Holier Than Thou

Today I had lunch with an old friend, Viren (known as “V” to his friends). I bumped into him a month or so ago but hadn’t seen him in what seems like years. Looks like a lot of things have happened in the meantime.

I won’t go into the all too private details here on this very public blog, but I will say that after talking to him I realise he’s going through his “quarter life crisis”. I went through mine recently and am still dealing with the aftermath at the moment. It’s a fantastic experience: you re-evaluate things and realise things about yourself that are perhaps a little frightening. It’s well worthwhile. I recommend it to anyone 24+ 😉

One of the most interesting changes in V (from my perspective) is the change in his approach to religion.

Back in 1999/2000 V and I would have many a long debate about religion. He was Hindu by default (as were his parents). He was interested in spirituality in general and Christianity in specific so we talked about that a lot. Back then I was probably just a little more religious than I am now and perhaps a little more naive. My approach was still very simple.

I told him the basic tenets of what I believed (most of which I still hold on to) and said it’s mostly a matter of faith, that I struggle with my faith a lot and that perfection is not something we can hope to achieve. I prefer to live by example and I’d like to think that the way I acted gave him a positive impression of my religion of choice. Though I say “choice” it was more of a default assumption for me at the time.

At the same time, a rabid evangelist was working on conscripting V. I was immune to such things because although I was far from the perfect Christian, I was not a non-believer and so was not in his crosshairs. Partly due to the evangelism, partly due to his attraction to a young Christian girl and partly due to a spiritual need he felt himself, he decided to become a Christian (against his Hindu father’s wishes).

None so zealous as the recently converted, as they say. He went all out, joined Student life, became a campus missionary for campus crusade for Christ. Went to quite a happy-clappy mosh-pit-in-the-front-with-all-the-cool-kids church.

I went once or twice but I was a little jaded and cynical. Apart from V and a few other exceptions they were all white, young, bourgeoisie. Trendy kids, popular kids, not my kind of people. Their church was their social club, their family and their way of life. They were all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, perfect, perfect, perfect. It just smelled wrong to me.

I also didn’t like the way that every Sunday, people would go to the front of the church to confess their sins, have a big prayer and a cry, then go off for the week, to come back and do it all again next week, ostensibly confessing the same sins. I don’t know, it kind of felt like the wrong sort of religion for me.

Besides which, at around that time, I started a relationship with my *gasp* atheist flatmate. V didn’t approve of sex before marriage, but me? I had to try it. I still believe that Christians are way too hung up about sex and this whole sex before marriage business is what causes so many early marriages and subsequent divorces. Having been through a divorce (my parents not mine, how old do you think I am? *pouts*) I was not too keen to repeat the experience.

V and I drifted apart. I lost myself in my obsessive workaholism and he busied himself winning souls for Jesus. I helped sponsor him in his mission, it was the least I could do and I had the money after all. I always felt a little unholy when I was around V and his super-duper Christian friends. I know I can never live up to the standard set by these nuvo-conservative Christian movements.

Today, things had changed, V looked at me as though from a great distance: “I’m spiritually tired, Steve, and cynical”. He left campus crusade for Christ sometime last year and, through a series of life events, has mostly broken social ties with that crowd too. I paraphrase from memory here:

“You know, I am really cynical about those shiny-eyed Christians now. Because I used to be one of them, I have to wonder: are they speaking of their own convictions or is it just something they have learnt? I think they underestimate the extent of Grace and the fact that religion is a lifelong spiritual journey, as opposed to just learning how to do things right. Sure, read the Bible. Go to church and all that, but there’s more to life than that. I mean, you don’t always have to talk nicely to God. Sometimes you swear at God. Hell, most of the time I’m swearing at Him. They’re trying to be holier than Jesus and it just doesn’t work. My faith now closer to what you were like when we first met.”

Oh, God, please don’t make me responsible for another soul. I thought.

Believe it or not, what he said made sense to me. Ironically I was planning on going to church for the first time in years this Sunday.

For me, religion is not a bracelet that you wear, it’s not the kind of music you listen to, it’s not a “lifestyle” as it appears to be for so many people. For me, it’s a continuous process of spiritual growth, of gaining understanding. Of failure and frustration but also of great hope and joy. I turn to my faith in my hour of need, even though I have yet to hear God speak to me. For me, holding onto my religion is a very difficult thing, and that is what makes it all the more precious to me.

I might start posting some religious crap here in future. I’ve been thinking a lot about religion lately and I realise that I have some very strong opinions on some things, which are contrary to generally accepted doctrine.