Yesterday evening I received this email:
Hey John. We talked on Facebook chat a few weeks ago. I'm the queer polyamorous American girl living in Ireland for the time being. I just had a question for you. How/why do you still hold onto your faith in Jesus? I'm dating three atheists and one agnostic, and am pretty much surrounded by people who don't believe. I'm feeling lately like the whole Christianity thing is bullshit.
I was a fundamentalist from age 12-18, and went to Christian school during those years -- and then to Bible college from 2007-2011 (ages 18-22). I dropped out of the Bible college last March. I started questioning why I should be a Christian when I started realizing I wasn't straight, back in 2010. Ever since then, my "faith" has been a roller coaster: getting serious, losing interest, getting serious, losing interest -- and now, I'm close to just giving it up completely. Praying, reading the Bible, going to church all seem like nothing more than bullshit, a "chasing after the wind."
I'm not putting you in a position where my faith rests entirely upon your response. But I'm really interested in you "giving [me] the reason for the hope that you have," since I seem to have misplaced my own. Not that I don't have hope. I do. I have a lot of hope. I'm really happier lately than I can remember being for a long time. But I really can't for the life of me figure out why I should even attempt to be a Christian anymore. So why are you? What keeps you hanging on? I kind of feel like grasping for some sort of meaning in my life, but I feel like Christianity is, in the words of one of my fundie-mentor's professors, "intellectual suicide."
Hmm. Gosh, you know, I know so many queer polyamorous American girls living in Ireland who are dating atheists and agnostics that I'm not sure exactly which one you are. But never mind.
Har! Well, screw it. You didn't write me cuz I'm funny.
So. Right. As to your question. Seriously, it's an excellent one, at which I truly appreciate you giving me a shot.
It's also a deeply personal question. Religion and faith are keys that fit the individual lock of each person's soul; my key's not likely to fit your lock. (Annnnnnd thinking about that just made you straight. Admit it!)
So first I think it important to say that I don't believe in Christianity -- because Christianity is like paper or light: words so unspecific that outside of a context they have almost no meaning at all. The Christianity in which I do believe, for instance (being that of Unfundamentalist Christians, whose page you're of course invited to "like") is radically different from the common version of Christianity in which you were raised. Christianity is so vast and complex, in fact, that I don't think there exists anywhere on earth two Christians who fully agree on what does and doesn't constitute "true" Christianity.
So I don't believe in Christianity; I believe in the particular form of Christianity that I do. And one of the primary reasons for which I'm comfortable continuing to do so is because I don't care if anyone else thinks it's bullshit. That is simply not an aspect of my faith which holds for me any interest at all.
I believe that God really did manifest himself as the earthly figure known to history as Jesus; that he took upon himself, and into his body, all the karma for all of the bad things that any human ever has or will do; that he allowed himself to be massacred as a (most dramatic) way of demonstrating the final and absolute obliteration of all that bad karma; and that God then left behind, inside of each and every one of us, the whole of himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, as a means by which any of us, at any time, can be freed from the emotional and spiritual negativity occasioned by the "sins" of ourselves or anyone else.
Now, I'm perfectly aware that all of that could be complete nonsense. How could I fail to be? I'm not entirely stupid. I understand the difference between objective and subjective knowledge: that objective truths can be empirically proven true, while subjective truths simply cannot be.
(My version of) Christianity works for me. And that's all I care about it. I happen to know that the core understanding of Christianity I delineated above also works, and has for centuries worked, for untold millions of other people. And while that is of some genuine comfort to me, fundamentally it is, to me, irrelevant. My belief system works for me. That's what matters. About this concern I am content to be as self-centered as necessary.
The reason that (my version of) Christianity works for me is because it never fails to provide me with what I (and, I would argue, all people) need, which is context. From our unfathomable minds and hearts to our unfathomable physical universe, ours is a big, crazy, infinitely complex world. I desire a way to understand virtually all of it. Not so that I can in any way own or intellectually grasp it all -- no one owns or intellectually grasps the miracle of birth or tragedy of death, to name but two -- but so that I can at least comprehend how everything that is exists within the largest possible context, which is the mind of God.
The story of Jesus Christ is the mind and will of God expressed: it's how God chose to deliver people from the pain that is a necessary by-product of their free will (without at the same time violating anyone's free will: no one has to believe in the divinity of Jesus). That is what I believe. I could be flat-out wrong about that. And if, when I die, I discover that I was wrong about that, I'll be delighted to learn it. Either way, I won't regret that while on earth I chose the belief system I did, because (my version of) Christianity works. It enhances my life experience. It provides me a definite and dependable means of becoming more emotionally, intellectually and spiritually sound. It increases my compassion, my peacefulness and my ability to love. It's just ... great!
To be alive is to actively and constantly choose a belief system; no one, no matter how "free" they may think their mind is, exists outside of such a system. The human mind must, and will, establish patterns -- which is to say contexts -- for virtually everything of which it can conceive. The Muslim's belief system/life context is Islam. For Jews, it's Judaism; for Buddhists, Buddhism; for atheists, it's nothing beyond that for which there is empirical evidence; and so on. By the very nature of our design we all filter the world, and our experience within it, through a belief system founded upon what we believe to be true, right and good.
I believe (my version of) Christianity to be true, right and good; I believe it's perfect. So it takes no more effort for me to continue existing with it than it does for me to continue existing with my lungs. They're both just ... how I breathe.
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