Growing up Mormon, I had been taught that faith is a virtue. And virtues, by definition, can be chosen. Cultivated. Integrity, loyalty, honesty, charity.
But faith, it turns out for me, is a lot like falling in love. You are just going about your life, walking down the sidewalk to pick up your mail in the sunshine, and then you lean back to take the sun full on your face and suddenly you know.
You know you are in love.
You simply know there is a god.
I can’t reason myself into either knowledge.
Or out of it.
And faith once lost is much like old love—never really gone but layered into the riverbank of my life like sediment. Buried and compressed, but still there. Always there. The nutrients from which the grass grows.
I lost my faith. I clawed after it, to catch it and make it come back.
But it had flown.
For three years after the loss, my angry atheism was really the anger of grief.
On Sunday nights, I attended Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral, embarrassed by the powerful longing in my gut. I knew the echo of men’s voices sweeping the stone walls was not home and never would be, but Compline comforted me with all the ancientness of memory. I went just to slide into a back pew and look at no one, the memory of faith folded into my palm and held tight, with the cool reassurance of riverbed granite.
And that’s when I met Buddhism.
Buddhism saved me from my rage.
For ten years, I was in a relationship with a Chinese-Thai man. Never devoutly Buddhist, he still attended temple festivals and relatives’ ordinations as monks. I had never seen anyone live religion so lightly.
And I had never before met a religion that delved so deep into the personal sources of suffering and desire and wishful thinking.
In Buddhism, no one is coming to save you. There is no messiah and no god. My rage at god, at my father, at all men, and at myself proved—upon intimate acquaintance—to be little more than wishful thinking.
We are all to blame. No one is to blame. It is what it is.
I tunneled out from there. And in digging out the roots of my rage, shaking them free of the dirt, and chucking them into the compost heap, I learned there was limited use for rage. It has a tenuous relationship to reality. If that. And there is always a life beyond it.
I did not become Buddhist, though.
I did not become anything.
I am exactly the sort of person whom, as a devout Mormon, I had once pitied.
My own beliefs now are best summed up by Voltaire’s Candide: “Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is absurd.”
I’m not sure about god or spirituality or even the existence of the soul. With my faith gone, there is only reason. And reason requires me to say that I am not in a position to claim authority.
But I can’t throw in with people who insist religion is obsolete. Human society is an ecosystem, and as in nature, cultural diversity benefits survival. The more paths that lead to truth, the greater chance each of us has for finding fulfillment and community. In the darkest periods of my life, other religious traditions have lit a candle and illuminated a way back to life.
I value that.