I tell myself that I am Catholic; it says so on all my legal documents. I fill out the necessary forms and tick the corresponding boxes and satisfy certain social criteria. One hour of each Sunday unclaimed by medical internship is spent on hardwood pews, listening to the Word with the family members whose analogies extend beyond church:baptisms/weddings/funerals , or those who are plainly too young to ponder analogies. I try – and this requires conscious effort – to mind my moral compass, to see that its north more or less points north. Still, possibly stemming from an education halved between schools sectarian and non-, I find myself sitting with Humpty on the wall.
I was brought up, as you probably were, to believe that there is a God. Perhaps yours is known by another name, but an omniscient, omnipotent overseer nevertheless. Perhaps your religion’s teachings, sources and teachers are assimilated from different cultures, economics, politics and geographies. Regardless, there comes a trough or two in one’s life which makes you question that which you once held immovable. That event may be tragic and personal – rape, death, war. It may also come from superficially trivial daily activities – in the way supposedly pious people conduct themselves and in the judgments they pass on others.
In twenty-three years, there are certain things that prompted me to question organized religion.
I have witnessed the separation of husbands and wives, and watched each parting create its own little necessary traumas. However, being the product of a broken family has never been much of an issue for me. I have always thought that the idea that I might somehow be judged because of it was antiquated, especially in these times and in this society which accepts the separation of couples as a constant reality. Apparently, it mattered in certain circles.
In the government hospital where I work as a medical intern, fifteen year olds are statistics – another undereducated teenage mother about to give birth to her second child. The Church is actively lobbying against a reproductive health bill that will allow for them to receive sex education and information on all forms of contraception. Religion cannot be separated from state in the sense that those who comprise that state are practitioners of one denomination or the other. However, to the extent that this is possible, I believe that the religion should not actively interfere in state policies. I do not believe that it is practical to employ abstinence as the sole means of reproductive control. One can counter that religion is not always practical, but that is a complex argument we will resolve another day.
In two separate occasions, I found myself being the only straight person at the table. In one instance, I found myself being the only straight and single person at the table. Although I suppose marriage is not an immediate concern of said companions, at present, the Church and Constitution say that unions between homosexuals are neither sanctified nor legal. That, to me, is denying my friends, who I know to be moral, intelligent, if occasionally exasperatingly crazy people, a chance at happiness.
And what of those who have different belief systems? I do not believe that a person is better than another simply because he or she belongs to the right religion. I do not believe that those who were born and raised to believe in a different faith are forsaken. While religion is divine and abstract, it is also very much a human construct, and thus much of it, particularly its interpretation and execution, is subject to error. I do not believe it to be infallible.
But then again, it’s only been twenty-three years.
I still believe there is a God.
I cannot attribute it to coincidence and administrative skill when, in a chaotic, understaffed and undersupplied emergency room, and despite the thousand things that can go wrong, patients live. There must be some higher power that brings together the right doctors and the right equipment at the critical, opportune moment that allows life to be saved.
I can’t not believe when each time I open a textbook, and each time I manage a patient, it still amazes me how much the human body is able to withstand. The human body, in all its intricate engineering, is a miracle in itself.
I can’t not believe when, even though so much of my personal plan has gone to the dogs, my life still seems to be following some sort of Plan.
I believe for the simple reason that there is still good in the world, and because I need to believe.
It’s nine in the evening, and as I glance outside, I see the thousand lights of the metro flicker back at me. There are the static yellow and white of households, the dancing neon of billboards, and the occasionally green but mostly red of the cars that sigh of the rush hour traffic. This is a scene that has been going on for much more than my lifetime, and a different landscape was noted before it took its place. I try to imagine what sort of view God has – is it much like this, multiplied a million times over? I try to wax philosophical about the lives simultaneously unfolding twenty six stories below, but the immensity of it makes me retreat from the window, sending me back to the comforts of whatever inanity I happen to have paused from. It has become a habit. In the past five years, I have managed to immerse myself in all sorts of inanities, to keep myself from thinking too much, which I tend to do, and which tends to cause inconveniences and mood swings – slumps, because swinging requires an upside.
I realize that my doubts are longer than my certainties. As of now, I will not commit that that religion is outdated, unrelenting and static, for there are so many things I do not yet know, and therefore cannot understand, and therefore cannot produce valid, intelligent opinions on. I tell myself that I am a learning Catholic, and I pray for the courage to one day be able to truly think things through.