Revolving in Mystery

As a child, I went to church weekly with my family. I also prayed once a day, usually before going to sleep. My parents taught me that religion should be respected, even if one did not believe in it literally. Without saying so, they were trying to teach me a lesson in humility—that I should always leave space for the mysterious in life, whether that mystery was called God, or The Lack Thereof. But even with the playful imagination of a child, this lesson made no sense to me. I was curious. I wanted to understand, not mystify.

A rebellion occurred one night when I was ten. I was praying in bed when I suddenly felt embarrassed. Who was I praying to? And wasn’t prayer a selfish act? Even when I wasn’t asking favors from God, it felt like a contract where I secretly hoped to win some nebulous reward. Enough, I thought. I decided to stop praying. That was my only decision that night: no more prayers.

When I turned eleven, I began attending a local Catholic school. I went there for seven years—all of middle and high school. Administered by an eccentric band of priests, the school was religiously and socially conservative. We had religion class four times a week. The student body came primarily from a middle-class Republican background.

At first, I enjoyed the school. The teachers were kind and dedicated in their teaching. But as sixth grade became seventh, and seventh flowed into eighth, I realized something was bothering me, and it involved religion class.

To begin with, I could not understand how belief could be taught. I had no problems with math and Latin because they did not ask for belief. I did not care about geometric formulae and Latin conjugations as long as I did well on the tests. But the topics we brushed in religion were so fundamental in their scope that I could not ignore their significance. To me, it did make a difference whether the earth was six thousand years old or four and a half billion. I also could not figure out where heaven was located. Was it in between the thermosphere and the mesosphere, or closer to Mars? I assumed hell was at the center of the earth, but how did the bodies get there?

My facetiousness aside, what really got me burning was the lack of curiosity among the students around me. And that’s when I started causing trouble. I had shouting matches with my religion teacher. I refused to say the morning prayer, salute the flag, or go to church. I began reading social commentary on religion. I called myself a Marxist at fourteen. My favorite author became Richard Dawkins, the fervent British “new atheist.” Three friends of mine with similar ideas created an informal club, sharing articles and videos on a nascent Facebook. To us, the world was black or white. You either saw life through the senses or through an invisible man in the sky.

Something went awry when I discovered that my best friend was the most Christian kid in school. Unlike the other students who called themselves Christian without a strong desire to understand what that meant, my friend was consistent: he believed and lived his faith. His beliefs were ludicrous, but what did that matter when he was a beautiful human being? He was a pure, beaming candle.

Much has happened since middle and high school. Life has thrown much at me and I have thrown myself at it harder. Love and pain began moderating my zeal. The answers I was looking for were not resolvable into formulas or philosophies, as I originally wished. Neither logic nor faith soothed me. Science explained the world to me rationally. Religion explained it through metaphors.

And that is how I found myself gaining increasing meaning from mysteries rather than answers. Wikipedia answers all the questions I have. But the answers have lost their meaning in a disenchanted world. How will I tell God that we found Him in the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva? And what future will science give man once the material paradise is reached?

It is not answers I want, for I find more beauty in contemplating the mysterious and accepting the outrageous. Did you know a group of fairies lives in the basement of Weld? Demons dance around Lowell Bell Tower. Trees make good conversation around 4:30 AM, if you try hard to talk to them. Watch the sky tomorrow. It may thunder molten tigers.

Felix De Rosen ’13 is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House.