Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Which Is More Important: the Question or the Answer?

a few days ago, i answered our front doorbell to find three young women there.  the one who appeared the oldest of the three carried a white three-ring binder.  she told me they were from a local church and were doing a survey in our neighborhood.  she asked if she could ask me five questions.  i was wary of her, not wanting to get involved in a long discussion about religion with someone who might want to convince me of the "truth" of her beliefs and the falsity of my own, but i agreed when she assured me the survey would take just a few moments.

her five questions were: (1) do you think of yourself as a spiritual person?, (2) do you identify yourself as a member of a certain religion?, (3) who do you think jesus was?, (4) do you believe in heaven and/or hell?, and (5) do you believe in the bible?  i gave five short answers which she recorded in her binder: (1) yes, (2) as a christian, (3) a great teacher, (4) no, neither one, and (5) yes.  following my answer to question four, she asked, "then, what do you happens after you die?" to which i responded, "i don't know."  i didn't point out that she had exceeded her promised number of questions by asking a follow-up to question four.  after thanking me for answering her questions, she left with a puzzled expression on her face, the two younger women trailing behind her.  i wonder now if i'll get a visit from someone else from her church to follow up on my answers.

what troubles me most about the experience was the lack of opportunity to elaborate on my answers, even though i didn't want to have a religious debate at my front door right just then.  maybe her church was simply taking a survey to gauge the beliefs of people in our town, but i doubt it.  i was relieved that i wasn't asked about my own church affiliation, because i wouldn't want any assumptions about others based on my own answers.

the two responses that i wished i could have said more about were my beliefs about jesus and about the bible.  i wanted to say, "i don't believe in jesus as the savior of the world, as God made flesh, as an atoning sacrifice for my or anyone's sins, and i don't quite know what to make of him except that his teachings compel me to follow him," and "i believe in the bible as a book that records beliefs about God and humankind over many years, not as divine truth dictated by God to scribes who wrote down what they were told to write; i believe in the bible as a book full of contradictions that can't be reconciled, a book that has value but that is not the revealed truth about or from God."

i'm making assumptions about the motives of the women who came to my door that i don't have enough evidence to make.  maybe they are not evangelicals who have reduced the answers to complex questions about humankind and the existence of a deity to a few simple statements of belief that they hold to be absolute truth.  maybe they wanted to elicit brief, unambiguous answers as a courtesy to those being surveyed.  maybe i should have tried to engage them in conversation at some length in order to clarify my responses so they would have a fuller picture of my beliefs.  i hope i don't find out more about them or their reasons for stopping by my house, and i hope they found me to be a courteous, if puzzling, person.

may we never succumb to easy answers.  may we never stop asking questions, even if we don't have answers.  may we make kindness our religion and allow all else to flow from that.  shalom.

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