This 清明 my sister, who is in her enthusiastic church-going years, requested to not hold joss sticks.
She did it quietly and politely, and no one objected to it. I remembered myself in her. Years ago, still a church-go-er, i went through the motions anyway, if not with an uncomfortably intense dose of guilt from having to pay respects the ‘superstitious way’. At that point i thought of myself as not pious enough, not strong enough to ‘resist’ and stand up to my faith.
Past my egocentric years, and with increasing disillusion with certain church practices (/certain church’s practices?), i now think differently.
Back then, in church, i was given a checklist of things we should not be doing. Under the section of “superstitious and cult activities”, incense burning, joss sticks holding, etc, were all ‘strongly discouraged’. As if they determined your faith, your beliefs, and your love for God.
Now, with age, i see these as completely disparate variables. I find certain rules laid out as misguided and over-indulgent of Christianity. The only reason, ironically, why i still identify as a Christian is that i cannot bring myself to not believe in God. A God that is very similar to the one conceived by the Christian faith, and many of the fundamental principles it is based on.
But so many of the interpretations, the practices, the rules, and the structure of the church i just cannot.
Once, a cradle Christian told me she envied my relatively agnostic family. She said it made my road to faith more difficult, giving me the opportunity to strengthen my faith through wanting to be a Christian despite objections to it. (LOL?)
The thing is, i never faced much ‘objection’ from my family. The only complaint they made was that it took away half my Sunday which could be spent lazing around with them eating chee cheong fun and watching Doraemon. And even if they were to ‘object’, i doubt it would have truly difficult for me. Because rebellion is part of being a teenager. Rebellion is, in some sense, the easiest obstacle i could face.
With age i’m beginning to understand a more complex conflict between religions and theisms, and one of the most striking insights i’ve made is that there is no ‘good’ Christian side and the antagonistic non-religious side we so often presume (or maybe just in my Convent school environment).
Back to the joss stick issue.
The God i believe does not see the arbitrary, even aesthetic – but fully harmless – act of holding joss sticks as problematic. It is a form of respect; of consideration for my grandma – to give her a symbolic peace of mind knowing that her husband has received some ‘love’ from his grandchildren.
The God of my personal faith would have applauded it as an act of filial piety. The God i know doesn’t give a shit about holding two sticks for a couple of minutes for a greater cause. If you are a Christian thinking: since you are not following what the church wants us to do, why do you even see yourself as a Christian, then ok – i am not a Christian.
I would rather stand by the God i believe in, who propounds most fundamentally love for others, doing good out of this love, and not doing harm to others – and not be considered a ‘real’ Christian, than adopt practices i don’t believe in just to reduce cognitive dissonance of being a stranded believer of God without shelter from a ‘legitimate’ religious institution.
And this is where my divergent views from the church (of course not all churches la, just the ones i’ve observed/gone to) come into play.
In my early years i loved church, because it taught so beautifully about love and good. Later on these teachings became less of a feature, instead there was a huge emphasis on things that were trivial and irrelevant to my faith: not holding joss sticks, speaking in tongues, being slain, adhering to a bunch of rules that didn’t make me feel any more closer to God.
I didn’t like that my belief in God was being obscured by more peripheral church activities and principles that seemed far removed from faith. Everything was very church-centered, not God-centered (despite it being propagated as so).
So after a few church-hopping attempts, i finally resigned to the fact that my faith in its mature (or at least most current) state cannot be reconciled with an instituted church. The furthest i can go are ad-hoc Catholic masses, which i do still love – stemming from both my IJ girl background and how (imo) it is more rooted to the fundamentals of God/love/faith.
I won’t give a solidified position of my religious beliefs now. I think beliefs evolve and grow, and should be allowed to – even if it is in the direction of non-belief (as many believers fear).
I don’t want my faith to be borne of confirmation bias.
I want to continuously question my faith and all my beliefs – not just religious ones. If i still believe (as i now do, after years of doubts), then good. If i don’t, at least i know i’m not deceiving myself.
Neither do i want my faith to be a socialized, which i feel the church provides. Of course, the church has its plusses: it offers a group that supports and sustains your faith. I do like to share about my faith, but there comes a point of saturation where, instead, my beliefs are shaped by what i think others want it to be. I try to avoid that.
Right now i’m not sure what i really am. I’d say a Christian, but only conforming in the most basic sense. Or maybe i’m non-religious, just someone who is theistic, and believes in a God that may be any one (or none) of the ones conceptualized by any existing religions.
I’d like, of course, to find a place that teaches me what i want to know relevant to my beliefs, without too strongly exerting an influence that may either oppress or warp the route of my faith. But as of now i’ve been mostly disappointed.