On Religion and the Meaning of Life, Inquisitively

This article has everything and nothing to do with this post — I digressed immediately and did not go back. My original point was lost, and I’m okay with that. Settle in. It’s a long, nonsensical journey.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about choices and the meaning of life. Sometimes together, sometimes separate, those ideas are the very core of our human existence, naturally.

I’ve been discussing religion often of late, and in doing so, I’ve realized how far I’ve gone from the “religious” identity that I once held onto so dearly. And yet, even though I’m not a “believer” in any one religion, I find that I do still believe in some force stronger than myself. The agnosticism is strong in this one, and to be fair, I do have a serious amount of respect for the religious, because I find that the practice of religion is in itself the embodiment of much that I hold dear.

I hate not knowing everything. I want to be well-informed about everything, and I want to know that the answers are there if I choose to seek them. If I can’t know, I am comforted by the fact that someone, somewhere knows and that the questions have been answered. Therein lies my biggest problem with the idea of God and simultaneously why I avoid spending any significant amount of time theorizing about what might have created our universe and where we might be headed after death.

I can’t think about that too much, because the innate inability to know tears at me and causes an immense amount of uncertainty and fear. I understand, at my core, why religion is something that people cling to, and why religion has been a constant between all sorts of civilizations and has remained ingrained in our societies as we’ve progressed towards a more technologically-based and scientific understanding of our world.

We cannot deny that there must be something greater than ourselves, and in doing so, we cannot draw certain conclusions about the nature of us as beings. I understand how much the “Doubting Thomas” aspect of this is present in my life, in my thoughts, and in my being, and I understand why my more religious family members are distraught by how far I’ve strayed from my Catholic upbringing.

But I disagree, on many levels.

Boyfriend and I had a wonderful dinner date last week in which we spent the better part of two hours discussing the idea of Christians as viewing God as a logical being. My arguments were concise – 1. I view much of religion (whether it’s the practice or the doctrine) as being a social construct, meaning that it was developed, created, and continues to be enforced by humans, and 2. I believe that humans are at our most basic animals who have the gift (and curse) of being creatures given the ability for rational thought. It is in our ability to understand the brevity and importance of our existence that we are allowed to feel fear — and it is that fear that leads us to try to ponder and explain our own mortality so that we feel better about our lives.

Basically, we are gifted animals who possess an innate fear of death. Of the unknown. And in knowing that we cannot know, with any certainty, the trajectory of our souls, ourselves, after death, we are consumed by the need to explain. It is not merely death that leads us to the need for explanation, of course. Our lives themselves must have meaning in order for us to remain “good” and for us to strive continuously towards some goal, and the pretenses of religion offer a convenient explanation for both. For everything that comprises our existence.

If are created in God’s image, we are godly beings. We must act as God would act; we must work for good so that we can go to heaven. And if we do not, we will be consigned to the eternal torture that is our version of hell.

And yet, I find that I can’t get behind that.

In arguing with boyfriend about the logical nature (or illogical nature) of God, I found myself returning to the fact that humans wrote the Bible. There is much theological discussion about the fallibility of humans, and I find it to be curious in our re-tellings of our greatest stories.

I also find it curious that we as Christians (my life framework is that of a Christian, and it is from that viewpoint that I attempt to make my point — I am denying any religion at this point, merely attempting to select the most applicable and understandable, and work with that…) pick and choose what we like, and what we don’t like, from the Bible as guidelines for our own spiritual and religious lives. It’s okay to eat pork, and we probably shouldn’t rape women, but we’re totally fine to dig in on the gay thing… I don’t get it. I don’t like it, and I’m certainly not going to be a part of a religion that changes its tune based on the current societal fashion.

But wait, that’s the thing holding most Christians back. And that’s the thing I detest the most. The hypocrisy of the whole Church, as we’ve constructed it. (I understand that I’m coming from a very Catholic standpoint, but I think most Christians are the same in many ways.)

We’ve heard of so-called “Cafeteria Catholics,” who pick and choose as they like, but isn’t that exactly what we’re all doing? How do we reconcile Old Testament fire and brimstone God with New Testament love and peace God? How can we make those two drastically different identities the same being? How can we subscribe to a specific set of religious guidelines and allow those to be the laws that guide our actions, beliefs, and behavior? We cannot – and we do, continually – throw out what is “not” in favor of certain interpretations of the Scripture. (The letter of the law versus the spirit of it, I guess.)

This post isn’t actually about religion, it just strayed.

My real point was that even though I don’t define myself as a religious person, I still abide by a certain set of principles. Lately, I’ve been very curious about how and why I came to be that way.

My therapist often says that based on what I’ve experienced in my life, he’s surprised that I’m such a kind and understanding person. I am not sure that I’ve ever been any different, which leads me to believe that we must be born this way — eternal optimists who believe in the core good nature of mankind.

If we argue that some people are born evil, then we are arguing a pre-destiny that isn’t in line with our beliefs. If we are argue that all people are born good, and then torn asunder by the work of the Devil, then we are arguing that we don’t have the free will we’d like to imagine.

And why would any God allow us these things — force us to act in a way that pleases him in order to attain eternal life — if he’s also allowing the opposite? What kind of God would create this kind of world only to revel in the joy of saving people and watch others be condemned to eternal hell?

“Forever never seems that long until you’re grown.” Outkast was right. But why would God give us this earthly life (brief as it may be) only to show us that eternal life is based on our own choices?

Think of the gray areas.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is not full of the black and white, right and wrong clarity that we were led to believe. Life is full of mess. Life is chaotic, and unpredictable, and any given situation is wrought with the potential for grievous consequences we could not have anticipated.

We are not capable of knowing everything. Sometimes I wonder if we’re actually capable of knowing anything. Everything that we perceive, assume, intuit, and deduct is based on our skewed view of the world. Our perception is the thing that gives us that magical human existence, and it is the same thing that guides us, leads us, and allows us to function. But it is nothing. Because it is all of our making.

And yet it isn’t, of course. The ways in which we perceive love and anger and fear are the ways that we were taught to feel those things, and even then, we are gifted with the incomprehensible ability to do all of that from birth. We are sponges of experience, and we must seize every opportunity to absorb our surroundings and attempt to wrap out feeble minds around them.

After our disconcerting dinner discussion about God, I ranted for several blocks about my own life and motivations. I attempted to explain to boyfriend that I seek love and joy. Those are my baser motivations. Those are the things that I hold in the highest esteem. To love, and be loved, is my ultimate life goal. To be understood, and to understand. To give, and to receive.

The past two years have brought my life, my dreams, my motivations into stunning clarity. Only in letting go of the presuppositions about how I was supposed to be and act and live was I able to fully come into my own, and to love myself fully. Only in realizing that I had nothing was I able to try, once again, to claw my way back up into the world. Only in realizing that nothing earthly mattered was I able to reconcile all of the seemingly disparate parts of my personality and actualize myself as I was meant to be in a way that made me feel whole again.

In having no job, nothing to speak of from a career standpoint, as my own career stood in ruins was I able to realize that my “success” wasn’t built on my ability to attain economic wealth. In having a shitty job managing a Dairy Queen at 25, I was able to realize that in giving 100%, I was able to get that back, in the form of satisfaction. It was no longer about the status, about my level of professional standing; what mattered to me was that I did my best at anything, the littlest thing, because the joy that I brought to the people around me was worth more than a title or a paycheck or a LinkedIn notification.

I have never been amused or astounded by the rich. In fact, I hold a certain contempt for them. It’s not that they themselves are the thing I dislike, it’s that the circus, the circuitous cycle of success can’t be about money and power. I don’t want to be rich; I never have. Even coming from a standpoint of being the poor kid in a rich school, I have never desired physical wealth. Trust me, I’d love it. But I don’t need it.

Being unemployed gave me a stark look at my life. We work. We work hard. We work for years for seemingly unfair wages, and then what? We retire. And we die. There is no joy in that. I went on and on to boyfriend in the alleys that we walked that night about how I seek joy. Being depressed and heartbroken and inconsolable about where I was made me realize how beautiful each and every single moment is. I made very serious attempts to seek joy in the smallest moments – the sunlight on a beautiful day, the grass and smell of summer, the way I felt when I felt fleeting happiness. That was what brought me back to me, the core of my being. Joy. Gratitude. Love. Life.

For me, the most beautiful part of life is the adventure. I have been terrified of a great many things in my life, tangible and intangible, actual and distorted, and of it, I have made little. Living a life of fear does nothing for us, any single one of us or us as a human people. A single unit. Watching the markets in China disrupt the entire world has made me realize how much speculation and fear are detrimental to us as a population — when we are hedging our bets in the hopes of something different, we lose out on so much of the present.

I killed it at Dairy Queen. I made children smile; I made delicious treats; I decorate fantastic cakes. I remember once, the guy who had been washing our windows since I was in high school told me that I was going to go far in life. And to this day, I think of him when I have tiny moments of success. I am the sum of all of the positivity that this world has to offer, and I thrive on that. My only goal is to have lived a life that brings joy to others, and regardless of where I am going after my time on this earth, I am confident that at my passing, I will have led the kind of life that I had always wanted to lead: one full of love and joy and happiness.

We may not always get back what we give to this world, but I firmly believe that it is in the giving of joy that we are able to see the world for what it truly is, and what it could be. By sharing our fears and our hopes and our dreams, we allow others to feel connected, we establish and create networks that sustain and nurture the very best feelings. If each day, everyone sought to spread love and hope, we would have a much better world.

I may not believe in your God, but I promise you that I embody his spirit. I am, at my core, a good human being, and in knowing that, I am content. I was discussing this with one of my grandmothers a few years ago, and she was so upset about my lack of faith. I told her that I see God in people – for me, giving comfort to a child is God in action, smiling and holding the door for someone struggling is God in action, and sharing goodwill wherever I go is the epitome of meaning for me.

How I came to be this way, I do not know. I know that at times, I am surly and discontent. I know that there are times when I dig in on issues that I know I should not fight. But my hope is that the sum of my radiance is more than the darkest parts of my being, and that in existing, I have given something to the world as we know it, even if we cannot comprehend its immensity.

I choose the things that I feel – I let my gut make my biggest choices, and in doing so, I have faith that all will be well. There is nothing worse than a life not lived fully, and I intend to live this life to the fullest extent possible. I cannot say where I will go after this, and I cannot wish to know, because knowing would change the way I act. But at the end of the day, I do believe that good will prevail, can prevail, and is present in all of us.

Take the leap. Let your life unfurl.

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One thought on “On Religion and the Meaning of Life, Inquisitively

  1. Nature vs nurture… your words mirror my spirituality as if I had written them… it really makes me wonder how much thoughts and ideas are actually impacted by genetics? Any? I tell people I believe in a universal energy that I do not acknowledge as needing to label with a capital g…

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