God knows I’m not the best lamb in the flock.
I’m that lamb who doesn’t like being bothered to go to worship on Sundays—much less worship on weekdays, sorry Feasters—and who hates having to write down religious affiliation on government documents.
I’ve struggled with religion ever since I was a child. I didn’t go as far as calling myself an atheist or denouncing Christianity to my God-loving parents, but there has always been that persistent nugget of doubt in my gut that has kept me from enjoying Sunday school or fully participating in praying the rosary. I’ve always felt pressured to accept my religion since I was baptised as a baby, enrolled in a Catholic school run by nuns, and urged to undergo confirmation rites. I could’ve done something about confirmation, but I couldn’t tell my parents to hold the water and oil while I researched what they were committing my soul for when I was barely a year old.
I don’t blame my parents for making me a Christian because I know they made that choice (and the choices they’re still making) for me out of love. I just feel like I was thrust into the world of Christianity before I was ready for it, or before I even had a working understanding of what it is and what it could be. God knows I hate being rushed.
For all intents and purposes, I think I still consider myself a Christian. I just have a lot of questions.
Throughout grade school and high school, I found religion lessons quite lacking. Sure, our teachers taught us to love our neighbour and be good people in general based on what the Bible had to say (mostly from the New Testament), but I yearned for more than what our school-appropriate textbooks offered. What is faith and why it is so mysterious? Has anyone ever ventured into the science behind the religion? Why do people keep saying I should trust and devote my life to someone no human being has ever seen before?
For college, I went to a Jesuit-run university. That was my choice, and I do not regret it at all. I love the Jesuits. They’re like the black sheep of the religious community, always stirring up a nice ruckus with their liberal, out-of-the-box ideas. The cool uncles of Christianity, I like to call them. Even though I savoured my theology and philosophy classes because the religion-based studies in college were more intensive and informed, I graduated more doubtful than I had ever been. I left college with more questions. Why is God silent? Why does God allow the innocents to suffer? Is God’s silence a test? What kind of God is He if tests our love for Him and each other? Why, after two millennia, do we still have this problem of God? Do we have a problem with God, or is God the problem? (The Problem of God in Existentialist Literature is my favourite class.)
At work, most of my colleagues attend worship on top of the usual once-a-week mass. They invite me to these events that look like mini concerts and seminars where people proclaim how wonderful the Lord is and how Christianity elevates life. They tell me stories about people who were once lost but found purpose when they attended worship and found a community ready to help them make their lives better in God’s love. To me, that’s wonderful. It’s great that such groups and opportunities exist, especially for people who feel they need help and hope. I’m thinking of attending one worship session just to see what it’s like, but I’m not sure how much I’ll feel comfortable coming to grips with my faith in that kind of environment. I’m an introvert, I don’t want people to feel like they need to convert me in a grand fashion, and I like to reflect on the mysteries and wonders of life alone, inside the shower, where all my good ideas are born.
My Christian Living Education teacher once said that loudly participating in worship is like praying times two—which was probably just her way to get us to sing the mass songs—and I really believed her, that struck a chord in me, but now I don’t know how I feel about that. Does preaching and public worship make one a good Christian? What if you just like to pray and reflect by yourself or with your best friend? Does that make you a lesser Christian?
I try to find comfort in the belief that people claim to experience God in different ways. Others experience God in worship with a bunch of people singing the same song, while others find Him in the middle of a walk or between the lines of a poem—or in silence. I don’t think God hates me just because I’m not as vocal as His other lambs. Perhaps God doesn’t mind that I prefer our one-on-one conversations, or that I look for Him in beautiful stories, or sometimes I feel His presence more when a child I don’t know wants to hold my hand during Ama Namin than in a room full of loud voices.
Whenever I’m doubt, I see what the literature has to say, so a few months ago, I bought a Bible. Reading the Bible cover to cover just made sense to me because if we’re going full-on Christian, we might as well read the manual, right? My friend told me if I just never miss mass for an entire year, I would have pretty much read the entire Bible, but I don’t know if this is true. The only reading that registers in my mind during mass is the Gospel reading, which comes from the New Testament. What about the Old Testament, where I’m guessing is where you find stuff about stoning homosexuals, avoiding clothes that are made from different kinds of fibres, and giving one of your descendants to Molech? I guess that’s where the first and second readings come in, but I never hear anything weird or shocking during mass, which means there are people out there who have chosen certain passages to highlight and not the whole text. That, in my opinion, is problematic because who gets to choose and what? Why are these passages the chosen ones? Since the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, why aren’t we following every rule to the letter?
It seems like a lot of people use “cultural context” as a way to get around all the things in the Bible we don’t agree with, or that seem ridiculous and impossible today. If we’re going with cultural context, how did we rule out consulting a psychic or stoning adulterers as laws we can lay to rest, but not relationships between two people of the same sex? The LGBT community is a part of our cultural context, so why can’t they get married in the Church? Why does the Church urge its congregation to be one in prayer against contraception and sex education? (Going to mass during the peak of the RH Bill talks was really hard.)
I don’t mean to generalise and call out some people on their behaviour because I’m not perfect either, but I guess a part of this hesitation to accept Christianity stems from all that seems wrong with it in practice. This makes it a problem of people. To be fair to the Church, they—or should I say we—do try to evolve and see the more universal and benevolent side of the religion to create a more inclusive community that focuses on the main message of Christianity: love. If love is the root of it all, why is there still so much racism, homophobia, ignorance, and exclusion within the Christian community?
With all these holes in the religion, why do I still want to consider myself a Christian? Why, after all this doubt and evidence against Christianity, do I still want to believe in God?
The simplest answer I can come up with is hope.
I hope a loving and forgiving God exists because He seems so refreshing amid all the suffering and pain in the world. I hope in a God that exists to inspire and motivate people to do more good than bad or nothing. I hope in a God that won’t abandon us in our time of need, when we lose sight of each other in a sense beyond the physical. I hope in a God that can bring humanity together in love and peace, no matter how much that sounds like a Miss Universe answer.
I realised that I hope in God not for myself, but for others—that religion isn’t something solitary no matter how introverted you are. I hope God exists because He brings my parents joy and hope. I hope God exists because my friends find meaning in their lives when they talk about Him. I hope God exists for others, for Others.
Marcel said, I hope in Thee for us. While I still have more questions than answers, more doubt than conviction, I do believe in that. I hope.