Questioning beliefs and intellectualism

I realized that the thing I had trusted in ” the human intellect ” is actually quite frail.

by Diana Fu

I grew up atheist. No higher spirit, no animism, no wind or fire. Nothing. I believed in nothingness. All I was sure of was the earth beneath my feet, the sky above and my own two hands. The only thing I relied on was my own intellect. Later, I came to identify with leftist politics and the fight for social justice. I read Freire, Marx, Foucault, Said, Hooks, Spivak and a whole slew of left-leaning intellectuals. Then, at the end of my sophomore year, I came to know Jesus Christ. The conversion threw me into an identity crisis.

Right wing. Fundamental. Fanatic. Cheerleaders of Bush. All the labels that mainstream culture attaches to Christianity forced me to question, “Is there room in our society for Christians who don’t fit this stereotype?” I hope so. Are social justice and Christianity mutually exclusive? I don’t believe so.

Certainly, there are a lot of left-leaning Christian churches across the nation. In our own backyard, eateries like St. Martin’s Table on the West Bank challenge the equation. Nevertheless, the dominant image of Christianity is one of extreme conservatism that seeks to pull us back a few decades. Undeniably, a majority of Christians in the United States are conservative. They do support Bush. They are opposed to abortion and homosexuality. But to equate all Christianity with this political agenda is to undermine the unifying power of the gospel.

I remember sitting in my high school European history class and thinking to myself, “Why would anyone with half a mind be a Christian?” I mean, the blood, the gore, the corruption and schism were an open denial to the message of love that the Bible proclaimed. In college, when I learned about the colonial history complicit in missionary work as well as plantation owners who used the Bible as justification for slavery, I marveled at the large number of black people who are still Christians. How could any social group believe in a religion that served as a doctrinal foundation for their oppression?

Sophomore year rolled around and I began to see. What pushed me toward spirituality was a profound emptiness. I guess you could call it a protracted period of existential angst. Nothing was objectively “wrong” ” nobody died, no financial crises, no divorced parents and no romantic despairs. I just felt empty. Inexplicably empty.

I grappled with religion for a long time. I weighed Jesus with Freud. I debated relativism with absolutism. I questioned whether Christ was the only truth: what about Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or a mixture of everything? In short, I tried to use all my “critical reasoning skills” to dissect and comprehend. I failed.

For the first time in my life, I realized that the thing I had trusted in ” the human intellect ” is actually quite frail. I could grasp the meaning of dialectic but I could not grasp the more fundamental question of why I exist. That is because the former is a human construction while the latter is a spiritual creation. Theories stimulated my brain but God transformed my being. In moments of despair or peril, few pick up a philosophy book and start to read it frantically. We cry for help to a higher being.

I am not advocating anti-intellectualism. I think critical reasoning is of utmost importance in giving us the tools to understand the world and in equipping us with the theoretical foundations for engaging in social change. I also believe that one can dedicate one’s life to fighting injustices, standing up for oppressed communities of all types while knowing the ultimate limitations of human agency.

After all, one of the greatest leaders in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher. He preached equality. He had a dream. He was anything but a right-wing, flag-waving fanatic.

Right about now, I can picture the atheists on campus jumping to the nearest computer keyboard and start typing a seething letter in protest to this column. I can see people being repelled by my words and choking on their lunches. I can also hear the sighs of a few sympathetic folks who think that I have been brainwashed by the religious right.

I cannot say that it has been easy to share my personal journey so publicly. But I do hope that it can dispel the myth that all Christians are hooting for Bush. And even those Christians who do fall into the right-wing category I respect as brothers and sisters who hold on to their convictions. For the surpassing joy of knowing Jesus Christ reaches far beyond political boundaries.

Diana Fu welcomes comments at [email protected]