B is for Belief
I used to be a person of faith. There was a time when I knew what I believed: The Four Spiritual Laws, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Apostle’s Creed. My beliefs were assents to doctrines I was told would save my soul. And I believed those who told me this.
I believed because I was young when I encountered these doctrines and because my heart was broken with my parents’ divorce, my father’s easy slip into addiction, and my mother’s quick remarriage to someone who was a stranger to us. I believed because I wanted someone to be present for me and to love me and to give my life structure. God did that for me, as did His Bride, the Church. I had a family with them for many years.
And then I lost my ability to believe. What happened was that I lived with a constant pall over my head about hell. Not believing the doctrines properly would mean my soul would be in hell for eternity. And I thought this was true for all of my friends who didn’t believe them too. Every day for almost twenty years I vibrated with a quiet terror that my beliefs might not REALLY be up to par, and certainly that some people I loved were guaranteed to suffer forever in a lake of fire. The pressure to proselytize was a constant stress. I couldn’t sink into restful appreciation for my own salvation while everyone else was facing eternal execution. I couldn’t even hold a “regular” job spending 8 hours a day doing tasks unrelated to bringing my “good news” to the world with terrible guilt.
In graduate school, something changed. I encountered the term “social construction.” Stay with me here; I know this is heady. A socially constructed “truth” is an idea that a bunch of people agree on SO much and SO hard that everyone begins to believe it and accepts it as real. Money is a great example. Money runs our world, but only because we all agree that paper stamped with our government’s symbols (or numbers on a bank statement) are valuable. It serves us to construct a reality that allows us to buy and sell using money exchange instead of making direct trades (a therapy session for a basket full of veggies from your garden, for instance).
I started really, really thinking about the things I believed and began to understand that the doctrines I held were literally decided on by groups of men sitting down to agree on what was true (hello Council of Trent and thanks).
And I lost my beliefs (not my faith, you understand, but more on that when we get to F).
Over the ensuing years (about 15) I’ve wished I could believe specific things about divinity, intelligent design, the afterlife, etc. But I’ve remained largely agnostic about these things. Why pretend to know something that isn’t knowable? (I have my suspicions, you understand, but they don’t rise to the level of beliefs.)
I’m ready now, however, to reclaim a creed. And the last three years of loss and death and grieving have given me some experiences to base my beliefs on. So here’s my new doctrine. I call it the Five Points of Cami:
- Real friends who know you well can and often will make space for you to be messy, crabby, and confused. Don’t take advantage of this, but be grateful when you f*ck up and they let it go.
- Dogs are the only real source of unconditional love but some cats and some people can provide supplemental connection, support, wisdom, and cuddles.
- The practical stuff you need for living can always be replaced if you need to start over, but self-respect is something a person must never walk out on.
- “Salvation,” if there is such a thing, ONLY exists in this present moment. Being alive to what is true RIGHT NOW inside your body is the only eternal aliveness there is.
- Kindness, compassion, and curiosity about the experiences of others are sacraments. Even practiced imperfectly and infrequently, they will expand a person’s capacity for connection with others and for joy.
So that’s it. My new set of beliefs. And when I re-read them, I don’t feel a vibration of anxiety that other people might not agree with them. I only feel relief. Like, “Yeah, these beliefs can guide my life and inform decisions I may need to make. Good enough.”
Do you have a creed? Would love to hear it.
Good Five Points. Your definition of salvation especially resonates with me.
I don’t seem able to subscribe to your blog…perhaps that’s coming.
My beliefs pretty closely mirror yours. I will only add that I’ve become a believer in the transformative power of a state that I’ve started calling radical joy. Why radical? Because at least on an individual level, joy has the power to change everything.