Monday, June 4, 2018

I am no more or less than myself


The title I’ve chosen to use for this article is from an anime. That’s probably not too surprising for those that know me. However, the anime in question, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most existential pieces of art I’ve witnessed. It starts out following the well-trodden cliché of a teenage boy piloting a mech (here called an EVA Unit) to save the world. For a title from 1995 the general premise is not much different from 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam. In that show, the boy, Amuro Ray, became very capable with few moral qualms about being a child soldier. On the other hand, Shinji Ikari, from Evangelion, was not so eager. In fact, he’s a coward.

Shinji reminds me of myself… in that he’s uncertain about his identity. He’s afraid of everything, from human contact to even knowing what he wants in life. However, his one fleeting pleasure is from the praise of his superiors for doing a good job at piloting a weapon. Shinji falsely believes that even though he hates himself, that if he pleases others he’ll find meaning. Evangelion’s last two episodes have received much criticism from a change in tone to their slow pace. In fact, the creator, Hideaki Anno, received death threats for his ending. Anno also suffered from clinical depression.

I imagine people hated it because it was too real. The finale didn’t have giant robots blowing up other giant robots, instead, Shinji comes to an internal revelation: That though he still hates himself, maybe his life is worth living. In other words, he comes to believe his own personal truth. Shinji, though an animated character, is us when we ask ourselves, “Who are we really?”

I suppose it might be a lack of imagination that I relate my deepest thoughts to an anime. Yet I find that Shinji’s desperation to find meaning through simply being complimented is uncannily similar to my attempts to please others by mimicking their beliefs. Due to my Borderline Personality Disorder, one of my coping mechanisms in the past has been to just give assent to whoever I look up to. I’m afraid of abandonment and betrayal, so I would lie to myself about what I truly thought regarding God. If you always agree with someone, the less chance there is that they can hurt you.

There’s a limit to how much I can lie to myself though. So, I’d push all my doubts about orthodox Christianity in the corner of my brain, but eventually the dam would burst. The last seven months I’ve tried to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and just be a fancy kind of Albert Camus absurdist in order to somehow float above left-wing Atheists and right-wing Christians.

To be an Atheist and not despair, you have to have faith you’re going to live in a Star Trek fantasy land where we all sing and hold hands in space despite our inherent selfishness. In order to be a Christian, you have to have faith that 2000 years ago a Palestinian rabbi was the Son of God, was executed, and subsequently broke every natural law by coming back to life three days later. Both of these are insane. Rather, they both violate what we know of reality. Humans are greedy and dead people stay dead.

However, I believe that if one is looking for some finished crossword puzzle of truth that is 100% provable (or even quantifiable in any way) then they are wasting their time. There will always be some argument, some piece of data, that will absolutely not seem like it fits into your worldview. For the Atheist, they cannot explain what sparked the Big Bang without going into different hypothetical dimensions and a different hypothetical “bubble” multiverse. It’s an excuse to get around the uncomfortable fact that the universe is not eternal as Atheists had hoped before evidence of galaxy redshift was found by Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest and astronomer in the 1930’s. So, Atheists must look to a secular miracle to explain away the basic logic of causality.

However, the Christian is no better off. He cannot explain why there are billions of empty galaxies with hundreds of billions of empty planets if it’s indeed accurate that the salvation and sanctification of mankind on Earth is God’s only true concern. Why would God wait 13.8 billion years (minus two millennia) until he got started with his one and only plan? Why are we not even in the center of our own galaxy? Why allow dinosaurs to evolve and thrive for millions of years only to inevitably smash them with an asteroid in the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago? Why not just skip the reptiles and go straight to it with mammals? Why keep human beings naked and cold in the dark for tens of thousands of years before fire and the wheel? Why wait for Mary in Bethlehem to reveal yourself?

If Christians want to ignore all these questions or pretend that the Earth is 6000 years old, then they are welcome to it. Just know that whatever apologetic you come up with, be it the Shroud of Turin or trying to prove the eyewitness accounts of the Gospel, you will get no closer to producing God. Neither will wallowing in the depths of arcane doctrines like Calvinism or Arminianism produce him.

Fundamentally, after all this time I am still choosing to believe in Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with Christianity magically filling in every intellectual gap. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even answer moral questions I have. Why did God allow the Holocaust? Why does he still allow innocent children to be sexually abused in the world even at this very moment? No amount of Bible study will give you the right formula.

No, there is only one reason to become a Christian… and that is Christ himself. As an individual operating under Descartes’ philosophy, “I think, therefore I am.” Or, to quote Evangelion again, “I am no more or less than myself.” To put it another way, I can only relate to another how I personally see things. I can only speak for myself. I know many people have sacred beliefs that are dear to them. I know that in my attempt to fight hypocrisy and double standards that I can often come off as an elitist myself. I’m not blind to that fact. However, I do try to be honest.

So, why am I still a Christian? It’s the same inspiration that forever boomerangs back into the forefront of my mind: that Jesus loved me so much, that despite my utter sinfulness, He volunteered to die in my place so that I may eternally live through Him. Not only that, but God promises me that my mental illness which has caused me to scar my body and almost take my own life three times is merely part of, “light momentary troubles and are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” What’s even greater is that if Jesus has mercy on me, then there is hope for everyone that suffers and believes in His name.

But make no mistake. We are called to be “fools for Christ’s sake.” In the same passage, we are also told that, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” So, you can work a white-collar job, put on a suit and tie and then go debate a skeptic; just remember that we are not meant to look respectable or intelligent in society. We are supposed to be spat on. As Jesus said, “So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Finally, I am committed to focusing “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” Therefore, I will believe in Jesus alone and not submit to any particular church’s dogma. Though I’m aware many people will reflexively lump me in with Jerry Falwell and Roy Moore, I refuse to just accept what is deemed orthodox in Donald Trump’s America. I will not defend these statements, nor do I feel that I have any obligation to do so as a free man. I hope that all men are saved eventually, as the early church father Origen once did. I believe God smiles upon faithful gay marriages. I believe in the theory of evolution. I believe in Big Bang cosmology. I believe it’s blasphemy that Christians came into political power through emperors Constantine and Theodosius. Furthermore, I also believe that the United States has been an idolatrous and godless nation from its inception.

I care about trying to minister to those without hope, which is why I’m finally getting my associate degree in human services. I care about trying to be a better Christian, so that others with mental illnesses know that suicide isn’t the answer. I care about reaching those the church has left behind. I care about praying for what God wants me to do, even if it’s unpopular. I care about worshipping Jesus, my personal savior, in my own personal way.

2 comments:

  1. One of my favorite people doing the only thing he knows to do - be brutally honest. But he does it so well... one of the most refreshingly insightful pieces into some of the deepest questions of humanity. Thank you Alex

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