I’m the kind of person who’s always been painfully on the fence about faith.
The ambivalence was to be expected. Growing up Catholic in an almost-traditional southern African household while attending schools saturated with every kind of intellectual over-achiever you can think of will do that to an impressionable child – particularly one with an affinity for the dramatic. I’ve been inundated with the dense stories of the Bible from the moment I could read properly, and force-fed the wise words of my priests ever since I was old enough to sit still in church. Simultaneously, I’ve received the kind of education that at best tolerates religion with a sympathetic smile and at worst, goes full on Richard Dawkins at the mere mention of the word ‘God’. How does a four-year old reconcile the idea that “God helps those who help themselves” with the sight of the homeless quadriplegic that she sees everyday near the bus rank? How does a seven-year old read the book of Revelation and not live in fear of the big, angry man upstairs? How is a fourteen-year old teenage girl, hormones all over the place and aspiring to be a neurosurgeon, supposed to feel after reading Genesis 3, Exodus 22, 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 14, Romans 7, and on and on and on?
Fast-forward five years and it’s no surprise that I struggle with the Bible, nor that I struggle to believe in that which I cannot verify personally. According to Myers-Briggs that would be because of the “fluctuating self-esteem” that comes with my ENFJ personality type. There’s an inherent insecurity that comes with faith – pinning all of your hopes and dreams on this entity, this higher power that you can’t negotiate with when life gets dark or interrogate when you need reassurance that He/She/It hasn’t abandoned you completely. It’s a trust so solid and so complete that it takes a strength I certainly haven’t found (yet) in my metamorphic soul, a strength I like to pretend I have when I’m teaching Sunday School or doing the readings in mass or leading prayer at family gatherings. Another unfortunate lesson that Myers-Briggs has so generously taught me is that I can be somewhat “overly idealistic”. I tend towards the versions of things that are the prettiest, the neatest, the shiniest. And if the circumstances don’t allow for my version to exist, then I bend the circumstances, if not in real life then at least in my own head. And in a religion as fraught with self-contradictions and complete about-turns as mine is; my circumstance-bending skills have been getting a lot of practice.
A college Bible-study class has helped to settle, or at least engage the more academic qualms that I’ve had with the good book. Many desperately frustrated conversations with professors and so-called enlightened preachers have been most illuminating, and have largely been the reason why I haven’t said a complete bye felicia to the Great One. But the way my personality is set up, I require consistency in a deity. A guarantee that a basket I plan to put all of my eggs in, so to speak, won’t suddenly unravel and drop them and crack their shells. The world of the pious has been so consistently unpredictable, both historically and personally, that I can’t, in any honest manner, claim to belong to it. So then where does that leave the capricious, quixotic ENFJ? Where do I put my faith? In the energy of the universe, never ceasing, constantly morphing and influencing everything that we do? In the things that I, the individual, influence – the relationships I have, the emotions I feel? What does my God look like, can I design Her from scratch? Can I even say these things without fear of heavenly smite?