A Confession, part 10
Understanding this, still did not give me peace of mind. I could not honestly throw out reason, for it too is a part of truth, and it is needed to choose between one argument and another, when they are coming from two different teachers. But I was now ready to happily receive any faith that would give me answers that were not wholely opposite to reason. I studied Buddhism, Islam, and most of all I studied Christianity, both from books and from the people around me.
I went first to the educated Orthodox people because they were closest to me. In this group were experts from every part of the Orthodox religion, from those most on the left to those most on the right. I asked them many questions to uncover their understanding of the meaning of life. I tried to overlook differences on little things and to stay away from arguments, but as I listened to each of them, it seemed that what they were calling faith did not really give an answer to the meaning of life. Their answers only confused me.
At many points in my talks with these people my hopes would be lifted that I was close to finding a faith that would bring meaning to life. But then their answers would fall short. I remember a strong feeling of fear that I would be forced back into my earlier spirit and would finish up without any hope at all.
They mixed many things that were not needed in with the most important Christian truths; but I could have overlooked a few things that I did not agree with, just to keep them happy, if they had been able to give me a clear answer to the meaning of life. What I found, instead, was that they were just as confused as me. The only difference was that I was not saying that I had the answer, and they were.
The spirit of these rich, educated, religious people was to get all that they could from this life, because it is all that they have. They feared being poor, sick, or dying as much as anyone. I could not believe this would be true of anyone who had a faith that gave meaning to those things. Like myself, they were rich and they still wanted more, and they lived to please themselves. It was a kind of holy love of self, where they played games with God to make them forget what they feared. They lived just as badly as, if not worse than, those who did not have faith.
No argument could make me believe that they had the answer to the meaning of life. I was looking for people whose lives showed that they were not afraid of being poor, sick, or dead, and I did not find it in the educated church people. The truth is that I saw less fear of death in some people who had no faith in God, but who worked for the good of the poor in my country, under the Back-to-the-People movement.
Only the rich can play these games with God. For the poor, faith must be real, or it will not be strong enough to carry them through the difficult things that they are forced to go through each day. So because it was in thinking of these poor workers that I had started to think about faith in the first place, I started to go looking for poor believers, so that I could learn from them.
In words and actions, the faith of these poor believers was the same as that of my rich friends. I found that the poor people mixed a lot of other teachings in with the most important Christian truths too, but it was easier for me to understand them believing in such things. Faith was a very serious thing to them, and not the game that it was to the rich. The whole life of the rich is opposite to what comes out of their mouths in church on a Sunday. But when the same words come from the mouths of the poor, it goes perfectly with the life that they live.
In the end, I could see that the poor have real faith and it gives real meaning to their lives. In our circles it is difficult to find one true believer in a thousand. But the opposite is true in poor circles: It is difficult to find one person in a thousand who does not believe. For the rich, life is easy and they are not happy. For the poor, life is hard, but they are happy. They take sadness and sickness as part of life, and most of them die in peace.
But we rich people almost always die in fear.
These poor people, who do not have all that Solomon and I had to make for a "good" life, were (and are) on the whole a very happy people. After all of my looking for answers in my own circle of friends, I was able to find in the poor of the world not two or three or tens or even hundreds, but thousands and millions of people who live each day knowing deep in their hearts that life and death both have meaning. They live and die knowing that life is good.
I learned to love these people. The more I came to know of their life, both the life of those who are living and the lives of those who are dead (who I learned about through books and through listening to others), the more I loved them, and the easier it became for me to live.
This went on for about two years, and I came to hate the life of the rich educated circle of people that I had always moved in. It was more than hate. Such a life had no meaning at all to me. All of our actions, words, science, and art came to me in a new light. I could see by this time that it was all just a game, and that it had no meaning at all. But the life of the working people, who make up most of the world, who give us all that we need in life, theirs is the life that has true meaning. Theirs is the true life. And I received it for myself.
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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