It has become clear to me recently that I am reaching a turning point of some kind; that all the new stuff that I am doing and experiencing in this period of my life is leading towards a real sea-change in how I see things and who I think I am. What happens during this time, and how I handle it, will probably have a profound determining effect on the rest of my life and how well it goes, and so I do feel a bit of pressure. And maybe because of all this, I feel a growing and genuine crisis of doubt. I am just not sure if my doubt is strong enough to see me through this.
Previously I have always had my doubt to fall back on – when times were good, or bad. My doubt has been not just deep, but wide-ranging – doubt in God, the world, doubt in myself and my fellow man. And of course in the past all of these things have let me down; my doubt has never really been tested up until now.
My current situation is different from any I have previously faced however. It is not just that I seem to be surrounded by the faithful, the steadfast, even the devout (which quite frankly freaks me out by the way), it is not just about other people. Things are going really well in my own life too. I have never been fitter. I have managed to maintain, for over 9 months now, a healthy work/life balance with the emphasis on life, had loads of great time to spend with my family, lost a bit of weight, stopped smoking and drinking coffee, cut out chocolate and wheat, and felt realy good for it. This is the sort of thing that can eat away at your doubt.
I know that everybody has at least some faith - many people that I love and respect, even members of my immediate family have loads of faith - but I have been pretty much immune to it up until now. I have always seen faith as metaphorical petrol. If religion is a car or a motor bike, and I mean really nice ones like a porsche or a triumph bonneville or something ( maybe the CofE is a triumph bonnie: you can assign vehicles to other faiths yourself); anyway I can appreciate those machines as a non-driver, for the excellence of their design, the harmony of form and function, the poetry of the thing. But faith, faith is the petrol – people with petrol, i.e. people with faith are having a completely different experience of those things from me, they are actually driving them about, going places fast, taking risks, making nuisances of themselves, careering all over the road, shouting at pedestrians, and I am not sure if I envy them or not. But I can’t just buy petrol – the analogy starts to come apart a bit at this point. Maybe faith is like money rather than petrol, I’m not sure, I will have to think about it.
Maybe I am over-dramatising, I mean there is no danger of me rushing up to an altar or anything. For a start, I am not really a joiner and faith seems to be a team game, although strangely each team seems to have their own version of the rules. Anyhow, up until now my doubt has functioned a bit like a note from my mum excusing me from PE. I have been able to watch safely from the sidelines, while everyone else gets all red in the face, bumping into each other. It all looks terrifying and I can’t afford to lose my doubt now, I am too old and stiff to start dashing about the metaphorical pitch getting upset about liturgy or arguments about atonement, whatever that is.
It is ultimately, like so many things, a question of identity – who you are, who you want to be, who you want to be seen to be, the conflicts between those things. Which is exhausting enough in itself without trying to figure out how and why the universe was built and all that. Sometimes I just get tired, and I think that is when I weaken, and become susceptible to the temptations of faith.
Occasionally it all comes together in my mind, in a sudden blinding insight, usually when I am half-way up a mountain or something but I had one the other day when I was in the gym, on the cross-trainer. I view the world from an artistic standpoint in general, and it occurred to me that the whole artistic project, i.e. responding to the experiences of being alive by taking that raw material and transforming it with imagination into art that helps us understand the world and ourselves in relation to it, that that project is exactly the same as religion – that religion is just another version of the same thing. In fact for a large part of the past two millennia, they have been identical – the cistine chapel, the pieta, all those renaissance madonnas, were all just tiny bits of the artistic project that was Christendom. Like many of these insights it just seems like stating the obvious now, but at that moment, in the gym, the thought struck me with such force that my heart-rate, which was clearly displayed in red numerals before me, shot up from one fifty-something to over one hundred and seventy. So that must mean something.
It’ll all come out in the wash I suppose. Like all turning points, it is not exactly clear what direction I am going to end up facing, and I am feeling a bit dizzy and sick, but I will get over that. I just need to have a little doubt.