Believe and you will be saved.
A simple enough criterion, isn’t it? And yet, it stymies each of us in a confoundingly different way. To make the matter most mundane, we could phrase it like this: without belief, we will not have eternal life.
There are, of course, several conversations wrapped up in this statement. First of all, there are those who deem existence to be absent without belief. Those who do not believe, do not truly exist. To ask them why would beg an overly profound and too-far reaching discussion of what it means to exist in the first place. Being neither able nor willing to engage in an existential explanation, I will leave this to those whose studies and interests fit the topic. As far as I have been able to discern, existing is a subjective thing; it will be given a different definition by each person you ask. And, as we are carriers in ourselves of existence on some level, we should know. Or at least, think we know.
Secondly, there is the problem of defining belief. For most people, it doesn’t do justice to spell out a generic belief in an undefined entity. It is simply too vague, too generic, and unconnected to ourselves on a personal level. We need something intimate and sure. Many times, we need something concrete. And, as is our nature, we often need a bit of tangible assurance. In any of these cases, belief is holding as true something that has not yet been proved to be true. Scientists believe there are answers to the questions that probe them; they continue to research the subject until they find answers. Theologians parse the mystical contortions of history and its many characters, desperately seeking to understand faith as it is shared and experienced in the past, as well as to inform faith practices that exist around them. Doctors research medicine, striving for cures and panaceas; teachers and students clamor after knowledge, seeking fulfillment in its acquisition and application. The list goes on forever. My point is, belief is universal; faith is not only in the church. Each person believes there to be something yet to come, more to reach, more to experience, more to know. For that reason, we keep on living. If we had convinced ourselves that there was no point in searching further because nothing would be found, we might be dubbed nihilists. But even they find belief in the nothing they perceive; if it is truly an empty life, logic would lead them to ending it. Because, belief would tell them that if nothing exists here worth experiencing, then there must be something in a different mode of existence. Therefore, I would say that belief is not to be attained; it already is.
How we believe and what we believe in is a different story. Believe and you will be saved? If it were so simple, we already would have been saved. And so I believe.
But what is this business about believing in God? What is the noise about a crucified Jesus? Who understands the nirvana of Buddhism? Who even knows if I have this all correct and why should I bother to align myself with one of them? Isn’t it sufficient that I believe in something beyond myself—what I have already shown to be naturally human? That is the question, isn’t it?
Let us get one thing perfectly straight. Life is a positive thing. If we didn’t have life, we would have no basis for searching, believing, or perceiving at all. And, if we find there to be some positive elements to existing—such as love, friendship, kindness, etc.—then I think most people would agree that living is a good thing. Therefore, our main goal should be to preserve life. If what drives us is our belief, and we find that the fruits of our belief advance us (in science, medicine, theology, etc.), then both living and believing are good things. Therefore, we aught to preserve them both in their genuine states.
We come to an impasse, however, when we pretend to believe a certain way (i.e. search in a prescribed way). If we find that the height of living is believing (and if it is the source for our betterment, who would say otherwise?), then it aught be genuine and true. Yet, we are muddled in our beliefs because we begin to judge them. Some are better than others, some offer more benefit than others, and many will promise to offer us personal betterment and fulfillment. I’m sorry. I should correct myself. Beliefs don’t offer us anything, save that which they are innately and what we take from them by conscious choice. Rather, humans profess a faith which is then translated for others, particularly as concerns the benefits it creates. We are therefore seduced into choosing one belief over another. Even though, innately, we are called to believe in a unique way, separate from the artificial way we choose.
So it boils down to this, in my optimistic, though critical rendering: all human beings are believers. It is a ridiculous argument to say otherwise. How we believe and what we believe is a different story. I have a deep respect—the utmost—for those who are true to the belief system which is born in them. How is it born? Let that be decided by belief. Regardless, we must be careful how we choose to believe. We are foolish if we think we can affect a one-dimensional belief system that is pleasurable to the senses and falsely justified by intellect. There is another part to us that no one will refute; call it the emotive self, the spiritual self, the faith self. Whatever it is named, it exists. And it cannot be done away with. It is, in fact, an abomination to our own positive humanity when we assume we can twist belief to the wantings of body or mind. Because, as anyone can tell you, belief is not a one-sided engagement. It is the essence of being human. How, then, can we pretend to believe with the body and mind, leaving behind the spirit? It is nonsensical and inhuman.
Therefore, I do not think we believe in earnest until we have all three elements in collaboration: mind, body, and spirit. How that is manifest no one can know. The tricky part is knowing for yourself, because no other human being can tell you that your belief is genuine. But I guarantee that whatever you try to do, the urge to belief earnestly will always haunt you until you listen to your entire person.