Many of my more interesting anecdotes regarding religious discussion include my mother. This is because she's one of the only people I've ever been able to disagree with who hasn't become impassioned to the point of verbal abuse. We don't see eye to eye, and we certainly fight, but being a generally kind and open-minded sort of person she does a rather admirable job of listening to my point of view.
About a million years ago (or maybe ten or so, if you want to get technical) I was in college and didn't have a working vehicle. She would drive me to class in the morning and then back home again in the afternoon. My schedule at the time was mostly filled with basic philosophy and comparative religion courses, and we'd chat about whatever was going on in my courses as we made our way up the winding roads of the Texas hill country. It was a Spring semester which meant the bluebonnets were in bloom at the time, and my mother and I had finally reached a kind of understanding that I was no longer a child and she was no longer the-boss-of-me. Those car rides are some of my most cherished memories of our relationship.
One conversation that jumps out, however, as not being all wildflowers and country roads came after on of my philosophy classes had an overview of Pascal's Wager.
I'd read it before and was surprised to find that so had she, although she didn't know what it was called. She'd been exposed to a sort of weird paraphrase for the purpose of evangelism. I sort of brushed past it, calling it silly or stupid. I pointed some of the various flaws and counter-arguments we'd learned, and then dismissed it as a ridiculous thing to believe or argue. My mother got quiet.
Then she got mad.
The conversation exploded in that way that only mother/daughter fights can. She had used the argument when witnessing (proselytizing, for the uninitiated), and anything that gets someone into heaven is a Good Thing, and it makes more sense to hedge your bets, and anyway it's not really hedging your bets it's just making the smart choice! And on and on her defensiveness grew until we weren't really arguing about anything relevant.
To this day I'm not sure she'd remember it, and I really don't know if she even still thinks faith founded on this early example of probability is worthwhile or attractive.
My perspective on and appreciation of Pascal's Pensées has become more nuanced as I've gotten older. I still think the notion of living one's life or basing one's faith on a risk versus gain assessment for the afterlife is silly. It doesn't matter if I'm wrong because I've hedged my bets! How can that possibly be fulfilling, or even sincere?
Still, it's something I think about from time to time--what if I'm wrong? What if I'm wrong about my beliefs, The Bible, God, Jesus, the disciples and apostles, words, stories, psalms, parables, all of it. What then?
It's a healthy notion to reflect on, from time to time, if you're a person of faith.
Last night, driving home and thinking idly about my mother and the fight we had so long ago, it occurred to me that I've reached a point at which it doesn't matter. It's not that it doesn't matter if I'm wrong because I'll be the beneficiary of some cosmic reward if I'm right and the alternative is nothing. The reason it doesn't matter is that my beliefs don't cause me to do, say, or think terrible things.
I have no animosity towards anyone for what God they choose to worship (if any), where they live, how they pray (if they do), or who they love. I don't suspect that any of my neighbors are secretly engaging in sexual relationships I might disapprove of. I don't get angry at the notion that the people I interact with are making choices that may not be right for me or my life. I don't resist or begrudge the progression of scientific inquiry and discovery.
I do not scream or fight or mourn or wail or reject the gifts of truth, beauty, freedom, curiosity, generosity or love. I recognized the aspects of my beliefs that brought me harm, and brought harm to the people around me and to my relationship with them, with myself, and with god.
And then I let them go.
I excised them from my heart and from my life, and realized instantly that they had never really served me at all. These doctrines of suspicion, resentment, ignorance, regression, and control that I'd grown up with had only ever wounded my capacity to love others or myself, and by extension--God.
If I'm wrong about the things I draw from Christianity it doesn't matter - not because I've hedged my bets for an eternal reward, but because the things I draw from it now don't prevent me from embracing peace, compassion, or discovery.
I spent a great deal of my childhood feeling ashamed and afraid of parts of myself, which translated to how I treated others. I was ashamed of my emotions and attraction towards other women. I was afraid that my interest in science was somehow misguided. My faith felt like a burden, weighing me down as I tread water in my life, drowning in all of the shoulds and shouldn'ts and can'ts and don'ts and wrongs and bads and dirtys.
I was unable and eventually unwilling to destroy the parts of myself that years of evangelical indoctrination had convinced me were somehow broken. It took time, and a lot of anger and pain, but I rejected those parts of modern Christianity. In fact, for a time I rejected the whole of Christianity.
Then one day I picked it up again, and brushed it off. I looked at it through the lens of historical context. I looked at it through the lens of paganism. I looked at it through the lens of agnostic deism. I looked at it through the lens of human sexuality. I looked at it through the lens of feminism. I looked at it through the lens of secular humanism, science, and atheism. I looked at it through the lens of Buddhism. I looked at it through the lens of art and storytelling.
I looked at it through the lens of my life.
I looked at it through the lens of Jesus' words.
And I realized, through all of those lenses the particles of fear, resentment, anger, ignorance, defensiveness and malice look so, so small. And I brushed them away.
What remained has only been enriched by such a variety of perspectives.
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