It is a central piece of my faith that roughly 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, Jesus cried out from a cross “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?,” or “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” There is no point in the New Testament, from Jesus birth until his ascension into heaven in which he is more human, more relatable to us as people than the moment in which he utters these words. We’ve all heard these words before, and perhaps even said them ourselves, in moments of failure and pain. You could hear these words from an athlete who has been defeated on the biggest stage, a person losing all hope from financial ruin, or a person who has lost their family and everything they live for. There is no line in any religious text that more closely ties man and God together, or gives us hope that we’re not alone. It really is the essence of what Christians of all kind believe is the relationship between us and our creator. Jesus spent his final moments forgiving the criminals hanging on crosses next to him, and yet suffering self-doubt.
I am not a theologian, or even at this point a practicing religious person, however I am not an atheist. I grew up a practicing Byzantine Catholic, but sometime shortly after high school I stopped regularly attending mass. It was nothing specific, I didn’t leave the church specifically over the child sex scandal, or some theological interpretation that I disagreed with. In fact, I would say that I probably have come to view the current Pope from a very positive light, comparable to most past religious leaders in our world. How could I turn against the God I described above, one who I could so closely relate to? I stopped finding value in practicing organized religion in a church, lead by the interpretations of mortal men like myself, mortal men who have made equally human decisions like I have, good or bad. I found it increasingly difficult to believe in all of the other bullshit, the stuff that wasn’t the words of the Lord himself. I read the New Testament as a child. I heard what the person I was taught to view as God told me. Love thy neighbor, no preconditions. Help those in need. Forgive. Right wrongs. Jesus didn’t tell me who to judge. He told me who to help. His words didn’t leave any gray area about what his values were. All these earthly religious leaders though? They talked about a lot of things that never came out of Jesus’ mouth once in the New Testament. They cited the Old Testament and the words of others often, but you have to remember that those parts of the bible were chosen by humans, not some God. I felt nothing for those words. The things they were saying weren’t what my faith was based on. They weren’t preaching Jesus’ word, so why follow?
Once you open Pandora’s Box, it doesn’t close itself back up. As I read through the other great religions of the world’s interpretations and writings, I found so much common ground, common themes, even common pillars of faith. There is no “God” that doesn’t share the basic values of service, love, and charity to our fellow man. Yet living in a political world as I do, so many religious leaders of all stripes want to spend a lot of time telling us who to judge, what behavior leads to eternal damnation, and in the worst of instances, who to hate. The disconnect grows. “Religious” people are the judgmental types that don’t talk about any of the things that Jesus did, or so you convince yourself. Suddenly, you’re living more and more secular, basically because you’ve convinced yourself that to do otherwise is contrary to the religious values you grew up with. Yet at the same time, you’re not an atheist. In fact, your only real problem is that you realize that God speaks in all religions through the same basic values that you yourself grew up on. You politicize your most important personal relationship, the one directly between yourself and your creator, yourself and your basic values. It’s in that moment that you lose your self values.
As I age, I’m coming to a basic conclusion- that my God isn’t defined by others, nor is my faith a condition of whether or not others are teaching the direct word of God. The God on the cross dealing with his belief in forgiveness and his own self doubts in the final moments of his life is not redefined by anyone else. This doesn’t mean I’m going to “return” to church, or any organized religion at all. What it means is I’m reclaiming my God. I’m reclaiming my values. Hell yes, I’m a person of faith. And maybe that will mean membership in some religious group in the future. For now though, it means I’m reclaiming what’s mine, and seeing where it takes me.