As many of you know, I’m a little obsessed with truth and reality. I love learning and I want to know as much about this beautiful universe as I can. I also want to think as carefully, fully, and wisely as I can about the aspects of this world that we can’t ever really know about (ethics, spirituality, any afterlife, etc.). I want to accept and believe as much truth as possible, because I think the truth is beautiful and freeing, in a way that erroneous beliefs are not. I want to accept reality in all its forms.
One thing that has been tripping me up quite a bit lately is the possibility of having to choose between realities. Specifically, the reality about God.
I grew up with an unwavering belief in God. I believed God was a very clearly gendered He, I believed He was everything (and nothing more than) the Bible says He is, and I firmly believed that anyone who took the time to carefully, fully, and wisely consider the world would come to the same conclusion as me. Atheists were all proud, ignorant, angry, petulant children. (I was lovely back then.)
Eventually, embarrassingly late in my 20s, I allowed myself to face fully into some uncomfortable questions that had started to creep in (some that had actually always been there), and to accept the fact that there were things I didn’t believe in the fullest sense I claimed. Deep-seated doubts started to rear their “ugly” heads when I allowed myself to embrace the hard questions. I realized I didn’t have a good answer for why evolution wasn’t true and the Genesis Creation story was literally true. I didn’t have a good answer for why God allows horrible things to happen to innocent people. I didn’t have a good answer for why a loving God would send His supposedly beloved, though unbelieving, children to hell, especially those children who wanted to know the truth and honestly couldn’t find satisfactory evidence of God on earth (even if they wanted to). I didn’t have a good answer for exactly why abortion was abominable. I didn’t have a good answer for why Jesus was a Republican.
Details of my faith began to change, without my direction or intention. Embracing the realities of those doubts gave a different sense of life to my faith; without meaning to, it became something else, something more “me.” (In fact, I am starting to believe (ha) that we cannot control what we honestly, deep-down believe.) Then I faced into the scariest doubt of all:
What if God Itself (a Being transcendent of our silly gender binary) is something we made up? What if religion, in all forms, is just a response to fear of the meaninglessness and/or brutality of life?
I don’t have a good question for that. I think it’s good that I admit that. If I were honest with myself and my embrace of Reality (or my embrace of what Reality appears to be), I would probably be agnostic.
But that’s not the only reality at work here. There is also the reality of human mental and emotional well-being. I think well-being is incredibly important in considerations of ethics and human flourishing, and I believe we should promote human well-being as much as possible in our government and personal relationships. And studies have shown that people who embrace beliefs and spiritual practices (in some cases, particularly this case, specifically Christian structures) tend to be happier and experience greater psychological well-being.
I struggle with anxiety, and clinging to my faith has always helped me when my anxious thoughts start to crowd my mind and grip my chest. I want to live a life of internal peace–not just for me, but for my marriage and any children my husband and I have. Believing in God gives me peace, because on some level I really do believe God exists and I believe some of the comforting consequences of a Real God. Choosing to set aside some of my niggling doubts and unanswered questions helps with my anxiety and allows me to live an objectively better life.
Then apply that beyond myself. I believe there is inherent value in aligning our beliefs with what is true, not just with what we want to be true. Absolutely. But let’s assume God does not exist: would I rather someone suffer from extreme anxiety or depression in the name of aligning her beliefs with what is true? Or would I rather she believe in an imaginary God and experience the peace, joy, and comfort that false belief brings her? I don’t know that I could, in good conscience, want the former.
So which reality do I choose? The reality of my doubt or the reality of my faith? Maybe the best answer is that we don’t have to choose between them. Who knows.