"I'm climbin' this ladder, my head in the clouds. I hope that it matters. I'm havin' my doubts."
I'm a reasonably intelligent man. I could, should I desire, join the Mensa set in their spiffy cabal of self-proclaimed geniuses, but I'm too anti-social. I have an education - graduated from high school with honors, got a BA and have recently followed it up with an MBA in which I demonstrated that I can write well enough to bamboozle PhDs into giving me an A on almost every paper I wrote. In the immortal words of that woodland philosopher, Yogi, I am smarter than the average bear.
I understand that in the tried and true methodology of scientific theory, one cannot prove the existence of a supreme being. God, Allah, Yahweh, or whatever you personally call it/her/him is an unprovable concept. It is, simply put, a matter of faith. I call it a matter of faith for just as the concept of God is unprovable, it is also not disprovable. At best, the scientific method can categorically declare God improbable. Impossible is a step beyond current scientific knowledge simply because such knowledge is current and by definition, incomplete.
So be it.
The odds are pretty good that the largest single component of my faith is my upbringing. I was born and raised in a family that was actively involved in a church. Specifically, Park Avenue Baptist Church in El Dorado, Kansas - a church belonging to the American Baptist Churches, USA which is a relatively liberal protestant denomination, despite the word 'Baptist' in the name which carries certain popular media assumptions.
I don't hesitate to tell people that I am a Christian. It is simply a part of what and who I am and I tend to be relatively open with regard to such things. My beliefs are a matter of faith, not reason or deduction. As such, my scientifically-inclined friends (a definition which includes a great many of my friends) sometimes struggle with my beliefs. This is largely thanks to a media which continuously seeks out the extreme, the negative, the unpleasant, and the outrageous. They do this when analyzing the behavior and actions of any social group and they certainly do it to Christians. Consequently, most non-Christians have an extremely flawed understanding of what a Christian is. Of course, this misperception is helped along enthusiastically by a lot of folks who call themselves Christians and who are, for lack of a better word, jerks.
Look, I'm not perfect. In fact, believe it or not that is one of the prerequisites for being a Christian. Imperfection is the basic assumption for humanity. Admitting your imperfection is the absolutely base state for Christians. Forgiveness is the fundamental principle that fuels Christianity. Or at least, that's what it says in my New Testament. You want a capsule statement of my beliefs? Here it is: I am imperfect; a sinner and a failure at living a good and perfect life. I have admitted my failures and asked for forgiveness from God, a boon paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross.
And now, I'm making some of you uncomfortable.
It is quite possible there is nothing after life. It is possible that Sartre was right and this mortal coil, in the bard's words, is all there is and post-shuffle, we face oblivion. Frankly, when I examine this logically (and believe me, I am capable of logic) I realize there are no real consequences to being a Christian if we are, in fact, wrong. If I come to the end of life and discover there is nothing else, so what? If there is no afterlife, I'm sure as hell not going to be facing a throng of atheists pointing and laughing at my gullibility. I mean, they do that now. If there's an afterlife, the joke's on them. If there isn't an afterlife, the joke's over and there won't be anyone to laugh about it.
But being a Christian, ultimately, isn't about the afterlife or about proselytizing my friends (and enemies). It's about a daily walk. It's about having a standard. Look, I realize all too many people claiming to be Christians present us with lists of rules - often conflicting - and say that following these is what it means to be a Christian. But Jesus was pretty explicit about rules. He basically spelled it out as follows: the Law was the Old Testament way. Jesus' way was to do away with this enormous list of rules and say that our standard consists of two things: love God and love one another.
And I try.
Yes, I do get angry sometimes. People have been known to piss me off. But I'm not one to hold a grudge for long. Well, there was that eleven-year boycott of Sears but I even got over that one, in time. So I make a pretty solid effort to embody the forgiveness aspects. I do what I can to be a loving, non-violent, non-hating individual. And yes - I am imperfect. We established that back in an earlier paragraph. I don't think Christianity is about achieving. I think it's largely about trying.
The song quote on top of this is one that touches me deeply. Neil Young's "Borrowed Tune" is extremely simple and raw. And in just a few words, I think it defines humanity as well as any song I ever heard. We aspire and we have lofty goals and the odds are that our fellow humans really aren't going to be affected all that much. It is easy to doubt that what we do matters to others.
And maybe that is why I choose to believe in God. Because what I do matters to me and I want to believe it matters to someone or something else. I want to believe my life does have a purpose and that purpose will result in something or someone or the world at large being just a little bit better or happier or wiser or … well, I want to believe. This ties in to my article about my dad and the lessons learned along the hiking trail. The journey (at least while you're on it) matters more than the destination. Look, I don't know what comes after. No matter what my faith teaches, I cannot assure you with scientific certainty that anything comes after. The ecologist in me likes reincarnation - or cosmic recycling, if you prefer. My point is, I don't know what's next.
But I do know that I am on a journey. And while I've spent a great deal of it wandering aimlessly and not accomplishing a great deal, I have learned and I hope I have done something good for someone somewhere. I think about my father a lot. He was a pretty simple man in many ways, and he spent his life working in a relatively mundane job, managing part of the operation of an oil refinery. He also spent his entire life actively involved in our little church where his efforts touched the lives of a rather limited number of people.
And in the end, I think he still affected a lot of lives and made some parts of the world a little better. And I think his faith had a great deal to do with that. He was a flawed man - a sinner - and he was as good a man as I think I ever met.
No matter what they tell you in Time magazine or on the evening news, that is what being a Christian is all about.