There was once a woman of great faith. She considered herself to be a true believer. In fact, her devotion to her faith was so strong that she had built her entire life around it. Her faith gave her hope and allowed her to see the world in new and different ways that un-believers could not. It gave her a sense of comfort, companionship, and assurance, but it also gave her something else: a kind of secret egoism, a sense of righteousness, and a sense of pride in knowing that she possessed fullness of the truth. Of course, she would never admit these secret feelings to herself, as her faith strictly forbade it.
Being a true believer, she would always follow all of the rules her faith dictated without question. Any time she felt the fear of doubt creeping in, she immediately quelled it through meditative prayer. Any time forbidden desires cropped up, they were swiftly repressed. Any forbidden thoughts that went against her faith were quickly ignored or redirected. After all, the body was never to be trusted, and needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.
You see, being a true believer wasn’t an easy task. It was something which required constant vigilance and unrelenting defense of all that threatened her belief. Naturally, she found herself quite exhausted by the end of the day from the constant purifying of her mind from evil thoughts, and from the purging of unholy desires from her body. On some days she was so exhausted from her struggle that she wished that she was dead so that she could simply stop fighting altogether. However, once she realized that this too was a forbidden desire and an unthinkable thought, she punished herself accordingly.
Even in her relations with people, her faith dictated who she could talk to and gave prescriptions for what she could and couldn’t say. Even seemingly benign friendships could be perilous, and she reminded herself of this fact often. She always needed to guard against the ever-present evil that inhabited all things, and which usually took the form strange new ideas and feelings.
The problem with these new ideas and feelings – barring ideas and feelings related to faithful devotion, of course – was that they were unpredictable, and could always potentially lead her to do evil. This, after all, was the nature of evil itself. It was something which only masqueraded as good in order to trick the non-believer into sinning. Whenever she indulged in what appeared good to most people, but which her faith told her was secretly evil, she knew she was putting her eternal soul at risk.
One morning after she had returned from a rather invigorating spiritual gathering which reinforced her beliefs, she heard a knock on her front door. It was a rather handsome man wearing a nice suit and tie with combed-over hair and polished, black shoes. As the women opened the door, the man smiled at her, greeting her warmly. But before she could say a word, the man began to recite a rehearsed speech.
“Hello! I’m here on behalf of the Humanist Society to ask you if you’ve ever known love.”
“Love?” The woman asked, perplexed. “What do you mean have I ever known love? Everybody knows what love is.”
The man immediately chuckled a lighthearted sort of chuckle as if he had heard this response before.
“Ma’am, everyone knows what love is, but have you ever known love?”
“My faith gives me all I require,” she responded nobly and defiantly.
“And what faith is that, ma’am?”
“Faith in Almighty God,” she answered back with a secret sense of pride and satisfaction.
“I see,” said the man. “And which God is that?”
“The only one,” she said, beginning to get annoyed with his inquiry.
“I see,” said the man, with a contemplative and serious look, as if he was thinking about how to sensitively broach the issue.
“I believe in God too,” he said finally.
“What?” The woman didn’t believe him. “I’ve never seen you in church before.”
The man suppressed another chuckle.
“Ma’am, church isn’t a place you go to, it’s a state of being. It’s a spiritual communion with your fellow creatures.”
She didn’t like his smile anymore, and she didn’t like that way he said “creatures” as if human beings were just animals.
“Then you aren’t a true believer,” she snapped. “Besides, I believe in God. You’re a humanist. Humanists don’t believe in God.”
“Oh but I do, the man replied,” assertive but gentle. “I believe that God is a force that binds all things together – a way of being and living in the world that makes us happy and equal and free. A force that’s so powerful it can change an evil person into a good one.”
“Get to the point,” the woman blurted out impatiently. The man took notice but continued.
“You see, God is within us because God is love. Whenever we help our fellow creatures – brothers, sisters, family, friends, strangers, animals, and mother earth herself – whenever we help them we are doing God’s work and the work of Love. We’re spreading peace and happiness to a world in need of it, especially when no one else will give it. This is what it means to be a true believer.”
After hearing these words, the woman’s face grew white and her mouth tightened. Her hands began to shake as a repressed anger welled up from deep inside her. Noticing this sudden change, the man bowed his head and stepped carefully away from the door.
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you, ma’am,” he said apologetically, but the woman was no longer listening.
She quickly turned her back and slammed the door in his face, and for a moment that seemed like an eternity, she stood there with her back pressed up against the threshold, feeling the weight of the man’s words. They echoed through her tortured mind, seeping into her sick soul that secretly longed to be healed by the power of love. She couldn’t fight it any longer, and knew deep down that she no longer had a reason to.
Without warning, she suddenly rushed up the stairs and into her bedroom where she had said her morning prayers. She collapsed onto the bed and began to cry.