“Don’t you wonder sometimes, Oudoom, about faith?”
This startles the old pastor, who puts down his beer slowly while formulating an answer.
“No disrespect, Dominee, but the thought has been bothering me for some time.” Kleinpiet’s furrowed brow speaks volumes. “I mean, over in the Middle East you have two groups of people at each other’s throats about religious differences – and now it’s spreading to the rest of the world. Surely one group must be wrong…but who?”
“And that’s not all. In Christianity there are 41,000 different denominations, each claiming to be representing the true faith. These days it is even popular to start up your own house-church because you differ from the conventional approach to religious matters.” Vetfaan joins the conversation. He ia standing up, of course, after his recent altercation with the surprised caracal. “And then there are other beliefs, too, complicating the situation even further.”
“Well, faith is an universal thing.” Abstaining from the subject is unthinkable for Gertruida, who has specific opinions about everything. “As far as history goes back, mankind has always revered some form of deity or other. It’s as if we were wired to accept the concept of a Higher Being, but only given enough data to process the basic idea – and not the full knowledge of what, exactly, happens after death. So people have solved the problem by falling back on belief. I believe this…you believe that, that sort of thing. The Bible contains the writings of men who struggled to describe heaven, for instance. Ezekiel tried to convey the glory of heaven by telling us about wheels of fire; while St John was more practical and gave us a vision of earthly riches in Paradise. I understand Kleinpiet’s confusion, but my only point of reference remains the Bible.”
“Faith,” Oudoom says gravely, “is one of the most complicated and yet simple things we have to deal with in this life. Complicated, because we tend to dissect our beliefs to the point where we simply cannot answer the questions. Simple, because we’re not supposed to.
“You see: Gertruida is right – as usual. We can, indeed, grasp the basics of who and what God is. He’s the Creator, the Planner, the Final Judge. All religions – in varying ways and different forms – agree on that. There’s no culture on earth that doesn’t have a story of how it all began – and, not surprisingly, these stories overlap to a remarkable degree. Everybody agrees that everything was created by a Superior Being. Equally, it is common consensus that there are such concepts of Good and Evil, Sin and Salvation.
“But after that, we as humans start complicating matters by wanting to explain everything. We want to analyze the Bible, God, our faith…and explain what happens to our souls once we die. We even imagine we know what it takes to be accepted in Heaven, or rejected in Hell. Fundamental extremists hold on to the most amazing ideas concerning this, and become fanatic about their absolute impression of what they are destined or commanded to do in this world. And don’t think I’m talking about any specific religion or faith here – it’s as true for us as Christians as it is for others. Remember the mass suicide at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978?
“So.” Oudoom sits back, satisfied that he’s made his point. “The bottom line of faith – by whatever name you call it – is Love. Loveless faith is an oxymoron. If the religion you follow isn’t characterised by Love and Kindness, I’m afraid that you are on the wrong track. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus was – or is – the epitome of loving kindness. Thats why we preach forgiveness. And moreover, our religion dictates that every word, every action, should be weighed against these two things – and that the way we interact with others, should leave reflect our faith. That’s how, in the end, our lives will be judged.
“Actually, this isn’t just about faith. It’s about common sense. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out at all: if your life is characterised by your kindness towards your fellow man, surely that leads to harmony. And harmony is the basis of Love, is it not? Harmony is the flipside of conflict, as much as Love is the opposite of hate.”
“But then, Oudoom, it means that killing each other in the name of religion is wrong? I mean, what do I do if a heathen threatens to destroy my way of life?”
“Good question. But let me ask you another. Is it right to defend your faith?”
“Gee, of course!” Kleinpiet slams down a fist. “Nobody has the right to attack me because I believe in a certain way!”
“Read your Bible, Kleinpiet. And then think about the message of Love. Take a step down from your high perch and consider why you might be a target because of your faith. If you lived a kind and forgiving life, caring for your neighbour and looking after your own – would that not avoid conflict? Does living in harmony not tell the world who you are and what you believe in?”
“That’s easy to say, Dominee.” The flush in Kleinpiet’s neck spreads to his cheeks. “But that’s all just theory. Look at what’s happening in the world? How do we forgive those that trespass against us if these trespasses involve murder and rape and wanton aggression?”
Oudoom shakes his head. “That’s why I agree with Gertruida. We don’t know everything…but we do know right from wrong. The fact that others – according to our belief – are doing wrong, doesn’t justify us going down the wrong path as well. So…we forgive. Like Jesus did. The judgment isn’t our concern. Not at all. The Bible tells us to try to talk to such people, and if we are unsuccessful, to avoid them.”
“It’s an ageless conundrum, Oudoom.” Gertruida’s voice is soft, making her seem particularly vulnerable. “The world is threatened by Evil, and only through Faith will we find everlasting joy.”
“But that’s my question: which faith? Everybody can’t be right?”
“True, Kleinpiet, But look at your faith carefully. Is it Kind? Is it Loving? I’m not talking about Mills and Boon love here – I’m talking about Love with a capital ‘L‘. Are you a believer in harmony? Do you acknowledge God? If you can answer affirmatively, you are – at least – on the right track.”
“But that means the world is filled with men and women who aren’t.”
“Indeed, my friend. That’s the tragic reality – has been like that since the beginning of time, will be thus until the end, unless you show people another way. Your job isn’t to convert the world to the one true faith – it’s to show the world what it means to be humble and kind. You can be a president or a king or even a nobody – but if you don’t start with these simple things, the world will never change.”
“No buts, Kleinpiet. The churches of the world have made faith wear many coats, show many faces. That’s wrong. Stick to the basics, the things we understand, the things we can do. The rest like they say, will be history.”
It’s one of those discussions that’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion. For everything Oudoom says, Kleinpiet and the others will have an answer and even more questions. In the end, Gertruida holds up a tired hand, motioning them all to sit down. “Let’s just agree on this: in your heart of hearts you know what you believe. We believe in Christian way of life – and this means we have a responsibility to live our faith. It implies many things, some of which we find particularly hard to do. But you know what? When the final whistle blows, God isn’t going to ask us to present Him with a scoreboard. He’s going to ask us if we played the game properly, Faith isn’t about winning, It’s about loving. You’re asking the wrong question, Kleinpiet. The question is: does faith prod you towards Love or not? That, my friend, is the only answer you should concern yourself with.”
Surprisingly, her statement is met with worried stares.