The anxiety that arises from subjectivity in relation to one’s faith is aggravated by two juxtaposed, not necessarily opposing, forces, so to speak.
There is a humility, and I would call it a wise or productive humility, evoked in the midst of certain moments, often during a sermon, often while reading related texts (scriptural, devotional, theological, philosophical), that challenges one’s own understanding of his or her faith. Last Sunday, I was inclined to believe that I was indeed not a Christian because there wasn’t enough conflict in my life. This idea is of course scripturally supported in Matthew (10:37-38). (I’ve written a blog before which expressed my view that I can not consider myself a Christian because there are very basic and straight forward scriptural teachings which I repeatedly betray, or even worse, don’t really think about.) This sermon in particular was frustrating because the preacher attempted to lay out a kind of objective schema (albeit brief) against which to judge one’s own status of faith. I was left with the unscrutinized understanding that I was not a Christian because there wasn’t that type of struggle in my life..one that seemed worthy, or indicative of Christ’s presence. The sermon reminded me that I’m not a Christian..well according to what this expert was teaching (we all, in good faith, assume our preachers knows more about certain matters of faith than we, the general congregation, do). Regardless of an authentic proclamation of belief..the conscious decision to believe in Christ and God, it turns out that I’m still not a disciple because substantial conflict is absent from my life. I must be avoiding God’s will. While I can concede that the decision to “follow Christ” is one that necessitates (“necessitate” is a term that reflects a misguided attitude towards love) a qualitative change in one’s life, that the decision is not one that can be monitored by another according to infrequent admonishments which do not seek to understand one’s psychology and circumstance in any intimate way.
And this last bit can belong at the other end of the above defeatist mentality that runs on bad faith in the Sartrean sense. While one might be inclined to accept defeat, his or her friends may come to the rescue, as all good friends do. They reassure me of this common problem, one that is counter productive to attempts to exist as a Christian. That is, “we all struggle with what you’re struggling with.” The good friend presumes to help me along by identifying with me, with my thought process. Indeed, it is because I assume defeat that ultimately reveals an authentic faith, a faith which can’t exist without some form, or some frequency, of doubt. Therefore, my shortcomings are bolstered as positive signs of my humanity, one that Christ recognizes and is patient with (Meanwhile, Hebrews 10:26 hangs oppressively over me…but maybe I’m misunderstanding it). While there is perhaps a comfort that comes from realizing your thoughts aren’t yours alone, that is, that others “struggle” with the same ideas and recurring behaviors, there is also something unsettling about it. If the world is full of people like me, then that means no one is being honest about the depths of their thoughts…not that we should be required to confess in detail via an itemized list…but, in the more general sense, the unsettling depths of skepticism, desire, hate, dismissal, prejudice, resentment. Of course, if I am so fortunate as to truly be unique, then I am alone in my thinking, and my self-reflection becomes something more acute. Either way, it’s unsettling.
So, we are left to our own minds and hearts in relation to our perceived authenticity…and I think we knew this all along. But isolation is disconcerting, there is no support. In relation to God, we are alone. While we may surround ourselves with supportive networks, we are nevertheless alone before God, or perhaps more charitably, alone with God.
I’m frustrated by the back and forth. My friend had a discussion with his pastor once, and he ruminated on similar problems/questions to which the preacher responded with some brevity, if I recall correctly. Essentially, he emphasized the need to make a decision regardless of these unanswered/unanswerable questions. This type of response is both understandable and dismissive. Doubt is encouraged, or “allowed”, but ultimately dismissed as a childish phase that usually occurs in college when we all (ideally) learn how big the world is..so to speak. Doubt when one is 22 is admirable and attractive, doubt when one is 33 is silly and immature..or worse, boring. I’m not saying that we should embrace a Cartesian method of doubt…and I fully agree with Kierkegaard’s warnings about doubt (De omnibus dubitandum est).
It’s just…all these voices are so loud. It’s all so important.