Thursday, December 20, 2012

life of 6

I've been thinking about religion again. Or God more specifically. I guess when you are busy rotting at home with too much time to spare, your brain would naturally want to indulge in some form of mental exercise. Life of Pi, the book that I'm currently reading, also helped add to this current theme that my brain is into now.

My spiritual life is far from monotonous, that I can say. Like an ocean caught in a storm, my spiritual beliefs are like the waves in that ocean, it rises and falls constantly throughout my life, seldom being still for long periods of time. And yes, that storm reference was inspired by Life of Pi.

this calm sea... is definitely the direct opposite of my spiritual life

I think life can be quite funny sometimes. Or God too, if you believe in Him, judging by how our life turns out in the end. With Life of Pi, it would seem that my journey with the faith subject came a full 360 degree turn back to where it started. From the believed to the disbelieved and back to the believing again. Like I said, life, or God, has funny arrangements for us most of the time.

I started out in NUS as a convinced Christian. Convinced that my faith was the only ticket to salvation, that my path was the "right" path and that whoever that does not share the same sentiments as me were wrong, doomed forever. I remember believing that my faith was unshakable and once, I even engaged another atheist blogger in what I presume as an act to "defend" my faith. Looking back, I realized that it was more of an act to convince myself than to convince him. Besides, the type of language we used clearly indicated that he was definitely more superior than me, intellectually speaking. I mean, how can a grammatically error prone blogger rise up to one that flaunts eloquent English like Shakespeare? Clearly he was way out of my league.

Still, my enthusiasm in wanting to type my opponents away to oblivion speaks volume about how much I believe in Christianity back then. It was later that I realized that the enthusiasm in wanting to dispel and to defend one's faith is by no means an indicator of how strong our religious beliefs are, but rather it's more reflective of our insecurity rather than our faith instead.

going by that logic, the people who feels the need to "defend" their religion the most are actually the people who are the  furthest from their beliefs

Well gradually, with lessons in Psychology which says that people who talk to God are most likely to be schizophrenics and with my dramatic decline in church attendance. my spiritual beliefs inevitably took a hit. Instead of becoming an atheist though, I became indifferent to the whole concept of God, which is worse than being an atheist, in Pi's word, because we have no idea where we stand and no idea what we want. There's nothing that we believe in. That was one of the lowest points in my life, one could say, because I seriously had no idea of what I want, preferring to let life's current carry me instead. To put it metaphorically  I was adrift with no sense of clear direction where I was headed. 

And trust me when I say that being adrift in life is one of the worst things that you'll want to happen to you. There's no purpose in your life, no set direction of where you want to go. Life is meaningless in a way. It saps the motivation away from you, draining your enthusiasm in everything you do and produces a vicious cycle of lethargy and senselessness in you. You don't feel like doing anything because you don't see any point in it. Which is why it's better to have something that you believe in to drive your life, to push you to continue living rather than being a life like zombie.

Of course, like any other good stories, the bad part doesn't stay for long. There was no sudden epiphany though, like a sudden inflex in a line, but rather salvation came in a much more gradual manner. It first came in the form of Charles Darwin, whom all Christians have sworn vengeance against for his evolutionary theory. Unlike the atheist hell bent on removing Christianity as he was normally portrayed, I found out that he himself has struggled with faith before, a struggle that I can identify too well with.

It turns out that throughout his life, Charles Darwin has never openly dispelled the notion of God before and near the end of his life, subscribed in a form of agnostic thinking, which believes that instead of a God that interferes daily with our life, God could be perhaps someone who set all the laws into place and let the universe run according to the laws, much like a computer programmer running a simulation (something which I'm gonna be talking later).

I find the idea of a God that works within the boundary of science especially compelling, after all why must science and religion always go in opposition? I pictured how God created the animals through the processof evolution and the one day as mentioned in the Bible could have been a hundred million years for all I know, because it didn't even mentioned that God specifically took 24 hours or one spin of the Earth to finish up his work. Perhaps the one day mentioned in the Bible was in fact one God day, not one human day, and one God day takes very long to finish.

I know this theory is far fetched, by I don't see why it is not possible when this explanation could somewhat encompass both the scientific and theological explanation. All along, we have pictured God to be beyond the  limits of mankind but I don't see why He can't be bounded by his own rules in creating and governing. Like the programmer who is limited by the programming language he uses and limits of his software, God may be bounded by his own laws of physics too. The reason why we do not understand some of his works are because our knowledge has not reached there yet. Just like how we came to understand the rising and setting of the sun, from the Greek gods pulling it on a chariot to a scientific observation, so too we can explain a lot of other events which are deemed as miraculous in future using newly discovered scientific knowledge.

must the two be mutually exclusive?

My second salvation came in the form of a course that I was taking in university, called Religion and Society, under the guidance of Professor Charles Caroll. While I complained like crazy initially - when I found out that I have to step in to a Hindu temple or a mosque as part of the course requirements - in hindsight, that particular experience helped shatter many of the assumptions that I held prior to the course.

They say that the best way to get rid of your fear, or phobia, is to gradually expose yourself to the object that you are afraid of and I think that this is one of the most vital lesson in helping us understand those who are different than us. Because ignorance breeds stereotypes, what we do not know we assume, the lack of interaction between those of different faiths often perpetuates whatever distrust and hostility that we may have for those who do not share our thinking.

By mixing with those who are different can we truly begin to understand each other and see that perhaps we might not be as different as how we are made to be after all. From my experience at least, I came to learn that just like Christianity, Hinduism has many epic sagas to be told of their Gods. From the story of Rama battling the armies of demons with the help of monkeys to save his wife to the story of how Ganesha got his elephant head kept me mesmerized. I looked at how devoted the Hindus were to their religion and they reminded me of my Christian friends, Muslim friends who are also equally devoted to their respective faiths.

We Christians, or in fact, believers of every religion, are often taught why other religions are wrong by our religious leaders. And to strengthen the message, stereotypes are often inserted into the lessons, such as idol worshipers, war loving zealots and such to strengthen the message of why the other religions are false. Looking at the Hindu devotees, I can't help but think that surely this isn't true? Why would God choose to punish us when we all share the same amount of love and devotion to him, just because my God happens to come from Israel while theirs came from India? Wouldn't it be unfair if someone who has never had the chance to hear about Jesus before, say a native in Africa, be doomed forever to hell just because he was just happened to be born in a place where there's no missionaries and churches? Surely an omnipotent God would have taught of that right?

I found my answer to this question in the writings of C.S. Lewis, surprisingly. In the last Chronicles of Narnia book, the Last Battle, there was a particular Calormene guy that I identified with. He was faithful to Tash, the God of Calormenes, enemy of the Narnians and willing to seek out the truth when the bad guy announced that Aslan and Tash were the same God, while the rest of his kin sit idly by. Later at the end of the story, when the Narnians were in Aslan's country, the metaphorical heaven, the young Calormene was there. He asked Aslan a very interesting question. Why was he, a servant of Tash, now in Aslan's country? Aslan replied that He and Tash and two polar opposites, Tash representing everything evil while Aslan represents everything good and therefore, any good that is done in the name of Tash will be taken as giving credit to Aslan instead while everything bad that is done in the name of Aslan will be credited to Tash instead, because they can never receive deeds that are not of their nature.

The example of the Calormene, Aslan and Tash is sort of an answer to the question I had. Going by the logic, no matter which God you serve, as long as you do good, it will be credited to the real God while everything bad, not matter done under the guise of any religion, will fall solely under the realm of evil. To put it simply, it does not matter which religion you serve as long as you practice the good values of it for the betterment of your fellow mankind.

the last judgement scene.  if you have known Aslan, you would pass through the door

Life of Pi is sort of giving the whole issue a proper closing, if you would. From only the true God who is exclusive to one religion, why not a true God who is shared by all?

The story of how Pi is simultaneously a believer of Hinduism , Christianity and Islam may raise a lot of eyebrows, but I find it strangely compatible with what Aslan said in the Last Battle. Like Pi said, "Why must there be only one passport to the kingdom of heaven?".

Donald Miller once compared God wanting to descend among humans as similar to us wanting to descend among a group of animals, cat for example. In His infinite knowledge and power, God cannot possibly expect us to understand Him if He was to appear in His true form. Just like how we cannot expect to teach cats physics in our human form, God must first change his appearance to something that we can understand, like us changing into cats and speaking cat language if we were to try and pass down knowledge to cats. His analogy was restricted in the Christian sense but to further generalize it, I think that with so many cultures and spanning so many years of difference on Earth, I think God would have chosen a form that is suited for the different cultures in order for the people to understand them.

To the Indians He appeared as Vishnu, Krishna while to the Christians He appeared as Jesus and to the Muslims He came as Allah. Because the language, culture and environment of each era was different, God had to come down in different forms for them to understand his message. Just like if we want to change from cats to dogs, we have to switch our language from cat language to dog language too, to suit the culture of the dogs and so that they can understand us.

This theory sounds far fetched at best, but it is through this explanation that I can fully find a God whom I can appreciate and believe in. After all, aren't all the core principles that the different religions share are quite similar? Respect and love one another, do not kill, do not judge and do good wherever you go.

But what about laws that clearly states that our religion is the one and only true religion? And what about the commandment "Go forth and make the world my disciples"?

Honestly, I don't think God meant Christianity or Islam specifically when he made that commandment as pr say. I think he meant it in a more general sense, comparing Him to the pagans than to other religions specifically. And by the commandment to make find other disciples, I think he never mentioned that a use of force of necessary and perhaps it is just bring the godless, those who have purpose and guideline in life rather than forcing those who are devoted to the religion to change.

their purpose might be noble, but they're doing it completely wrong

You see, the religion that I want to believe in is one that does not seeks to compare itself with another in an attempt to prove that it is "correct". The religion that I want to believe in does not judge others as being different, but rather in an accepting way and does not imposes. The religion that I want to believe in is all encompassing and not exclusive.

It's still a far way for me to become someone like Pi Patel, but in a way, I feel so much happier now knowing I don't have to be the only one in this world who thinks in this way. Perhaps we all should accept the possibility that although we may be coming from different faiths, the God that we worship could be one and the same. And wouldn't it be better to see each other as equal rather than enemies? The world could be a much happier place this way. And now that the world is supposed to end tomorrow, perhaps we can start by appreciating those who are different than us more?


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