One morning, years ago, I was coming up the stairs from the subway platform and I heard and then saw a man preaching about his god. The man was indifferent to the general indifference of the commuters and kept on preaching with enthusiasm and volume. It occurred to me that the man’s life must be very comforting. He knew what he was going to do when he got up in the morning and he was more energized by this chosen work than I have ever been about mine. I will also add that the man was clearly mentally ill, although I can no longer remember how that was.
What was appealing to me about that man was his certainty. He appeared to understand his place in the world and the rules that governed it. I have never been certain about my place in the world. I have never had an understanding about what to do in every situation. I feel strongly about the way things should be but I understand that this is based on how I want things to be and not on any higher power.
I mention this because the world today is scary. The world is scary not for the reasons that some would have you believe. The world is not scary because of ISIS or because of an oppressive US government. The world is scary because modern life little resembles life as it was when the major religions were invented. It is getting harder and harder to twist and contort and retcon the writings and ideas to show us how to live now.
Although I am not religious, I was raised as a Christian. I attended church every Sunday with my mother and sisters. (My father stayed home most Sundays.) I yearned to feel the presence of God, wanted to be moved by the Holy Spirit, wanted to understand how Jesus died for my sins. My mother was a believer and she told me that she felt God. It made me think it was possible.
I never felt God, and once I was able to decide what I wanted to do on Sunday mornings, I stopped going to church. Over the past two-plus decades I have occasionally tried to believe, mostly in times of stress, but if there is a god then she knows my heart and she knows I don’t really believe. A god may be listening to me but that god says nothing.
So that is my lack of faith but what about those who have very strong faith? Despite the idea that their faith can guide them in these times, any faith that supports racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism has no place in this world. And I believe that people of faith who are taught these things know that this is wrong. (My faith is in the goodness of people, which means my faith is as dubious as any.)
That feeling that they are wrong often leads to vigorous defense that they are right. It is scary to not be able to rely on something that has guided you for your entire life. It is scary to be asked to change. It is scary to know that more decisions are coming, decisions about how we live and how we allow other people to live, and that those answers cannot be found in writings that were used to reassure people for centuries. (Note that those writings were also used to oppress people for centuries.)
I believe that people of faith truly believe what they say. These are sincerely held beliefs. And I believe it is scary to realize that faith may not be enough. So to a certain extent I have sympathy for those people who may feel like the world is changing too much and in ways that are scary for them. The answer is not to cling more tightly to outdated ideas. The answer is to evolve. It is possible to believe in the rights of everyone and still have faith.