I was listening to a podcast about God, because it’s kind of what I do, and it got me to thinking.
When I was in 9th grade, I took geometry. I’d always done well in math, and I did pretty well in this class, but a puzzling phenomenon happened when we came to proofs. I’d get all of the right steps, but in the wrong order. The last one was always right, but the other steps would be in a funky order. Every other person in the class would get the steps in the same order as the teacher. I wasn’t wrong, per se, but I also wasn’t right, entirely. My teacher couldn’t figure it out to break the habit and neither could I and it was the first indication that I might be fundamentally… my own. To say it nicely. Equation-oriented math, I did better with until calculus, but I always wondered if my geometric other-ness tampered with my ability to get anywhere near calculus (though I was inexplicably good at rotating a figure [like a parabola] around an axis and calculating the volume of the resulting three-dimensional theoretical object).
Then, in college, I was standing in an egregiously long lunch line one day when I was approached by my Astronomy professor. I took Astronomy in part because I wanted to avoid math after the ego-shattering that was calculus. I was standing there, wondering if I’d have time to eat my lunch before my next commitment, given the glacial progress I was making, and my Astronomy professor came up and said “I have a theory about you— can I share it with you?” (This is, by the way, one of the best arguments I can make for attending a teeny weeny college. Professors in classes that you take your freshman year to fulfill your liberal arts base requirements not only recognize you from classes, but develop theories about you.)
“I have this theory that you take classes because you want to, not because you have to.”
“I’d say that’s mostly true=== I’m choosing classes to fulfill requirements, but I take the class that I’m most interested in, that fulfills the requirement.”
He looked very pleased with himself. “I knew it!” In my memory, he started to walk off.
“Isn’t that how many people do it?” I called after him. “I mean, I know some people take classes they aren’t that interested in, because of scheduling or whatever, but why take something you don’t want to know?”
“No. It’s really not.”
At that point, I tried to talk him into letting me take Astronomy with the math/physics, because I felt like he could explain it in a way that I found less frustrating than my calculus and physics teachers had. He wouldn’t let me and that’s the end.
There it was again. Me being fundamentally my own thing. It’s a little uncomfortable, to be honest. Like “I’m a bit of a freak” uncomfortable.
So the podcast had me thinking about God. The host and the guest were talking about God as projection— we basically project an ideal version of what we believe, so He likes everyone we like and hates everyone we hate and super approves of us. And that’s not my experience of God or belief, and maybe this is a little of my being wired a little differently.
When someone said I needed to get confirmed in my faith, I heard that I needed to stand up and say I believed what I said I believed. And I had enough respect for the way that I was raised that I didn’t want to say I believed it if it turned out I didn’t. So I took some time (I was handily in a religious high school where I could really get answers about what my faith believed) and I set about answering for myself the question “Do I believe what I say I believe?”
And it was scary to ask, because it was community and family and belonging, but I believed that I could survive the answer being no. So I looked into it, and I asked hard questions, like “how do you know x? or how do you justify y? or aren’t you really kind of patriarchal and misogynistic with all this over here?” and I got good answers. Like, no really, seriously good, thoughtful answers that convinced me that the people who built my Church throughout the ages, imperfect though they were/are, were very very smart and very very hardworking and committed to doing the Will of God as they understood it and that they thought carefully and vigorously debated about every single piece of it until it is really much more elegant than most people could imagine. And I asked if I wanted to be associated with it and what it implied, even when people misunderstood what my church stands for or has done in the world (and not all of it is good, as well we know). And I concluded that yes, this is what I believed, and that I could trust it.
And it got harder (as things are wont to do.) The next obvious question was “Given that I believe this and am committing to it, where do I need to bring myself into alignment?” For example, I found that my church does not support capital punishment. And I was raised to believe that capital punishment was an obvious good. So I looked at it harder to find the piece that I trusted— the careful exploration and defense of the policy, and I started to understand why the church opposes it and I found an internal consistency with the opposition to capital punishment and the positions I happened to embrace more easily. So I moved over and made room for it. And it wasn’t (still isn’t) popular among people who believed (still believe) what I was raised with, but I already believed what I said I believed, and this was what I said I believed.
And it got harder. I had a crisis of faith, and I found myself asking again if I believed what I said I believed. Like, at a root level. What if I was totally wrong, and I was living all these things— disciplines and commitments and so forth— and there wasn’t anything behind it? What if I was a fool?
After a few days of asking “Are you sure? Are you sure there’s a God? That He’s a good God? That He gives a crap about whether you x or y?” I came to an answer that surprised me and shut me up: “If it turns out I’m wrong and in the end there’s nothing— all my prayers went unheard and all my disciplines were so much tilting at windmills, I think I’ll have been a better version of myself, lived a better life, a life I’ll be prouder to have lived, as I melt into the nothing, than I’d live otherwise.” And so I’m in. On the days when I actually believe it (most days) and even on the other days.
But it seems pretty clear that this isn’t how faith works for most people. But it was part of how it worked in the podcast. Which was reassuring. Because here again I’m wired in my very own way, the steps in my proof oddly jumbled and marching blissfully ignorant to the existence of my very own drummer. Not entirely right, or wrong, just entirely my own.