Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, my life was pretty well sorted out. I simply knew I was going to become a Minister someday, teaching the Word of God to the faithful and reprobate alike. It was my daily joy to peruse the Bible and commentaries for hours on end, and then to ruminate on those delicious nuggets of truth and wisdom I had dug up from their hidden depths. People came to me for that wisdom and knowledge, and I would often pontificate and illuminate them as humbly as possible.
And then I got on the Internet.
Due to various reasons I hadn’t really had an online presence for most of my young adult life. I was familiar with computers in a general way, but getting online was something I just didn’t have access to for quite a while. When it finally did happen, the natural first step for me was to find a way to use it as a means to continue on with my life’s passion of spreading the light of truth.
So, I began browsing the Christian chatrooms and website forums. I found topics on all sorts of subjects, with people asking questions on what the Bible had to say about this or that thing. It was absolutely heaven for me. The fields, indeed, seemed fertile and ready for me to plant the seeds of truth, and I could do it all right from my desktop! But, what I found instead were grounds cold and hard and full of weeds.
You see, the thing was, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say. Almost invariably, a poster would start a thread asking a question, usually about what the Bible had to say about, for example, tithing or speaking in tongues or even how to deal with unruly children; and so, quite normally, I posted responses based on what I had learned, backed up by scripture quotes and putting everything into a firm context that wasn’t cherry-picked. What happened next, again almost invariably, was absolutely astounding to me: they argued, discounted what I said and relegated my posts to the realm of opinions.
Now, the thing about religion is that a lot of it is built upon subjective personal experiences. How you feel about God and His working in your life is something that no one can rightly judge but yourself. But, this changes when you’re reading a text. A text is a text. What is written therein cannot be unwritten or unsaid. It’s there. For all to see. The CONTENT of a book is absolutely objective, although its meaning certainly isn’t.
And this was my main area of frustration. Asking a person what the Bible says about an issue ought to be done with an understanding that the text itself is unequivocal. If I ask you, “What does the Bible say about killing?”, well, it says “Thou shalt not kill”. THAT is what it SAYS. Now, what does it mean? We could debate that all day. Does it mean wars are justifiable acts of homicide or are they also sin? It could be argued in so many different directions in fact, that real and fruitful discussion about it may never be possible. But, my point is that the text says what it says, and so when asked for Biblical instruction I would literally just share its text as-is.
However, it turns out that people aren’t actually interested in learning what the Bible (or anything, really) has to say. Their usual natural preference is for their own opinions to be validated. And that’s an entirely different ballgame from what I was trying to do.
Fast forward a few years to my later twenties. I’d come to find myself as a bitter, world-weary man who no longer had the energy to try sharing the gospel. Did I still believe it? Every word. Was my faith still in an almighty God? Of course. And it still is, even today. That’s something important to know about me. I’m a complex creature, which seems perfectly reasonable when I believe my life came from a complex deity. What changed wasn’t my belief in the Divine; no, what changed was my attitude about sharing that belief with the world.
One can slam their frail head against a hard wall only so many times before you realize it’s time to stop or risk going all Rocky Balboa in the brain. So, that’s exactly what I did. I stopped devoting my days to endless studying of religious texts. I learned more about the Internet and how it works. My mind has always been a curious one, so I spent my days learning about science, politics, history and about what makes a society tick. I read more fiction, played more video games, and talked to all sorts of different people, NON-religious people. And that’s when I discovered the absolute last thing I ever expected to find.
Contrary to what was always taught at church or by my mentors and ministers, the non-religious had incredibly open minds! When asked for an opinion on something, rather than immediately discounting what I offered, they usually responded with genuine curiosity and further inquiry! I was astounded almost to muteness! People were interested in learning things, or at least seeing another perspective on something, and validating their own opinions wasn’t their default setting! Heaven indeed!
Now, being an introvert, this led to a lot of thinking about why such a dichotomy existed. I couldn’t fit my mind around just why people who were driven by faith in the unseen felt that they absolutely knew all the answers about the world and life and death; but, those who were slowly building up ideas about the world, at the pace of rugged scientific and logical advancement, acted as if they barely knew anything. These non-religious friends I’d come to know almost never claimed to see “how it all works”. Rather, they were the first to claim, like Socrates, that their so-called wisdom lay in what they did not know. And, when I saw this in my mind, my eyes felt like they were truly opened for the first time.
I began to see that there is a fine distinction between a confidence borne of studying the factual discoveries and reasoned understanding of our world and environment, and an arrogance built upon the dust-bathed traditions and inculcation of pendants and truth-guardians who seemed seldom likely to trust neither facts or discovery, nor a reasoned outlook at the collected data of humanity’s history, but rather on a subjective feeling for what “ought to be true”. Such a realization completely broke my heart. How could I continue to “fight the good fight of faith”, as the Bible says, when it was becoming increasingly evident that the majority of religious minded people, good people, were no longer interested in that very same fight? Instead, they fought the “fight” of keeping their particular worldview safe from any intrusion…even if that intrusion meant shedding the specious skin of error so that the light of truth and real knowledge could somehow find a way inside.
My internal fire slowly began to die at that point. I had a crisis of faith, so to speak. God, in all His glory, had spawned a race of fools it seemed. And I no longer cared to feed them milk, or tend their wounds. Let them raise themselves into whatever hellish mutants they intended to become. My bitterness at Christians became almost palpable. It’s incredibly difficult to either explain or understand the ambivalence of loving and hating a group you feel is your “spiritual family”. They certainly didn’t act like family…or, maybe they did. I mean, aren’t most families full of warring attitudes and views? At any rate, I distanced myself from the Church almost as completely as I could. It hurt. It really hurt, especially as I watched members in my own household gripping their newfound faith tighter and tighter in the ensuing years.
That gaping wound is still here with me. But healing has begun to occur in a way that I didn’t really see coming. I decided to change the trajectory of my life’s ambitions, while still using the talents and skills that I felt I had been blessed with. I am not interested in ministering to the Sheep of the Fold anymore; instead, I want to warn those with open hearts, believer or non, that the worst danger they can ever face is the stony façade of a closed and calloused heart and mind. When you think you know everything, you truly don’t know anything, just as a filled teapot cannot contain more water poured into it.
And that is why I have written this, I think. To both remind myself of why I hold so ardently to the views that I do: about government, about education, and privacy and intellectualism; but, also to maybe show others that the nature of the world is still being revealed to us anew each and every day. Nobody knows it all. Not the Church, not the Scientists, and certainly not the people over in Washington. Anyone who claims to hold a corner on truth…or even to know what truth really is…is fooling themselves and all those they try to proselytize.
My fire has been rekindled for now, though it burns with a different light these days. Oh, the light from God is still there, but I think He means me to use the “lesser lights” of solid reason and perspicacity. And, so far, they are serving me well.