Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Have a Story: Humility and Religion

In San Jose, California, after a Meetup.com casual dinner. Seated at a table with one Latin-American male born in America, half-Mexican, half-El Salvadorian; one white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed American; one American female of undetermined ancestry; and me. All of us appear to be in our 30s. Someone mentioned speed dating, and now people are discussing relationships. 

Woman 1: "I need support, I need to feel protected, I need..." 

Me: "Just have a good time. What's wrong with having a good time and going from there?"

Woman 1: "I'm not looking for a good time, at least not the kind I think you mean."

Woman 2: "Aren't you looking for something deeper, something meaningful? I think when women have sex without meaning, it causes damage, physical and psychological."

Me: "I haven't actually described what I thought a good time was. A good time is whatever makes people happy, as long as everyone involved is transparent and honest. Why would you be against having a good time? And who are we to judge? 

The more I travel, the more I realize Americans make things too complicated. I'm guilty of overthinking myself, but I'm trying hard to get rid of that habit. People in other countries may have fewer opportunities than us in many ways, but they still manage to be more content, partly because they have fewer options, but also because they go with the flow. 

The women in other countries I've met are more practical. They tend to want someone who is employed, who is kind, and who treats them well. I've never heard a woman in a foreign country talk about relationships by saying she 'needs' something." 

Woman 2: "I think if you talk to women--and really have a deeper conversation with them--you'll see they have the same expectations as Americans. They may not be in a position to get what they want, so they just internalize the gap between their expectations and their reality." 

Me: "If American women have relationships and happiness figured out better than non-American women, why are Americans the ones taking prescription drugs and anti-depressants at the highest rates in the world?"

Woman 2: "I think those women need to work on themselves before dating, and many women should figure out how to be happy by themselves before getting into relationships. Now that I'm in a good relationship with another Christian, I'm 100% sure he will be there for me when I need him." 

Me: "'I'm not 100% convinced of anything. The whole point of dealing with human beings is recognizing we're imperfect, and because we're imperfect, we cannot predict our future with 100% certainty. When you say you are 100% sure that your relationship will work out, I really question your brand of religion, because you're putting yourself on the same level as an omnipotent being. Religion, when done right, should make you more humble, not less. 

Let me ask you something. Right now, you and I could exit this restaurant and get hit by a car and suffer severe injuries for life. Do you think your relationships will stay the same if you, God forbid, became a paraplegic tonight?" 

Woman 2: "I am 100% sure my friends and my boyfriend will be there for me." 

Me: "I saw a documentary where someone just like you was severely injured in a car accident. After a year, her friends stopped visiting her. One reason you, your friends, and boyfriend are together is because you all share many of the same traits--you go to the same church, you believe in the same God, etc. A severe physical accident will make you different, will weaken the similarities that bind you together. Aren't you being arrogant in thinking you can predict the future with 100% certainty, even when circumstances change vastly?" 

Woman 2: "I have no doubt they will be there for me, and that my boyfriend and I will be together." 

Me: "You know, about 50% of Americans who get married in a church end up getting divorced. All of them thought just like you--that their relationships would work out. Do you think you're special in ways those people were not?" 

Woman 2: "I don't think I'm special. I just know my friends." 

Me: "The women in the church aisle who later got divorced, if you had asked them before the moment they said, 'I do,' would they have said they also knew their boyfriends?" 

Woman 2: "But 50% of the women who got married stayed together. Personal traits matter, too. If I have integrity, why wouldn't my relationship work out and be part of the successful 50%?"

Me: "I think we're all looking for permanence in a modern world geared towards impermanence. People want to to think they'll always be together with someone, not because they're necessarily afraid of being alone or being unhappy, but because they want something permanent. A wedding ring isn't valuable because it's expensive--it's much sought-after because it represents hard-to-get permanence. That desire for permanence is the underlying basis of your opinion, your certainty. 

When I speak to religious women in other countries, I'm always humbled. A Latin grandmother might have only a tiny cross somewhere in her small house, but when you talk to her, you can feel her faith. You don't need to ask her anything about it--you'll just feel it. She'll never say she 'needs' anything or that she's 100% sure of anything except her own belief in God. She won't say she knows what another person would do, but she will tell you believes in God, and that will be the end of the discussion. It doesn't even enter her mind to say she's 100% sure about the future of other human beings. She believes in God, and God will do what is right by her. That's the kind of faith that leaves no room for logical argument because it's genuine. She'll have a fraction of my education, of my knowledge, but she'll be the one who humbles me because her faith is worth more than all of my knowledge." 


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