I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.
That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.
Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.
Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.
I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.
And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.
There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:
Any orgasm outside of marriage?
Going to Hell.
A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?
You’re gonna burn.
Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!
That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.
Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.
‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’
People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.
I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.
Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.
That doesn’t make what I believe true.
It just makes me confident.
The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.
For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.
There are three kinds of people now.
- The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
- The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
- The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.
On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.
There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.
- The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
- The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
- The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.
Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.
That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.
There must be more to life than this.
Life in the Margins
I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.
It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.
And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?
Even once? Ever?
I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.
But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.
I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?
I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.
We know precisely dick.
We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.
Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.
We all want to feel certain.
I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?
But I’m NOT certain.
I don’t know.
Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?
If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?
If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?
If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?
The Shadow Proves the Sunshine
When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.
That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.
I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.
I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.
Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.
I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.
Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.
Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.
The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.
A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.
A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.
That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.
I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.
On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.
Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!
But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?
Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.
That makes sense to me.
If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?
Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?
Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.
I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.
Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.
I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.
I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?
There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.
Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.
Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.
The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.
It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.
But here we are. Still trying.
We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.
People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.
God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.
He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.
I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?
I think that might be a whisper.
I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.
I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.
I will always try to ask the right questions, though.
When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?
I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.
Maybe there’s no love without hate.
Maybe there’s no hot without cold.
Maybe there’s no light without darkness.
What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.
(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)
23 thoughts on “A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight”
A lot of wisdom there. Happy New Year Matt.
Thank you very much, Leslie. Happy New Year to you, as well!
Ah, well said, Matt.
I have to disagree here, however, “When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”
It’s rare and as such, a precious treasure when you do find it, but every darn day I see evidence of that. I see people reject whole ideologies, I see marriages repaired, I see people suddenly start to think critically and to ask themselves questions. It’s not so much about being right or trying to win people to your side, as it is about sparking thought processes and encouraging people to refine our own thinking. Rattle a few cages, engage a few neurons. 😉
That’s a fair point. And I’m so glad you get to see that so that you’re not abandoning faith in humanity.
I didn’t mean people don’t change and evolve. I’m evidence enough that people sometimes do.
I just mean, if I take a guy who wants to vote for Donald Trump and put him in a room with someone who believes Barack Obama has been an amazing president, and we ask them to get the other to think like them, it’s not likely to work out.
I meant it in the generic “don’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table” kind-of way.
If I didn’t believe a person could evolve, I’d spend much more time writing about music I like, and much less time telling people secrets I’m still too afraid to share with family members or many friends.
Thank you for taking time to read it. I reread it last night and am always a little discouraged by the thoughts I never complete, and the failure to make certain points I wanted to make.
Maybe I’ll try again someday.
What a delicate dance you just did, sir. Brave and bold, and yes, whispering. Amen to living in the gray, to choosing good, to allowing room for others, whoever they may be.
Maybe Jesus was just a super guy. Or maybe he’s Divine.
In either case, I’ve yet to discover something he said or did–even just once–that if followed or emulated, would make the world a worse place.
I’m not always good at following rules.
But I’m sort of naturally wired to gravitate toward those messages of hope, love, acceptance, mercy, redemption.
Redemption is one of my favorite words, ideas, or themes.
I don’t think there’s such thing as a human being getting it right all the time. I just think there’s people who try, and people who don’t try.
I think the key to life lives in the trying.
Happy New Year, Mrs. Groeber. Thank you very much for reading this entirely too-long blog post.
My resolution for 2016 should be under-1,500-word posts.
No way! Sometimes there’s a real treasure in those last 500 words.
Wonderfully done Matt, delicate even. Happy New Year.
People take pride in their faith. They believe they “know” that what they believe is unadultrated truth, and that if they don’t share that truth with all of the sheep who don’t know any better, they’re doing a disservice to their fellow man and to their God.
I understand that.
I’m always nice to the church people who knock on my door on Saturday morning and want to save me. They gave up their Saturday morning to try to SAVE lost souls. Knowing they’ll be mocked and rejected most of the time.
That’s much more than I’ve done for my beliefs–my beliefs which include more questions and caveats than ever.
My question to all the would-be street corner preachers and fire-and-brimstone sales people is: “Even if everything you say is true, doesn’t a nuanced, delicate communication approach that effectively conveys your message, rather than having them automatically tune you out, make more sense, and have more impact?”
I don’t know which of the Dali Lama, Pope Francis, L. Ron Hubbard, an Imam in Pakistan, a rabbi in Tel Aviv, Richard Dawkins, Joel Osteen, or some Aborigine chief living off the land (and the trillion others I could have listed), has the closest handle on whatever the absolute truth is.
I figure: A. It doesn’t matter at all; or B. God will appreciate my efforts to figure it out.
In the meantime, I do what I know, I try to never tell people their most sacred beliefs are wrong (because no one knows, and even if we did, it’s a shitty way to go about it).
I don’t want to sound like some mystic who thinks you can just make up any rules you want, but the story that makes the most sense to me is that there’s something bigger than all this out there.
And every intelligent, honest, loving, kind-hearted person practicing their faith with integrity–regardless of what that faith is–probably has a little piece of the truth.
Like a mosaic we won’t get to see ’til the very end.
When everything finally makes sense.
Happy holidays to you and yours. Always a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.
Here’s to New Year’s Eve tequila. Cheers!
It’s almost ten pm here in frigid SoCal (a soul biting 45 degrees!!!) and I am having all sorts of overly dramatic convulsions over here…..like trying to peel my face off and such…. So, allow me to hit a few high points.
#1- I’m not sure to what degree I may have ‘inspired’ this post but I always appreciate when you chew on religious issues. Like everyone says above, you balance it well…kind of
#2 – I am not a fan of the fear/shame/guilt that accompanies some religious ideologies. You reference them a lot with sex outside of marriage, lust, drugs and so on. Yeah, you also talk about hope and peace and joy and blah blah blah…which is grand, but the thing you never ever ever mention, is Grace. Grace (and her cousin Mercy) are where real redemption lies. If redemption is -in fact- one of your favorite words, then you are falling short of fully understanding it outside of grace. True redemption happened when Jesus took on all of our sins and saved us from the punishment of our sin. We don’t have to climb the mountain to get to Him. He already came down to meet us. We just have to accept the Truth, and therefore the gift. It’s not easy, I have guilt on the daily! BUT, My hope and joy and peace come from the fact that I don’t have to be perfect….I never could anyway! But what a relief to have a place to daily lay the burden of guilt…the cross. Yay!!! (Romans 8:1 therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!) holla!!
#3- I hate being associated with those other Baptist churches that preach and live out hate, but I also don’t think my neighbor, my friends and the world can have what I have if I stay quiet. When opportunities to share pop up, I absolutely think I have an obligation, a duty to speak truth so others don’t miss out on the same gifts that come with having a personal relationship with Jesus. Woe to me for keeping something so wonderful and life changing to myself! (Mark 16:15 …Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation) of course a case is clearly made with your 1 Peter 3:15 approach.
#4- and the closing to this (hopefully nicely worded) rant. I know we disagree on the inerrancy of scripture but do you really want to let your own common sense determine what is “good enough” in the Bible and what can be disregarded? And do you really believe God to not be big enough to make sure it’s up to snuff when He knew full well that it would be compiled as the Holy Word of God?
Did this come off harshly? I tried to be succinct, which sometimes comes with added “tone.” Everything here is said with love…
Ok.. one little ps: I don’t think this was exactly your point but I feel compelled to be clear. I tend to worry about a life where we give God room to work in the margins of our life. Romans 12 gives a wholly different picture.
#1 – You are absolutely one of the people who has talked to me about how not discussing the role God plays in uniting a marriage ignores a major component of A. What’s missing in some relationships, and B. How people can realistically expect to overcome their humanity during a marriage’s toughest tests. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable point, and I think about it all the time.
#2 – You go full Christian here, and you’re just not going to like my contrarian, hippy-dippy response, no matter what I say. As a lifelong Christian, I can hear this and deal with it. It is simply not practical or reasonable (in my opinion) to expect a devout Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or member of another faith, or someone with a total absence of belief entirely, to accept this point. There are people living in jungle tribes whom have never–not even once–heard the name “Jesus Christ.”
I’m not going to feel like a lesser person because of my questions, or doubts, or concerns, or internal conflicts. I think these are perfectly normal things for human beings to grapple with. I want other people with questions, and doubts, and concerns, and internal conflict, to feel comfortable admitting they have them, so they can have constructive, healing, perhaps inspiring conversations about life.
I think it’s intellectually dishonest for me to tell someone I KNOW that everything I’ve been taught to believe my entire life is 100-percent, unquestionably true, and that everyone who doesn’t believe what I believe is 100-percent mistaken (and thereby in mortal spiritual peril, by definition).
I’ve been praying for wisdom and guidance and forgiveness and mercy my entire life. I believe in grace, and that I am forgiven.
I’m not prepared to tell people that I believe there are no other ways to have a relationship with God. And that, if there really is the afterlife I want to believe in and have been taught to believe in, that there is only this one super-specific, super-narrowly-defined way to get there.
I know that challenges the very core of Christian faith and belief. There are probably zero devout Catholic/Christian scholars who agree with me.
It comes down to this: All those people who have never even heard of Jesus or Christianity before? Not once in their life, because they live in faraway jungles in South America or wherever? I simply cannot accept that those people, though no fault of their own, are somehow judged unworthy of salvation for not believing and faithfully following something they were never given a chance to.
Similarly, other people are raised in other faiths, and it’s all they’ve ever known. Every second of their lives.
I’m also not prepared to say that I don’t believe we’re not all praying to the same God, and that that grace and mercy isn’t also available to those who worship the same all-loving, all-knowing, all-merciful Father-like being as me, but use a different name.
I’m also not prepared to say with 100-percent certainty that just because I believe something, it is true. The militant and hateful “there is no god” crowd annoys me, but there are plenty of perfectly decent people who, based on their life experience, conclude that God is a story people made up for various reasons thousands of years ago, and people grasp onto it because we have a psychological need to believe we’re meaningful and important.
I have the self-awareness to admit that if I’d been raised by athiests, the story of Christianity is every bit as “far-fetched” as the stories we Christians sometimes scoff at in other faiths or cults.
I’m comfortable with “I don’t know,” because it’s the most true statement about what I think and feel.
#3 – My response to the “judgy, hateful” vibe non-Christians get from Christians is the same as it always is: Even if we’re 100-percent correct, and everything we believe is true, and everything they believe is bullshit, and they’re all going to Hell unless they shape up, don’t we have an obligation to use communication techniques and reach-out methods that are ACTUALLY EFFECTIVE and change hearts and minds?
Telling people they are wrong and sinful, and that their lifelong deeply held, most sacred beliefs are bullshit lies–no matter how nicely we do so–WILL NOT change hearts and minds.
I think dealing in reality is important. I have faith that my God is there. I do. And I trust that God is big enough to do what needs done.
I want to share that with people. But I want to share it with people who want to be part of the conversation, because they are, literally, the only people who have open hearts.
#4 – RE: common sense.
God forgive me if I’m wrong, but yes. Yes I do think my common sense is what I should use to form all of my opinions. Every belief I have–everything I think is true about any subject–is because I figured it out for myself, or someone told me about it, and it bore out as truth over time. Sometimes, I was told or taught things that clearly aren’t true, and life showed me over the passing years that I believed something that was incorrect. I adjusted my thoughts and behavior, accordingly.
Again. It’s intellectually dishonest for me to say that it’s not equally possible there are things I’ve been taught about God that are not true. I don’t know. I try to be thoughtful and prayerful and open, and I hope that over time, I get closer to believing and doing whatever it is I should be believing and doing.
I don’t know how to believe Jonah lived inside a large fish or whale for three days.
I don’t know how to believe the Universe was created in six days.
I don’t know how to believe God magically zapped a man into existence, built a female counterpart for him out of one of his ribs, who ended up having a voice conversation with a serpent.
I don’t know how to believe every living person on earth can trace their bloodlines to Noah.
I don’t know how to believe God shot pillars of fire from the sky and destroyed a city and that all the little babies and good people that were there burned up, and that when someone turned around to look at it, they turned into a salt statue.
I don’t know how to believe that a woman named Delilah cut Samson’s hair, and then he stopped being super strong, but then God answered Samson’s prayer after he’d been blinded and his hair grew miraculously, so that he’d have the strength to destroy concrete pillars and force a building to collapse and kill people–no matter how bad they might have been.
I don’t know how to believe that God told a good man like Abraham to sacrifice his child by killing him because it would please God and demonstrate that Abraham is a good servant, because the God I believe in knows all, and doesn’t need to test whether fathers will murder their children.
Just because I don’t necessarily believe these things DOES NOT mean they aren’t true. As someone who believes in God, I’m logically forced to conclude that God can make any rule or decision God wants, and whether I find it to be fair or reasonable is totally irrelevant.
I’m not saying these Old Testament stories are impossible. I’m saying I can’t look you in the eye and tell you I don’t believe they are metaphorical and designed to teach Jews and Christians important life lessons. Stories help us make connections and understand new ideas and concepts. I think people thousands of years ago knew that too.
It is wise for people–no matter what they believe–to recognize that something is true, and whatever that truth is exists regardless of what they believe.
There are only three possibilities:
1. No one has ever figured out the truth. It’s still waiting to be discovered, or can never be, due to logistical challenges related to how vast the expanding universe is.
2. All these various groups of believers have little nuggets of truth, but can’t see the entire picture. The longer I live, the more this explanation makes sense to me.
3. One specific religion or cult or group of nonbelievers has the Truth totally nailed, and every single other group is dead wrong. It’s a possibility. After all, I grew up believing that very thing, and I still humbly and fervently pray to God/Jesus, but now there’s this element of “I don’t know” that didn’t exist when I was a kid, and I just hope that God understands. That because he’s the Alpha and the Omega, He can appreciate that a little peon nobody human with my specific set of life experiences and my specific brain would come to the exact same conclusions I have come to, and that there could be no other way. Because He saw today long before setting Life in motion. And thus, forgives me for all that I lack in faith and understanding.
And even though it’s probably not a good apples-to-apples comparison, I apply my image of God as a father to my personal life as a father.
And I get frustrated, and even pissed, at my 7-year-old son sometimes.
Because he does stupid 7-year-old shit even when I tell him not to over and over and over again.
I wonder when he’ll ever learn. When he’ll ever figure out that when I share wisdom, instruction and life lessons with him, he’d be better off listening, so that his bath towel doesn’t end up on the floor, and so his homework gets done correctly, and so he doesn’t constantly spill food down his shirt, or get pee all over the damn toilet.
And I smile and think God probably feels the exact same way about me.
Congratulations, you! You have won the prize for getting the longest blog comment response I will likely ever write.
I know you say and share all of your thoughts and prayers with love. And I appreciate them. And I hope you trust that mine are too.
Thank you for thinking about this and caring. I know you have a beautiful heart and that your top priority in your earthly life is to share your source of joy and salvation with everyone and help them become the best and most whole versions of themselves, possible.
Not one word in this comment was intended to challenge you, or anyone’s faith.
It was meant to explain why I am as I am.
To a joyful, peaceful 2016, friend.
“Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.”
Most atheists I know make a big deal of things like skepticism, critical thinking, questioning things, and thinking for yourself. It makes me cringe when I see atheists being dogmatic. It’s more like _not_ believing everything you’re taught makes you a “good” member of the atheist community.
“I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?”
I might be misunderstanding the intent of your words, here, but religious believers frequently tell atheists that we have no meaning in our lives. Even without religion, I don’t see hedonism as the entire point of life. I still have a desire to be a good person and try to make the world a better place, even if some day I will die and that will be it. Without some external force to assign meaning to my life, I make my own meaning.
“Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.”
The most common reason I see atheists give for not believing in any gods is that they don’t see any evidence for any gods. Some atheists may have started to question their beliefs because of something bad that happened, but I rarely hear any say that’s why they don’t believe in God. And many atheists started to question their beliefs for completely different reasons.
“I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe.”
I appreciate that. I get quite enough with fire-and-brimstone street preachers and the like trying to force their beliefs on me.
“When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith?”
What if you tried the legitimate leap of faith thing and got nothing to show for it? I don’t want to turn this into a religious debate, but lately I’m getting rather tired of people telling me I just need to make a leap of faith (especially when they keep saying that after I’ve told them I already tried that–but there’s no reason to dump my annoyance with someone else on you).
This comment ended up a lot longer than I intended. I enjoyed reading your post. I hope telling you a bit about my perspective as an atheist is helpful.
Matt, I love, love, love all your posts, but I love this one A LOT. I do write a lot about God because I feel like Christians spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of time trying to show that their life is perfect, and their family is perfect, and their marriage is perfect and this all proves that “Christ” has blessed them and their version of Christianity.
I, on the other hand, have a quickly going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket marriage, a faith that is based on a deep need for the cross to be the only thing that will save me (otherwise I’m screwed), and a belief that at the end of the day, if we aren’t loving any and all people, there is no point in even preaching Christ.
Again, I love this post.
Yeah, I would be the first to admit that faith and doubt live side-by-side in my heart. The faith is real. So are the doubts. I’m not necessarily looking to reconcile them though. *shrugs* I guess I’m comfortable living with both.
So the first marriage was between Adam and Eve. They lived in sheer perfection and still managed to eff it all up. Why the rest of us think we’ll do any better is beyond comprehension. For fun, you might want to check out a non denom evangelical church (I can send you a link to mine online) where you’ll get the same stories but from a slightly different angle. Having grown up Catholic it was very eye opening for me…things finally clicked. Oh and in case you were wondering, I’m not sleeping alone anymore. It’s a very slow process, but people do change. The trick is finding the patience to wait for it to happen.
Hey Matt, I hear ya.. I was a confused Catholic til I was found. One thing I know, if your faith revolves around works and deeds, you’ll always be lost wondering and wandering. That’s how I was– I tried earning my way to heaven with good deeds, and when I realized I couldn’t do it, I would just give up. But once I actually did, I’d feel this inward tug inside of me urging me to go back to faith– which I thought was “religion.” So when I finally stopped listening to it and threw in the towel altogether- Jesus came to me. Religion did not. This is the Gospel.
In the midst of my emptiness and confusion, I started meeting Christian people. Coincidence? No way. It was here when I realized that there was a difference between Christians and Catholics. It was here when I realized that Christianity wasn’t a religion- but instead was a legit relationship. It was here that I realized faith and religion were incompatible. It was here that I realized that these people who called themselves Christians were NOT the “holier than thou” kind of people- but instead they were the real, genuine, raw kind of people. They were ones who were once totally broken and empty like me, but had somehow become just the opposite. They were the drunks and druggies and partiers and adulterers– but something changed them.
Turns out, the formula to life that I had been looking for all those years had absolutely nothing to do with moral
behavior, wooden pews, and rosaries.
It was Jesus- and Jesus alone.
That Man is not who you think He is– as a matter of fact, Jesus shunned those “lawful” men and clearly said that following laws is not the answer. I’m not putting down Catholicism one bit, but I can honestly tell you that this “religion” did very little for me and it’s doing very little for You. You are thirsty, I feel it all over you because I once was there.
The funny thing is, today I asked God to show me someone who needs help, and here you are. Just like for me– this is not a coincidence. You are chosen Matt, you’re destined for some great things and The Lord wants you. But it’s your choice.
So I want you to throw away religion, and seek Jesus. Talk to Him like he’s a friend. Don’t pray a Hail Mary or a repetitious prayer– talk. Tell Him your life- your dreams, your desires, your hurts. Ask a request of Him- a divine one- and watch. Establish a relationship with Him. I promise you’re going to find what you’re looking for. You have nothing to lose… Just everything to gain. Come right as you are, and pour it on Him.
When you have the desire- I want to you do an identity search of Jesus. Read for yourself- don’t listen to what others say after you investigate yourself first. The Bible is not some ancient boring textbook. It’s alive. It finds you. Start in Matthew. Discover this Man for yourself- He will answer it all. Oh I promise you’ll find what you’re looking for. I’m so excited for you. Praying for ya.
– Your friend
As you say you can’t decide a whole life at 16, what about the Lord now? The Bible says love your wife more than your own flesh, more than Christ loves the church. Just a little help to decide for next time…
Hi Matt! I discovered your blog just yesterday, and currently working my way through the entire thing. (I shit you not.) I enjoy your writing, admire the evolutionary struggles, and your honest missives regarding them have been extremely helpful because they shed some gentle and humorous light on my own.
Had to comment on this one because it seems you are taking a little flak here. Please accept my humble observation that, especially in this post, you sound quite a lot like Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. I mean that as a highest compliment. If you have never heard of Father Richard, please read Immortal Diamond (or anything else by him) and continue to explore and enjoy your highly-evolved Faith. When we stop questioning (i.e. start thinking we have holy Answers that others don’t have), growth and progress comes to a screeching halt.
Love it. So beautiful, Matt.
(I feel so egotistical as I wax Gretel and toss crumbs on your comment threads with each post, sorry) … but anyway, another small tidbit: my ex-husband is a minister. So I’m an ex-“minister’s wife.”
In other words, I’m willingly more crooked and decidedly bent. As of 2009.
I can relate to so much of what you’ve written here, though. And I’d like to think I’m still a phototropic tree…
Please rest assured that your comments are both welcome and appreciated immensely.
Reaching out to discuss this blog design has been on my to-do list, but just because something is on my to-do list DOES NOT make it likely to get done in any sort of timely way.
I’m uniquely skilled in that arena.
Anyway. Thank you for reading and commenting, Kristi. It’s much appreciated.
Thank you! No worries on the design front- hahaha. “Content is king,” and I swear by that popular phrase even though I work in code all day 🙂
You may have met my husband in that arena – he lives there a lot, too. Must be a Matt thing! ha. Both of you seem to have your priorities right, though – work hard, do what your heart loves, love your family! Have a great week.
Whispers can be SO very hard to hear … you have to be willing to LISTEN … put down your phone, turn off the computer and/or TV/headphones/ music/podcasts/whatever … embrace the stillness and silence and … just … LISTEN …
Hard to work that into a crazy busy, demanding, hectic – paced day … but life begins to feel more satisfying , more soul-nurturing the moment one does … and even KNOWING that, I still struggle to find/make the time …
Thought-provoking words … thank you …
Pretty great reminder to slow down and be still whenever possible.
Mindful meditation is an awesome practice that I’ve never successfully made part of my daily routine.
I believe a lot of whispers come though in such moments.
Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts.
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