I’m still annoyed by the fact I have to take Christian-based theology classes for nursing school, but honestly, I did this same thing from grades 4 – 12. It’s not beyond my abilities to just suck it up and participate. However, I’m going to be as honest as I safely can while I’m in the class, and I’ll likely express my opinion at the end of the semester regarding its “required” status. But! I got my first paper graded, and my teacher didn’t auto-fail me for not being Catholic! So yay?
Her feedback was, “Well-done! Thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences.”
While I do feel more optimistic about this class, I’m still cautious. I was super vague in my paper about what I believe (although I’m sure many people could probably guess from a few context clues), and I’m not sure I’ll just out-and-out say it while I’m in there. But at least I’m not constantly worried that an exorcist from Indiana is going to show up on my doorstep and demand I let him in, especially when he sees the salt at my front door.
But here’s my paper that I wrote, in case you’re interested.
My entire young life was spent in the Presbyterian church, including school; I was a student at a local Nashville PCA church’s education ministry – a K-12 academy – from 4th to 12th grade, and every year starting in late middle school, courses on biblical topics were required. In my senior year, I took Apologetics and spent the majority of my time in that class learning to explain what I believed and why, something both of my parents were adamant I learned anyway (they would always say something akin to, “Remember who and what you are,” anytime I would leave the house). I ended up winning the award for the class, partially because the teacher and I had many arguments on theology that left both of us annoyed but also intrigued by what the other had said, and earned a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as a prize. It was not until I reached my thirties that I started to go deeper than I ever had in that class, ultimately changing what I believed and how I expressed it, and honestly? I believe that teacher would be just as proud of me as he was then.
To me, religion is an organized set of beliefs that define how a group of people views the world. It provides morals and ritual observances (aka holidays) that its various adherents follow, some more “religiously” than others. I do not hold a high opinion of most religions (by my definition) for many reasons, mainly because I see them less as helpful spiritual tools and more as additional elements of control by a small population of people. I’m sure that it provides comfort for others, in that a list of rules gives structure and theology gives reasons for nearly unanswerable concepts, but for me, it’s restrictive and harmful, particularly if it is given too much power. This applies to many things, however, and not just religion.
Faith, in contrast, is a belief in something when there is no concrete (or, at the most, limited) proof that it exists; faith can persist even when religion cannot and tends to be much more personal than religion is. It is here that I exist peacefully. I do not need to explain to most people what I believe and practice, and more often than not, I do not discuss it unless I am in a place where I feel safe and accepted as an individual. This is not to say that I am ashamed of my faith; I am not. Instead, I do not believe that my personal faith gives me any reason to get others to believe as I do.
However, I will sometimes be more open with what I believe if someone proves curious. For example, I have been asked many times what I believe god to look like, and although I do not have a prominent image of any type of god, I will explain it with a dream I had (and have had at least once a year since I was six years old): a color-changing orb, akin to a late-90s screensaver, sits among a backdrop of nothingness, where a deep, body-tingling thrum emits from it at regular intervals. It was initially a terrifying dream, after which I woke up in a cold sweat, but as I got older, it became more and more comforting as the dream recurred. I never connected with any church-provided image of the Christian god because I felt that what I had seen was more akin to what I ultimately decided to call the Source looked like. It’s an incomprehensibly complex sentience, from which we all came and to which we will all return, which is way more woo-woo sci-fi than I intended it to sound but the closest I can come to explain it.
The Source does not have value judgment, either, because it is all things: light, dark, good, evil, hope, despair. This is why I can honestly say that I have no idea why evil and suffering exist, except to say that things like war and disease occur less as an allowance and more because we have placed a moral definition onto these occurrences, many of which are caused by our own actions. Some have even gone as far as to place morality on situations such as poverty, as a good friend of mine mentioned on Twitter:
Instead of addressing societal issues and coming up with ways to actually help our fellow humans, we have allowed poverty to continue to exist, many times for selfish reasons. This is not any god’s fault; it is our own.
I suppose the next question would be if I pray to this Source, and to that, I say, of course! It’s less of a collection of requests and more of a centering or grounding practice for me. When I was a child, prayer was definitely a wish list, but it gradually morphed into a willingness to exist in what I thought at the time was God’s will, releasing and simultaneously focusing my will on what I felt was the best way to live my life, either via direct instruction from the Source or from my intuition (although honestly, those both can be the same thing for people). For others, prayer may be a way to sort through their own thought processes, akin to a verbal diary, or it may be what they believe to be is direct communication with their god, which can be a relationship-building exercise, requests, or anything in between. It is just as personal as their faith is, so the purpose of prayer can be just as varied.
While I may no longer call myself a Christian and do not practice a specific religion, my faith still plays a large role in my life. Harm none and love all are the major tenets of what I believe, and while I may not be perfect at abiding by them, I can say that those beliefs permeate all aspects of my life: work, relationships, school, nature, etc. I even keep my door open for respectful conversations related to spirituality; after all, I still have that copy of Mere Christianity sitting among my other valued books in my living room. I have lost count of the number of people who quizzically look back and forth between me and that book, wondering if I was trolling them. What usually follows is a brief story of how I got the book and then a lively discussion of how others came to believe the way they do. Maybe that was the point of Apologetics; I was not using my knowledge to convert but to constantly critically think about my belief system and be able to speak with others respectfully about theirs. And like I said, I do believe that based on that statement, my teacher would still be just as proud as he was when he handed me Mere Christianity almost twenty years ago.
I don’t think I said anything offensive or anything, which would have probably gotten me a failing grade or at least a stern talking to, but I really have to thank my creative writing education from high school and college for this.