My brother was baptized on Sunday.
It was completely unplanned. When he stood up to get in line after the sermon my family exchanged surprised looks. My cousin Michelle asked me what I thought. I simply said, “It’s something he would do.”
Some background: I was not raised with any concrete religious ideology. My mom was a Roman Catholic, my dad was a Buddhist (further tensions that may have contributed to their eventual separation: she was a Raiders fan, he a 49ers). I was taught to burn incense before the image of Buddha and pray to my ancestors for protection and fortune. I was also taught to turn to God in times of trouble, and to fear damnation in hell. You might say I was confused.
With middle school, religion of any kind faded from my life. I still to this day, though, burn incense for my ancestors on special occasions out of respect for tradition.
In high school I found that my friends fell into 3 categories with regards to faith: the indifferent, the atheists, and the devout. All were typically passionate about what they believed, but I never really was because I just didn’t know what I knew even though I still cared about the questions and answers. I labeled myself an agnostic as a sophisticated name for my confusion.
There was a period in my life when I had wanted so much for God to look out for me and perhaps stop my life from spiraling out of control. He didn’t pull through in the magical divine intervention way I thought He would, so I withdrew from earnest prayer into a wary cynicism.
However, I reconciled with the fact that if God exists, it’s not to solve my problems for me. I’m not bitter.
The existence question was never the problem for me. I believe God can coexist with science. The whole resurrection thing is sort of weird, but I guess a lot of things in the universe are weird, too. There are also plenty of clever proofs of His existence that are quite convincing, albeit headache-inducing. The fact that He doesn’t explicitly assert His presence does not bother me in slightest. I’d feel uncomfortable praising a visible god of any kind anyways. The fact that He does not intervene when people do horrendous things to each other across the globe or that evil exists does not undermine God’s existence. Frankly if He exists, it’s not His job to make sure we all get along.
I won’t argue whether or not He exists, but I don’t think the question is an exclusive reason to reject religion altogether.
My personal reason not to follow Christ/God/Supreme Anonymous Being, then, really boils down to my stubbornness. I can’t deal with the idea that someone else is in control of my life or wants to do something with it, true or not. I can cognitively take in the teachings of “Do good unto others” and “Love they enemies,” but I could never give my whole self away like that. It scares me. I’ve chosen to bumble down the search for meaning and truth alone, not because I don’t believe a higher being could come with me, because I just don’t want one to. I am not willing to surrender myself like that, and that has been my personal decision.
My brother, of course, was brought up like I was. As he entered middle school during which skepticism is at its peak popularity, I remembered him coming home one day declaring himself an atheist. I have listened to him scoff at the old men handing out orange New Testaments outside schools and rant on about the hypocrisy of Christians throughout history.
My family started attending a hip nontraditional Christian church in San Jose at Michelle’s insistence. I did not resist, partly to not make a fuss, partly because I saw the sermons as mini philosophy lectures, partly because of free tea.
One day my brother said after Sunday morning: “What a load of bull. You don’t believe this, do you?”
I responded ambiguously, “Keep an open mind. Jesus was a good guy.”
Then he started going to a youth group, mainly because my aunt believed it would be good for him in a moral sense. It was an experiment at first but he soon began to really engage. Once I asked why. He said, looking me in the eye, “I just need something stable in my life for once.”
A week ago, about 6 months after we began going to church, I’d relapsed into a spiral of self-hate. This time my brother said, as he was trying to convince me that I was loved, “That’s what God’s love is for.”
He said, “But I know you don’t give a shit about God.”
He said, “It’s like you’re afraid of happiness.”
Yes, he’s growing up. So perhaps the baptism was not so unprecedented.
As with most things that people around me do, I took his decision personally. I took it as a sign he was through with my contagious cynicism and doubt.
I remember this past September at La Jolla Beach walking alongside the ocean lost in busy thoughts. I turned around at one point to see my brother determinedly walking in my footsteps, literally, leaping from one indentation in the sand to another.
As I watched my brother stand in line next to the pool and he gave a little wave, I was afraid he’d never want to walk in my footsteps again. I thought selfishly that in a way Jesus was taking my little brother from me. This was why I wasn’t sure if I teared up out of pride or out of fear when he was plunged into the water.
The first thing he did once he was toweled dry and changed was come to hug me. Neither of us said anything this time. In that moment my anxieties melted away and I ran my hand through his hair. I just hoped maybe someday I’ll have something I believe in as strongly as he does.