A friend asked me, “Why are you so angry at God?”
I replied, “I am not angry at God.”
He said, “Then, why do you keep writing against God, against faith and so on? Why are you trying to destroy the church?”
I said, “I am not trying to destroy the church. I am not trying to convert anyone although I won’t be sad if someone begins to ask questions. But I write mainly to let those who think like me know that they are not alone, because I know how lonely the journey can be. I write to encourage them, to tell them it’s okay to keep thinking, asking and seeking. Even if we do not come to the same conclusions later on, it is enough for me that they have gone through the process, rather than blindly follow ideas from other people all their lives.”
I look at religion as a crutch that is sometimes necessary for people to cope with life. Some people will say at this point, “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship” — whatever it is, as long as you believe in an invisible powerful being who’s interested in what you eat or who you take as a life partner, for the sake of brevity, my use of the word religion includes that too. A crutch is not necessarily a bad thing. Those who are lame and cannot walk properly need crutches, just as those who cannot comprehend a world without a god need their faith and belief. One of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Photos of the Year includes an entry by Philippe Lopez showing a group of women in procession in Tolosa, Leyte, clutching statuettes of Jesus and the Sto. Niño, against the backdrop of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Yolanda.
A relief worker who goes there and starts questioning these women’s beliefs would be just like a person who takes away a lame person’s crutches at the height of his agony. It would be cruel, heartless and unnecessary. If their faith in their religious icons brings them hope and encourages them to continue living and rebuilding their lives, then so be it.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to help a casual acquaintance who, along with his family, had escaped from a fire with nothing but the clothes on his back. Until today, I receive daily religious text messages from him. I’m not about to tell him that he is just wasting his messages on me. There is a time and place for reason, and there is also one for compassion and understanding.
There are also those who have recently lost loved ones, and the way they cope is to believe that that they will one day meet them again or see them again in some happy-ever-after place that no one has really yet seen or proven to exist. When I go to the funeral home and the bereaved says, “He’s in a better place now” or “At least, I’ll see her again in heaven,” I’m not about to go, “How do you know? Can you prove it?”
However, there are also people who (in my opinion) are of perfectly sound condition, and yet still prefer the comfort of a crutch. It is these people whom I like to engage and challenge. I respect their desire to have a crutch, yet I also want them to experience the joy and freedom of letting go.
Anthony de Mello wrote a short anecdote about a small village with an old, lame man who had learned to do amazing things with his crutches. He could dance and spin on those crutches and people were astonished. Then, some perfectly healthy kids bought crutches and began to imitate the old man. It became a very popular fad. People laughed and mocked those who still used their legs. Pretty soon, everyone owned a pair of crutches and they would use those everyday to get from one place to another. And one day, the people of that village realized that their leg muscles had atrophied from lack of use. They could no longer walk, even if they wanted to.
It is a sad thing, when people who have perfectly healthy minds, refuse to hone them and use them well.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.