On Christmas Eve, I went to the midnight service. Not because of my deep religiousness but because my father sings in a local church choir. During the homily, the minister talked about faith. He referred to the previous reading from the Gospel, and he stressed this reading was not about conveying facts. He primarily understood it as a story. Next he illustrated this by pointing out that each evangelist brings a different version of the events surrounding the life of Jesus Christ. Only two (Luke and Matthew) talk about his birth. In Luke, the “good news” is revealed to shepherds near Bethlehem. In Matthew, three wise men from the East come to the pay their tribute to the newborn savior. In the tradition, these two accounts merged together.
The minister expressed that people have no choice but to believe in something. We all embrace a certain story. The stories themselves are quite diverse. It’s about belief in a religion, a mythology, a political ideology, a leader, our own identity, traditions, values, blood ties, rationality, science and even belief in nothing. For us as believers, it seems to be about the content of the story we uphold. However, the essence of faith is faith itself. Until here the reflections of the minister. This understanding perfectly agrees with how I feel about this issue. At the same time, it was refreshing to hear a man of faith talk about belief in such a down-to-earth manner.
We consciously or unconsciously choose the story that suits us. The fact that we all swear by a narrative tells us, in the first place, something about ourselves. I like to see these stories as answers to a question. Translated into affective terms, the stories we incorporate are fulfilling a need. We require answers because we don’t know and not knowing makes us uncertain and vulnerable. But why do we need the feeling of knowing? I think these answers are the elements on which we build our identity. We have to believe them because our very right of being is depending on it. Otherwise, we fear life would become meaningless. In other words, the story is the illusion of a solution. It’s an illusion because it’s impossible to connect specific feelings permanently with certain answers. Inevitably, doubt is just around the corner, ready to eat away at the foundations of our identity.
It may be clear that our stories are under a constant threat. Even the most fierce believer has an arsenal of arguments to justify his convictions. The fact that others live their lives by different stories is probably one of the greatest dangers. With our arguments, we try to defend our fragile self. However, by doing this, the threat of the Other only becomes greater. Therefore, the most important question to me is the following: is it possible to find a common ground from which we are no longer such a threat to each other? I think it’s hard to find this common ground between the different answers. In contrast, we all share the same question. It’s the fact that we don’t know and the need to feel that we do know.
Nevertheless, it may be the illusion of an answer is so deeply rooted within ourselves that we forget it’s a solution to an underlying question. In that case, we move forward proclaiming our answer to others. Often this results in some kind of urge to convert. If we consistently follow this urge, the goal that ultimately everybody needs to abide by the same story becomes inevitable. As a result, we will slide without a doubt into a form of totalitarianism. To this day, history teaches us this always comes with untold brutality and endless bloodshed. Therefore, I am convinced that belief in itself can never bring us closer together. But what happens if we take a step back, stop our blind stare at the answers and start looking at the underlying question? What happens when we recognize that no one really knows but everyone has the need to know? By recognizing this, we inherently have to respect every single story. Then, it’s no longer about belief but about understanding belief. And I do think that understanding the need for belief has truly the potential to bring us closer together.