Faith, Confidence and Belief

The other day I met a cousin of mine (let's call him 'J'), who I hadn't seen for 27 years. While I remembered him to be somewhat religious, I wasn't prepared for his extreme evangelism, nor the fervour of his beliefs. I have always been fascinated by the fact that people can hold views that contradict reality, but it had been a long time since I'd met anyone who was so fixed, so unwavering in their worldview.

J's second job, his self-appointed one, is as a lay preacher for an evangelical 'church' that doesn't exist. He goes to various countries and preaches the word of God. He believes he has personally met Jesus and that he saved him from an indolent life of women, drugs and other various vices. Now happily married with a family, he was quite willing to expound on his views, at length, and merrily deflected all my criticisms, doubts, counter-arguments and scientific facts.

The beliefs are astounding: every single word in the Bible is literally true. The universe is six thousand years old, so obviously the Earth is too. God created Adam from earth, and Eve from one of Adam's ribs. These are not metaphors or parables. According to J, they actually happened. So did Noah's construction of the ark, the flood, etc,. If it's in the Bible, it's real.

Of course, homosexuality is a sin, as is practically everything else that's fun. Demons exist, and will periodically attempt to enter the bodies of the young and weak-willed. They can be exorcised by anyone who has accepted the word of God. We are all doomed. The end of the world has been foretold, and is nigh. Armageddon is a reality, and those of us who haven't accepted God's word are to be consigned to the eternal fires of Hell. We deserve it anyway, as we are all sinners from birth.

There was no irony in his voice, no twinkle around the eye to reassure me this was all an elaborate ruse. Nor was there any doubt. His earnestness made me freeze externally, while inside I was churning with a mixture of conflicting emotions. Chief among these was a nearly overwhelming desire to grasp him by the shoulders and shout "Are you insane man?" very loudly to his face until he fainted. I resisted the urge.

Another urge was to debate with him until I found a crack, however tiny, in the stubborn carapace of his faith. After about three hours, the closest I got was a hint of exasperation in his voice when he said, "The Bible isn't there to be questioned, it's there to guide us", and so I realised, finally, that debate as I understood the word was useless.

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