Yesterday, me and my friend Evelyn got into a very interesting discussion about faith and religion. The two of us work together in DSWD, separated by a glass window that we knocked when we wanted to catch one another’s attention, get stats and data from each other, and indulge in some much needed guffaws. She’s really nice (she’s probably reading this so I might as well describe her well) and wizened by experience. Our conversation hadn’t always been nonsensical cracking up, sometimes it was philosophical and theological.
We’re weirdly cool that way.
It really started with this article: How One Young Woman Went From Fundamentalist Christian To ISIS Bride. The story of Ariel Bradley was interesting, the tracing of the transformation from a sweet and charming girl to a proud ISIS bride who whooped in celebration at the bombing of her homeland was arresting. Her story was pieced together through the accounts of friends, acquaintances, and her cryptic tweets (@amina_umm). Of course it could a biased story, told post-ISIS where people remembered only all the weird things about her that could have led to her current position right now. Or it could be hauntingly accurate.
In a gist, we were told that Ariel grew up in poverty, neglected by a good but super busy father, and a insanely religious mother, who cared more about the Heaven more than her daughter. It was a catastrophic combination. The girl grew up fed up with extremist unbelievable religiosity, starved of love and affection, and lost in her identity. She went from house to house, and had one shitty boyfriend after another, with a rather destructive tendency to morph into the identity of whoever was her boyfriend. If her boyfriend was Christian, she was Christian. If her boyfriend was an atheist, she was atheist. Until she met a guy that introduced her to Islam, the religion eventually earning her affection more than the boy. In love with the religion, she went and converted to Muslim, exhibiting an almost fanatical adherence to the religion. She looked for a Muslim husband, finding it in the person of Yasin Mohammad, who was part of the ISIS terrorist group.
We struggled to think about how she could kill people, and honor Allah’s name in the same breath. Is that really what Qu’ran was saying? Or they were simply killers that were clothing their horrible act in an attempt to make it look valid?
But then to me what was striking was, Ariel was new to Islam. Fervor religiosity does not make one religious, if she really does not understand the essence and core of the faith. Superficial rituals do not make the religion, and extremism makes it tragic.
When I was in High School, I have a Muslim friend (her name’s Heva) and I could never forget about what she said about jihad, the one word in Qu’ran that terrorist had used to qualify their hideous act. She told me that it meant doing everything for Allah, but it does not mean going all the way and killing other people (or something to that effect. Statement was not exact but the gist was this). And then there’s this, I have Muslim friends and they were nowhere near terrorist.
No, I reckon, Islam is correct. Ariel might be the one who misunderstood.
Faith Seeking Understanding
Ate Evelyn is an Adventist, who had once searched for her faith, too. What I found particularly striking was the fact that her faith was something she had chosen.
This is how she articulated her faith. There was a time when she questioned her faith, and actively sought for the answer.
Yet she is accurately aware of the presence of the Omnipresent being, generations after generations have proved its existence. There is someone that gives life and makes the world move. But that being is undecipherable for human beings, he had to send Jesus to articulate Him. Jesus is the Word of God. He is the model for which we shall pattern our behaviors. Jesus is love. God is love. And God’s soul is in everyone of us, in our heart that had this amazing capacity to know right from wrong. (of course, if one is reared in the right environment).
Powerful, that articulation. Sometimes we get drowned in endless doctrines and complex rituals of religion that we forget the only thing that is really important; God is love.
If this faith continues to make her a better person (it was always a struggle, she said), it had more than fulfilled its function.
Word, Powerpoint, and Excel
I must admit, this was one insane stroke of genius that I used to describe religions’ different articulation of faith. This is how Ate Evelyn articulates the Omnipresent Being, in the same way that others may have interpreted it in the same way, just not exactly. Imagine it as like a data; hers was conveyed in Excel, Catholic in Powerpoint, and Hindu in Word. Different Microsoft functions that has different interfaces, but showed the same data nonetheless.
That’s what I wanted to point out. I hate religion supremacy; where one says theirs is better than the others. That had always been the start of bloodshed. Why can’t one exist equally with the other?
I’m a Roman Catholic, with 12 units of Theology (hello Jesuit education), a surplus of literature and critical thinking subjects, and a dash of some really tumbled down reality (read: poverty) under my belt. I had lots of doubts and I am uncomfortable in blindly following rules. My college professor, Prof. Jovi Miroy, is the first to tell me it’s okay to doubt my faith (he has a paper on it that he made us read).
And I had lots of doubts.
Of course, the obvious reason for doubting is the fact that God is not tangible. C’mon, we can’t text, call, nor e-mail God right?
But then I realized God is tangible. I mean, look at the environment. There’s tree, there’s the sun, there’s the flower. There’s your mother that bore you in that amazing body, and then there’s your body. There’s emotion; happiness, sadness, love, pain, pleasure. I did not invent that. Someone, totally powerful, must have done that. And then there’s the time when we had problems, and it get solved in ways we could never imagine. A powerful genius is behind it for sure; arranging this lucky Php20 in the road when you’re dirt poor, that Php10,000 documentation job when you badly needed the money, that comforting rebuke of an oblivious nagging mother to ground you after a terrible break-up, etc.
The second reason for doubting, at least for me, are the rituals (and maybe the Church) that surround faith. Too many No’s. Too many superstitions. Must I really follow each and everyone?
It’s too complicated for someone like me who had no patience for unnecessary complications. I decided to choose the rituals I should follow. The others that complicate the simple act of really honoring God, I let them slide. The world had not open up yet to swallow me so I think God is not really particularly pissed that I ignored it, so I think I’m okay.
And there’s the Bible. People has the habit of pulling it out and spout wisdom straight from it. That is not wrong at all, except when it is interpreted way too literally. Must I really suppose to hate homosexuals because the Bible said so? I remember the story of where a lot of homophobes attributes their statement of hatred. It was when a group of prophets were raped by men. It was hideous, that act of rape. Of course God would be angry. But he was angry at the act, not necessarily the homosexuals. That’s not the same thing.
So I read the Bible. I later learned that the Bible is a piece of literature, limited by context and might have metamorphose as it travels from one language to another. I mean, Adam and Eve could be pure myth, an amalgamation and adaptation of an already established myth, with a little added into it.
And so it is foolish to interpret the Bible literally without understanding its context, its real essence. My theology professors did that amazingly (thanks Ateneo). When we read the Bible, we read cultures, we trace symbolisms, we dig up core essences. That core essence, in each and every verse, had always been simple: God is love.
Indeed, Bible is the word of God, and so we should forever guard ourselves against using it and tainting it with our human limitations, prejudices, and biases.
Three doubts that let me question my faith. Three doubts that led me to better understand it. And so I am Catholic but one that I’ve already chosen. I mean, my faith is amazing, as equally amazing as the others. Even if Dan Brown tells me it’s possible that Jesus Christ had a living granddaughter, that won’t change my faith. He did what He did, virgin or no virgin. Yeah, I’m that secure in my quiet spirituality.
So see, ate Evelyn presented her faith in Excel, mine in Word. They had their differences (like one loves pork, one don’t. They’re trivial differences, uniqueness of religions that we could just totally respect without a cost to us), but they’re basically saying the same data.
Religion is inherently complicated because we’re dealing with the transcendental (which we don’t know nothing about because hello we live in the material), but it shouldn’t be so complexly agonizing that it creates an Ariel. Yet I shall maintain this, the religion is correct. She might have misunderstood it.
Ate Evelyn’s Jesus Christ is love. My God is love. Buddha is love. And Allah, I think, is also love.
Feel free to leave your comments below. 🙂