WHAT FAITH IN GOD DOES AND DOESN’T DO: I’m working on an article for Crisis magazine about how non-Christians view Christianity. (Why don’t you buy a copy of the mag when it comes out? Huh? Huh? Why doncha?) I’ve asked a bunch of non-Christians about this, and gotten some really insightful responses.
But one phrase cropped up a lot, often in the most thorough and empathetic responses, and it doesn’t ring true to me. Several people referred to “the comfort of religion.” I would never deny that Christianity is ultimately a faith that proclaims a hopeful, joyful, and comforting truth: Despite so much apparent evidence to the contrary, truth can be found, we can be cleansed of sin, and life can end as a comedy (with marriage–in this case, communion with God) and not as a tragedy.
But. To fully imagine the inner life of a Christian, I think it’s necessary to acknowledge that there are doubts, terrors, and pains that are as native to Christianity as the corresponding terrors of an atheist are native to that belief. I find it much more terrifying (and difficult, not philosophically but personally) to believe in Hell than to believe in nothing after death. This is one of the things that keeps me up nights. I think that, overall, I’m happier now than before I converted (in large part because I’m morally steadier–yes, I know, but you didn’t know me before! We’re working from a low platform here, people…), but there’s been a lot of tumult, upheaval, and drinking-in-self-defense. It is often difficult to believe, to trust, the promises of Christ, no matter how good your philosophical reasons for faith. The joyful aspects of Christianity must also be struggled with, and struggled for. Mother Teresa knew this from her own experience.
I guess this was pretty rambly. Just some thoughts sparked by this Crisis piece. I’m in no way trying to say, “Oh, poor little me, it’s so hard to believe what I believe!” I’m just trying to suggest that the “comfort of religion” is much more complicated and contradicted than it might seem.