Saturday, September 07, 2013

More thoughts on faith

A group of friends of varying religious backgrounds are discussing their unique beliefs. One of them asks the others, "So, what is the difference between Gnosticism and Agnosticism?" The Agnostic friend says, "I don't know." The Gnostic friend says, "I do!"
(If you don't get that joke, take a quick look at their respective Wikipedia pages)

I found myself wondering again about my beliefs. Specifically, about the fact that I don't go to church much, and left to my own devices, I probably never would. That might have made sense when I could still consider myself to be agnostic, but at this point I'm less sure.

The conclusion I came to, at least for now, is that I don't care to worship in the traditional sense. My philosophy is generally just try to live the good life, do good deeds whenever possible, and every now and then cast my eyes upward and say a silent thank-you for all my blessings, of which there are many. While it could be said that I need to be more humble before God, I don't see how dropping to my knees and clasping my hands really helps with that.

My mother has pointed out that going to church does offer something different, at least for her: the opportunity to share your faith with others and be a part of a community. While I appreciate that idea, I've been a loner for most of my life and I don't see that changing much with age. I rarely feel spiritual in church, but I definitely don't feel like a part of a community. That's not something you can force on somebody.

When I went to church as a kid, I dreaded the idea of having to shake hands with the people around me, even make eye contact and try to offer a polite smile. It just felt so awkward. That pattern of awkwardness persists to this day, though maybe not as much as before. Even among coworkers who I'm casually acquainted with, there's something about the simple act of saying "Good morning" when we pass each other in the hall that feels like a tremendous effort for me. It feels so unnatural, but I have to at least try because I don't want to come off as rude.

I may have deviated slightly from the topic there, but the point is that faith doesn't really bring me closer to other people. I just don't see how I could be a part of a community full of people I don't know, and on some level don't want to know. Faith has given me strength to overcome some things that have been holding me back in my life, but social anxiety doesn't seem to be one of them. At least not at this point.

Earlier today, I was watching a documentary about the so-called Lost Gospels. The gist of it is that the early Christian religion was diverse and unorganized, and there were numerous gospels offering sometimes conflicting stories about Jesus Christ and his teachings, reflecting the varied interpretations of the people who wrote them. The Romans made an effort to organize and unify Christianity, and the more Gnostic-oriented gospels weren't included in their Bible. This was allegedly due to the Gnostic gospels teaching that any person could attain a close spiritual connection with God, which would have undermined the power of the central church.

Obviously I don't have the strongest grasp on the whole thing, but I took away two things. First, some of the Gnostic ideas expressed in the show sound pretty close to my feelings about faith. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia page on Gnosticism shows we don't have that much in common, but the idea of seeking truth in private rather than following the teachings of the church resonated with me.

Second, it drives home the point that the church and its teachings being controlled by politics rather than by any desire to improve our understanding of the divine is nothing new. As hard as it is for a logical mind to justify the existence of a higher power, the unfailing ability of mortal men to undermine everything they claim to believe in is far more damning.

I'd be lying if I said I never question my faith anymore. The thing is, I feel like that doubt has to exist for my faith to mean anything. If I believed unquestioningly in my own interpretation of dogma and never once acknowledged the validity of opposing viewpoints or the flaws in my own understanding, could you even call that faith? I'd call it stubbornness, or just plain delusion. If somebody wants to tell me there is no God, I can say I think they're wrong, but I can't argue the point. Maybe that's why the thought of agnosticism appealed to me.

That said, while unwillingness to budge on one's beliefs is something I never want to be guilty of, unwillingness to hold onto one's beliefs at all seems just as bad. What I want is to improve my understanding of God, whatever that ultimately means. I'll stick by my beliefs to a point, but my understanding can only improve if I'm willing to question, to dig deeper.

Even so, the nice thing about my faith is that the divine part doesn't even really matter that much for me. The ideas of living with selflessness and charity, patience and humility, those are more important than whether or not a man ever walked on water. Whether or not there's an afterlife, a person needs to have sound principles in this one. That's what everyone really should be preaching.

Anyway, I guess that's all I have for tonight. Thanks for reading. Peace and love, folks.

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