Saint Augustine Quote of the Week

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On Faith and Doubt

pillars-o-godI wrote last week about my faith.  This week I want to cover the concept of doubt, and explore why, for me, they are not necessarily opposites or even incompatible.

I remember the moment when I first doubted. I was in college, sitting in the back yard of my apartment building.  I was reading something, probably for school, but I don’t remember whether it had anything at all to do with religion or philosophy.  What I do remember is that the thought suddenly came into my head, in these exact words:  “There might not really be a God.”  I was 21 years old, and this had never occurred to me before.  I was stunned.  I felt a vast emptiness that was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Once you know something, you cannot un-know it.  I have lived with that doubt every single day of my life since.

For a while, I felt proud and defiant. I stopped going to church and I and argued with believers (“But how do you know?  You can’t know.  There’s no proof.”).  Then I went through a period of envying other people their certainty, wishing I still had mine.

But, over the years, I’ve learned to let my love of Christ live comfortably in the same house with my doubts as to whether there is any God at all.  It’s not that I don’t think it matters whether or not the Christian story is objectively true.  It matters very much.  If it’s true, it changes absolutely everything.  I just don’t expect to ever know whether or not it is objectively true, at least not in this life.

It may be that certainty is a form of Grace that is given to some and not to others.  It may also be that doubt is a form of Grace that is given to some and not to others.  A person who doubts is thinking about faith, not taking it for granted.  Concepts like “God” and “Salvation” seem to me to be too mysterious, too enormous for the human mind to comprehend in a lifetime.  They warrant constant questioning and contemplation.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  People who are absolutely certain about the objective truth of their faith’s stories are those who have “seen.”  Those of us who believe without that certainty of having “seen” are, I think, blessed in a whole different way.  We cannot take any pride in our own tiny faithfulness, so we must stand before the Cross and humbly rely on Christ’s unlimited faithfulness to us.  We dwell in awe and mystery, always  – in Rilke’s words – “living the questions.”

Note:  the graphic included in this post is the Pillars of God nebula, an image that often comes to mind for me when I contemplate God’s unfathomable power and glory.


Why I Am Still a Christian

Jesus-Christ-christianity-19953068-350-498I believe in God because the universe leaves the door ajar. Even in this marvelous century, when science can tell us how to get to Mars, and what percentage of our DNA is shared with howler monkeys, and exactly which mutated gene most likely caused my breast cancer, science still can’t tell us why:  why there is something and not nothing, why each of us is uniquely who we are, why we hold in our hearts notions like justice and mercy in a world where both are tragically rare.  So the door is left open just a crack for art and philosophy and religion to rush through.

But that doesn’t demonstrate anything about the truth of the Christian story in particular.   There are some good arguments for the plausibility of Christianity.  Something incredible must have happened to inspire so many of Christ’s early followers to submit to martyrdom.  And the Church, by fair means and foul, has stood the test of time.  But the fact remains that no religion can be proven to be true.  This is why such beliefs fall under the heading of faith rather than science.  They can’t be logically or scientifically demonstrated.  We believe our faith stories for other reasons.

Jesus was presented to me as God by people I loved and who lived his message in their daily lives.  My mother’s family were Catholics and faith was central to their lives.  My grandparents never missed weekly Confession and Mass.  They had a small font of holy water by their front door, regularly refilled by a parish priest, which we used to bless ourselves when entering or leaving the house.  Three of my mother’s cousins were nuns, a source of great pride to our family, and the cause of many family outings to convents on family visiting days.  But, my people were not simply pious; they lived their Christian faith.  My grandmother sewed First Holy Communion dresses and veils for poor little girls whose families couldn’t afford a lovely outfit for that big occasion. Her sister was a social justice and Civil Rights activist, a lettuce boycotter and a deliverer of packages of food, clothing and books to families in the poorest section of our city.  My most vivid memories of my grandfather are of him sitting in his special chair in the dining room, praying and reading his devotions.  As a young man, he and his friends had raised money and said special prayers to the Child of Prague for the healing of a friend’s seriously ill child.  For the rest of his life, he had special devotion to the Child of Prague, and often gazed upon the small icon of the Child in his dining room.  He was doing exactly that when he died quietly at the age of 91, with 3 of his 4 children in the next room.

My father’s people were Lutheran, and it was to the Lutheran church that I was taken as a child.  It was a tiny church in a working-class neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else, and took care of each other.  Several of my father’s aunts and uncles belonged to this little church, and I was treated with great gentleness and love by these kindly, humble people.  My father’s faith was at the center of his life when he was a young man, before alcoholism claimed him.  He sang in the choir, and served multiple terms as president of his church council.  Like my grandparents, he lived Biblical command to be especially kind to the humblest people.  There was an overweight, unattractive, rather tedious elderly woman who attended our church.  She didn’t drive and her abusive husband refused to give her a ride to church.  My father picked her up for church every single Sunday for years.  When he dropped her off at home, he always got out of the car with her and walked her up to her door.  “Watch your step, Frances,” he said every single week, gently and patiently supporting her by the elbow.

These were the examples I had of how to be human in an imperfect world, of what it meant to behave as a follower of Jesus Christ. My love of Christ is inseparable from the very notion of love itself because of these early lessons.

Now that I’ve made all my atheist and agnostic friends roll their eyes, I will continue by disappointing my Christian friends next week with a blog post about why I still live with doubt every single day.


Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType