You quote C.S. Lewis here, she said, flipping through my latest book.
Yes, I replied.
I used to read him a lot. I liked his Grief Observed book.
Yes. Have you read A Severe Mercy by Vanauken?
Ohmygosh. I can’t believe you read that book! I’ve read it multiple times.
I like the part where Lewis tells Vanauken there is no reason to believe the dead don’t grieve us, too.
Do you still believe? she asked.
In God? Yes. Although, not in the current American form of Christianity. I don’t believe in streets of gold or a gated community. In fact, I have no desire to live in a gated community here or in heaven.
I wish I still believed,, she said. But I don’t. I don’t believe in anything anymore.
She’d told me before about growing up in a cult. In an actual cult. And the damage it did to her. When the book Educated came out, she told me that it described her life growing up. She’s a professional woman now, something the cult she grew up in would disdain. She’s intelligent and thoughtful, those two don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Being a writer makes me understand that stories don’t just happen. There’s a creator behind them, I said. So, while I reject the Christianity that perpetuates patriarchy, I still believe. I don’t think everything is just a happening of randomness.
I do, she said. Ever since I read Richard Dawkin’s book on God, I don’t believe in anything. She pressed her hands through the air to emphasis the emptiness of everything. But, she added, I miss believing.
I get it, I tell her. I get why you would miss believing. I sometimes miss the way I once believed. The ease of having an answer for everything. I miss the certainty of that kind of belief. There are few things I am so certain of anymore. Pretty much the only thing I am certain of when it comes to God is that the basic nature of our Creator is goodness and that the highest calling in our lives is to love one another.
Beyond that, I got no use for head coverings in church or condemning others to hell. I believe hell is what we make of our lives on earth. The wars. The abuses. The greed. The self-righteousness. The power structures designed to demean others. The insistence that others live in poverty so that I don’t have to. I believe there is a good and an evil, and when we choose evil, we open the door for chaos and destruction, and just like Putin, we possess the power to unleash hell on earth.
We blow up marriages and we blow up friendships. We blow up countries and we blow up the environment. All out of our own selfish pursuits.
I agree with Dawkins’s observation that “One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”
For far too many religion has been an excuse for being willfully illiterate, willfully uneducated, willfully misogynistic. We can see plenty of examples of that in Florida and Texas today. Politicians using religion as a way to manipulate the masses into compliant ignorance and obedience.
Trust and obey us, they command. And the voters comply, because they are by and large a religious group who are afraid of thinking for themselves. Afraid to live in a world where they might question the existence of God. Afraid of living in a world where they might have more questions than pat answers. Afraid that if they really think about the institution of religion and all that entails, they, too, might find themselves questioning their faulty belief system.
No. Better to not think than to question. That’s their motto. So they ban books they never read. They demean people they’ve never met. They condemn to hell anyone not like them.
If they really sat down and thought about their beliefs, they would recognize that the world they want to create looks a helluva a lot like the one already in existence in North Korea. A world in which everyone is expected to look and act like them. They want to create a world in which every little boy grows up into a bloated Ron DeSantis and every little girl grows up into an anorexic Betsy DeVoss.
That’s the world they hope to create.
It’s up to the rest of us to prevent that from happening.
But in order to do that we have to be willing to abide in that place of uncertainty. We have to actually live in a place of faith – trusting that what we cannot yet see will one day come to pass, if we only we are willing to do the work required. We have to trust that we may not see the fruits of our labor, but that our work is not done in vain.
It’s exhausting, living in a place of uncertainty. It is so much easier, much more comfortable, to live in that place where others do our thinking for us.
There is a reason patriarchy is the model for most religions. The structure ensures that the masses can kick back, drink beer and shoot the shit rather than actually spend half-an-hour thinking critically about anything, or questioning those in power. And it prevents the masses from ending up in the place where my girlfriend is.
We’ve been conditioned to think that fatalism is preferable to nihilism, without ever questioning why those in power would want us to think that. What’s their motives?
Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, Paul Tillich noted. It is an element of faith. Tillich added that perhaps it was his mission in life to bring faith to the faithless and doubt to the faithful.
I used to be that person of certainty. Now I am a person of doubt. I have grown to accept that I am more of a person of faith today than I was when I was the person who had more answers than questions.
Doubt is not the enemy of faith.
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of Christian Bend: A Novel, Mercer University Press.