Watching Good Morning America this morning, I repeated a silent command to my brain: under no circumstances, I said sternly, are you to remember his name, this deranged motherfucker who shot up a missionary in Arvada, Colorado, then traveled to Colorado Springs to kill teenaged sisters at a church.
I also angrily demanded of said brain: Why? Why must they exploit him and award him with infamy? Please, please don't say his name. I won't listen.
Later, when my brain and I were introduced to Jeanne Assam, the security guard who shot and killed the deranged motherfucker (as he will henceforth be known), I willed myself to remember her name. (I wish I had succeeded. I just looked it up on MSNBC.) I watched her speak plainly about the events and claim, "God guided me and protected me."
And I thought, then why didn't God protect the murdered four? Why didn't He safeguard their families against that interminable pain? And why didn't He intervene in deranged motherfucker's case? Why didn't He guide and protect him?
We have a funny relationship, Yahweh and me. (As in, why did I edit that last paragraph to ensure I had capitalized all of the pronouns referring to Him?)
Do I still believe?
That is the crux of the matter, isn't it?
I attended Catholic school for thirteen years, though I haven't attended mass in ages. Catholicism and I don't mesh on many levels (abortion rights, homosexuality, birth control, attitudes towards spiritual leaders' pedophiliac tendencies, etc.). So I don't practice, and I study other, more liberal, inclusive religions, and I imagine that one day J and I might seriously become Buddhists. I live by the golden rule; I strive to be good and do good and I am eternally thankful for all that I have in this life.
Usually, I believe that is enough. I believe in Heaven and not hell. I am deeply skeptical of deeply religious people most of the time, though I attended an amazing benefit for poor Egyptian children given by close Christian friends in DC recently, and I cried most of the night during their earnest prayers. I was sublimely happy among them, sniffling and writing checks to help poor Christian babies living in garbage slums near Cairo.
My cynicism quickly resurfaced when I learned that Christians were in the minority in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country. The moment I sensed that these religious sects were enemies in Africa, I was reminded why I eschewed organized religion in the first place. That.
That posturing, that positioning. That self-righteous attitude that nearly boasts, we're better than you. We know we have it right. And if you ain't with us, well then honey, may God have mercy on your heathen soul.
Or, I don't know, calling a teddy bear Muhammed, and doing hard time?
There is a beautiful monologue in a terribly underrated film, Keeping the Faith. In it, Ed Norton plays a Catholic priest, whose best friend is a rabbi played by Ben Stiller. I've always adored the movie, as the main characters struggle to make religion mainstream in present-day Manhattan. Mostly I've always been captivated by the Ed Norton homily, in which he discusses faith:
And it's very important to understand the difference between religion and faith. Because faith is not about having the right answers. Faith is a feeling. Faith is a hunch, really. It's a hunch that there is something bigger connecting it all... connecting us all together. And that feeling, that hunch, is God.
(Also beautiful, and a bit embarrassing, as perhaps I have concocted my own belief system via a comedy that didn't even do very well at the box office. But I'll take divinity where I can get.)
I want to believe. I want to pray, and thank God, for it all. I don't want to be God's fair-weather friend. I don't want to only speak to Him when I desperately need Him, when I am drowning. I want a strong relationship with Him. I want community. Sometimes, I sing Christian hymns to myself while driving, and my eyes well and I think, I really will get to mass this week.
I want the answers. I don't want to judge others; I don't want to judge other religions, other gods. I want to know. I want to know what is right and be free from doubt. If in fact, Judgment Day comes, I really don't want to be standing there with egg on my face with the other Catholics, say, if Jesus only really digs Baptists or Methodists. I don't want to angrily question God's motives; I don't want to be pissed at Him each night as I watch the six o'clock news. I want to know the plan! I want to know if all of the pain and suffering and joy has a purpose; I don't just want to blindly believe that it does, because what do I base that on?
So that's faith, Edward Norton? It's not about religion, or answers; it's a feeling, it's a hunch.
That is the crux of the matter, isn't it?