Monday, October 22, 2007

Blaspheme Continued

Let’s try this again…

I tried to write down my grand conjectures about God once before, but found that the hopeful words that were spewing out were just wishful thoughts. I wanted to create the impression that I had it all figured out. Well I don’t and hopefully this new version will express that.

I believe in God. That pretty much sums it up. I do not believe that there is one particular way to worship God, or one particular prophet/human/animal/spirit that encompasses God. I think that God is in everything and that God is inescapable. I do not believe that our lives on earth have much of an effect on what happens after we die. I do not know what happens after we die, but if it involves eternity, I seriously doubt that we will end in any Christian/Muslim version of Heaven. My instincts (which I think is one of our best connection to God) tells me that we would join that which we came from. I believe that Time is outside of God and that the question of what came before God is meaningless. Where did God come from might be more relevant.

I believe that people are connected and that there is more than just a physical nature to our bodies. There is a spirit and all people are connected to one another through it, some are more strongly bonded to each other than others. I believe that Truth is recognizable in life. I believe that the greatest satisfaction in life is to discover Truth. I believe Truth comes in many forms. I believe it is Hinduism that believes in Five Paths to Heaven. In which you may get there through work, charity, religious study and two others. Point is, there are many paths to the same destination. I make this point because I believe most people find pieces of truth in religion. Every religion seems to have some aspect of Truth in it. Maybe IN is the wrong word, through is better. I believe that religion is more of a conductor for Truth than the Truth itself. But like any conductor, much of what is transmitted is lost or distorted along the way. This is my beef with religion, and I like to consider my life goal to walking towards the Truth instead of seeing what reaches me through an extension cord (that analogy makes sense in my mind).

I do believe that some religious figures have hit upon the Truth. Those being Christ, Muhammad and Buddha (there are certainly more, but these are the ones I have studied) and that each tried to pass the truth on to others. I think the current religious structures are the result of generations of misinterpretations, but that much of the original message can still be filtered out. I feel that the principal of loving thy neighbor and treating others as you would like to be treated are the fundamental truths of any successful religion. They are the rules by which we must live if we are to be successful as a species. This is most important, because I believe that our primary motivation for all things in life is survival. Whether it is ensuring our eternal lives are intact, or just worrying about crossing the street, all of our morals and religious intents are about survival. This concern for survival is the basis of morals. It asks, what is the way we must act in order to ensure the most success for the masses? Religion has been the vessel for answering that question.

My personal favorite figure and religion happens to be Buddhism… I love the simplicity and acceptance inherent in their religion. It is also the fact that Buddha insisted that he was not a God that makes me favor his teachings. He considered himself a man who had found the way, and I imagine that is exactly how Muhammad and Christ must have felt as well. Although, finding the way may make you realize that God is inside of you. That I feel is particularly true.

I have, for as long as I can remember, tried talking to God. And every time I would hear a response that came from inside me. I thought then, and think now, that it was just me talking to myself (mostly because it said stuff that only I would say to myself…nothing divine). It was not until later, that I considered the idea that God speaks from within, and that we hear God through our own inner voices. It is just that most of the time we ignore it or listen to other voices. I consider God’s voice to be the one that speaks true.

It is the one that when I ask “Why do I not believe?” it answers “Because you refuse to make that sacrifice.” And then I laugh because it is true. Belief takes a sacrifice, and I inch towards it. I know, or at least hope that someday I will let go of that which is concrete and embrace that which is True wholly. I do not think that the Truth is hard to grasp, it just takes letting go of everything else that we hold on to.

Although I do not know where I will be when/if I make the jump, but I would be very surprised if it landed me back in my Christian ways (believing that Christ is the only way to salvation). I pray (because prayer works…as an inner covenant to yourself if nothing else) for the courage to believe more than anything, but I do now know what that belief will be.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Intermission One

A snippets…

I once went to a church and the Pastor promised the church that their monetary problems were over. He told us that as he spoke, our accounts were doubling and doubling again… and the congregation went wild. Not necessarily because they believed it I think, but because they began to imagine a life free of monetary struggles. Some of the congregation proceeded to throw money at the pastor (yes it was that kind of church) and the pastor encouraged such shows of support. After much hooplah, and much money was deposited on the stage, the pastor ended his sermon.

Like a schoolboy eager to get home for cartoons, I jumped onto my computer and checked my account. Without surprise but with disappointment I witnessed my account was exactly how I had left it. After leaving the church, I told myself, that pastor should be ashamed of himself for abusing the faith of his congregation and misrepresenting Christianity. But I said, wait and see what your bank account looks like before condemning the man. Well now that I had checked, I proceeded to have my mental argument with the Pastor…

Me: How could you promise something that could not be delivered?
Pastor: Why would you say I did such a thing… the good Lord promised these things to those with faith.
Me: What do you mean by that?
Pastor: If you would have believed…just believed that this blessing would happen to you… it would have happened. The good book tells us that all things are possible in Christ… and that you only need the faith of a mustard seed. You did not believe with all your heart that this blessing would happen did you?
Me: Well no I did not…
Pastor: Then you should not blame me for you not receiving your blessing, blame yourself. But be consoled in knowing that it is very difficult to believe wholly and that I suspect most if not all suffered from your lack of faith.

And that is where the conversation would end. I could not condemn the pastor, because he was right. I did not have faith in his promises, and I will never know what would have happened if I did. And that is the beauty of religion, there is no disputing it. You either believe it or you don’t. You cannot disprove Christianity. It has no form, no substance with which to base your arguments. Faith is an idea and you cannot crush or destroy it.

Blaspheme Part One

To understand where I am in my religious beliefs, it is important to know where I have come from.

I was born into a southern black family with roots in the Christian Baptist church. Like most black folks, and especially like most southern black folks, religion is a centerpiece of good family living. Religion (i.e. God) comes first before everything else. This fact stems back to the origins of Blacks and Christianity, to the time when religion was in fact ALL that you had. When you could own nothing in life, your God and your knowledge were the two things that could not be taken away from you, and this fact has been passed down through the generations right up to my mama.

So you better believe that we grew up in the church. We did not grow up IN (Sun-Mon) the church like some, but church was definitely an active part of our livelihood. I still remember Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and Reverend Scott and how they strengthened my faith at a young age. This was the first church I can really recall, and it served as the basis for my spiritual foundation. As a young kid, I was rowdy everywhere and that did not exclude the church. So for the most part, my memories of church at that age consisted of scolding and spankings from my mother. Eventually I was sent to Sunday school where the youth were indoctrinated with the beginnings of Christian thoughts and the foundations of its beliefs. I enjoyed Sunday school and actually took to religious thoughts very easily. I remember agreeing to being baptized (my sister and I performed the ceremony at the same time, but she later has explained that she had issues with me for that) and that ceremony was just fine. Although I do remember having particular evil thoughts even then. I remember scheming to be baptized again when near death so that my sins will be reallllly wiped away just before I die. Either way, I was baptized and became a regular Christian boy.

As I grew older my faith grew along with me, and I recall even wanting to be a preacher when I grew up. My family seemed to be fine with my religious development and all was well. This continued until about my junior year of high school. I hung out with mostly cool but conservative-thinking friends my first two years, but towards my senior year, I began hanging out with a different type. I can now label these friends heathens (I mean that in the most endearing way) but they began to challenge my faith. Or rather, I began to challenge their lack of faith. I remember one statement from one of my favorite persons in life, Adey, and she said “I could not go to heaven knowing that so many other people were suffering for all eternity.” That amongst many other statements and consequent conversations really started corroding the foundation of my faith. How could a loving God be content with his children suffering for all eternity? What happened to all those people that lived before Jesus? What about those that have never heard of Jesus or the Bible, why do they have to go to hell? These questions and many more were bouncing around unanswered for the rest of my pre-college life, and it did not help that I was beginning to be disillusioned with fellow church goers. Our new church (as a result of moving to NoVA) was Antioch Baptist Church, and it was during that phase of life that I was beginning to become aware of some of the more relevant issues of the church. Why was our church the uppity church where everyone seemed a little full of themselves? Why were the vast majority of the youth promising God to stay abstinent and screwing around on the side? Why did beliefs other than that of the teacher immediately get shot down as un-Christian or just wrong? These issues led me to become more and more distant from the Church (something I still live with).

Once I left for college, I was sufficiently confused about my beliefs that I realized I needed to press the reset button. I wanted to start all over and erase all that had been originally taught (a fact that my friend Jonathan has reminded is impossible). Initially my plan was to learn all about different religions and then to decide what I believed after that. I imagine a significant part of my freshman year of school was spent learning about other religions and considering how I could deal with them. I concluded that each was just as likely to be believed as the other but that they all were basically saying the same thing. Be socially accountable (Be Good). I remember looking at a church pamphlet with my mother. It had all of the major religions and the basis of their beliefs listed out, and counteracted each with why Christianity is best. I remember saying something along the lines that I was confused and that it seemed that everyone was going to hell in at least somebody’s book. And her response was something of the sort: I went through that as well and ended up picking Christianity.

Well for a good chunk of time (a year or so) I did not pick Christianity or any other religion for that matter. I was starting over AGAIN and not believing in anything until I was sure. I decided to give Christianity the first shot by reading the Bible, but I did not receive the divine inspiration that I expected. I have later learned that the Bible is something best read when you already have faith than when you are trying to find it. Well anyways, I gave up on the idea of being a Christian and entered this state of logical conclusions. If it could not be deduced logically then I did not really want to deal with it. This lasted until I received my first real revelation in life.

I remember sitting in the dorm room and this idea took over me. Everything is faith. That belief honestly has changed me more than anything else I can think of. As I explored this idea more and more fully I became so much more secure as a person. Now do not jump to conclusions and assume that everything is faith applies only to religion, this idea applies to everything. I am saying it takes faith to believe two plus two equals four just as it takes faith to believe that a man was conceived without intercourse occurring. They just take two different levels of belief. But I am not focusing on that idea too much, if you want to talk about it, talk to me. Suffice it to say that I was no longer content with just the logical explanation of all things, I was now interested in delving deeper into my beliefs. I had begun with the wrong assumptions, I was searching for something concrete (or irrefutable) and there is no such thing. I know had the freedom to believe.

If anything, this caused me to step further away from organized religion. It pushed me deeper inside myself to examine what it is that made sense to me. What ideas spoke to my soul, what rang with that undeniable sound of truth (cliché I know). I also began to realize that I am afraid to believe anything other than what I was expected to. In this phase of being most non-Christian (by the rules of Christianity) only my closest of friends knew of my non-traditional beliefs.

It is only recently that I have come to terms with my beliefs. I kept wanting them to change back to my unquestioned faith of childhood, but it was not to be. I can admit to myself that my Christian beliefs of past no longer hold now, at least not in the ways that count, and I can begin to document some of my beliefs.

I have prayed and will continue to pray for Jesus Christ to speak to my heart and to bring me to the light that is Christianity, but I realize that my ears are not wide open to hearing his message. I still pray that it happens, because I truly do see the advantages to believing. I just do not have it in me now to do so.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Precursor

It is not often that you sit down to write something that has been brewing since your entry into this world, but as I begin to do just that, I cannot help but feel a bit of nervous excitement. Throughout my life, I have learned to become quite adept at believing one thing yet giving the impression that I believe another. I consider it a great skill to be able to keep your cards close to your chest, but at some point it pays to be open and honest about your true feelings. That point happens to have been a long time ago.

Now I have friends, family, and acquaintances who know the wrong me, and that is sometimes an unfortunate fact. Do not be fooled into thinking that I believe deception is wrong, for I strongly believe that deception and discretion are necessary tools when interacting with the vast majority of people. But it is with those that you care for that these tools should be left in the box. Yet I am guilty. This tendency comes from the desire to want to be liked, and the best way to be liked is to give someone what they want. I do this constantly with my interactions with others. If someone is a sports fan, I cater to their love of sports by talking about sports. If someone is music fan, I speak of music. Religion, I sympathize with their religious views. This continues ad nausea with any number of topics, and in the end, people are convinced that I truly care and associate with their ideas on whatever topic was at hand. In most cases my interest is exaggerated and at other times completely faked, but regardless it leads to someone having a false impression of who I am. Like I stated earlier, this is mostly a good thing in getting ahead in the world… but it is not so great when you can tell friends are being similarly misled.

The other main reason for this misleading, is that is difficult to constantly express your ideas. It strains any relationship to always correct someone’s misinterpretations of your actions or words, and it is often easier to allow the person to think what they please. This is particularly true when you are a naturally contrary person (like myself) and expressing ones self would leave you isolated completely from society. I can say with almost certainty that I will never be ready to speak my views completely to my friends/family because it would probably cause 99% of them to disassociate themselves with me. That is a risk I am not willing to take. I enjoy having many friends, especially those that do not think the same as me. They each have value as a person, even if they would not accept me if I were completely open with them. Instead of having the goal of trying to be completely open about my beliefs/interest with everyone, I intend to maximize the extent that I can be open while keeping the relationship intact. This seems best because it really generates true friendships. With relationships that seem strong, I can strain them by sharing some of my more challenging and upsetting ideas. In this way, they will stress but not break, and in the end the relationship will be stronger than ever. This has been reality for some of my better friendships over the years. But the weak relationships (those where the bond between me and the person are delicate and subject to change) never get to know some of my more radical ideas because they would stress the relationship into non-existence. If I told some of my white friends that I think they are racist simply because I think EVERYONE is racist, that would strain the relationship to an end. So I do not share that idea and I hide that impression of them.

This really got of to a bad start. I am supposed to be writing about religion, and hear I am yapping about keeping ideas from people. The two are linked because I am going to clarify my ideas on religion, even though this has been the main topic of my deception. So many people think so many different things about my religious views, and it is mostly because they associate my views with theirs (I never stop them from doing this, and often promote it). I have chosen to let this happen because religion is a topic SO sensitive to people that I know it would strain family/friends to a point where some relationships can no longer exist. But as a result, I am stretched too thin on a topic that is too important. I must come out of the religious closet and say what I think, and if it screws most of my relationships with people… so be it.

Actually, I am missing the point. I do not think my religious views will break friendships. I think it will disappoint people that mean so much to me. Everybody has friends that wish to be the next John the Baptist, or an adamant Atheist, and I am at neither extreme. But what I do fear is these people will think less of me or that they themselves have failed as a person because of my beliefs. I do not much care about my ancillary friends, it is my good friends and FAMILY that I worry about. It will break my Mom’s heart and probably give my Grandfather a stroke to see that I have deviated from the Baptist Christian good ole’ boy that they expect of me. But the truth in this matter must come out for better of for worse. So without much further adieu, my religious discourse may begin.

And you might as well ignore all of what I just wrote and sum it up with this. Some people are going to be shocked to see my beliefs on religion, and I apologize to you that I did not make it more apparent earlier. But I hope you can learn to accept me as I am and not let my beliefs destroy or damage our relationship. :)