I believe in something, I’d call it God, that acts as a limitation on human aspiration. And I mean that in a very positive way. Fundamentally I believe that humans are good creatures. They’re perfect as they are. And if they don’t accept that limitation, and try to be bigger than they are, then they end up hurting themselves or other people. And I think that God acts as a correction to that. It puts human beings in their place – that they can’t over-reach their own condition.
I grew up with a pretty atheist father and a culturally protestant mother. It was kind of important to her that we got raised in the church with all the rituals that kids had in her time. She wanted us to have that experience. But she didn’t pressure us to believe this or that or do this or that. I wasn’t that into it. I didn’t go to church every weekend. Mostly I went for special occasions like the first communion or for baptisms of my little cousins or stuff like that.
But then as I was older, I met two important people. One was the preacher in the community I grew up in. When I was an adolescent. I was doing the confirmation at age about 15. And this guy was just a very impressive personality. I loved how he approached other human beings. When he came to our place to do my sister’s confirmation, and we were talking about my father, with whom I have a very complicated relationship. And the way he talked to me, and how he understood me was very impressive. It had a strong impact. I don’t know if that was a religious experience but he had the ability to understand people in their deepest needs. And I experienced that. He didn’t ask you to be a better person. He just accepted you in that condition. And he even did that with my dead grandmother who he didn’t know. He came to talk to us before he buried her. He asked questions and created such a deep understanding of her personality that really impressed me.
And he had a strong bond to Jesus Christ. And he talked about him not in that naïve way but as a personality – a guy who was tough, who fought for the rights of others and who was ready to do that to the end. Where humanity ends. In the face of death. I had by that age become really pissed off with this whole idea of “Jesus is the son of God”. In my opinion you can read the whole New Testament completely differently.
And the second person, now one of my best friends, was my religion teacher in high school. He just confronted me with so many dilemmas that could only be asked from a religious point of view that just fascinated me. I came to think that certain questions have to be considered from a religious point of view if you really want to prove that you’re rational. For me religion is the greatest competitor to science. God to the human condition is religion to science. Because we sometimes forget how preconditioned science is: how many premises you need in order to operate. So for me religion provides a means of questioning those fundamental assumptions. I often find that scientists can get to the point that they’re no longer asking those fundamental questions. Again God becomes a corrective to the over-exaggeration of positivistic belief.
I guess I’m the kind of guy that thinks belief. There were no rituals that really attracted me. And that’s why I don’t like to go to church. And that I guy gets up and preaches seems very hierarchical to me. I’d prefer to go to Catholic masses than to protestant communions because there it’s the materialisation of belief as a symbol. I love to have long talks with people. Thinking, rethinking and talking about it. That’d be a cool church.
In the community I grew up in, that preacher I mentioned brought young people in to re-ritualise the church in ways that made sense to them. He built a group of people of many ages. He gathered us together and we talked about our visions of the church. And that was church to me. This dialectical and communicative exploration of belief.
I think of myself as a Jesuit. I don’t believe so much in Christ but I believe in Jesus. I thought he was the perfect rebel. And in a very cool way – a pacifistic way. And he showed all of his human feelings. That’s why I never understood why he has to become Christ. He inherited this sense of God in the human being. But he had to die. Like everybody else. So I don’t get what’s supposed to happen with the death of Christ. I just lived his life.
I mean when I was 16 I was pretty impressed by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro – like probably everybody is. But then I found out this guy killed people; he ordered the death of people.
And the story of Jesus is so easy. It’s a human, easy story. You don’t have to analyse and critique. He comes to the categorical imperative [of Kant] in a completely different way. He just lives it.
But I don’t believe in the exclusivity of Christianity. That’s just so stupid when you look at the founder of the religion. And when the Second Vatican Council did those circles showing how close you are to revelation, I just thought that’s the stupidest thing you could do. The same truth is available in multiple different worldviews and movements.
The most obvious thing I do that contradicts all of this is drugs. The consumption of certain drugs. I know they’re produced in totally unhuman ways but I still do it. Another thing would be my whole existence in the Western hemisphere! How we consume. Even though I’m not a strong consumer, everything I buy, every item of clothing I can afford at the moment, I know to be attached with a certain unfairness. So that’s an everyday struggle. It’s a huge contradiction. The way I try to deal with it is in my direct contact with human beings. I try to be as nice as possible. I love to show how lucky I am by sharing it. I try to invite as many people as possible to my home.
Maybe there’s some contradiction in my relationship with my partner too. I can behave really unfairly. When I feel threatened I behave like an animal. That’s something I’d love to change. To be in my closest relationship someone who is more generous. I don’t think I’ll be able to be as generous as Jesus [laughing]…but to practice it as a technique. To take your anger down a level. To try to understand the motivations of your partner. How was she threatened by me? What did I do wrong? That’s something I’d really like to use the force of belief to transform more.
A Catholic priest would probably be surprised with the way I carry myself sexually. But a lot of my friends would be surprised by my interest in theological theory and my strong beliefs. It always happens when we come together: when I bring together my theologian friends, my hardcore natural science friends, my soccer friends who aren’t academics, say for a birthday party, you can see some of them thinking, “who is this guy? Why does he hang out with theologians? IS he a stranger?” And I mean these are my closest friends so they don’t criticize me but they wonder. And with my daughter’s godfather, who’s a very close friend to me, we often have these discussions and he says, “you’re just a believer because you’re a hipster; it’s your new gadget”. I can probably see his point because I’m not dogmatic. For them they’d see it like that. But for me, it really helps me to rethink the way I live my life. To be more generous to people. I don’t want to say it transformed me but it made me look at people differently. It made me stop thinking there must always be a sociological or technical solution. I can’t take that monocausal worldview. We live in a world where people from so many different walks of life have to come together and integrate. The answers to that I don’t get out of science. I get it from religion.