–UPDATE 2012– I no longer am practicing the Christian faith, or any institutionalized religion. So what’s written below is not from a person that exists anymore. However, it was an honest statement at the time. And for those interested in Christianity, perhaps it can provide some insight. Even though I have moved beyond Christianity, this is still a part of who I was. Someday I will have to write more about why I have come to be in such a different place. –END UPDATE–
Why do I believe in God? A complex question. I find myself continually plagued by doubt. What if there is no God? What if faith is just a placebo? Is this whole religious thing a combination of wishful thinking and subjective validation? Every day I ask these questions to myself; everyday I have no answers. It bothers me that belief in God defies rationality; yet it is not irrational, it is simply non-rational.
So why do I believe? I don’t think I’m escaping reality. These tough questions that pull at me as doubt are balanced by equally tough questions that pull me towards belief.
If reason is a human construct, why should a creator god be subject to it? If I am who I am because of what I believe, doesn’t that mean there’s something larger than myself at work within me? Why is human history dominated by pursuit of the divine? Why have so many lives been transformed irrevocably for the better by belief?
So why do I believe? For one of the most important questions that can be asked, a very thoughtful answer should be given. So here is my attempt to answer it. I will start outside of myself.
Human history has been intertwined with the pursuit of the divine. Whether pursuit of a god or gods, humans have always thought there was something out there, somehow responsible for our existence, something much larger and more powerful that us. Why is this in-built theism so inescapable? Is it some evolutionary cul-de-sac as some atheists would have us believe? Is it some quirk of the development of our consciousness? It seems unlikely that it is a natural product to me just because it is not consistent in its manifestations to be (naturally) selected for.
People’s pursuit of the divine has been as varied as people themselves; sometimes it’s benevolent, sometimes malicious and sometimes capricious. It would seem the stability offered by some evolutionary in-built ‘atheism’ would be more beneficial, hence more selectable. Also, if there is no god, what natural processes would give rise to built-in ‘theism’ that we find? So this ‘theism’ is either an evolutionary byproduct or it’s in us for a reason. I’m inclined to think the first case is not as likely as the second.
Next consider the philosophers of history. When you reflect on all the brilliant minds that have deliberated on the existence of God over the past couple of millennia, the majority come to the conclusion that there is a God. That’s not to say the minority is decidedly wrong. But to say there is no God requires contradicting the greater number of thinking people.
What of the lives we see changed by a benevolent pursuit of God (e.g. Christianity as it was originally intended)? There are countless lives that have been changed, not just by belief in God, but – as the believers would say – by God. Countless lives enslaved by one vice or another; countless lives unable to pull themselves out of their problems; until they find faith. With their new-found connection to the divine, they claim it was the divine that changed them, that freed them. Who are we to say to them “You just didn’t try hard enough on your own to fix your problems”. Or say “your belief is just a placebo; you could have changed anytime prior if you really wanted to.”
I can’t claim certainty on the existence of God by any means. But it seems too much hubris to make the claim that atheists must: that all of these people didn’t know themselves or their minds well enough and incorrectly determined that they were incapable of solving their own problems.
And I have a personal claim to God. I know who I am. I know who I was. I am not the same today as I was yesterday. Nor was I the same I was yesterday as I was 10 years ago, or earlier. I was bitter. I resented everything and everyone that did not hold me in the esteem I deemed ‘proper’. I was elitist. I always have been smart and quite rational. People I saw as ‘stupid’, which were about 90% of the people I met, were at best an impediment to be bypassed. People I saw as ’emotional’ were a drain and I generally regarded them as a waste of time. I actually daydreamed about being that evil scientist that tries to destroy the bulk of humanity in the name of ‘progress’. This would be a mass culling of the herd, if you will. A better word for it is holocaust, but the daydream could be rationally1 justified at the time. I was hateful. I saw homosexuals and other choice ‘sinners’ as abominations. While I didn’t seek to harm or abuse them, I certainly didn’t mind any discrimination they received. I was an island. I am resourceful and can be hard working (when I want). I really didn’t need people. Friends were great fun, and I would have done anything for them. But family, schoolmates, the people in my life that I didn’t get to choose but had to be around, continued to disappoint my ideals or my ego; so I abandoned them emotionally and socially. I could function with them, but they held little value in my eyes. I was always grateful to my parents for raising me, but gratitude is not love.
That is who I was. I was very good at camouflaging it at home, in school, in church youth group, etc. Thankfully life is not static. There were those times where I found myself really looking in the mirror; really seeing what I was in those deep, dark places. That was the scariest part. I was friendly and able to put a great face to the world, most of the time. But that was the facade. What was real was hidden and dark and ruined. And there was nothing I could do about it. My efforts could change the way I acted and the way I appeared for the better, but I couldn’t change who I was. Those times of reflection came and I prayed. I prayed to be remade. I prayed to be redeemed. And it happened. Not all at once, of course. But over the past 15 years I can say I truly have become someone I was not.
This is not about actions or appearances. But those deep, dark, broken places in our psyche. Those are the places we can cover up and pretend they’re not there. We may even forget about them for a while when life is good. But they don’t go away because you can’t will yourself into actually being something you’re not. All your efforts are merely fresh paint on a rotting frame.
Yet today I am changed. Where there was bitterness, there is forgiveness and desire for reconciliation. I’m not perfect, and now I truly appreciate that other people are not either. If people hurt me or failed me, that’s okay because we’re all not perfect together. Where there was elitism, there is desire for diversity. I love that there are people around who see life through different eyes than I do and I can learn so much from understanding how they see. I still struggle with relegating the opinions of those I don’t identify with, but it is good to struggle. I’m still growing and in growth there is life. But the struggle is with actions: relegating, vs. considering. My heart is for considering; it’s just many years of bad habits don’t simply vaporize. But my heart is changed, even if it gets trumped by lazy reliance on habits. The struggle goes on.
Where there was hate there is love. I’m not going to endorse the homosexual lifestyle, but we’re talking about people. They’re gay, I’m not. That’s okay. Just because I don’t agree with a part of who they are, it’s still a part of who they are. And as people they have the same rights as everyone else. They don’t deserve to be marginalized – no one should be marginalized. Where I thought I was an island, I now see I need, and I’m a part of, a community. Together we are strong and together we are complete. What is lacking in me is made up by my neighbor. I need this. I want this. I have left a lot of people in the past and it’s time to reunite with them. I want to acknowledge my own short-fallings, and deal with those I’m in contact with graciously. For those times I’m in a place where I’m around new people and I have no choice about it, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, and work to find the good in everyone, as I hope they’ll do for me. Though I still struggle with people in traffic.2
So here I am. Incomplete, but nevertheless fundamentally changed. I am not what I was. I could not have changed the aspects of who I am, just simply how I behaved. But after praying for a change in being, not just a change in doing, the changes came. Not by my power, so by whose? By the power of God in me? That is the only choice left because something was accomplished that I could not have done.
So when I look back on these reasons and consider how I would answer the question “Why do you believe in God?”, the answer comes: love. I am love where I was hate and death before. I’m not perfect. I can still be selfish and a pain in the ass. But I am different than what I was at that fundamental level. And tomorrow I hope to be more different. I hope to be continually refined, one day at a time. My life and my being are a work in progress.
1 This is an indication that rationality, which most atheists hold to as the main reason for their atheism, is not, in and of itself, the ‘best’ form of thought.
2 It may seem silly, but I do think about this a lot. Why do I let irritation take hold in traffic? Everyone else is as inconvenienced as I am. I think you are at your most natural in bad traffic. When you’re by yourself you don’t have to put a good face forward or worry what anyone thinks about you. When you get cut off by someone you learn how truly patient, benevolent and gracious, or selfish and short tempered you really are. It may not seem like much to some people, but I think if I can get to the point where traffic problems or bad drivers don’t upset or irritate me, I will have become a much better person. Although not necessarily pertinent, but still interesting, I can only remember two specific cases of getting rudely cut off in traffic, both by people with Jesus fish on the back of their cars.