By John Rieping | Published 19 July 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“I grew up in church. As a child, going to church felt natural. But recently, Christianity has been a hard ‘thing’ to swallow, if that makes sense. I noticed that you're probably Catholic ... Have you always been very spiritual, or did you have ‘bumps in the road’? How did you come to believe?” — An online reader
British author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap... When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”
Our very lives as young children rely on whether those who care for us are trustworthy, and whether they are or not we want them to be so. They may tell us God or Santa Claus exist and some of us accept this as truth initially, for we may not know either divinity or Santa personally but we know our parents. So we believe.
But times come when our child-like faiths quake, because we have learned the imperfection of our parents, ourselves, others, or life itself. A contradiction or unsatisfied question births one doubt or many. If no remedy is sought or found, our trust in what or who we’ve believed wavers or dies.
All who live beyond childhood must pass through this in some aspect of our beliefs. This is not because of lost innocence and ignorance, which are commonly blamed. Rather it is because children accept a world handed onto them by others and are not held responsible for what they’ve received. It is not so for adults.
The world may exist before us no less than for kids, but our understanding and response has become something we pay the price for. There is always a cost for convictions, and a higher one for having none at all.
As a child, was I interested in spiritual topics like angels, miracles, and so on? Yes, as well as equally fantastical ones like magic, unicorns, elves, dragons, and more — not to mention androids and alien life forms. Children tend to have a hunger for both clarity and possibilities.
Did I ever question the existence of God? I did. Repeatedly as a young child I’d imagine God did not exist and linger dizzily on the edge of that cliff staring at the ramifications. Yet I never jumped off.
Franciscan friar William of Ockham, England, proposed that, in the absence of certainty, a solution with the fewest assumptions should be favored. This “razor” of his remains popular with scientists to this day. And I have never leapt into atheism because I believed then and now that God is both the most rational and the simplest explanation for so much I have encountered and learned of existence.
Whether hard to swallow or not is irrelevant. In my experience, it is the simplest truths that are the most difficult to embrace. We often create complications instead as a labor-saving device.
My first major crisis of faith came around age 10 when I decided I didn’t want to join my family for Sunday morning Mass. I locked myself in the bathroom — the only lockable room.
My mother and sister pled with me through the door to no avail. So my dad said to leave me be. John may not be going that day, he said, but that didn’t mean the family wouldn’t. He herded my family out the door and I could hear our automobile start up and go.
At that moment, I reflected. I did not want to go to church. I had other activities I wished to persist in instead. But did I believe in God? I searched my depths and I did. Yet whether or not one believes in God, the consequence of that belief remains a choice. Thus came a point of decision: did I love God?
I did, and realized then I wanted to worship God — not because of family but out of love. So I unlocked the door and ran into the street, chasing after my family.
That would not be my only such rebellion, but resolving them has always involved a sincere search for answers, whether within or outside, and the choice to respond to what I uncovered.
The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word for “decision” (krisis) or “decide” (krinein). A crisis is a healthy and normal opportunity to grow in one’s convictions. Fear not.