I have been thinking, with some trepidation, about writing this for a while now. My friend wisely pointed out that if I feel like it requires “working up the nerve to do” it’s probably a good idea. Essentially, I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel like my beliefs need to be aggressively cast off and reexamined, a kind of philosophical molting. Topics like this can step on a lot of toes, but I think that sharing my thoughts may be interesting for others, perhaps because they feel similarly or enjoy seeing me flounder about.
As a general rule, I don’t do much public writing about faith. As sincere as I may feel, when I read the words back to myself they seems so incredibly silly, as though I was invoking Jesus for help deciding between Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors. In addition, the people awkwardly handing out tracts or quoting the Bible at every opportunity leave a bad taste in my mouth; I don’t want to be that guy. At the same time a good personal philosophy will guide one’s life, making it come up in conversation as a natural matter of course. Perhaps some of my discomfort stems from a lack of assurance in what I believe, a doubt that leaves me bereft of a confidence that could, were it present, allow me to share my personal thoughts without the all-too-familiar abrasive awkwardness of a zealot.
A good life-guiding philosophy is similar to a hypothesis, a conclusion drawn from observations used as a basis for further inquiry. It needs to make sense given the available data, even as it is challenged by new input. Thus, it will exist as an ongoing process of evaluation against the accumulation of information and experience, a dynamic organism that changes over time.
Publishing something, even if it is only online on a barely-trafficked website, lends a kind of permanence to the words. That’s more than a little scary when you’re talking about something that is subject to change by its very nature. From the beginning, I want to establish that while what I say is what I was currently thinking, I may not feel the same way at later points in the future.
I was baptized into the Catholic church at birth, as is its way, but my parents started going to a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA or Adventist) church when I was two. Effectively I was raised in the SDA church, learning its unique culture without the benefit of multiple generations of SDA family members. This made for some interesting social situations as we tried to break into a group of people whose grandparents were friends. I later made the decision to be baptized into the SDA church as well.
I socialized with people of all backgrounds during my childhood. I also didn’t go to an Adventist undergraduate university, which for me was an excellent decision: At UMBC I was challenged to objectively evaluate what I believed in light of the evidence. My life until now has allowed me to surround myself with a diverse set of people, only selectively engaging with the “Adventist world.” Studying at Loma Linda University is my first time in the “Adventist school system;” I am steeped in the SDA culture and faith tradition, some of which is hard-coded into university policy. It’s disconcerting to stand up in the midst of that and question everything.
I’m more than a little inspired by my friend Caitlyn Mayers, who had the courage to speak openly about this months ago. Initially, I wanted to do something similar, going back to the Bible to see what it really said. I voiced this intention to another inspiration of mine, Dr. Matthew Schrag, who pointed out that the Bible seemed to explicitly contradict some of my observations about the world. That conversation planted a seed, leading me to question the validity of the Bible itself.
As a scientist, I can’t believe something simply because I am told it is true, and I believe that same rigor should be applied to my faith as well. It’s not enough to be raised a certain way, or to read it in a book, regardless of the infallibility traditionally ascribed to the text. I cannot begin with a conclusion and bend the universe to fit; rather, I must observe, hypothesize, and test, painstakingly grinding the lens through which I view it.
One response to “Exfoliating My Faith”
Good luck sir. And hooray for the scientific method!