn’t give a whit about what I believe (I could believe with all of my heart and mind that the moon is made of fine Vermont cheddar, and that will NOT make is so… the universe really doesn’t care what I, you, or anyone else thinks.). And so I do not have faith.
What I do have is hope.
I hope that there is a God. I hope that he/she/it is a kind, loving, and personal deity, who wants only the best for me and all of creation. I hope that God is merciful. And I hope that God knows that I have not sided with the enemy, but instead am one of the loyal opposition.
Also, I kinda hope that I get to try some of that fine Vermont cheddar from the moon one day.
And I think that the important thing to remember, especially in this season, is that, for all of us, faith is based on something hoped for… something not seen. Because of this, faith… belief… can be wrong. Not just mine, or yours, or theirs, but EVERYONE’S. And the universe will not care.
Now, do I think that any ONE faith is wrong? Yes. In fact, I think that several are wrong, on some very basic levels. But I am willing to admit that I MAY BE WRONG! Perhaps God IS a big old man who sits on a throne and passes judgment from a great book. Perhaps I CAN only be saved by being “born again” in Christ. Perhaps I can strap a bomb to my torso, detonate myself among a crowd of infidels yelling “There is no God but God!” at the top of my lungs, and I WILL enter a heaven of eternal hedonistic pleasure, surrounded by virgins willing to do my every whim.
Perhaps. But I don’t think so.
But I am willing to admit that I could be wrong about that. And that is the biggest difference between me, and some of the followers of those faiths.
You see, I don’t think that God IS knowable. God, if he/she/it exists, is the great mystery. God is unknowable. God is ineffable. The mind of God was, is, and ever shall be the one thing that the mind of man can never grasp. For God, whoever or whatever he may be, is BIG. God is the sum total of the universe. God transcends the universe. God encompasses all creation. God lives within us all. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. God is personally involved in the lives of every living thing in the universe.
And your God is too small.
I say that because, whatever you, or your faith, can conceive of as God, there is no way that the image that exists in your mind can reason through the truth that is God. We are fallible, limited beings, and the pound or so of meat that sits at the top of our spine is not terribly well equipped to comprehend the mind of the Almighty. No matter how much of THE TRUTH any one of us can grasp, it will never be any more than one small, tiny part of the great, grand, glorious whole. It is like hearing a sole note played by a piccolo during the first movement of Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy”, and thinking that you have listened to the whole Ninth Symphony.
And if I, or you, or any one of us may be wrong… well, maybe the OTHER GUY is right.
And that brings us to… tolerance.
You see, we all seem to be so wrapped up in being RIGHT, and in knowing THE TRUTH, that we forget that there is not a single one of us that has a monopoly on it. And then, when we get presented with some other portion of THE TRUTH that doesn’t jibe with our own portion, we don’t want to hear about it, because we think that if THEY are right, then WE must be wrong. And we forget (or worse, we never knew) that if God is big enough, that he can hold all Truth, and not just our own little part of it.
Our God is too small.
And we run from that Truth that we don’t want to hear. We become angry at it and try to beat it down. Or we hide our heads in the sand, and, instead of trying to understand it, we pretend it’s not there. Or we tell the bearers of that truth that they are wrong. They are evil. They are damned.
And we miss that chance to grow, to gain more of The Truth, to become closer to knowing the mind of God. And, at the same time, we are diminished.
Inclusion is always the better road than exclusion. Tolerance better than intolerance. Acceptance better than rejection. Granted, it is a harder road. It takes work, and it takes the courage to admit that, in the search for Truth, for God, for the Ineffable Mystery, that we are very, very small, and the universe is very, very big. And dark. And frightening.
And perhaps, the best that we can do is to walk together, hand in hand, as we journey through the night.
That, and have hope.