Thursday, October 24, 2013

Faith in The Modern World... By an Educated, Liberal Woman.


I’m going there.. hang on.

Faith is a very interesting subject these days.. in fact, it seems like it’s almost more socially acceptable to post Miley twerking videos, or “I support Gay Marriage” (which I do!!) on your timeline, than scripture or any talk of God or Faith whatsoever.

I mean, faith is for the na├»vely ignorant and uneducated… right?

Well, I am a Christian, liberal, educated woman who is finding my way through this faith game the best way I know how.

Also, can I take a moment to clarify something that is a personal pet peeve of mine among ‘Christians’.  Catholics are also Christians.  So are Jehovah’s Witnesses.  So are Mormons, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Agnostics….  absolutely anyone that believes in CHRIST, hence the origin of the word Christian.  When I tell you I am Catholic, and you respond, “Oh, I am Christian” you sound kinda.. well, uneducated.  We are all in the same big ol’ Christian boat, where we perhaps differ is in denomination. 

Mine is Catholic. 

I am been imbued in faith education my entire life.  Not because I grew up in a super devout family, (we did attend mass.. mostly on holidays and sometimes when my parents felt the Catholic guilt eating away at them), but because there was such religious diversification in my life.

During the year I went to Catholic school, where we still studied for our sacraments during school time,  had a big part in the church, prayed three times a day, sang Christian songs during school assemblies and had Christmas concerts. 

Not Seasonal Celebrations, but Christmas Concerts. 

I was raised and educated as Catholic as they come.

However, my auntie and uncle, with whom I spent the entire summers, were steadfast Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I went with them to meetings, bible studies, and became a part of their congregational community during those long hot Manitoba summers. 

There was never any unwarranted fear by my parents that I would somehow be swayed to a denomination upon which little is known, and very much is spoken.  Yes you may know of the JW’s as the people who come to your door with pamphlet, but soul stealing creatures of the night they are not.

I’m not getting into the finite aspects of their beliefs, but what I will tell you is that I was free to ask all the questions I wanted of my Auntie.  She knew the bible better than anyone I knew (except maybe Father Abello), and she was kindly receptive to my sometimes rude 12 year old ignorant questions. 

By high school, I became more and more curious about religion.  I became good friends with a girl who was Jewish.  I went to another friend’s house who was Hindu.  Their beliefs were perhaps the most different than mine, but from what I could see.. if you subbed in Shabbat dinners for Sunday nights around my table with different prayers, you wouldn’t see a difference.

 I also met devoted ‘Christians’ (the first of whom informed me they were “Christians” when I said I had been raised Catholic.  I should have known right then) who should have been the most like me.  Afterall, we only differed by denomination.  Well, they were some of the most ignorant, uneducated, hostile people I had ever been around.  In striving to be the best Christians they repeatedly ran down those of other beliefs, or no beliefs, and spoke of themselves in divine terms.  I made the mistake of going to a Saturday night Youth rally and was confused at what I heard.  In my teenaged world, people who devoted their lives to God just didn’t talk like that about others.  According to them, Jesus loved them the most.

By university my quest for answers intensified, and I had enrolled in many Religious Study courses and studied all the major religions. 

I loved the Buddhist philosophies and couldn’t believe how similar Buddha had been to Jesus, I liked the idea that as Hindu, a life lived well could bring you back into better standing the next time around.  I was actually studying Islam during 9/11 and was horrified at the misinformation that was being reported.

By fourth year I was wandering through a drunken religion haze, unsure of how I really felt about anything.    

I mean, how could we all think we were right?  Ganesh, Muhammed, Jesus, Buddha…  Surely one of us had to have figured out the truth by now. 

And as much as I loved Religious Studies, History was my major and I was well versed on evolution, the big bang theory, ancient civilizations, not to mention the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity.  And I also read the news.. churches, especially the Catholic Church was taking a real hit (rightfully so!!).
 So how could I possibly synthesize my beliefs with what I knew to be fact.

Then I ran into three University professors who taught me more about faith in the modern age than they would have ever realized. 

And, all for different reasons.

Enter the first.  An Ancient History professor on his way up.  He believed in nothing other than what science and facts tell us about our past.  He repeatedly referred to the messed up Museum Of Natural Creation which basically told Science only through the bible.  It actually concurred that the pyramids must have been dropped by the Angels.  So you know, not giving much credence to those of us who were both religious and educated.

He was a self-described atheist because, after all, there was no proof upon which to lay claim to the existence of God. 

Of anything other than what we can see and what we can physically study.  He was sort of a jerk on all fronts, but admittedly, a very, very intelligent jerk.  And I mean there was no defending this Museum of Natural Creation.  It was really, really dumb.  Just like there was no defending those who will not accept evolution as the natural progression of humans.  People, come one.  The proof is irrefutable.  He left me straddling two mountains.. fact and faith.

Enter professor number two.  A Lutheran pastor who was teaching the Religious Studies course, “The History of the Bible”.  He set out on the first day to clarify this was an ACADEMIC study.  We are not trying to prove or disprove whether Jesus really did turn water into wine.  Rather, we were going to study the themes, voices, and threads that are woven throughout the New and Old Testaments.  He was amazing.  He taught me so much about how to really read the bible, how to decipher the different authors that show up in different books, and one particular discussion left me reeling.

We believe what we know about Alexander the Great to be fact.  He lived before Jesus, and less was written by his contemporaries.  In fact, most of what we know about him was written 100 years after his exploits.  While historians have worked hard to prove and disprove the story of Alexander the Great, as a society we take what we’ve heard to be truth.  The life and stories of Jesus.. even if we take out the miraculous ones, and those of his crucifixion and death, just the everyday ones, about him learning with rabbis and turning the other cheek, were in part written by those who were there to witness this man.  His buddies, the guys we know as his disciples. 

He stoked a new flame within me.  Maybe there wasn’t proof of the miracles, but there was proof of a man named Jesus who walked the earth.

Finally, the third professor still remains one of the most engaging, kind, and intelligent people I ever encountered in university.  He was a Jesuit priest and he taught, appropriately enough, “The History of The Jesuits”.  (For those of you who don’t know.. the Jesuits are a pretty amazing institution.  While they are priests, their life is dedicated to education and missionary work.  They take different vows than a priest who you would see at Sunday Mass.  Both do their own work for God, and good in their own ways, but very different in their day to day life.)
He was both enlightening and questioning, and more importantly brought in a female professor from Harvard who spoke about the inner struggle I was dealing with.
How do I stay educated and religious? 

I sat enthralled with her words, and came out of that lecture inadvertently with answers. 
Suddenly it all made sense.  Not because of what she said, I don’t remember everything she touched on, but for the fact that it was possible to stand on both mountains. 
But, for each and every person the balance will be different.
I believe that the bible serves as a set of stories for us to live our lives.  I believe it is a book of lessons to be shared and taught as what is right. 

I believe we cannot always take the bible literally, that there has to be room for modern civilization to alter the definition of the absolutes present therein.  Like punishment, and love.  In the same way that society dictates that my husband can no longer beat me as long as the stick is no wider than his thumb, maybe, just maybe people who love each other can just go ahead and marry each other, too.

I believe that there was a guy named Jesus.  I believe he was not an ordinary man. 

I believe that there is absolutely no proof that God exists.

And I also believe there is absolutely no proof to say he doesn’t.