Hancen Sale

I used to be a God person. I’m not anymore.

What pulled me away wasn’t the bearded “man” in the sky but the spiritually faded occultism enveloping “Him.” It was and is all so odd.

The churches that embarked on those oddly extravagant mission trips, only to return home with an unchanged, even renewed sense for just how terrible immigration is for America.

The men who, armed with tiny copies of the New Testament, stand on every street corner looking down at the depravity of intellectual curiosity that so often pervades every college campus and the people who inhabit it. The faith-warriors praying in tongues, hands placed firmly on the shoulders of some vulnerable unbeliever — promising, in good faith, that just a little more conviction would rid the cancer that’s been eating into them.

The religious ethos can be terrifying. But not in every circumstance.

There, too, are brilliant traditions and congregations of religious peoples all across the world. In truth, religion stands alone in that, over the course of history, nothing has so inspired the human mind to such magnificent degree.

As I wrote before, the early pages of the Torah portrayed clearly the danger of violence. The Jewish prophet — Jesus —proclaimed that blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure at heart. The Noble Eightfold path commands work for the good of others as a means — the means — to end suffering.

But religion has not always risen to the occasion.

Many congregations would welcome me, a proud gay man, with open and loving arms. Yet, when Sunday morning rolls around they still — not the result of poor nature but bounded by an imperfect relic of history — refuse to speak of how the church bears some responsibility for the LGBT people who now exist only in our memory, for why LGBT youth are still three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

For decades, from the AIDS epidemic to the present, it was the religious who so often stood idly by and watched, fearful of the same ostracization they witnessed, when their voice could have been a suffering or dying person’s saving grace.

I do not wish to chastise the faithful — indeed, a short review of the human heart reveals that disdain is rarely the precursor to change — but rather to implore them to speak up. In a period embroiled by many of humanity’s worse inclinations, there is an opening and an opportunity for goodness to prevail, for the religious community, its institutions and peoples, to rise to higher ground and affirm, loudly and without reservation, the dignity of the many people its rituals and relics have at many junctures sought to deny.

But why? Is it biblically or doctrinally sound? Well, perhaps that is the wrong question.

To channel the Christian tradition, did Jesus ever stop to question whether the suffering before him was justified? Maybe we’ve asked the wrong questions all along. Maybe, as Paul Kalanithi writes in “When Breath Becomes Air,” the more central message of Jesus — the truly prescient one — is that “mercy trumps justice every time.”

But regardless of those questions, it’s worthwhile to consider that life is but a fleeting pleasure; the clock on each and every one of ours moving ever faster. Despite our faith, our disbelief or uncertainty, we are still at the end left only with finitude and each other.

The imperfectability of our humanness may always plague us, but we can still cast our gaze farther and toward higher ground — to a mode more cognizant of the love, of the kindness, of the joy we extend to others and that in which we receive.

Truthfully, our tenure on earth is markedly short.

There is only a short period in which we are afforded the opportunity to indulge the brilliance of humanity that one so often overlooks amidst the whims and brutality of everyday life. Our bodies may be bounded by earth, but the sincerity of our love, our kindness, our joy, our spirit is not — they will live on with a ferocity far beyond our imagination.

“The relationship of self to other,” the philosopher Alan Watts writes, “is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself.”

We seldom realize that nothing but our faith in love is what truly bears eternal life.

Hancen Sale is a senior majoring in economics. He can be reached at hsale@vols.utk.edu, and you can follow him on Twitter @hancen4sale.

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