Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

God's orphan

Dear Hannah,

In the world of compliments, I've found you can screw things up in one of two ways.  The first is by giving a compliment that's too unimpressive to be a compliment at all; and the second is to give a compliment that's so impressive, it makes the recipient feel unworthy of it.


The best example I can give of the former is the time I was called a five-point Calvinist when being introduced to someone.  The man who gave it gave it in total sincerity, and meant well.  If I read him correctly, it was supposed to mean that I understand my religion and the universe, which probably means he believes I have my head on straight.  I guess this is a great place to start with anyone -- but it's only a good place to start.  There have been plenty of five-point Calvinists over the course of many centuries who've had their heads up their asses; the kind of men who'll fight you to death over the idea of predestination, while completely ignoring the fact that religion is supposed to make us better people.  The reason this isn't a good compliment is because I've known too many five-point Calvinists, and most of them bore me to death.  Everyone has an ideology.  Not everyone has good character or a personality.

On the other hand, the best example I can give of a compliment that's too impressive, has to be every time I've ever heard someone say that I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Of course, what people mean when they say that you're filled with the Spirit is that God is living and speaking and doing things through you: that in some comprehensible way and form, you're doing the things that God would be doing were He standing there in your place.  That people can say this about other people they admire is a sign that we think healthy things about God.  That anyone could believe them is a sign a person is going insane.

It takes a special kind of arrogance to think your actions are God's actions; and another level beyond this to think you speak for Him.  In my best moments of religiosity, however many times I heard men and women say I was inspired, I always felt a profound self-consciousness thinking that someone might be mistaking me for God.  I always wondered, in the back of my mind, whether I was some kind of cosmic usurper or a fraud, and that I'd be found out eventually and embarrassed in front of everyone.  This, to me, proves on some strange level that I've always had a more vigorous piety than people have been willing to admit.  The most honorable thing any of us can do, when we're told we act exactly like God, is to vehemently deny it.  The worst thing we can do, unless we have evidence to the contrary, is begin to believe it.

This skepticism about God's indwelling has led me, as of July 4th of 2014, to leave the church altogether.  It's the central point of what could very easily be called my apostasy -- at best, maybe a moment of weakness or heresy.   I'm not anti-Jesus; I don't hate Christians.  I've been writing religiously themed essays and speaking in religious terms even after leaving, which means that I still have some sort of religious soul.  I just expect that in a society where everyone claims to be led by God, that some people would be able to tell you how you'd know it.  The chief answer I got was that the Bible told me He does -- which is the stupidest answer I've ever heard in my life (aside from maybe the answer that you'll begin babbling like a drunk).  If God is inspiring me, I should know it.  I should be able to say it without my face turning red, and then losing my sleep.  If that small voice inside me which is clearer and stronger and brighter than anything else I know is God speaking, then I wonder what my conscience is.  If I wonder whether I'm speaking from God, it is much safer to err by saying I don't.

The other most troubling thing I ever encountered was my lack of devotion.  I know it isn't much use to say an idea's value depends upon a person's embracing it; but I always had a difficult time understanding how the overwhelming majority of Christians (including myself) had a difficult time talking about Jesus -- in church.  Even more disturbing than this, is how the overwhelming majority of Christians (including myself) aren't talking about heaven -- or worrying about their neighbors going to hell.  You would think, if people believed what they said about the seriousness of everything at stake, that everyone would be completely fanatical about God.  What I found was that most people were exactly like me.  Human.  Every single one of them.  All of them with hopes and dreams about countries and companies, with children to feed and passions to chase and idle chatter to make about all kinds of useless but enjoyable things.  Imagine my surprise -- at my own surprise!

But the most disturbing thing I ever encountered, I encountered far before I joined the church, and it was a she -- a woman.  There was nothing wrong with this woman.  I would go so far as to say that everything was right with her.  It was so right, that I lost my appetite and stopped sleeping and started saying silly things, right before I ended up crying and cursing and running myself ragged trying to forget her.  I bought her every sentimental thing I set my eyes on; I never wanted to leave her side; I loved her so much, I lost myself.  And this is the problem.  Throughout my entire religious conversion, I never lost myself so much in God that I gave Him everything.  I wanted to.  I wanted to love God more than I ever wanted to love my first lover.  The problem is that I never even came close.  For God, I gave a good portion of my money, and a bit of my time.  For my first girlfriend, I would have given my only car and a kidney.  When I lost my first love, I lost my will to exist.  Nothing was appealing -- nothing but one person.  When I lost my religion, I lost my purpose and identity: I don't know who I am or why I'm here, and I'm now beginning to wonder if there's any point to existing at all -- but I still appreciate women.

You would think that if God were a reality, losing Him would be worse than losing a girl.  But God has seen fit to have us love uncontrollably, for better and for worse -- and mostly for worse.  We're so completely out of control when it comes to romance, that if we want to stop loving someone who hates us, we can't.  If we want to love someone who deserves us, we can't.  Nobody can stop a married man from falling in love with someone who isn't his wife.  Nobody can keep you in love even if you want to stay there.  It's all out of control -- which is enough to make a Calvinist happy, if not because his life is right, because his religious views are rooted in reality; even if it is a sad reality.  The mystery is why God never saw fit to make us love Him like we love women.

I've always been of the mindset that it's unfair to complain about anything to a good God who knows everything, because the foundation of any meaningful theism is assuming He has a good plan.  But if I meet Him, I will have a series of very kindly phrased but uncomfortable questions about romance.  He seems to be throwing the best and the worst on us in the most haphazard manner possible.  Too much of life is a horrible accident, or it at least appears to be -- too much of it; even the things that are supposed to be the best parts are actually the worst parts.  You might even say that wanting the best parts is the only reason we have the worst parts.  My sweet dreams and memories have become my adulthood nightmares.  If I have trouble believing in God, it isn't because of war or death or evolution or AIDS: if I have trouble believing in God, it's because I believe too strongly in romance.

Your father,
-J

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