Wednesday, September 08, 2004


How Do We Know?

I was reading a science fiction book on Monday. This is part of my general holiday plan: get enough books to last the weekend, barricade the door and forget about the world. Granted, it's not a very creative approach but it works when the streets are full of people desperately trying to have fun, and woe betide anyone who gets in the way. The beach wasn't even an option because there were so many people out there you couldn't see the sand. Typical for Labor Day. I was having knee problems too, so staying in was a good idea.

Anyway, one of the main characters in this story had an "indoctrinal" virus living in him. The purpose was to give him a religious experience. It gave him headaches when he did anything the virus considered blasphemous. Much SF is hostile to the very idea of God, being in line with the "opiate of the masses" idea. This book goes beyond hostile to cliched cynicism. You can pretty well guess what acts were considered blasphemous (swearing, doubting), and what images came up from the virus (stained glass windows, organ music).

Farther along we learn more about the religion on this planet: thoroughly commercial, corrupt, and requiring everyone who wants to join, or even those who get drafted into forced labor, to take on one of these indoctrinal viruses. The possibility that there is any God out there to worship is never even considered. The church is just a tool and its technologic base is preposterous; it's a whole planet of parasites. Who is the host?

Eventually I got sick of all this and gave it up. The book had other problems, but the main one was the complete lack of any character I could care about. It was late in the afternoon anyway and I had a little polishing to do on a writing project. But this thing had a surprising effect. I've been reading the Old Testament, and have been saddened by all those accounts of Israel being
saved, and then before you know it, turning away from God again. How could they turn away from such obvious miracles? And I found myself turning away from the obvious miracles in my life.

What if all of this is just the equivalent of a passing virus? How do we know that we know God? On the way home on the bus, traditional time for thinking about things like this, it occurred to me that only our real God would allow doubts. Every other "god" tries for complete mind control, like that indoctrinal virus. I am free to doubt, to walk away and continue my life, sans headaches but alone. I am also free to choose to believe the evidence before me.

It wasn't until I read this book--as much as I did--that I really began to understand what people mean by "religious experience." I have always wanted something real. Experience is real, but may not reflect outer reality. It needs to be checked. Many people want just the feeling. Yah, I'd love to feel good all the time. I've had my fill of depression... but one thing worse than depression is phony good feeling. My problem is that the way I determine if a feeling reflects something real is to throw rocks at it. If it breaks it's not real. It's not hard to figure out what the result of that is.

Basically, I'm deathly afraid this whole new life is going to turn into vapor and pass through my fingertips. I wonder how long it takes to get complete confidence. Confidence, as in believing that God really is in control of this mess of a world and can make life worth living.

A friend is always encouraging me to seek community. I know that's one of the ways to reinforce shaky things: put more legs on it. Communities, however, don't necessarily have the truth either... and what if it's just a bunch of people gathering to support the same dead belief? I've seen plenty of that. Numbers don't make truth.

I like the idea of community, but I'm not very trusting. I also have very little idea of how to participate, having been solitary all of my life. So I do what I can: meeting people in very small groups. Mountain bike rides and lunches, even helping friends move. I'd like to think that the other participants in these little meetings get something from them, but I don't know. It's an area I'm afraid to look at, because I don't know how we know this either.

I'd had a conversation with some friends a few days before I read the book. They described how they've been having some trouble in their marriage, and this has had some hair-raising results. The little crack of disagreement widened into non-communication, and after that things went downhill until it got bad enough to awaken them from their automatic responses. This book did the same to me: got in a small crack and made it wider. Doubts are easy. Surety may be impossible, but what it life is absolutely assured? We have Jesus' words printed, and the fact of His life, but we have to believe it. Confidence may be built by collecting enough evidence and then deciding to go with it. All of life requires faith. What do we choose to believe?

I had a religious experience at the Who concert in August. They are absolutely phenomenal live. There were times throughout the concert that I felt as if I were going to start crying. There was so much energy. The band produced it. Pete Townsend and Roger Daultrey were like mad men on the stage. They put all the emotion of the songs into the process of playing them.
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