Monday, 10 September 2007

Reflections about Jesus

I was born and raised in a Roman Catholic family. My Christian faith was a very important part of my life until I was about 16 years old. Shortly after I started reading Nietzsche's works, I slipped away from the Roman Catholic Church. I lost all my faith and became a fervent atheist. I reached a point where any religious talk was so annoying to my ears that I used to engage in very heavy discussions with anyone who voiced such discourse!
A year or so after turning into an atheist, I realised that I had no evidence to show that God was merely a human invention. I was, consequently, drawn to the agnostic position whereby I could not really say whether there was a God or not. I spent around 4 years living as an agnostic.
The strange thing is that during all that time, I never lost my interest in religion. Even though I still found it extremely hard to believe in something that I could not see, I kept reading books about religious matters. At university, some of my closest friends were preparing to become priests/missionaries. I remember thinking to myself that if I did not want to know about God, it seemed as though he was not equally willing to let me go!

In 2003, I went to Spain. I spent more than a year living in Madrid. During my time in the Spanish capital, I came across a number of religious creeds. Although I was initially very sceptical about any religion I read about, I gradually felt a desire to give faith another chance. I befriended some members of an Evangelical Christian organisation. They were very nice and honest people, but they would hardly ever talk about anything that was not somehow related to the Bible. Furthermore, they took the Bible very literally.

Although I enjoyed spending time with the Evangelical Christian friends I met in Spain, I did not really like their Sunday gatherings so much. These events were normally characterised by a great deal of singing, hand-clapping, crying, and other emotionally-charged behaviours. The pastors usually shouted as they spoke to the audience. There seemed to be a huge emphasis on drama rather than on inducing people to reflect so that they could do something practical to change the world. This is not meant to be a critique of Evangelical Christian gatherings; I just did not feel so comfortable in such a setting. I also disliked the fact that the Bible was often discussed without much reference to the reality of one's everyday problems. Social and personal difficulties were mentioned, but these were frequently dealt with in a very simplistic way, failing to take into consideration the complexities of the human condition.

Though disillusioned with the Evangelical Christian organisation, I still harboured a strong interest in Jesus's teachings. I then came across a book called Salvar a Los Ninos Soldados by Gervasio Sanchez. This book focused on the work of Chema Caballero, a Spanish missionary in Sierra Leone. As I moved from one chapter to another, I felt a great joy in my heart. Unlike several priests I had met until that stage in my life, Chema was quite different; he managed to support the Catholic Church without trying to impose his views on the readers. He also came across as a person who enjoyed thinking rather than simply regurgitating dogmas. The book had a profound impact on my views about God. Indeed, I decided to identify with the Catholic Church once again and to take a fresh look at Jesus.

As I was still going through that phase, I found another book which also had a huge impact on my faith. Written by Vicente Romero, it was called Donde Anidan Los Angeles. Although the book was not about the Roman Catholic Church, it focused on several Catholic missionaries. To my surprise, a section of the book was devoted to Chema Caballero and his remarkable work with child soldiers in West Africa! Once again, I noticed how the missionaries who viewed human suffering first-hand on a regular basis had very interesting views about God and the Church; faced with countless complex problems, they tended to retain the love of humanity associated with Jesus while being less dogmatic when analysing various issues.

In January 2005, I left Spain to go to El Salvador. During the few months that I spent in the latter country, my interest in religious matters waned a bit as I focused on settling down in a new country. The stay in El Salvador did, however, help me to learn more about Archbishop Romero, a remarkable individual who was assassinated in 1980. I also read a bit about the admirable work of the Jesuits in the country over many years.

I returned to Malta in June 2005. My interest in the Catholic Church was fired up for a while, but in the absence of any nourishment, my enthusiasm waned once again. I eventually slided back to my agnostic stance. Wendy came to Malta in October of the same year and for a fairly long time, religion became little more than an interesting topic to discuss with other people.

My mom passed away in March 2006. Contrary to all expectations, my family deserted us completely. With Wendy's family far away in El Salvador and my family acting in an incredibly distant way, we felt like orphans. Support from friends was also very hard to find since many appeared to be more interested in other things rather than in nurturing the friendships.

As time went by, Wendy and I developed some new friendships. Some of them were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the members are often referred to as Mormons). These new friends seemed to understand the meaning of the word "friendship"; they were there with us to share the good times and they were also there to help in times of need.

The Mormon Church does not have many members in Malta. This creates a certain familiarity among the people who attend the services every Sunday. As a Christian organisation with a focus on Jesus Christ, it promotes some very positive values. Having said that, certain beliefs can be very hard for individuals with a Roman Catholic background to digest. For instance, Mormons are not supposed to drink tea or coffee. Drinking wine is also prohibited.

Brushing aside some of the beliefs associated with the Mormon Church, virtually all the people we met who belonged to that organisation were really friendly. Unlike most of the other individuals I knew, they were genuinely interested in spending quality time with friends.

When I wondered about why the many Mormons we met were so pleasant, I drew the conclusion that this was mainly because of their efforts to apply the teachings of Jesus to their lives. I had always believed that Jesus was a remarkably positive person, but I had met few people whose Christian principles were consistent with their everyday actions. With the Mormons, it was quite different.

Nowadays, I still have many friends who are Mormons. Having said that, I feel more attracted to the Roman Catholic Church. I believe that the latter provides a better chance to those people who admire Jesus to translate their faith into action in the everyday world.

At this stage, what are my current views about Jesus? To me, he is a role model. Having lived so many centuries ago and having never written any books himself, he might be misunderstood by countless individuals. Yet, I believe that Jesus was a person who wanted to show us that we could all live happily together. He taught us about the importance of love. He was interested in human wellbeing and his several healings bear witness to this. He often talked about his heavenly father and I do not feel that I have anything to lose by believing in God. At the end of the day, how could I show that God is a myth?

Unfortunately, many people perceive God as a stern police officer that is always ready to judge and punish us every time we do something wrong. The God I believe in, represented on Earth by Jesus, is a God of LOVE. Real love always seeks to heal, to improve, to build. I always say to myself that if I, an imperfect human being with all my biases, am able to forgive the person who has hurt me most in my life, imagine what God - the most loving entity in the universe - is capable of doing!!!

In the past, when I brushed God and Jesus to the side, I tried to find lasting happiness by resorting to other things. For a long time, I also believed that I would always be able to rely on a number of individuals considered as extremely good friends or family members. Experience has clearly shown that all those people who have not acted in a Christ-like way have ended up going their separate ways in order to pursue a life dictated by very selfish motives.

To conclude, I would like to say that the main factor which prevented me from believing in God for a long time in my life was the thought that God might be a human invention. Nowadays, that possibility no longer troubles me. Regardless of whether God exists or not, the values promoted by Jesus are good ones. The notion of transforming this universe into a place characterised by peace and love does not need to rest exclusively on faith; it is a goal which all true Catholics should aspire to achieve. The transformation of the universe into a better place need not await a miracle; we can all contribute to it starting from today. Starting from now.

Image taken from:


Andre said...

Interesting post... I agree with you that Jesus' morality is a good one - however I have my doubts whether Christian teachings are valid.

Personally I don't care anymore about religion - only yesterday I heard the pope say that "the only salvation is found through Christ" and that made me laugh a bit (much to dismay of my family).

Actually, from a sociological and political perspective I like the way the church thinks of the individual and society and the relationship they both have together. Otherwise... I find it hard to find time for anything religious.

Lupideloop said...

Hi Dave!!

A very good post... something which really does make you stop and think! I believe this is one of the best "discussions" on faith I have come across. True and open with out beating around any bushes.

I, unfortunately, have still to find any reason to see religion as anything more then a false outcrying.

One does not have to be Christian, catholic, Muslim or what have you to do good!

I think my skepticism of religion grew out of a time I used to attend a Prayer Group and after a few months abandoned it as I felt it all so fake!

Yet, thanks for this post... it is refreshing and eye-opening!

David Cuschieri said...

Hi all! Thanks for the interesting comments! :)

I would like to say that religion is useless if it fails to have visible effects within a society. People who merely preach, but never act will do little to further a cause.

As far as prayer groups are concerned, my stance is that different people approach God in diverse ways. For some, the best way is to sing and clap. Other people prefer other ways.

I totally agree that one does NOT have to believe in God to be a good person. Having said that, one should not forget that every person lives in a community. It is sometimes very hard for many people to feel any degree of care for those around them if they do not have a particular world-view that stresses loving one's neighbour.

Many people have, unfortunately, deserted the Catholic Church because of certain things that they might have heard from a specific priest's mouth. Apart from the fact that no person is perfect, it is precisely in such situations that one's image of Jesus should be most helpful; perceiving Jesus as an individual who was mainly interested in transmitting a message of love, whatever is said by certain individuals throughout one's life should not act as a deterrent to focus on the ultimate goals of a Christian - creating a heaven for all people.

Being a Christian should also not conflict with science or with being rational. While Jesus often talked about the importance of faith, he never condemned science in his teachings. Furthermore, if science is a tool that we can use to transform this universe into a better place for all people, why should it be discouraged or viewed negatively?

Alberta said...

Hello David :)

Hope this comment finds you well!
I don't know you personally but I got to knows bits and pieces of who you are via blog articles.

I always love to read something refreshing, and indeed, yours was such. It made me think. I like the way you write to convey things. Very nice style.

I totally agree with you. Rather than being a fanatic or an extreme follower of these 'loud' meetings (likewise I don't mean to do them harm), what matters to me most is to follow Christ's teachings. To live a life like He did. And, of course to leave an impact on other people's lives. A good one shall I add. Your message was well delivered - prosit!

Keep 'em coming! Take good care of yourself and God bless :)

Wish you well!


Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Nice post - very thoughtful.