Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflections: Matters of Faith

Marshall has been struggling with questions on belief, faith and religion. He is a vulnerable and precocious teenager who explores several forms of faith to forget and make peace with the trauma of watching his close friend die before his eyes. He seems to have found the perfect girl-friend; a staunch fundamentalist who promises to help him realize the miracles of Faith. Marshall couldn’t have been more proud as he brings his questionable girl-friend Ada, to meet his family during Spring-break. Marshall’s dad seems to abhor religion and its rudimentary aspects and views Marshall’s ways with concern and skepticism. His mom tries to be the open-minded scholar, who lets her son explore options as part of an intellectual pursuit. His sister Megan is an easily swayed girl, who is severely allergy-prone and is on the cusp of being a teenager. Ada, the vegetarian, the organic-whole-food-eating, medical-intervention-hating, God-loving girl, convinces Megan to eat a cookie with a few wisps of peanuts to strengthen her immunity. She regards this as a test of faith, believing God to cure Megan of her ailment. As Marshall watches with fear, faith and horror, Megan plummets into a dangerous coma, shaking the foundations of his family and making the question of what exactly is Faith loom large.

Just a few snippets of the book’s synopsis were enough to make me hunt this book down. The angst of understanding what is Faith, and if it can exist independent of Religion, frames the story of my life, as I’m sure it does most lives. I thought the plot had all the setting - a confused boy wondering which faith to resort to even before realizing what he is searching for, an open-minded, all embracing mother, a skeptical father, a fanatic girl practising almost-barbaric things in the name of Faith, a strict Christian grandmother who believes God talks to her, and a young girl whose life depends on faith; the question is, which form of faith. To some extent, the story and the writing did analyze the different forms of faith and concludes with a reasonable explanation of what forms the core of Faith and Hope. But for the most part, I felt there wasn’t enough content with a more rigorous and thoughtful analysis on the subject - especially with the characters and the story screaming with so much potential. It could also just be due to my over-critical nature on this subject. After so many years of mulling this in my head and discussing with people, I have seen every perspective possible (or so I believe), but I just haven’t figured out what sense to make of it all. And perhaps expecting a book of fiction to wrap it all up for me is unrealistic!

The writing was quite mellow and touches on the most elusive parts of our emotions. But I also thought it meandered a bit, wallowing into details that didn’t contribute to the story. Faith wasn’t explicitly discussed except at the beginning and the end. The meat of the book was on the turmoil the family goes through and how they pull together the reins of their careening lives to reach some semblance of sanity and stability. Perhaps this ability to reach acceptance and stability has to do with the innate strength we have, to continue hoping for the best and having faith in ourselves and our attempts. Religion and prayers help to outwardly gain and manifest this strength and comfort. Rituals are guiding steps to those who fumble with finding this well of reserve within themselves. But misconstrue the rituals and take them too far from the realm of rationality and even humanity, and everything tumbles down. It’s a fine line to walk between faith and fanaticism. As discussed multiple times before, faith needs to rest on some modicum of rationality.

In all, it was a contemplative book that muffles the weight of the subject with its delicate prose.


Perception said...

It's nice to read out thoughts similar to mine. Why inspite of the multiple failures does a person continue to try and hope this just, this time I am sure it will work? What is it that makes him surrender in front of a statue, egoless and praying? What gives us hope? What is faith afterall? In bits and pieces these questions seem to be answered through your post.

Karthik said...

After mulling for years over this subject, I have come to very simple conclusions that work for me. I myself don't like to intellectualize on this anymore, and have developed equal aversion to religious and irreligious fanatics. I think at the end of the day, people should believe whatever they want to, as long as they don't try to enforce it on others or try to influence them.

Neeraja said...

Perception - I keep saying, Life runs on hope and faith. Even if we can never find the questions, we can't stay away from them.

Karthik, I agree. I would say the same thing - to live, and let live.