May 6, 2010

What does faith feel like?

Recently, Me posted a very interesting post with a very interesting question... here's my answer.

What an interesting question. It’s almost like trying to effectively describe love. Some people describe love as a warm and fuzzy feeling you might have inside, but think about it, what exactly is a warm fuzzy feeling on the inside? For warm you can think of a soup on a cold day or maybe a shot of brandy as a night cap, or how about a hot shower when you’re still groggy? For fuzzy you think of texture, something completely sensorial; which is funny because you can’t really grasp or touch love. Yes you can feel it, but you can’t touch it.

So when you ask what faith encompasses physiologically, you will get a variety of metaphorical answers that try to explain something that can’t truly be explained effectively. If you want a straight answer, you will probably not get a better one than Restriction’s. He used vivid examples from your life to try and help you understand what is pretty un-understandable.

For my part I recently did my Catholic Confirmation. You know this and somewhere inside you, I think there is the suspicion that I drank some magic Kool Aid and have suddenly gone all Christ loving. For some reason, saying I’m agnostic consistently gets people thinking I’m atheist. It’s like if I said I were bisexual everyone would think I was gay, because once you suck cock, well, it’s hard to make a case that you are not a one reproductive organ lover. But as with most things with me, it’s not that simple.

I have a Catholic upbringing so that’s my frame of reference to explain something that I don’t get, but I feel. Does that mean I deny my Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim sisters and brothers? Certainly not. I find different religions deeply fascinating, as I do the one I’ve been brought up on. Does that mean I deny my Science loving brothers and sisters? Certainly not. That’s because none of us have any clue as to what’s really going on and why we’re here, but we all have the right to search for answers.

Science and religion have fought since their beginnings pointing a finger at each other and saying each one has the real explanation of why we’re all here, and that is simply bullshit. Being agnostic, I question most things and accept the possibility of most things as well. Do I believe there’s a man in the sky dressed in white robes who gives pieces of delicious tasting bread to people for behaving? No. Do I believe that there is no God and that we are merely products of ribonucleic recombinations, ever adapting to our current environment? No. Reality just isn’t that simple or clear cut, if you ask me.

If you break it all down, one explanation is rational while the other one is emotional. My problems with science stem from the fact that when you control conditions to produce a result, you’re nothing more than a glorified magician. You might have changed your cape and wizard’s hat for a lab coat and notebook, but you’re no different. You’ve just upgraded to fit the times and refined your magic work to convince people of your truths with complicated numbers, charts and calculations. If you wonder how I could say such a preposterous thing, it’s simple. If you accept the words anomaly, probability, and error, you accept that science is flawed. On the other hand, you have religion. Purely emotional and offering some explanations that don’t make a whole lot of sense. But if you simply look at them that way, obviously you won’t see any benefit in either.

Bill Maher is a cynic of the times and though he makes a lot of sense a lot of the time, he can be such a smug prick about his opinions that he doesn’t accept there’s some grey middle ground to be discussed as well. I love how he gets all pissy and preachy when someone has a differing opinion that irks him, because though he can accept arguments on certain topics, he’s quite incisive towards others. People have said that for ages religion has been the reason why we’ve had wars and conflicts for as long as we know. I say false.

Before your eyebrow hits the ceiling, hear me out. Religion by itself is harmless, as is science. They are trying to explain something we don’t understand. Some of the things might not make any sense, but we take the answers we’re given until a better one comes along. Just in case, religion hasn’t killed people. Religious people however, now that’s a whole other story. Religious institutions, which are governed by people who use religion for their own ulterior motives, now that’s where evil does reside. Because you take something harmless like a book, let’s call it the bible, and you misquote it to justify some pretty heinous actions and then have the balls to say that God told you to do it. Well let’s put it this way, if you change the character of God for Satan, then a person goes from being divinely enlightened to possessed, and from righteous to villainous, just because you changed one character. But in its essence, it’s still just a book trying to explain what the hell is going on. Is it factual? No. Is it historical? Slightly. Is it the truth? Well exactly WHAT is the truth? It’s just a book and religion is just a set of mores, rules and guidelines to try and get you through your day without stepping on other people’s toes.

Some people might say “But science and technology have come a long way in helping us understand the cosmos?” If that’s so, then why do we underuse our brains? If that’s so, then why do new theories oust old theories? If you want my perspective, it’s simple: data + results do not equal the truth. It equals a possible truth. And if religion was used as the scapegoat to start wars, science and technology developed the means to carry them out. It’s not like people were fighting each other with crosses and hard cover versions of the bible. So which one is worse?

Since I was 13 I’ve had a crisis of all faiths resulting from almost drowning and not seeing a tunnel of light, not feeling a hand pulling me from the depths towards safety. I’ve been thinking and pining over death since I was about 9 and had already lost about four close relatives. But does that mean I won’t pray and speak to a higher power I know nothing about? Does that mean I’ll look at scientists and religious people and scoff at their explanations of why we’re here? Simply put, no. I’m not one to judge anyone on their preferred set of explanations. I just try to get something out of everything I come in contact with because it’s always easier to write something off, but it isn’t that easy to see a positive in something that may not make sense. So would I say I’m religious? Not necessarily. Would I say I’m scientific? Not necessarily. For me, a non logical combination of spiritual and rational aspects is more towards my liking… and no, I’m not going to become a Scientologist either.

As for religion, to me it offers examples and issues a set of guidelines. Regarding Catholicism and Christianity, I actually really like the figure of Jesus and his values. From what I’ve read and what you may grasp, he tried to help people, tried to talk sense to them, was the first feminist, accepted lepers, hookers, Moors and Samaritans. He decried institutions and criticized temples that divided and categorized people hierarchically. He invited people to look at themselves before criticizing others and he stuck to his values, even if it meant dying. Now you can speculate whether he was the son of god, a savior, or what have you, but at the very least, you can’t deny that what’s been written has him being a pretty cool cat. He said if you are slapped, offer the other cheek, which I interpret it as saying that it takes two to fight or that if someone loses their cool, it’s up to you to keep the cool (but that’s my interpretation). He was pissed at Pharisees and called them hypocrites because they were more concerned with money, influence and power rather than faith. He also said that whoever looked at their brother and cried fool would face the fires of hell. Now if you take the hell connotation out, it seems like he’s asking people to do something better than to criticize or judge others.

Now do I think all of this is factual and happened as is written? Well I’ll answer a question with a question: Why are there different versions of the bible, why are their scrolls we are not allowed to read and why do we need others to interpret the “word of god”. Why is there an interpreter or a middle man? Hell, last time I checked, if you played the telephone game with eight people, the message that starts out rarely gets to the end without changing significantly. I think religion is much the same way. True, they try to maintain the tradition and what have you, but time passes, needs arise and greed edits to its own satisfaction, be it science or religion. Honestly speaking, I could just as well quote Star Wars, Fight Club, The Sandman, Dune, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Niebla and Lord of the Rings and some of their characters to show what aspects I resonate with and base my theory of life on.

But to answer your question, what does faith feel like? Well, I have no idea, but if I had to describe, it’s that split second when you jump off a ledge, after you took that step and before you begin to freefall where you don’t know what anything is going to feel like, but you have already accepted the direction your going and that in the end, the outcome won’t matter, because you’ll be ok with it if you look at it with an open mind. If you fall to your death, it’s a logical explanation; if you land on a lower ledge, it could be divine intervention or luck; and if you sprout wings and float away, it’s a miracle. The middle explanation is the only one that accepts personal interpretation and offers a choice, whereas the other two lean completely to rational or emotional. What they all have in common is that before the outcome, you took a step and said screw it, what will be will be and the peace in that moment, though brief it may be, is what we may know as faith. It is the happiness of a decision without taking into account the consequence, it is not caring about anything but the moment. It is freedom in its purest form.

Other people describe how faith feels more in tune to the definition of joy, enlightenment, celebration, security, etc. I’ve simply chosen to describe it as peace. Is this the right answer? Instead of replying with, “who knows?” or saying “maybe”, I ask another question: “why care?”

Draft your definition, edit as you see fit and be happy if you find an answer that makes even the slightest bit of sense for you.

Hope this perspective in some way helps in your quest to find your definition.



RestrictionsApply said...

Very well said... [applause and standing ovation].

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