Just this afternoon, I was approached by a Christian. To use the line made infamous by The Book of Mormons, he came to tell me about Jesus Christ. He began by asking me if I believed in the afterlife. I told him, no. Death is the ultimate end for me. But he disregarded the sentiment completely, albeit with a polite nod and polite pause, and then went on ahead in his impassioned rambling about the faith. It seemed quite practiced. I imagined he had repeated it several times already. If not the persistence, then one must at least admire the conviction that continues to ring through his words; like a bell that toils daily and yet never sounds a decibel softer. When he arrived at the conditions for entering Heaven, my attention once again rose to life; or rather, it was when he told me that only by faith can one secure in place in those Elysian fields. Of course, I found the notion to be exceptionally distasteful. For what monsters shall be permitted their ways; whom, in thinking that by faith alone they are made impervious to ultimate retribution, shall see no reason to inhibit their grotesque expeditions. So, naturally, I posed him a question reflective of this contingency. He said: “As long as they believe..” And stopped listening. These people are ludicrous. They would much rather determine their lives entirely upon the words of pious men than upon their God-given reason. Is that not true blasphemy?
But the difference, you see, is that you had lost your faith to a misfortune, whereas I have lost mine to reason. As soon as you recover from the wounds of the misfortune, faith shall gradually return to you; you will once more believe your God mighty and merciful. But reason – how does anyone recover from reason, as if it were some sort of affliction, a worm in the mind to be extirpated? It isn’t. Reason shall follow me all through my life, and rather being than disadvantageous to me, brings me a celestial joy. And I should have no reason to wish it gone.
The desolation of which you speak, and which you accord to both your past self and my present self, is thus misplaced. I am not in a state of desolation. But even if I were, I doubt it will be attributed to the absence of a divine benevolence. Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful for your letter, and the kind words you have served.
Finally, a Christian admits to me that there is indeed no reasonable route to faith, and that of two sides into which the unknowable divides itself, he has chosen to stand on the side of the theist.
He believes in an omnibenevolent God not because reason has led him to it – for he contends that there exists no such reason – but because it brings him peace. I think this is what shall appease the many obstinate opponents of Christianity. For reason is their anchor, and all they ask of the religious is that they realize the reasons behind their convictions, or if there were none, then admit of it. Only in this way can they realize also that the books, the doctrines, the teachings which they esteem as divine and everlasting truths, may appear to others as false. As Nietzsche remarked: “the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths.”
Yet, every man is entitled to a way of life which he determines as best for himself, and so the non-religious shall not intrude upon sacred grounds of Christians nor puncture their hopes with harsh and unforgiving words. No, the upholders of reason are also the upholders of harmony. And what surer way to nurture this harmony then to always keep reason close to one’s heart, even in the realms of that blind-believing called faith?
I must admit, before any sense of hope can be bred, that I often feel slightly vexed when someone, upon hearing that I have lost my faith (lost my way), implores me to “open my heart” or “seek him and he shall find you”. The reason for which I do not bear faith is precisely because I do not wish to “open my heart” – and do not take this as an indication of a hardhearted nature. The invitation to open one’s heart is for me to relinquish one’s habit of reason and engulf oneself in a spiritual mood, which can neither be confirmed as emanating from a divine source nor as constructed by the fancies and longings of the human mind. The person might then go on to say: “you mustn’t be afraid of the uncertainty; that is the single hurdle over which you must leap into order to reach faith.” To this I will reply that one might as well believe that unicorns are the benevolent guardians of the universe. It is into blind non-reason that faith invites us; into all realms conceivable by the imagination. I doubt I shall ever understand faith as anything more than a selective belief in fancies. But then again, who could know?
I had the chance to speak to Fr J. the other day. We spoke on a great many issues, most of which concerned the conflict between faith and reason. I felt myself to be on the side of reason. Indeed, my faith has been on terribly shaky grounds recently and a number of confounding questions still push and tug at the frail pillar on which it balances. I have sought answers on my own but could find no appeasement. Thus I had hoped to learn from Fr J., hearing as how he is intellectually inclined, some things which perhaps I might have overlooked, or to discover some piece of the puzzle kept secret from me by a biased mind.
But alas, I received no truly satisfying answers. He attempted, meticulously and zealously, to explain to me the intricacies of the Christian system of faith, and how it might bind itself by a hidden vine to the realm of human reason. Still, it felt all too speculative, all too presumptuous. I wasn’t convinced. The problem was that he relied greatly on the mystery of “feeling”, that natural and nebulous pull of the heart, to answer what needed firm and distinct reasons. Nonetheless, I admired the zeal with which he spoke of his convictions and the confidence with which he esteemed them true. I came only to admit of the sure strength of his faith.
Then just as the conversation aged, and I began to think the whole meeting fruitless, he said these words to me: I do not worry for you. And quickly, a relief descended upon me, like a warm, heartening blanket. I did not expect such words to come from anyone, and not the least of all, a priest. I had expected for him to express certain disappointment at my departure or fear at my being “lost”, and for him to assail me with an endless persuasion until finally, out of lethargy, I relent. But no, nothing of that sort passed. For once, I felt accepted in spite of my views and doubts. He understood that such views and doubts come naturally, and he could empathize since he once bore them himself.
So even though I learnt little from the meeting, I have had my faith in the religious leaders restored. Once I thought them rigid in their thinking and coercive in their manner, now I think them open and accepting. They do not force their beliefs upon another, but only trust that their God has a way for everyone. These are the kind of people whom ought to be respected most: they who have faith, and faith enough to trust that by the honesty of their beliefs and by inspiring divine powers shall the faith too reach those not yet touched by it.
Fr J. told me, when I asked how he had escaped those reasonable views and reasonable doubts, that it was through a multitude of experiences – experiences of being “touched”. I do not know how much to believe him, but perhaps I shall one day be “touched” and return my wandering ship to the docks.
Very interestingly, I heard that a priest proffered in his homily a scientific explanation for the miracles recorded in the Bible. The first was when a soldier pierced the side of Jesus and water came out. The priest had said that there is a vessel (I cannot remember what biological term he used) beneath the heart which sometimes fills itself with water. And it just so happened that the spear tip punctured that vessel and water spilled out. It was no miracle; only a subtlety of science. The second was of the multiplication of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. The priest had reasoned that perhaps the people present, having witnessed the kindness of Jesus, took out from their pockets and bags bread loaves and fishes of their own. Again, the miracle is demoted to no more than a fallacy of exclusion.
Obviously, this is dangerous; for it questions the very foundations upon which the Catholic church is built. Those miracles are what give believers hope and by saying all that, one is essentially depriving them of hope. I shall not go further into the multitude of consequences this may spell since my intrigue lies elsewhere from the obvious.
My intrigue lies in the character of the priests whom preached those explanations, whether carelessly or intentionally. If they can believe those scientific explanations, what happens to their belief in miracles? One naturally expects that priests have the utmost faith in the scriptures and take these reason-defying acts as interventions of God. But having brought in those arguments implies only the contrary. This then leads us to wonder if they have trouble believing in anything else, or everything else, that the scriptures have revealed. The Eucharist too perhaps? That would be most irreverent and appalling.
But we cannot fault them in any righteous way, since they too are human; curious and disposed to comprehension. No matter how much faith a person may bear in the truth of the scriptures, there will always linger a certain doubt. For how can we, as the reasonable people we are, believe, wholeheartedly, without the slightest strand of suspicion, in what lies so distantly behind the veil of time? Not to sound blasphemous, but suppose someone from that faraway past had falsely recorded, excited with mischief, some terrorizing of the land by malign monsters. Had that been the case, might we also believe in those monsters as we do now in the scriptures? After all, what miracles are to the reality, monsters are to observable nature. Again, I mean no disrespect at all to the church. I only wish to place reason behind our human suspicion.
This is why there is always a danger in believing the scriptures to be factual accounts rather than drawing from its essence. It must be understood that in faith, factuality is unimportant. What is factual is confined solely to the human realm. But faith, faith is above all. It should matter little whether the accounts of the scriptures were in fact true, for if we have faith in God, all we shall need is the essence of what has been revealed; be they inspired truths or mischievous lies. Everything that has been delivered to us by God will serve the construction of our lives, just as all experience serves the shaping of our characters. Faith seems to be the only certainty in life.
Perhaps we have had it wrong all this time; that every word of the homily ought be to absorbed in the keenest attention and every hymn sang in the most ecclesiastical voice. Perhaps Mass isn’t so much about the procession, about the kneeling and reciting, the listening and singing, the bowing and receiving, but rather about the allowing of ourselves to simmer in the atmosphere of God.
It is natural as human beings that we sometimes lose sight of an act’s rightful purpose; especially for acts that have become a part of our routines. It thus is with Mass, that our thoughts may occasionally wander to distant fancies or float about in an unfeeling ferment, and what words that stream from the Father’s lips will pass us by like a string of stray noise and what movements of decorum we procure will be but the work of a puppeteer. The intention will be lacking, and without intention, the Mass will not be able to serve its rightful purpose; that is to have us reflect on the gospel as well as remind us of the sacrifice to which we owe our comfort. What purpose then does it serve if not always the one that requires an uncompromising focus and will of heart?
I cannot know for sure, nor can I profess an answer to be held as a truth for everyone. But I shall say, because I attended Mass this evening and despite departing from its rituals felt an almost inexplicable peace, that perhaps it is to create for us an atmosphere in which God weaves and meanders. And that alone shall provide us with all the peace we might need.
Had I chosen to not go for the camp, as so tempted I was by a dissenting voice within, I might never have learnt how dearly these camps meant to some people.
I have never enjoyed camps. And even when I did, it wasn’t because of some emancipative effort of the camp’s programs but rather simply the friends with whom I could have fun. I hence saw little point in such camps other than the bonds of friendship they breed. So naturally, when I was asked to help out in one such similar camp, I was reluctant. In agreeing, I would only have acquiesced to the fulfilling of a responsibility. The desire to actually serve would be lacking.
Then on one of the nights, I spoke to a friend whom seemed distressed by the general lackluster of the camp’s organizing committee (though not by every team). He lamented how in past, when he was a participant, there always seemed to be an air of camaraderie, a closeness of the team, as if it were really one big, loving family. Yet now, some of the teams were unmotivated. They carried out their duties bounded by heavy shackles; zeal lacking, heart distracted, motive translucent. Immediately, I felt guilty. Did I not agree to this without that all-important willingness, and did I not peruse the schedule in the manner of a book-keeper leafing dreadfully and wearily through the day’s sales record?
I realized then how selfish I had been in being this childish self. Though I may not possess the greatest ardor, the least I could do was to be serious about what was tasked to me. And though those tasks may not seem to me to be of tremendous importance, it was no good reason for me to slump myself against a wall and murmur apathetically, palpably apathetically, towards the final sentence. I realized that my task was not solely an expression of my willingness but rather a puzzle piece which if carved well, will form with the rest a magnificent painting. And if I, in all my persistence, refused to carve well that small piece, then the painting would never be completed, and I would’ve single-handedly ruined it for everyone else whom had devoted their time and labor to the camp. I had ruined it for my friend. And it was unfair that I should be allowed to live so selfishly.
Strangely enough, I had prayed early on in the camp that God would turn this seemingly insipid experience into something fruitful. But secretly, I convinced myself that nothing was going to come out it since I have been to so many and not once was I touched in a measurable manner. And sure enough, God answered. Here is my lesson which I shall resolve to take along with me when I volunteer again to serve.
I guess I too have to thank that friend for enlightening me in an area which, in my cold, clouded world of reason, I could never have seen.
I am perplexed as to how I had supposed myself the intelligent person whose words bore the sure seal of logic. In everything I wrote, I was certain of the coherence, of the deft leaps over the fissures of fallacy, of the impregnability of argument and the exactness of semantics. But here I am, being chastised almost merciless by the logic paper given to us as a collaborative assignment. It mocks me for the foolery in which I had reveled – the only proficiency I ever possessed was but an illusion cast by pride. I needed to feel smart. I needed to have something which I could proudly parade. Logic, I thought. And so it was that I wrote what I believed was a testament to the finest logic, yet unknowingly I began twisting the manner in which they were read such that it became what I had so fervently wished it to be. Now, reality has come to shatter that illusion; and for the better of my spirit. No illusion can last a man who wishes to live properly in the world. I guess there is much to be learnt, not just of logic but also of humility. Perhaps this is to be my resolution for the season of Lent.
For the longest time I have failed to understand why I bear a certain aversion towards Praise and Worship.
Each time I was made to sit through one, where all around me sang in such exultant voices, I withdrew quietly into my own thoughts. Of course I would try to sing along, try to spark some spiritual exuberance, but I would soon realize that it worked to no effect – it was merely my mouth that moved, and not my spirit.
More worrying still, was how I sometimes became frightened at the scene of it all. I saw people so deeply immersed in the singing that I could not help but to wonder if they had unknowingly sunken into a trance, and in that trance lost sight of who sits upon the pedestal. I also began to realize how vulnerable we can become when in a trance. And this weakness is exactly that which cunning, deviant cults are able to exploit. In that lucidity, I thence feared an erosion of my belief in the veracity of the Catholic church.
But just yesterday, the participants from the School of Witness came to perform for us, as well as share their testimonies. Naturally, I was reluctant to go. I had expected another p&w session; another session of steeling my mind against the assault of dangerous ratiocination. But this time it was different. They performed for us a sort of rap-song, and had everyone clapped along. And though the lyrics were not much different from those in the p&w songs, I wasn’t at all bothered. Nor was I bothered by the fervor that surrounded me. In fact, I clapped joyfully along.
I thus began to understand why. The rap-song was something fresh. It wasn’t the usual, humdrum singing. I saw change, and change somehow meant to me genuineness. They weren’t blindly following a religion, but rather, followed truly a God.
P&w disquiets me because I keep seeing the same words repeated over and over again, and I can find no sincerity in them, just as one can none in a politician’s overly-conspicuous cry to end poverty. It is like reading a personal letter that contains not one sentence of a personal touch, but is filled to the brim with conventional tones and blatant cliches. (Though this might as well be an assault on prayer, I believe prayer is a different matter entirely).
This is why I shall always bear an aversion towards p&w – I simply am not able to gather eagerness from a repetition of all things trite, of praises that employ from a pool of commonplace phrases, of words that have lost their meanings to familiarity.