The Unavoidable Question

Religion has come to be such a sensitive topic that it can pull interpersonal relations to both extremes – people can become polarized or united so strongly because of religion that it is often dangerous and full of human follies (history is an ample source of such examples, starting from the Crusades to the modern Israel-Palestine conflict). In fact, I have unintentionally alienated an intelligent and honest individual whom I liked a lot (purely because of the fact that I did not refrain from manifesting my religious views), so I know the risk of broaching this subject. Hence here's my disclaimer: I don't want to antagonize anyone based on relgious issues, so please keep in mind that I'm not trying to evangelize.

I'm talking about it because this becomes, at some point in life, an unavoidable question to answer. We all know that one's life is limited by something like 29,200 days (80 years). That is short, even beside the fact that most of it gets wasted in sleeping, fooling around, and not doing anything much. Compare this brevity with eternity; don't just glance at them, but chew over the difference slowly. Then it will begin to dawn that, if there is really some "eternal" routine (whether it's Heaven/Hell, incarnation, or something else) extant outside the domain of our petty days, it will dwarf the significance of this temporary world so much that it is only rational to worry about things beyond this life.

Despite the overzealous Christian dynamics in the Korean society, I was not a Christian when I was in it. In truth, I disliked Christians, because to me they were self-content two-faced jackals who believed in such an unfair, absurdly distorted justice that dictated only a few lucky ones (including them, of course) would be saved (eternally) and all the others would be damned (eternally). It is only when I came to the states and faced desperation in Idaho, where I was mired in the fear of getting stuck there for good and losing all I aspired for, did I choose to believe in Christian God.

Or, no, looking back, I think it was the supernatural, all-transcending notion of God rather than 'Christianity' per se. In darkness, I realized to the marrow how utterly vulnerable I was, and groped for a rope of hope.

After I managed to pull myself out of the Idaho nightmare, I began to learn about the Christian doctrines and study the Bible. As is the case for most Christians, there were phases I was fervent to silliness and chilled to a heathen. In the process, I think I obtained what Christians would call the "growth in faith" by gospel, meaning acquirement of knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ and of the Biblical events in general. However, the core of my religious stance remains 'unacceptably open' to different kinds of religion for most 'normal' Christians.

Why am I Christian?

Why do I believe in God? I can give several reasons for this. For example, I believe that God personally saved me in Idaho when I was in desperate need; and for that alone I owe absolute loyalty to God, modulo the fact that I might have been deluding myself.

But I'm nonetheless strongly against religion for religion's sake. I'm cynically convinced that one just cannot be constantly 'fired up' with Holy Spirit; that's simply not the way it works. One can pump up evangelical feelings through worship and praise, but such effects, I fear, are ultimately fleeting. The most stable source of my faith lies in rather grim facts: that we have not much choice anyway but to believe in God and his salvation, and that the world seems to impose many physical limitations to illustrate our inability to understand God (sort of Calvinistic here).

Why do we have no choice but to believe in God? I will argue that if one doens't believe in the 'life beyond' that God's (or any religious) salvation promises, his life has no meaning. Unless one is willing to live life that has no significance whatsoever, this argument should at least be vexing. I need only two assuptions. First, we can measure the amount of meaning of life. For instance, if one phase of your life was particularly meaningful, we can say it has meaning of 500, whereas if you wasted away some phase of your life, we may say it has meaning of 30. Second, the meaning of one's life in the world is in inverse relation with time. This is because even if one thing is extraordinarily meaningful, if too much time is spent on it, it's not "worth it"; even if it carries a lasting effect of meaningfulness, it will, in the fluidity of time, eventually wear away.

The key point is that a person can have only a finite amount of meaning in his time, because it is only finitely long. Let P be any person. The total amount of meaning of P's life will be fixed as some measurable constant C by hypothesis. The amount of meaning will decrease as time with which it's associated grows. Let n denote the number of units of time (say, years) associated with C. If we account for the eternity of time (without a presence of something beyond), we can compute the meaning of P's life in its entirety, expressed by k(C/n) for some constant k, by taking limit on n:

	  meaning of P's life = lim_{n->inf} (k(C/n)) = 0.
      

I am also propelled to accept the presence of some divine being because I observe so many limitations imposed in this world. For one, we cannot exceed the speed of light. Why not? Well, that's because we get to rewind time if we can travel faster than light, and it appears to me that this is exactly the sort of cap that God would put on to prevent 'malfunctioning' of the universe. People talk of the possibility of spatiotemporal disruptions like warmholes that will allow time reversal, but we don't know much about them yet. And what about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? This bummer states that we can never know certain pairs of physical properties to high precision simultaneously; one must give up one to gain the other. What the heck is that for, other than illustrating our undeniable limitations in comprehending the universe? Furthermore, scientists now speculate that the universe is full of "dark matter" (more than anything else), which we don't have a clue about. Who knows what's there? This might physically be the place for souls, spirits, and all sorts of 'supernatural' things people talk about. Last, our inability to visualize spaces beyond three-dimensional feels suffocating, because there can be arbitrarily high dimensions.

Nonetheless, I must acknowledge that this doesn't give any definitive ground for religion. Stephen Hawking, who understands these physical laws (and their implications) much more deeply and fundamentally than I do, more or less denies the need of God.

My problems with Christianity

I'm not an "exemplary" Christian in that I let myself mercilessly attack the doctrines of Christianity, and dare to generalize the meaning of God (as opposed to the super-strict specifications of salvation in Christianity).

Near the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, a fiction by the great Christian scholar C.S. Lewis, I was shocked by Lewis' seemingly heathen generosity on non-Christians. It's all allegorical, but essentially the message says that even if one doesn't specifically believe in the Christian God, if he has the right sense of God and finds his salvation through some other means, he will be saved.

I was stunned. At the time, I was all about the most pristine doctorines of Christianity. C.S. Lewis, the great Christian, making this kind of unacceptable remark? Can one then believe in, say, Allah and nonetheless go to the Christian heaven?

Most Christians (or those I'm aware of) usually gloss over this black spot of Lewis, saying that he doesn't actually mean it but is trying to 'loosen' the strictness of salvation in a different way. It's been several years since I read it, and I'm coming to realize at least slightly why on heaven Lewis incorporated this portion into Narnia.

Christianity in this world can be awefully wrong. It's sometimes downright evil. One doesn't have to look back to the time of Galileo to locate the obviously wrong deeds of church. A Christian community is very heirarchical, so people often pay unconditional respect and obedience not only to God, but also to their 'superiors' like the elders and pastors. (This is especially the case in Korea – an amazingly heirarchical society itself, where pastors frequently wield power equal to that of politicians.) This means when I say something against church, it is highly likely that most Christians will 'stay loyal' to their pastors and churches no matter what. So a clear and honest communication is nearly always difficult.

Here are some of my (relatively minor) questions about Christianity. How do we accept the Bible exactly as it is, and what does it even mean to accept it as it is? It is clear that the Bible is, to some extent, spoiled by human editing. For example, consider Jesus' remark in Matthew 19:24, "It is eaiser for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." This doesn't make any sense, because why would you use a 'camel' to put through the eye of a needle? Most likely what happened was that it was mistranslated. In Aramaic the words for "camel" and "rope" are spelled the same. The phrase should then read "it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Source: wikipedia).

With this sort of human flaws in the Bible, how can we hold the view that the Bible should be taken literally? I've actually seen a person who is waiting for the destruction of a country in Middle East which was predicted in the Old Testament but hasn't happened yet. That's just nonsense. And don't even talk about refuting evolution as violation of God's words. I get greatly annoyed whenever I hear people, totally ignorant of the contents of and reasons for the theory of evolution, categorically attempt to deny the whole thing. What is it, some kind of Galileo Trial II? This was exactly the attitude of the Catholic Church at the time. I'm not an expert myself, but I've observed enough about the world to acknowledge that evolution is a very convincing, powerful theory. And I believe it can be perfectly compatible with God's methods of creation. Who are we to judge it wasn't an instrument of God? Blindly invoking Christian doctorines does not necessarily justify the the invoker. Note how many times Hitler, in his 1921 speech ranting against the Jews, invokes the fact that he is Christian (link).

Aside all these small questions, here is my biggest difficulty with Christianity. It is inherently unfair. Some people never get to even know about Christianity and thereby "miss" their chance of salvation. I can already foresee here the response of admirable missionaries who would argue that it is therefore the crucial duty of Christians to spread the gospel as much as they can. Well, I can see that, but this simply cannot be the final solution, because no matter how much we evangelize, there will be people who will not have access to this salvation. They will, according to the Bible, be eternally damned in Hell after their death.

Even the notion of eternal punishment sounds extremely unfair to me. Put simply, no matter how utterly unsavable one is, he doesn't seem to deserve endless damnation. (Always keep in mind that when we talk about Hell, we're not imagining some moderately painful place with fire and smoke. This is, in theory, an indescribably painful place. And you're stuck there for eternity once in it.)

I'm the kind of person who feels sorry for Judas Iscariot. Sure, he betrayed Jesus. But Jesus knew this fact beforehand! In essence, Judas was nothing but a puppet who took the role of traitor, of whom Jesus remarks "It would have been better for him if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). All right, but what about Judas? Why was he born, played this role, and went straight to Hell? What for? I'm agonized over this question, because you and I could equally well have been put into those shoes. What would be your response then?

Toward...

I know that I'm annoying some people with my attitude. Quite understandably, they would demand, "So what are you? Identify yourself!" My short answer is that I'm Christian; I've come with God too far to quit now. It is simply that I have so many things I dislike about what I see in Christianity in this world. It's unfair, it's riddled with human errors, and it sometimes makes no sense.

But, as my friend told me, truth doesn't have to be fair, although I very, very much wish it were. This may have been the motive for Lewis for concluding Narnia with such a mysterious message.

As for the human follies, let them be! God will judge us all, not humans.

When it makes no sense, I remind myself of the limitations of our comprehension as described above.

In short, my religeous development is not complete yet. I hope God is still leading me toward...

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