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Ivan and Alyosha

| Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Kerry Schneeman I The Observer

Do you ever feel like you’re running away from something deep inside yourself?

I am sometimes worried that I am running away from faith. I am a theology minor directly, and quite ironically, because I am not religious and I enjoy debating religious ideas with people. I never imagined that I would eventually study at a Catholic university, or that I would take theology classes where the existence of God was discussed as a given. And yet, education has patinated the charm of religion for me, and I guess that this is a good thing in a sense because it has trained me to think critically. Studying the Bible in Foundations of Theology and questioning suffering while reading Gustavo Gutiérrez will never allow me to look at religion the same way. When you are in my position, it is easy to point out the flaws in the Old Testament, the illogic of Jonah and Noah, the fact that Genesis is likely composed of two different creation accounts strung together and the lack of archaeological evidence for a grand Exodus of the Hebrews (Foundations professors will pound their podiums and insist that absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence). And yet, I feel a sort of uneasiness when I rigorously attack religion. 

For all of my friends who know how much I enjoy debating the existence of God and the myriad flaws of religion (seriously, most of my friends know this about me), I have an earth-shattering confession to make. There are some nights when I think to myself that resistance is futile and I will begin, or continue, to believe in God. And yet, there is a strong uneasiness with this position as well. I know how naive this will sound, but I expect a sort of comfort when I utter this monthly confession, as if God will reach out and acknowledge that another wayward soul has found the light of salvation. Elijah called down fire and the bush burned for Moses, but I am not asking for something so showy. But the darkness of my dorm room greets me every time, and, if anything, I feel myself even more uneasy than before my spontaneous confession.

I guess this is because the idea of Pascal’s Wager seems incredibly weak to me. I refuse to believe in God if that means that I am attempting to avoid the remote logical, moral or theological possibility that there is eternal damnation if I do not believe in God. I refuse a watered-down faith.

But this is where I am afraid that I am running.

I can assure myself all I want that it is selfish to think miracles are performed for me. Some people pray for rain, others for sunshine, and those who find themselves looking at clear skies feel the blessings of the Lord while the unlucky ones question why miracles do not happen anymore. And yet, what if my unbelief is predicated on laziness? What if I am afraid to acknowledge that there is a God because this means that there is a binding agreement where I am required to sign above the dotted line? Belief is not exactly something you can rescind and take part in on a weekly basis.

So, I tell people that I am agnostic when, in reality, I wish that there was a check-box for “searching.” This is not an admission that I am thinking about conversion to any religion. I am a firm believer that religion is, and always will be, a flawed political institution that is created by humans who cannot ever truly understand the God or gods that they are trying to. However, this is simultaneously not an attack on overtly religious people. I am also a firm believer that people should be allowed to do, say, think and believe what they want (as long as this does not mean people are getting harmed, which I believe religion can often spiral into). I have a certain respect for people who have the patience for religious morality where I do not. What I have no patience for is dogma. Although I try to be careful and apply this logic to all debates and conversations, religious pretexts or otherwise, I am, admittedly, biased toward attacking religion when it is wielded as a political tool of propaganda and corruption. But there it is again. That uneasiness. 

So, where do I stand today?

I haven’t changed. It is one thing to debate the existence of God from the perspective of theory and pontification, from the comforts of the Notre Dame Bubble while the vast majority of the world does not have this privilege and must worry about daily survival, let alone the existence of God or the merits of flawed frameworks that attempt to understand whatever it is that God may be. I am fortunate to have risen from the ashes of homelessness, but for every event you could point to in my life and call a “miracle,” there are a thousand people for whom God did not choose to bestow his blessings on. It’s selfish to claim the sunrise is for me when there are those who prayed for rain.

Is there a God? I don’t know. But don’t call me Thomas. I am Ivan Karamazov with a splash of Alyosha. I am a believing unbeliever, and I want to talk to you about what you think.

Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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