Perspective is everything, as the saying goes. It is a starting point for any discussion. Because of that reality, conversation with someone from another perspective can be frustrating. People, myself included, have the annoying habit of stereotyping those who identify with a group that has a different viewpoint. This colors our understanding of articles we read on certain subjects. You can pretty much find whatever you want on the web to back up any perspective.
I am 69 years old, so I have had lots of experiences with life, with others, and with myself. No matter where I go, there I am….can’t be helped. My faith or lack of faith. My political leanings. My cultural and family background have a powerful influence on how I look at life, religion, politics, and culture. In fact, it can lead to a narrow understanding of the world.
I find the subject of politics and religion extremely awkward to discuss since there is so much that can be misunderstood. There is often anger, even contempt, for one’s opponent which makes real communication impossible. I know that I am guilty of filtering the opinions I hear with which I disagree. Even the most precise use of language can often be of little use — emotions and feelings get in the way and obscure other points of view.
For instance, it’s easy to find articles stating that religious people are happier, healthier, and less prone to depression. This implies that people of faith suffer less than those who have no faith. Is that true? As a believer, I find it easy to believe. If I was a non-believer, I would be skeptical.
So, when someone tells me that those countries who have the most non-believers are happier than those countries that have a majority of religious people, well, I am skeptical.
I do know one thing about human nature. If I am very thirsty, I do not think about food or hunger. However, once my thirst is taken care of, then I notice my hunger. Once my stomach is filled, my mind turns to the need shelter, then clothing, companionship, and so on. We never get to the bottom of satisfying the all of our ‘needs.’ Then when everything material is given to us, when we have a nice place to live, plenty of good food, a happy marriage, and family, and live in a community where we feel safe….then what? The deepest need arises.
It’s life’s central need, hidden under all desire and longing. At this point, we also meet depression and despair which then come to the surface. In third-world countries, where survival is a day to day struggle, there is little depression. There’s no time for it. In first-world countries, our inner life is more apparent because or material needs are often met.
But that constant awareness of our inner life can leads us down the wrong road. For example, technology own us, not the other way around. Studies show how our dependence on our smartphones is creating major emotional problems with young people, as well as with the older population. Yet, we continue to allow our lives to be controlled by gadgets. Instead of making our lives simpler and more manageable, we prefer the distraction of a bright screens. We can’t run from ourselves, and the more we do, the deeper the despair we will experience. Our inner world becomes a desert without an oasis with no living water.
The ‘NEED’ that which causes us to have urgent longings is the need for connection with God. We are made for God. The other avenues we use to self-medicate are gods as well, but they lead only to deeper frustration and death.
Arguing about God’s existence is a waste of time. However, dealing with the awful failures that many believers commit is not. Again, for me, it is not a reason for unbelief, since I know my own heart, my own struggles, and failures. I also know and have experienced God’s love and mercy and healing on many levels. I am getting into old age, and do not have many years left, and I expect that my relationship with God will only deepen no matter what my aging body and mind bring me.
I have learned that the only freedom I really have is to choose to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul and to love my neighbor as myself. That means I am not free to hate, to have contempt, or to abuse another human being in any way. As it says in the First Epistle of John, those who do not love, live in darkness.