When I first met Matthew, I was very religiously confused. I was also angry and distracted, but mostly scared and woefully ignorant. He was tall and glossy and uncomfortably smart and charismatic, and when he laughed his mouth spread really wide so you never had to question the authenticity of his joy. He was gorgeous. And Christian. And born-again. And, ultimately, a source of bitter confusion.
He also embodied every characteristic I was told was incompatible with a faith-based lifestyle. I found a rare receptiveness to new ideas, an ease in his introduction of his beliefs to me, a willingness to admit the faults of the church and of religion in general, and, importantly, a lack of judgement that made sharing — including an eventual, yet eventful attachment — so easy. Before Matthew, religion was merely an afterthought and religious individuals the unwitting recipients of my pity and arrogance. I didn’t understand what drew people to a thing that was so controversial and incomplete and I substituted my naivety with judgement. Yet, what can you do when your knowledge of organised religion is based on The Crucible or other hyperboles of the true narrative? In these circumstances, the one individual who makes you truly question what are indeed prejudices, can appear as an anomaly, a rarity, and consequently someone who deserves a platform in the narrative of your life. Matthew was not that person. But when he sent me “321: The Story of God, the World and You”, something divine clicked. In a state of vulnerability, it’s very easy to confuse that with love and maybe even a link to this strange, ugly yet personal conception of “God”. Admittedly, religion became a pathway through which I could get to him; this enigmatic guy who I thought I may, strangely, care for. Jesus and an eventual security in my faith were merely accessories to a deeper, cheap ambition.
When you attach your beliefs to those of mortal men you create a conflict for yourself that is rarely solved or overcome. Christianity and Jesus became so highly synonymous with Matthew that aversion to one became a natural aversion to the other. When my affection for one was high, it was high for the other. And when one of them broke my heart, the other did also. There is no way to distinguish between the two and you are now left with the question: was my faith ever mine? Or, was it merely a product of attraction? When I’m 40 years old, will I still have doubts about whether I started this journey because of a true spiritual motivation or because I met a guy who could be like literally any another? My faith will never be fully mine. And now I’m also fucking pissed at God, which really sucks. Thanks a lot Matthew.
But gravity is divine. It has a way of pulling two people back together — as it did with us, again and again and again. From July to January, religion offered little solace, and a nasty anger grew within my supposed affection. He never called, he never had time, it took him four days to reply, he was at golf “with the boys”, and slowly the initial trench of compassion was replaced by one of a suffocating, cruel confusion.
“Leave me alone!” I wanted to yell. But was I talking to him or God?
When you ask to forget someone, you don’t get to select the method, nor the pathway that gets you out of there. That’s for God or the universe or fate to decide. Not you. So in February when I met his best friend, how was I to know that they had unconsciously passed the baton of my weird form of religious nurturing (and eventual fondness)?
Noah, like Matthew, was a surprise. Strangely enough, he now lives in the college room Matthew and I first spent the majority of our time together. He is all that Matthew is, but weirdly remarkably more important. Their similarities align in so many ways, to the point that my niche type has become a running joke: “Blonde, emotionally unavailable Christian boys from Sydney.” The fact that they’re close friends is (for my benefit) often left out, but the bubbling, sour implication still rises up occasionally and with it a deeper question of morality. What kind of person interrupts a friendship for her own gratification? If loyalty is so central to faith — or literally just human decency — how could you play with that and still expect to be labelled ‘moral’? It’s a dichotomy. You can’t.
However, there is a soft distinction between the two. I have a comfortable love for Noah that was never established for Matthew. I love the adjective “decent”, and even that cannot describe the gentle depth of his character. There’s a special beauty there. He is also Christian — and it is here that the theme of religious confusion makes a violent re-entrance. Much like his predecessor, faith has become a central pillar of our relationship. But so have many “ungodly” things, and with them a shame whose root and origin I still can’t pin down. When your religious standing is still unstable, when you believe in God one day but can’t find Him the next, how can you tie your moral compass to biblical conventions — particularly surrounding intimacy — that you’re not even sure you believe in? How do you mould your relationships around phantom beliefs which are forceful one day and frail, faint, and failing the next? It’s an isolating confusion when you want to believe and just can’t.
If we’ve learnt anything, it’s not to mix faith with intimacy when neither is guaranteed. Yet Noah and I have and we still do and I am so confused, because in the silent boundaries of one hour we exist as platonic church-goers with no desire for one another other than as friends, but in the next we run off drunk, smoking in a cluster of trees, whispering secrets about hidden desires, joys and fantasies. Hidden by nature, we become something defined only by hands, hair, fabric and lust: judgement and regret are paused “just for tonight”. But when we wake up I regret it every time and eventually we’ll go to church again and repeat the cycle. One day he passes me his Bible and the single page dogeared is “Warnings Against the Adulterous Woman”. A woman of “seductive words” who is “unruly and defiant”. A woman who persuades him “to enjoy ourselves in love”. She, an adulterer, and he, an ox to slaughter. Him and I. And I realise that I am the problem, and if I were not myself and he was someone else we would be dead in the water, merely, a life left on the shore. It is purely religious commitment keeping us as friends.
“It’s not like we’ll get married,” he reminds me one night — and we won’t. So we leave it in those moments and move forward. We let it settle quietly and I’ll remind myself once more that whatever I’m searching for shouldn’t be fickle, and humans always are. We’re searching for something more, even if we are sidetracked by transient human beauty. No one ever talks about relationships when you’re in religious limbo. No one ever says what to do when you find Jesus through men rather than Him.
I heard from a close friend that Matthew no longer finds religion complete. When she asked if he was religious, he replied “not really.” Perhaps he’s searching. I wish him all the best. When I do see him, he’s a careful reminder of the strange direction life takes: the many back channels and detours and, ultimately, the work of fate. He’s a reminder of the way people can be amplified in your mind, but certainly not match in the flesh. Indeed, if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have any of the happiness I have now, regardless of the doubt. In the end, he was nothing more than a signpost the universe sent to push me in one direction rather than another. “Go this way, go this way!” it was yelling.
Then again, maybe it was God?