I want you to know right off the bat that I have never had a problem with you. My main beef is with all the people who talk about you, who claim to follow you. My argument is, and has always been, with these people. I look at them and at you and it breaks my heart. It makes me sick.
Sometimes I feel like a man on a fence. On the one side are those followers, and on the other side are all the people who think you are a myth or a joke or something worse. And I am often left feeling alone on my fence. It is a lonely fence.
I am an educated man. I have an advanced degree. I think that it is impossible to know anything with certainty, especially religious things. I think that epistemological humility is the foundation of a serious education. I am uncomfortable talking about belief. I prefer to talk about faith, with all the uncertainty it implies. I wish more people were okay with uncertainty, because I think it is inescapable. My knowledge of your life is based upon copies and reconstructions of things written thousands of years ago, so I can’t say if it’s true. I know you are one of a number of religious figures in the world and that there are lots of holy books. Hence my reticence to talk about you with any certainty. I don’t have the facts. No one does. But a poet once wrote, “Culture is nourished more by myth than by fact.” By “myth” I mean stories that are deeper than mere facts.
With all this in mind, let me say what I like about you, based on what I’ve read. I like that you were poor and that, the only time you got mad—it had to do with money. You didn’t get mad when people were beating you up and spitting on you and killing you. You got mad when people were using religion to make money. Let me tell you, that makes me mad too.
I like that you and your followers were basically communist. Meaning you shared everything.
I like the way you treated lower class people and outcasts.
I like how you questioned and criticized authority.
I like how you challenged conventional wisdom.
I like this one thing you said, “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” That quote opens a book by my favorite writer—Dostoyevsky. You were talking about your death—about suffering. What I think you meant is this—that suffering can have meaning. That, sometimes, hitting the bottom, your own personal hell, is the first step toward reaching paradise. And not just some otherworldly paradise in the sky, but joy and happiness here, in this life. That rings true for me.
For me, faith is not about being right or winning arguments (as much as I love being right and winning arguments). For me, faith is about incarnating love. Active love. It is about, in the rough and tumble of real life, choosing to live for and love something more than yourself. It is about rooting out the bullshit—the rat race for money and power and houses and cars and sex. It is about walking humbly. It is about telling the truth with how you live.
But why am I telling you all this stuff you already know? I guess I just wanted you to know that you are still important to me. Like you, I share a distrust of the religious establishment, but that doesn’t mean I have abandoned you. I love you with all the passion of my restless, uncertain, vagabond heart.