Credo Ergo Sum
A few years ago I was the regimental chaplain at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Before the recruits began training I asked them to anonymously and voluntarily respond on 3×5 cards (which they were free to leave blank), to several questions. One question I asked: “In the same way we are talking now, if you could get a straight answer from your higher power, however you understand that term, what would you ask?”
During an 18-month period, regardless of beliefs (and over 80% of the 24,000 recruits identified themselves as Christians), the questions they asked were the same: “What is the purpose to life?” “Does my life have any meaning?” “How should I live my life?”
Their responses triggered thoughts about my own spiritual journey.
Several years after obtaining a master of divinity degree from Calvin Seminary (and my subsequent ordination by the Christian Reformed Church in North America), I attended another post graduate school. This time, I casually reflected on my basic beliefs and began to ponder questions which previously I had asked from a different perspective.
Often I reflected on Rene Descartes’ famous and popular quote, “Cogito, ergo sum.” Roughly translated, it means, “I think, therefore I am.”
Today, like many others, I respectfully disagree with Descartes’ conclusion. I sense that it is impossible for me to be objective about myself. I was, and am, so to speak, too wrapped up in myself to get a good look.
Initially my disagreement was bothersome. For a time I was attracted to one eastern philosophy’s approach to self-knowledge, popularized by Chuang Tzu. He dreamt he was a butterfly. After waking from this dream Chuang Tzu wondered how he could be sure that he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. On first hearing I found it preposterous, but nonetheless provocative. A plague of uncertainty perplexed and tormented me. Eventually a viable alternative emerged: “Credo ergo sum” or “I believe, therefore I am.”
Belief, even of my own existence, was simply the way my brain behaved. Based on everything I had heard, seen, smelled, tasted, and touched, my brain believed that an “I” existed. And the more I reflected on that “self- believing” behavior, the more comfortable I became with my self.
Today, despite its apparent philosophical lightness and logical limitations “Credo ergo sum” is enough for me to confidently exist. My Christian beliefs remain in place, but the foundation of them is unexpectedly reinforced. And even though many brains much brighter and clearer than mine will have a chuckle, I daily reaffirm a belief that works for me.
Now I realize I have come full circle. Simply, but not simplistically, put: to be human is to ask what it means to be human. To ask questions of meaning and purpose is simply basic human behavior. And while atheists, agnostics, and theists believe differently, they all believe.
So, what do I believe? Credo ergo sum: I believe, therefore I am. This, I believe.
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