Saturday, April 21, 2012

I believe in the subjectivity of faith

The college campus where I live and work and study and occasionally sleep has been rife with much conflict over religious conversation. Because I like to maintain some level of anonymity, I won't name any names or campaigns or any such specifics, but I will say that it's impossible to get away from the question of belief.

My faith is up in the air. I don't not believe in God. I don't not believe in spirits. I don't not believe in an afterlife.

All I know is I don't really believe in religion - as far as devoting myself to one and excusing all the others as misguided. In fact, if anything I'm completely opposed to that conviction above all others.

Final shuttle launch. Photo from
I went to see comedian John Oliver (of The Daily Show correspondent fame) on campus tonight. At one point during his set, he started talking about being present at NASA's final shuttle launch last year. He quipped about how many people find themselves spiritually moved by experiences like that, but for him it was the opposite. As he saw a shuttle rise, defying gravity with a trail of fire at its end as it made its way out of our atmosphere and into space, he thought about how it was entirely going against nature. A space shuttle launch was not signifying the strength of a higher power, but the power of human beings in creating something that could thwart even the most substantiated claims - like the fact that we are inevitably bound to this Earth no matter how badly we wish we could fly around freely.

While he was giving his routine, I kept going back to this question in my mind: why do some people feel such a spiritual awakening when they see something like a shuttle launch and someone like John Oliver looks at it with worship toward science and realism rather than religion?

It's not an easy question to answer, just as the question of faith is not one with much clarity. But what I do know is that I have the capacity for both belief and non-belief.

I think what differentiates me from most people is that I feel in a slightly different way. Because I'm an emotional person, I can get easily carried away by sadness, anger, sometimes happiness too. It's when I feel extreme emotions that I start to believe in something more than myself.

Today I was walking to the library for work and listening to a love song on my iPod that I've been avoiding hearing for a few weeks. I knew that listening to the music would make me break up a little inside, so I hesitated to allow it to play.

My finger hovered over the play button, and finally I pressed it and listened to the song hum through my ears. I was feeling vulnerable to emotional instability as the song played out when I looked down at my feet and saw a butterfly, wings caked in mud, struggling against the wind and the water to stay alive in the gloomy and rainy morning. I started sobbing.

I was walking into work so I had no intention of allowing myself to break down because of the death of a butterfly, but I was still overcome not only by my own tension and feeling, but by the symbolism of the butterfly.

In the film Bright Star which is about John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne prior to his passing at age 25, Fanny begins collecting butterflies after reading Keats' letter to her saying "I almost wish we were butterflies and lived but three summer days. Three such days with you I could fill with more delight than 50 common years could ever contain."

At one point in the film, there is a shot of dead butterflies being swept up. Where the butterflies signified the burgeoning relationship of these two star-crossed lovers, their deaths came like the eventual demise of many romantic relationships.

When I looked down at the dying butterfly, I felt spiritually moved. But I hadn't found God in that moment. I'd found John Keats.

My spirituality, if that's what you'd like to call it, is something different from most. I don't latch onto religious figures who represent transcendent life. Instead, I look to those who have significance in my own life and recognize their presence in my day-to-day experiences.

Of the moments I've felt spiritually open, I've never quite known the presence of an all-powerful being. I have, on the other hand, learned to recognize the feeling of my mother and of a less distinguishable natural spirit.

This is not to say that I'm professing - like many people I've encountered recently - the truth of a religion of introspection and finding your own spirits. I couldn't do that simply because I don't believe that what I feel is necessarily true either.

In recent years I've identified as a sort of agnostic. Easy as it would be to accept infallibility in the church, once I lost my mother I had trouble feeling that certainty. I wanted very much to find comfort in religion.

But it all felt unreal to me. What did feel real was literally what I felt. I don't think that seeing is believing, but I do think that feeling is believing.

Many people feel their religions. They go to services and believe because they have a transcendent experience there. I can't help that I don't. But when I do feel something unique in this world, I latch onto it like my own personal form of faith.

I don't believe that anyone should ask others to find solace in their God. No one God exists, not even between those who share a faith. The mind's interpretations alter the perception of all spiritual existence - should there be any at all - and therefore what we believe isn't necessarily what the person next to us believes, no matter how definitive a religion claims their gospel is.

The science of feeling is where I base all of my assessments of truth in the supernatural or the spiritual. If I had seen a shuttle launch, maybe I would not have thought about how it went against nature. But I also doubt I would have praised God for allowing us the chance to explore other worlds from our own.

What I would have felt, I believe, is a feeling of unity with nature that despite its plots against us, provides us with allowances. We may not be able to jump into the air and stay there forever, but with human ingenuity, our world allows us the chance to leave behind the world as we know it.

It becomes very difficult to take evangelicalism seriously when you're like me. If you feel that belief is a function of the senses and not of blind faith, you tend to scoff at those who think they can share a phrase or a perspective and change someone's mind.

Belief is subjective. Religion is not. I've always found truth in subjectivity, even if it offers less certainty.

No comments:

Post a Comment