Sunday, January 20, 2008

If I had been born in India... (WICAMSWIBAGJCLG)

...I would have ended up in hell.
("Where I currently am in my search for what I believe about God, Jesus, Christianity, and life in general", pronounced "Wick-cam-swib-bag-jick-lig")

Perhaps a little explanation is in order. But first, some introduction. And if you're wondering how I got this far, and you really have a lot of time, read my previous posts about my journey thus far.
But in brief, I'm in college. As a direct result thereof, I have been looking at me, my life, my beliefs, and basically everything.
I've had a lot of discussions with a lot of people with a lot of different beliefs, and not a lot of sleep. And I've read some, experienced a lot. Most importantly, I've looked at life from a perspective other than the Family Life, very conservative, George-Bush-is-the-best-thing-to-happen-to-this-country-since-sliced-bread kind of worldview that I was raised in, and it's been a very eye-opening experience.

Oh, by the way, this is going to be a long note. Printed out, it would be more than two full pages, single-spaced, 10pt font. This is my disclaimer. I apologize, but that's how I write, and I've promised to keep it short, but it's never worked. I write sort of stream-of-consciousness, but it's a stream of condensed, debated, discussed, and processed consciousness. This is mainly for myself, because when I have to write or tell others what I'm thinking, I have to process it too. It also serves as a kind of update for a few friends, especially some of those with whom I've had discussions on the subject, who are curious as to where I am in my quest. And since you're on Facebook, you probably are looking for a good way to waste time anyway. But if not, that's entirely fine. I won't be offended or sad if you don't read or comment on my note. Honestly, I won't - as I said, it's mostly for myself processing. That said, I can continue. Come with if you like, but seriously, no pressure, cause I hate guilt trips, even if they're not really guilt trips.

Now, about my intro. In all the discussions, all the observation, but not so much the sleep, it's all kind of boiled down to a few points that are really the root of why I am not content with where I am, and certainly not where I was two years ago. So, this note will serve as a mental, spiritual, philosophical, metaphysical waypoint. A "Where I currently am in my search for what I believe about God, Jesus, Christianity, and life in general", if you will.
This note is about the two basic reasons that I am questioning things. My first contention is in the title: If I had been born in India, I would have been on my way to hell if I had done nothing else different for my first 18 years. Okay, obviously, I would have to do some things different, but the core of what I did, which is accept my family's theology/worldview as undoubtedly the way to go.
Let me tell you a little story, about me in an alternate reality, from the Christian worldview.
In this alternate reality, I am born (as the average person) in India. I'm a good Hindu, go to church/mass/large-gathering-of-believers regularly, meditate as is expected. I go through the motions of being a Hindu so that I can avoid being a newt in my next life. I die a Hindu, hoping to re-emerge as a human in a better social position, possibly a cow, or maybe, just maybe, reach Nirvana (or whatever it is - I guess Nirvana is Bhuddism). Instead, I end up in Hell, burning for eternity, simply because I didn't question how I was raised. Not just question whether I thought that Vishnu had green or blue skin, or whether I wanted to vote for Hanji Kujima or Gaali Bussimon in the upcoming elections. Question whether the very basics of how I was raised were even correct, whether everything that I've been taught was right or not. That kind of questioning.
Now, that story sounds ridiculous to me, and probably most of the people reading this note. But if you just replace Hinduism with Christianity, that's the story of my life up to college, to some extent midway through high school, if I had continued on the track I was on. That's a little disconcerting to me.*
The only reason that the Hindu scenario seems so ridiculous is that we are in the Western world, which is composed of mainly a) Christian-based worldviews or b) Rationalist, atheisitc-type worldviews, neither of which are very friendly to Hinduism. If we were in India, it would sound perfectly normal, and to deviate from it would be unheard of and perhaps dangerous. Now the situation isn't quite as extreme for Christianity in the US, but in my home, and my hometown, rejecting the faith that I was raised with, or even really seriously questioning it, is pretty taboo, and would make life very uncomfortable and stressful as far as can tell. But that is exactly what I would need to do if I were a Hindu. So that's what I'm doing.
My parents, of course, want me to end up a Christian. Which is possibly going to be the end result, albeit not quite of the same variety. But I can't guarantee that, because If I did, I would end up in Hell in the Hindu scenario. If anyone can come up with a good reason that I shouldn't do this, I'd love to hear it. But until then, I'm forging on.

My second problem is myself. I am extremely logical, to a fault. My emotions have very little control of my life and what I do on a daily basis. I feel like a little history is in order, and I'll do my best to keep it short, but we all know what that means.
I haven't had a lot of overt tragedy in my life. I've been blessed/lucky/fortunate for the most part. The only people that have died that have been close to me at all were my dad's father when I was pretty young, my dad's grandparents (I didn't know my mom's) when I was older, and a kid in my high school. The first two I knew but only saw once a year or so, and the third I didn't know very well. My life has been pretty stable, so I haven't known a lot of emotional turmoil.
There, that wasn't too much history. That was actually pretty good. So I haven't had too many compelling reasons to be emotional in my life. But in my discussions, most significantly Kristen, I realized that up until college, I didn't emotionally invest in people very much at all. I had friends, plenty of them, but I didn't really connect with them on any significant level. They were people that I would laugh with, study with, watch movies with. Not people that I would confide in with anything, or call up when I was going through a hard time, or was, say, questioning my faith.
This level of disconnect didn't just stop at my friends either. Even my parents, my youth minister, or just about anyone in my small town were part of the disconnect. If anyone was a friend in the sense that I now realize exists, it would be my brother, and even him I barely discussed things with. I guess it's kind of an instinctual defense mechanism, not wanting things to be uncomfortable, or perhaps not deeming it worth it to put in the time and effort required to form and maintain the friendships. I don't know whether my logical nature is a result or a cause, or a little of both. But the truth is, that's how it ended up. And I am now a very logical being, who is trying to figure out how to do this emotional thing.
My emotions, however, still have very little influence on my decisions. This whole investing in people thing led to, and allowed, what is undoubtedly and truly the single most emotional event of my life, but it was still brought about mostly by logical reasoning. In fact, my emotions were mostly opposing my logic, and they most definitely were not happy after the fact. I'll probably write another note in investing in people, since the detail is not relevant to this note. Suffice to say that my emotions, while I am now more aware of them, still have little influence in my decisions.
I am also an engineer at heart. Deep at heart. Like, the very core of my being kind of heart. I simply must know how things work, and how things got here, and why things are the way they are, especially for things where a) I care about them and b) Where they come from impacts my life. My faith is no different. I know how I got to where I am today, but it's by following a script. And last I checked, George Clooney didn't get rich robbing a casino by simply reading through Ocean's Eleven. I'm not okay with that. Take the script away, and I have no clue why I am where I am. Ocean's Eleven may be feasible, and it's based on real places, real methods. But that doesn't mean I (or George Clooney) could do it. Similarly, my Christianity I was raised with is based on its fair share of facts and evidence - my logical nature made sure of that. But could I have gotten there without having another option?** This is kind of the summary of my second contention. By the time I began to think about questioning where I was, I was already firmly in a Christian home, community, and church. It would have been extremely uncomfortable and stressful and generally bad news if I had seriously questioned things at that point. So I can't say that I am a Christian of my own volition, because I'm not. I have reasons and evidence, yes, but people have reasons and evidence for being Hindus, Mormons, and Evolutionists*** too, and according to the worldview I was raised in, they're screwed, not to mention wrong.
So I don't have a good reason for how I got to be a Christian - I can't explain why I am one past "that's what I was raised as, and I didn't see any reasons to switch that were worth the turmoil and terrible discomfort it would have caused." That's not good enough for me. If I was a Hindu, I would have had to have been approached by a missionary, listened to what he said, had some incredibly, irrevocably good reasons to believe what he said, and followed him. I would have an excellent reason for why I believed, and it wouldn't have been because he had a good powerpoint, or because he made me feel good inside.
That's one of the problems for me - the reason a lot of people become Christians is becuase they feel empty, or lonely, or they are hurting, or something else emotional. A good way to illustrate this is actually the reason that I got around to writing this note. I saw one of those facebook flyers put out by some Christian self-help site, and read the article. It said things like:
"I felt empty. Later in high school the emptiness grew and my curiosity grew to find something, anything to satisfy me. First I turned to petty things, like stealing cigarettes from my abusive uncle. But that wasn't strong enough to distract me from life and fill that emptiness. I wouldn't give up that easily...It was simply something to fill up the emptiness I felt in my life. When I was sad, when I had a bad day, I could simply go into my room, shut the doors, and feel better again."
This has never been the reason for me doing anything, except maybe sleeping or being grouchy. And believe it or not, say I'm in denial or I am filling the mysterious and vague "emptiness" with other things, but I don't feel particularly empty. And remember, that's a feeling. Those don't hold a lot of sway in my decisions. They are, as I said, vague and indefinite. If I'm going to base my whole life on something, it's going to be something solid, something that makes sense, something that I can explain. Note some wishy-washy, mishety-mush vague "emptiness." And that's why I'm on this quest. I currently don't have a good reason to be a Christian. My only reasons would be that it's comfortable, or that it's how I was raised. As I said, I have reasons, but none of them are close to good enough for my satisfaction, and they definitely didn't lead me there - they were after-the-fact to support where I already was.
Progress isn't made by explaining where we already are. I just made a random connection to my UScholars class, where we're talking about Bacon (Francis Bacon, not the meat), and it makes a good way to end this note (whew!). So here's a story to finish it up:
Basically, Bacon was fed up with everyone simply rehashing and explaining Plato and Aristotle, who were terribly wrong about most of what they said about science, but were regarded at the time as unquestionable and pure fact. Bacon said that we needed to get back to observation, not cloud our minds with what we've been taught, with what we "know", because what they "knew" back then was based on entirely ridiculous and faulty sources (unless you want to insist that planets orbit in circles simply because they are circles, and it is in their nature to move in circles).
My situation is a lot like Bacon's, I just realized. I am not okay with simply building off of, or explaining, what I already "know" as far as my beliefs go. I need to go back to observation, go back to the basics, and build from there, or I won't be satisfied, and therefore won't truly believe it. Bacon started the scientific revolution, and basically made it possible for us to live in the world we live in today. Hopefully my quest will have positive, if not history-changing, results as well.

Footnotes! (Because they were too long and would have just made things more confusing and interrupted my train of thought):
*Now don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking my upbringing. This isn't a rebellion against the chains that I was bound with as a child. I am very pleased with the person that I am today, and am incredibly grateful for how my family raised me. When it comes down to it, I don't think I would change anything major about how I was raised. But now I'm not there anymore. My family has done their job, and now what I believe is up to me.
**And this is where the analogy ends. I hate it when people use analogies and try to over-apply them, so I'm not. I'm not trying to prove anything by my analogy, or convince you of anything at all. It's a tool to illustrate and explain what I'm saying. See my other notes for why this is an issue for me.
***By the way, I'm not discounting evolution. This remark is mainly from the perspective of the worldview I was raised in.