Whether it’s through a group discussion at a Gurmat camp or a talk with a concerned parent, I’m finding more and more Sikh youth questioning their faith. Not as much about the articles of faith, but faith itself – to simply put it…they don’t believe in God.
I consider myself a very liberal-minded Sikh and see a lot of grey where others might see black and white. But neither I, nor anyone else, can stretch the definition of a Sikh to include one who does not believe in God. In my dialogue with these youth, there are all kinds of reasons for their uncertainty. Some use their “atheism” as an excuse for the real issue – their disinterest in the keeping the Sikh uniform and discipline. And well, saying you don’t believe in God is a shorter and less emotional argument to have. With others, the doubt is more genuine. Some are students of science and base their principles on quantifiable and verifiable evidence, while others have been raised in a technology culture where everything is so here, so now, and so in your face – that contemplating the un-seen is so foreign to them.
I recall having my own doubts about the existence of God in my teenage years. I rejected the concept of “blind faith” and the dogmatic approach to Sikhi that I was familiar with, and I couldn’t understand how people I respected so much believed so strongly. That is, until, I stumbled upon Guru Nanak. No, not a “vision” of him…but a history book. I read extensively about his life, his work, and his travels – and I was amazed! At that age, I idolized social and political revolutionaries like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Che Guevara – but I learned that none of them could compare to my Guru.
It wasn’t the story of how he stopped a boulder from falling on him that fascinated me, nor was it how the kabba
moved the direction of Guru Sahib’s feet; it was how he challenged the caste-based society, how he challenged devotees of meaningless rituals in their own holy places, and how – through his powerful words – he challenged the tyrannical ruler, Babur. He believed in truth and justice…and was completely fearless in defending it. This was the magic of Guru Nanak!
Although I had my doubts about God, one thing I knew for sure… I believed in Guru Nanak – with all my heart. And well, he surely believed in God…so maybe there was something more for me to learn.
After some further study, contemplation and discourse with my sangat – my faith became firm.
Questioning can be healthy, and the journey in finding out answers can actually do more good and strengthen one’s faith long-term.
To some, faith and belief come easy. To others, it takes a little work. Some youth are skeptical and are not really willing to put in the effort – to learn, reflect and discuss. To them, I offer a quotation from Dr. King:
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”
Or in Bhai Gurdas Ji’s words:
“If you take one step towards the Guru, then the Guru will take a thousand steps towards you.”
As a community, I think we focus so much of our spiritual development on ceremonies, competitions and other public displays of faith…but very little on the internal – simran, reflection and vichaar. Perhaps I need to find more creative ways to engage children on these aspects of Sikhi at a younger age, so their foundation is solid and not easily swayed by peer pressure or doubt as they get older.
After a lengthy discussion with an unconvinced youth, he turned the tables on me and asked, “How can you believe?”
I had to reflect…how could I?
How could I close my eyes and fall back on something I’ve never seen or touched?
How can I look out in to the darkness and pour my heart into something…somewhere out there…into the oblivion, and trust that He has heard me?
How can I believe?
Although I dabble in writing and poetry, I still have a tough time articulating my belief.
I don’t have the words to express myself when I hear the elderly man next to me at the gurdwara, who is moved to tears every time he hears the hukamnama. I cannot explain how I feel when I see a Sikh mother rock her child to sleep, deep in simran, with gurbani on her lips. I cannot explain how I feel when, for every hundred times I rattle through my nitnem, I connect with a line somewhere that touches my soul. I cannot explain what comes over me when I’ve looked straight up in the sky at twilight, and see the sun and clouds arranged in a way, where such a masterpiece could only be designed by the Almighty. I cannot explain what it’s like to hold a newborn baby in my arms, knowing that only a few minutes before…He was holding her in His own. I am overwhelmed by his Grace…and to those who doubt it; all I can ask is…
“How can you not?”