There’s much controversy in the news these days about the revelations of Mother Theresa’s troubling doubts about her faith during her lifelong ministry. Since she had put all her trust in God and essentially abandoned her family in Macedonia (in Montenegro, formerly Yugoslavia) in order to do His work in India, she had no one else in whom to confide, and he seemed to have abandoned her.
So she wrote her very private thoughts in her diaries, having no idea that one day the whole world would be able to see them. I have no doubt that it must have been very hard for her to reconcile the daily horrors she saw with a loving, omnipotent God who didn’t seem to raise a hand to make things better for the innocents.
Baptised in the southern Baptist tradition and other fundamentalist claims, as a child I was bombarded with messages for believing without questioning. I was raised by parents who insisted on obedience without questioning. We were also taught in Sunday school to obey although I did question Mrs. Horton sometimes. She was nice, and I thought she’d tell me the truth. But she was a product of her birth origins just as I was.
If we should question God’s ways, then the God I knew in my childhood could be vengeful:
And the LORD said unto Moses . . . Numbers 014:012: I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
He demanded terrible things to prove our loyalty, as when God demands Abraham offer his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar. I remember cringing on the cold hard church pew as the preacher acted out the story there on the pulpit. I could almost feel the cold terror Isaac must have felt as he lay there watching his father lift the knife higher and higher into the air.
On Sunday mornings we sang “trust and obey, for there’s no other way” and plopped our tithes and offerings in the basket as it was passed around. If the yield wasn’t enough on the first go-round, the basket was sometimes circulated a second time. I watched poor farmers dig a little deeper into pockets that often yielded only more lint scraps as they tried to satisfy a fundamentalist, non-demominational, speaker of foreign tongues who seemed to have an “in” with the holy ghost himself.
If you wanted something, just pray, and if God didn’t give it to you, you either hadn’t prayed hard enough, or he didn’t want you to have it. If you did something good, it was because God did it through you. You couldn’t be proud.
“The fear of the LORD is to to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward (sic) mouth, do I hate.” Proverbs 8, verse 13;
Whatever good was done wasn’t your doing, it was God manifesting through you; the glory was his, not yours.
Eventually I would grow up and learn to believe in and trust myself, but it would be a long struggle. I still struggle with it, but I now realize that Christianity had become a kind of crutch. For years I clung to the belief that I needed “somebody bigger than me” out there somewhere. I felt too small and unimportant to risk depending on just–well–ME! Education would be the key.
My father didn’t want me to go to college for further education past high school because he believed Universities “brainwashed” people. Now that I’m older, I can see that what he really feared–and what eventually came to pass (for a time anyway) despite his denying me further formal education–was that he would lose me.
Eventually, I came to believe that education is a lifelong process, for as as long as there’s something to learn, we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we think we know as much as we need to know. It wouldn’t be long, after I began to know many good people from other cultures, that I would realise that Christianity isn’t the only pathway to goodness, and happiness even in this life.
Others who did not worship God or Jesus were often more tolerant and loving and good than many Christians I knew. And their gods weren’t mean. I began to wonder how, instead of threats of pestilence and killing of family members should you doubt or question him, other religions offered serenity, freedom from strife, and release from the suffering of the world.
Christianity taught me that suffering is what we’re born for because we’re sinners when we’re born. We must atone. We must suffer and pray to gain God’s forgiveness and blessings in Heaven. When we die, we go to Heaven and walk on streets made from gold as long as we believed without question. If we didn’t, then we were doomed to literally burn in Hell for all eternity. The mental pictures the preacher painted were quite vivid.
Frank Zappa said that “the essence of Christianity is told us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden on the tree of knowledge. The subtext is, All the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your f*****g mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.”
From a Stanford University website on Epicurus (341–270 B.C.), I learned that his philosophy was for a complete and interdependent system as the goal of life that brings happiness without physical pain or mental disturbance. This is what he says about God.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Writer Nora Neale Hurston said, “Gods always act like the people who created them.” That’s how I feel. The God I’ve made up then, which is probably better spelled N-A-T-U-R-E, accepts doubting people like me, as well as Mother Theresa and countless others. If he gives us the brains we need to think for ourselves, then why would he not want us to use them?
Maybe I’ll be wrong in the end about my assumption that this life is all I have and I’d best make the best of it–because if it’s good it’s my doing, if it’s bad, it’s still my doing–but if I am wrong, the God I created will accept me into his fold anyway. I have no doubt that we’ll have many interesting discussions in the hereafter.