I’ve mentioned religion and faith a couple of times before, albeit in extraordinarily roundabout ways; I remember the first was simply to note that I had completely missed the fact that Ash Wednesday had come and gone and Lent was nearly already over, Easter more than halfway here. This isn’t really because I’ve rediscovered Catholicism after a many-years lapse–rather, I think I often just saw people with ashes on their foreheads. This past Ash Wednesday, I don’t think I had occasion to go anywhere or see anyone, and so I didn’t notice.
I bring this up because faith was one of the things I wanted to explore in greater detail when I started this blog. I was raised Catholic, and though I’d lapsed by high school, still I went to a Jesuit college, where I studied biology. The life sciences. Physics and chemistry and genetics. While I will note that I never had a priest for a science teacher, back then, I will also note that I remember all my teachers wore their ashes proudly when Wednesday came around. I learned about phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny (or vice-versa; truthfully, I can never remember, because truthfully, I never actually understood what it meant) from a woman who took communion. When I studied theology, Robert Kennedy taught not just the Bible from Genesis to Revelations but also Hobbes, Hume, Dante, and Joyce. I actually read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for a theology class.
My senior year, I began work on a novel about time travel. I had an idea for where it would end, but for a long while, never for how it got there; when I realized that Jesus of Nazareth might have a role as a character, I fought it–I didn’t want the book noticed for its controversy rather than for its story.
One of the most formative moments of my life was when one of my characters surprised me and I realized I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Not just because it was the first time a character didn’t merely take on a life of his own so much as actually fought with me, but also because it forced me to go back there. Back to Jerusalem (however metaphorically speaking), back to Jesus and the crucifixion. In order to get it right, I did a lot of research, reading just about every Jesus-related book I could find.
During the process, I became closer to the idea of Christ and God. Not in the Biblical sense of either word, but both ideas as I perceived them, and in that distinction there is, I believe, a very crucial difference.
I’ve been reading a lot about the recent spate of anti-religious books by guys like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. A lot of books that seem to speak about the evils of organized religion but ultimately fail, I believe, to address why faith exists in the first place.
Faith, I believe, is a story. It is one we construct by living, and I think, like all stories, it has come over the years to tap into our deepest realms of psyche. I think these books fail, finally, to explore faith, focusing instead on the negation of belief, religion, and dogma, which, while arguably a worthwhile goal in the day and age of extremists of all kinds, does not actually engage the topic in the meaningful fashion it deserves.
Where they failed, however, they left room enough for someone to try, which is what I plan to do.Tags: ash wednesday, bible, biology, catholicism, chemistry, christ, christian, christianity, christopher hitchens, faith, genetics, jesuit, jesus, lent, ontogeny, phylogeny, physics, religion, richard dawkins, sam harris, science, spirituality