I was driving home from work one night when I was around 16 or 17 years old. It was late, the middle of winter, and in Nebraska. What that adds up to is that the roads are covered in ice, deserted, and the wind is blowing about 50 mph. This predates the crackdown on seat belts and I wasn’t in the habit of using mine at all. I was cruising along on the highway at around 60 mph, no seat belt on, when suddenly I had an inexplicable urge to buckle up. No idea why, just my gut telling me that I’d better get that seat belt on. About 10 seconds later I found myself fishtailing on a patch of ice, moving full speed towards a pair of headlights. I collided head on with a pickup and the rest was a blur. I remember my car spinning out of control, his pickup getting torn in half and somehow I ended up on the side of the road about 30 yards from where the truck had stopped. We were both unharmed. Let me reiterate…we were both COMPLETELY unharmed in a head on collision at almost 60mph, leaving both of our vehicles as crumpled masses of metal on the side of the road. The rest is fairly uneventful, we called the police, we made it home, and I got a stern lecture on safe driving.
This is usually the type of story that concludes with, “that’s when I knew that God was real, and he had saved me from that crash.” Not for me. My story concluded with, “Damn it’s a lucky coincidence that I buckled my seat belt.” People are constantly telling stories like this where they take some strange event in their lives and they attribute it to God. They hold it up as a symbol, a clear piece of evidence, that there is a plan, and that someone is watching over us. I just as easily dismiss all of this saying that people struggle to assign meaning to random occurrences to give themselves comfort. We don’t like the unknown. We leave a light on for our children because they don’t like the dark. The dark is the unknown. The room is no different in the day than it is at night, yet one is more frightening. A car wreck without meaning, without redemption, is simply an unknown occurrence, and if it’s unknown it will happen again, to anyone, at anytime. we don’t like that idea. It means that we can die, whenever. Thinking that we’re part of a larger plans means that we’re integral to that plan, that we can’t be removed, or the plan falls apart. It’s just consolation.
If you know me personally, or have read this blog for the last few years, then thought strains like these are not surprising to you. It’s always been how I’ve thought. It is how I “reasoned away” my affliction of organized religion. I was born, and raised, a Catholic boy. I went to confession, I took communion, and I was confirmed in the church. I took it all very seriously as well. I was convinced that if I sinned, and didn’t make it to confession, I could burn in hell for all of eternity. In Catholicism the key word is repetition. There is no pursuit of knowledge, simply of routine. Again, routine is safe, known, and gives us comfort. We eat the stale bread, dip our fingers in the water, and know, beyond a shadow of any doubt that we will live on in paradise. It requires no mental effort, no spiritual struggle, nothing. Just do the motions and you’re fine. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a weight loss infomercial.
It was no surprise that when I started to mature mentally, the cracks began to appear. By the time I was 18 I had completely abandoned the Catholic faith in favor of a more “free” Christianity. What that truly meant was that when it was convenient for me I claimed to believe in God, sometimes Jesus, and never went to Church. I had had enough ritual to last me a lifetime and church was the embodiment of ritual. Eventually I began to expand a bit, reading literature on different Christian viewpoints as well as other religions entirely. I also began discussing religious matters with atheists, studying philosophy, and delving into various schools of thought. After 2 or 3 years of this, I came out on the other side a self proclaimed Agnostic. I believed in God but in no one organized religious system. I did not believe in the bible, or Jesus Christ, but I did believe that there was a creator of all things, and that this Creator did still play a part in all of our lives.
But did I actually believe this? Thanks to a fortunate job opportunity I was forced to leave my home, my friends, my family, and all things familiar. I was plunged into a strange city, in a different state, and into a different culture entirely than the one I had before. When you’re required to introduce yourself to a throng of new faces, you really start to examine your own introduction. What I soon found was that I had absolutely no personality of my own. I had simply become a disgusting sponge, filled with all of the thoughts, ideas, and personalities that I had absorbed over a lifetime. I had gathered small bits of hundreds of personalities, beliefs, and actions and formed them into what I then called myself. At the center of this was religious conditioning.
No matter how far I had come from it, I still believed in Hell. Ironically, I didn’t truly believe in Heaven, but did believe in hell. I couldn’t shake 18 years of brainwashing, and this little fragment was still lurking. I also couldn’t shake the cynical side that I had picked up during my college years. The idea that the majority of the world was ignorant, blind, or somehow “below” me intellectually. I would hear myself utter sarcastic remarks, biting comments, and seemingly witty commentary, but it was all just vomit. Regurgitation from a life that I had once lived. I had become absolutely no one. Reading through past entries of this blog is like going through a list of cliches, one after another. The geek, the metal kid, the punk, the stoner, the hippie, and the corporate stooge. They’re all there. Somewhere, I had become lost and these people had taken over. Even now I post this in my terribly cliche search for identity. I can at least take comfort in the fact that while I may not be original, nor was I ever, I am at least now genuine.
The one glaring exception came in my marriage. It seemed to be the one last refuge of my true self. The one last place where irony, sarcasm, cynicism, and fear all took a backseat. Where pure joy, intrigue, and true creation happened. So finally it begged the question of me, and of my wife, “Who are we actually? What part of our persona is just a mirror of our past, and what part is truly original?” This is an almost impossible question to answer, but it also leads you down a rabbit hole of other questions. What did we find at the bottom of that rabbit hole? We found one single question. The question that leads to, and eliminates, all other questions. Is there a God?
I’m a logical person, often to a fault. My wife is not. She thinks and acts with her heart, always. It is one of my favorite features about her. It gives her an innocence that can’t be fabricated. I don’t have it. I research, I analyze, and I decide. I remember the good ol’ days of high school. I was struggling so hard to carve out a space for myself as the “artsy” kid. I filled my schedule with art classes, and creative writing classes, but I couldn’t escape one thing…I was great at Math. I scored a 34 out of 36 on the Math portion of the ACT (Midwestern equivalent of the SAT), and that was while being hungover, and partially stoned. I was barely coherent for my junior and senior year, but somehow breezed through College level Trigonometry and Calculus. Numbers have always made sense to me, as much as I wish I was simply a creator, not an analyzer. But I digress…
I started researching God. Yes, much like you would research a World War, or perhaps a famous political figure for a school paper. By process of elimination I started with Christianity first. I had spent most of my life involved with it, so it made the most sense to point out its flaws. Find the holes in the arguments, and the cracks in the logic. A natural point to start was disproving the validity of the bible. I started reading “Misquoting Jesus.” It’s actually a terribly interesting read. I also began reading blogs, interrogating friends who were Christians, and former-Christians (including two former pastors). I scoured the internet looking for facts, looking for something. Anything really that would put this issue to rest. As you may imagine I found a lot of material that both supported and refuted Christianity’s claims, but there is nothing that can prove or disprove the existence of God. Just opinion loosely supported with evidence. After much searching, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we definitely believed in some sort of a Creator. So we were back to Agnostic. But what about Jesus? Ah yes, that handsome fellow in all of the stained glass windows.
While we were in agreement that there was definitely a creator, Jesus was a sticking point for me. It just didn’t make any sense to me. God so loved the world, a world filled with evil, with assholes like me, with terrible things happening everyday, that he gave us his only son and let us murder him in the most horrendous way possible? I’m a father, and you’d better believe that if there were 1,000 people about to die, and all I had to do was sacrifice my son to save them, I’m letting every last one of them go down. So why would God do this? Why give us a world, watch us destroy it, destroy ourselves, and then give us something even more precious to destroy? It made no sense. Let’s raise the agnostic flag once and for all, and drop our bibles in the recycling bin!!!
And then the “Aha!” moment came. I was discussing all of this with my wife, telling her the analogy of the 1,000 people and our son, and then it hit me like a cannonball to the gut. I had been viewing it all wrong. What if I had 8 children. 7 of them were being held hostage with guns to their heads (with no possible means of escape), and the 8th one was at my side, safe and sound. What if the assailants offered a deal. “You hand over the 8th son, and we’ll let the other 7 come back to you. Then we’ll kill your 8th son, but he will come back to life shortly after and return to you also.” While this brings me closer to understanding, I wasn’t there yet. Now we add in the element that the 8th son volunteers himself. Boom! For God so loved his children, that he offered the best of those children (who volunteered his own life), in order that they all might live. Now it made sense to me. My wife and I had this aha moment at almost the exact same time, and I was floored. Suddenly I was mentally rewinding my life and looking at it like a chessboard, seeing all of the pieces move into place, all events in 28 years leading up to this one moment. Like a great novel that had finally reached a climax that had been setup in the thousands of pages preceding it. It was the most clear revelation that I have ever had. And so we went from Agnostics to Christians in that one second. There was no need for confession, because God had already seen it all. There was no need for ritual because he and I were already connected. There was no need for recited prayers because my thoughts are wide open to him. It all made sense.
But what about the evidence? Am I, the math whiz, and terribly logical, person throwing all science, reason, and evidence to the wayside? Am I abandoning it all in a desperate grasp at finding consolation? Yes. Yes I am. It was like trying to use biology to explain a painting, or Geometry to explain a song. The reason there’s no conclusive evidence for or against any of this is because it just can’t be proven, or even fully understood. It’s much like love. I knew that I was in love with my wife on our first date. Within 4 weeks I told her that I was going to marry her. Even SHE disagreed with me at the time. I couldn’t explain my feelings, I couldn’t make sense of them, and I still can’t. She wasn’t the logical choice. We didn’t have much in common, we were weeks away from attending different colleges hours apart, my parents hated her, and I gathered that her’s weren’t huge fans of me either. But there was an inexplicable connection that I couldn’t resist, and couldn’t ignore.
God, and Jesus, have that same connection with me now. I can’t ignore them anymore. I know that there is ample evidence that it’s all a fairytale and I’ve given up my ability to care about it. I can’t justify or explain my new found beliefs. They just are what they are. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve delayed writing this post. I wasn’t sure how to explain something this abstract, but I hope I’ve done a decent job. This wasn’t some hopeful attempt at converting the “poor sinners” of the world. This was merely a truly earnest attempt at relaying my experience so that someone else may be able to garner something helpful from it. All too often when I would meet a “born again Christian” they would tell me that they were “born again” when they were a child. I would think, and still do, “How can you be born again, when you’re less than a decade away from when you were BORN?” They hadn’t thought it through. No child can. They had simply done what I had done when I was “confirmed” as Catholic at the age of 13.
I have met very few Christians in person who struggled with God, with spirituality, with Jesus, for as long as I did, and who took as long of a way around the topic as I did. But where does this leave me? Well let me spell it out.
On the issue of the Bible, I’m reading. Well to put it correctly, I’m rereading it. I read the bible an awful lot both as a Catholic and as an Agnostic. In both cases I was reading it with colored glasses. I was simply finding what I wanted to find to further support my current beliefs. I’m reading it now and taking it in for exactly what I feel it is, not what I think it should be.
On church, I’m not going…yet. If I’ve learned anything it’s that God is going to put me where I should be, so I’m letting that one unfold as it will, but as of right now my lingering disgust with the modern day church, both denominational and non, is preventing me from taking an honest stab at it.
On my life. I have lived a pretty sinful life by any measure you can think of. I won’t dive into it all here because most of it is pretty “back alley” but what about all of my “bad habits” as I’ll call them? Again, I’m leaving it all up to God. All I can do is remain open, let him break me apart, and rebuild me the way that I should be. I have to give up on the idea that I know what’s best for me, or that I can somehow plan out my future. It’s all a giant question mark to me, and it’s not to him, and I’m becoming okay with that.
There are still a lot of questions floating around my head about a lot of things, but I hope that this post is somehow helpful to someone. If not, then it’s pretty much in keeping with all of my previous entries. Don’t expect any drastic changes to the format of this blog. I didn’t drink some magical Kool Aid that will have me spouting Christian rhetoric any time soon. If you ever see the phrase “have a blessed day” on here you have my permission to hunt me down and slap me. But I do believe in this 100%, and while I can’t debate my side of the aisle, while I can’t argue the point, I can answer questions about how I got here, and what it’s like to be here. So if you have them, comment or email me. If you don’t, then on we go.
Until Next Time