Tuesday, January 13, 2009

open your eyes sinner

If a group of young people call themselves 2G, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I thought rap group, or a counterstrike family. As I found out later, 2G stands for Second Generation, a Christian youth service for young adults over 18. Inside the community hall, dark lighting and soft music suggest more of a high school social than a church service. This is really different, I thought.

According to the Times, Christianity is one of few religions enjoying a growing support base of young followers under the age of 30. The number of incredibly fashionable young women at 2G is testament to that fact. However, while vanity and piety aren’t exact opposites in my book, I was expecting a much more demur show of leg. But like many things, religion has sought to modernise its image to reconcile with today’s youth. You can’t scold a child for its dress if they are to carry on your name.

Not that anyone at 2G would trade Christ for a skimpy outfit. In fact, their faith is astonishing. The pastor’s prayer evokes many a raised arm, while murmurs of ‘yes, Lord’ brim with promise and sincerity. For a minute, I felt uncomfortably left out. Asked what Christianity means to them, youths at 2G point out that religion is an inappropriate term to describe their faith. ‘I would call it a relationship’, one girl said, referring to living a life devoted to maintain a deeply personal connection with Christ, as opposed to leading a generically pious lifestyles according to the Ten Commandments. Regardless of its links to Christ, relational is definitely the word to describe Christian support groups like 2G. The sense of belonging there transcends feelings of comfort. It’s absolutely electric. The room exudes the feel of common purpose and faith. There, the pop-y pre-service songs are transformed into stirring gospels, the pastor into an empowering orator. Whether Christian or not, it is hard to not be attracted to 2G.

As an interested agnostic, my opinion of Christianity has always been that it’s a relatively ‘easy’ religion. By believing that Christ’s death eradicates the consequences of sin from Man, Christian people can, essentially, sin without consequence. They don’t even have to repent, a function performed by confessions in Catholicism. I thought that must be the key to Christianity’s strong youth support. In an age of instant gratification, the promise of a joy ride through life followed by a ticket to Heaven is surely too good to pass up. ‘Yes, it may seem like Christianity is not so much about ‘earning’ your way. But as sincere Christians, we value our faith dearly. And our attitudes and actions reflect that.’ The girl who said this admits to questioning the validity of her faith a few years back. When asked what made her return, she recalls reading a piece of scripture themed in Doubt, and attributing that incident as a heavenly sign calling for a renewal of faith from her.

Personally though, I never thought the question of whether God truly exists is central non-believers’ choice to distance ourselves from religion. I, and perhaps others, choose to remain unreligious as God is irrelevant in my life. I simply don’t have the need to believe in God in my life. ‘Believing in God gives me a sense of purpose.’ That was a common reply at 2G. But what is this purpose? To be a good person? To lead a devoted life to go to Heaven? During his sermon, pastor Misso spoke of how ‘Jesus is the reason for me to change. To make my two-oh-oh-nine different to my two-oh-oh-eight.’ He then spoke of weight loss. As a staunch individualist and liberal agnostic, I would have contended that pure human determination would have been just as good as a promise to Jesus in maintaining a healthier lifestyle. In fact, when asked whether the sense of purpose provided by religious beliefs can be emulated by strong human will and direction, a young man replied ‘Yes, I think so’. But that still doesn’t explain what that ‘sense of purpose’ specifically means.

In fact, it would be fair to say that the vagueness of religion in providing concrete, relatable answers to questions regarding ‘God’s presence’, ‘His plan’, ‘sense of purpose’ etc is one of the main elements barring would-be converts from, well, being converted. I have met a lot of believers who use religious rhetoric to answer these questions, but for me, their answers convey a sense of uncertainty more than anything else. Moreover, the mysticism latent in many faiths also adds a layer of un-believability to the religion itself. While I may willingly accept the miraculous deeds of Christ as true, I find it very hard to accept the existence of ‘heavenly tongues’ and ‘demon possession’ without cynicism. ‘I guess you have to experience it to believe it’. Words from a religious friend, who has felt ‘God’s presence’ on past occasions. At 2G, replies to a question regarding personal supernatural experiences range from ‘speaking in tongues for 4 hours’ to ‘never experiencing such things before’ (from lifelong Christians).

Despite my cynicism though, I don’t find it outrageously difficult to accept the existence of an all powerful being who wishes us to lead a moral life. What I do find difficult to accept is the consequences of believing in God, namely the extreme change in lifestyle. Indeed, many non-believers confuse the reasons for their secular beliefs as they do not wholeheartedly oppose the religious doctrine, but merely disagree with the practicalities of leading a religious lifestyle. ‘We know that their isn’t conclusive scientific proof of God’, one member of 2G admits. And here lies the difference between agnostics and believers; both may acknowledge that God’s existence is not absolutely proven, yet the former is unwilling to embrace Him, while the latter does so without question. For non-believers, it appears to be a lifestyle of delayed gratification to the extreme. You can only enjoy the fruits of your pious life after you die. Damn. So what makes the incredibly lively and trendy young people at 2G restrict themselves so? We’re in the age of social network after all, who doesn’t know a bad boy living like a king. ‘You don’t do it because Jesus loves you. And that you want to be worthy of His love’. An exchange of devotion. It’s a relationship indeed.

When I walked out of 2G, it was chilly. I looked around trying to find a lift. No need. Someone found one for me already. They’re good people, I thought. Even if a big chunk of the world think they’re living a lie, they stand strong. Every weekend, tucked away in the corner of quiet suburbia, groups of youths like these come together to give testimony to their faith. In all honestly I find their devotion strange, but like a faithful friend, I promise myself I will go back again.


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