Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Dullness

I'm a quiet and introspective person by nature. I'd rather read a book, for instance, than go to a party. But even then, I'm so dominated by my own thoughts that I find it hard to read books, because I'm stopping every few sentences to think about the implications of some character's actions, or how I would behave in that situation. I'm not saying that my thoughts are especially brilliant or revolutionary, but given how much I think, I find it surprising that it took me so long to really begin questioning religion.

As I was growing up, my religion was the one dull spot in my otherwise vivid internal life. It's strange looking back now, because I can recall my interest in topics like math and philosophy, in fantasy and science fiction, and the weird little doodles and notes I made as a result. Yet when I think of my religious schooling, there's a deep emptiness where the rich world of thoughts should be. I did my daily devotions and attended school chapel sessions just as I performed the various academic tasks of the day. I had no trouble doing "OIA"s in Bible class: observing the basic characteristics of a biblical passage, interpreting its deeper meaning and applying it to my life. But I approached it the same way I might approach an essay in my English class.

That's not to say I didn't care about my faith. I remember attending church each Sunday and chapel each Monday with a genuine desire that this would be the week when the sermon really spoke to me, inspired me to enrich my spiritual life. But it never did. In fact, I found it almost comical how virtually every message was related back to the gospel story of Christ's sacrifice. How many tiny variations, I wondered, could they possibly present on the same theme? Would I spend the rest of my life—the rest of eternity—forcing myself to feel awed by and indebted to this single act of Jesus, feigning interest in the same story told a thousand ways?

Most of the other students in my high school were no more enthusiastic than I was. We were all believers, but only a handful were what you might call "on fire for Jesus." Some of it was probably just the insouciance common in many teenagers, but the shallowness of the material was undoubtedly a factor. It was actually a running joke in my Bible classes that if you were asked a question but hadn't been paying attention, you could answer "Jesus" and have a fair chance of getting it right. There was rote memorization galore: learning the 66 books of the Bible in order, weekly memory verses, and so on. Intellectually stimulating topics were few and far between. Even my apologetics class had no discussion of some of fundamentalist Christianity's most difficult problems: the atrocities, contradictions and forgeries in the Bible, the inefficacy and illogic of intercessory prayer, the Euthyphro dilemma, et cetera.

Yet despite my discontent, it never even occurred to me for many years to question the most basic tenets of my religion. The reality of the spiritual realm was so drilled into me that it took its place among the basic, routine facts of life: the sky is blue, the grass is green, and God sits on his heavenly throne. I think it was largely this total immersion, combined with the eternal rewards and punishments that were ever fixed in the back of my mind, that held me back for so long.

Eventually, though, my natural curiosity overtook this area of my life as well. In some ways my current deep interest in religious topics is a reaction to this dullness, this dearth of serious thought about religion that dominated my first twenty years. It doesn't stop at spiritual matters, though: I've gained a new appreciation for biology and cosmology now that they're no longer shrouded in a fog of the divine. I resent the way in which fundamentalism discourages critical thought, and I hate the fact that other young minds are subjected to the same stifling influences that I was. That's one reason I look forward to the day when faith falls by the wayside: I want the seeds of curiosity to be planted in fertile soil.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely. I enjoyed reading the illustrated Children's Bible, but I enjoyed reading any other book more - I'd read the bible in church to escape from the sermon. I was talented at memorizing verses but was startled when a relative asked whether we discuss the doctrines that are built on those verses. As both a teenager and an adult, I dreaded the "What does this teach us" part of the bible study, because noone would have an answer and someone would have to answer "Serve Jesus".
    I was taught that the Bible was without error, but now it looks to me like they were declaring their intent to believe, not describing the results of any investigation.