This I believe: Everything is a manifestation of God

For those who have been reading my blog for a while might remember me mentioning that we attended church a few years back. Fast forward through a few more holidays where we continued to attend church … then to more regular attendance of church … then to our kids attending Sunday school … and then now. By the time I sat down to write this, the day has past and I’ve finished cleaning up around the house, but yesterday (December 11th), my kids and I were baptized at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Savior, nearby in Pompton Plains, NJ. For those that know me, this might come as a surprise: did Dossy really find religion? What was I thinking? Let me try to explain …

As I said, we’ve been attending church on a pretty regular basis, once every other week or so, for the last few months. I’ve been really enjoying the sermons delivered by Pastor Rossman, and often find crying over them. Strangely, it’s a good feeling; after so many years of bitter angst and cynicism, finding something that moves me enough to actually cry helps me reconnect with these important feelings I’ve suffocated for so long. We’ve discovered that some of the people we meet, say, at our daughter’s school, who we thought we’d like and would get along with, we find out later also attend the same church! It really attracts the kind of people we really like, and that’s a very good sign. The people we’ve met at church are fantastic people, all very loving, caring and supportive — exactly the kind of people we need to surround ourselves with, struggling to raise two very bright, challenging and spirited daughters. We are starting to build healthy and positive relationships with people who are good for us mentally and emotionally. Without sounding corny, Kelly, our babysitter, who introduced us to her church, is the best thing to ever happen to us in our lives (next to the birth of our two daughters, of course). She has touched our lives in a way that will stay with us forever and we will always be thankful for that.

But, what of all that atheistic cynicism I used to hold onto so dearly? Why give all that comfort up and look to God? Well, around the time we started contemplating getting the girls baptized — as well as myself, since I don’t believe I ever was — I came across Penn Jillette’s fantastic essay from NPR, titled This I Believe: There Is No God (which inspired the title for this blog entry). While Penn (of Penn & Teller fame) is a professional funny-man who I’ve enjoyed for many years, the essay feels nothing but absolutely serious. Apparently his essay has stirred a lot of controversy. Why is this all relevant? Well, just as I was getting cozy with the idea of being baptized and joining a church and all, along comes Penn’s essay which very strongly called out to my former self: the religion-disparaging, God-denying nihilist. What was I to do?

Clearly, I agreed with what Penn wrote, so did that mean I should forget about church and being baptized and all that? Was that a necessary conclusion to agreeing with the essay? At first, I thought it might, but after reading it over a few times, I realized that the essay was just a written form of his talent: the misdirection and slight-of-hand (or, word in this case) that fools you into perceiving what isn’t really there. The truth is, if you read his words and what they really mean, as opposed to what semantics people tend to apply to the words he chose to use, he isn’t rejecting God, just refusing to believe — or, merely have faith — that there is a God. Look in the dictionary at the definition of “believe” and then ask yourself if it really is healthy behavior to believe in God? To have faith, to depend on, to accept as true or real, to expect, to trust? I think there’s a word that describes people who believe something is real that doesn’t exist: crazy. Oh, sure, they’ll swear up and down that it’s real, it’s real to them, and others might even collaborate their delusions, but does that make it any more real, or just make them more insane? After all this, how can I believe in God?

Maybe I don’t, well, not the way you might believe in God, or the way others do. But, with certainty, I know I do believe in God. Maybe I don’t believe there is a God, or a singular figure that lives somewhere and is responsible for everything that’s happened or will happen or does happen. But, then, what do I believe? How can I consider myself sane but believe in something that doesn’t really exist in a way that can be proven to exist? Well, let me ask you: do you believe in the concept of “infinity?” Of course, you probably do. You probably learned about it in school, or someone else explained it to you, or you just figured it out all a priori because you’re so smart like that. But, has have you ever found an infinity? Or counted to it? Or measured something infinite? Of course not. You can’t, it doesn’t exist. But you believe in the concept, and you consider yourself sane, right? Why should believing in God be so different? It isn’t. It’s that simple.

So then, what does it mean to believe in God? It’s exactly what Penn’s essay says: we own our actions, our thoughts, our relationships, our mistakes, our failures, our successes, everything. Everything is a manifestation of God. At the deepest level, our individual conscience is God’s voice, speaking to us. In healthy people, it makes you feel bad when you do something wrong. It guides your thoughts, your actions, and your perception of the world around you. Clearly, the conscience doesn’t control people, because we see people doing unconscionable things every day; maybe that’s the influence of the Devil, or maybe just the refusal to listen to the spirit of God’s influence, or maybe it’s just people choosing to be jerks — I don’t know. What I know is, God wants us to be loved, to feel loved and to share love with others — and listening to God, our conscience, will bring us closer to that. As Penn says, it’s the reason to “be more thoughtful” and “treat people right the first time around”. It’s why we should listen to each other, learn from each other and share ourselves with each other. It’s why we should do things to lessen other people’s suffering and not like it’s just some unjust cosmic punishment. It’s why we shouldn’t just believe there’s a God, but to prove it by listening to our conscience and living life in a way that we can be proud of. Only believing there is a God is not enough. Actions speak louder than words, for sure.

And so, yesterday, I was baptized along with my two daughters. I was welcomed into a new family, one of God, of our church and its people. In a sense, I am truly re-born, a child of God, learning for the first time that the life I knew will be different from the life I will get to know. I want to know God’s love — the love of everything — and to learn to enjoy this wonderful life I’ve been given, rather than just getting by, passing time until it’s over. Just like Penn, I want to “make this life the best life I will ever have.” He’s so very right. He’s a smart guy.


  1. Hi (again) Dossy.

    I found your blog and now I’ve commented twice in one day! (I was the guy who asked about the Westwood Resort)

    Anyway, welcome to the family (of God). I’ve been a “believer” for about 20 years. It was nice to see you expressing such a simple and sincere love for God. If you want to know His love, then you will. That’s His promise to us. If we seek Him, we will find Him.

    If you have a bible, read the first chapter of Ephesians. Notice all that He had done for us.

    Stop by my site if you get a chance. I’ve got some stuff on faith, computers and my second career, screenwriting.

    btw: Wil Wheaton is a hero of mine too, although I’m probably old enough to be his father.

  2. Ah, yes — you left an anonymous comment on my LiveJournal. I responded there, but I’ve also put the same response on my blog entry here.

    I took a look around your blog and it seems like you’re a New Jerseyan too. Maybe we should swap lists of timeshares that we’ve stayed at to try and figure out what good ones are around here.

    I really like your entry titled A Still Small Voice. Learning to listen is very difficult, but it’s worth it.

    What kind of screenwriting do you do — what genres?

  3. Yup, I’m from NJ. Bergen County.

    Thanks, I’m glad you liked that entry. I’m constantly amazed at who God is. He’s bigger, more patient, more loving, and smarter than I give Him credit for.

    Shoot me an email and we’ll talk time shares.

  4. Around paragraph five I was becoming interested in what you would say–what answer was there that wasn’t proof (nobody has yet proved God), but was at least convincing to someone who appears to be intelligent? I have to say, I’m disappointed. Infinity isn’t a physical thing, or something that actually occurs–it’s a concept that’s useful in mathematics. God as a concept is comparable, I guess, but it means more than it appears. Belief in god as a concept (an *extremely* basic, general concept like you’ve outlined) is not more insane than belief in infinity, but anything beyond that–even just using the word “God”, and the pronoun “He”–brings in a whole list of other concepts from existing religion which *are* more insane (as you put it) than belief in infinity. You’ve even jumped right over and assumed that there’s a devil, too, and that this “God as a concept” actively wants things from us. Infinity as a concept doesn’t want things from us–that’s why it’s more “sane”. I urge you to find an explanation that’s more convincing, if you can. I was hoping to find one, reading your post, because I still haven’t found a convincing reason to believe in god. And with something so immaterial, the burden of evidence is to prove that god does exist before I’ll consider giving my belief.

  5. Salvar: Thanks for the comment! I realize I didn’t draw enough attention to a key sentence I wrote above,

    “At the deepest level, our individual conscience is God’s voice, speaking to us.”

    God, the concept, is intangible but extant, like mathematical “infinity.” However, God, the “being,” is really within us–our inner voice, our conscience, that guides us. The “Devil” isn’t a separate being–it is the realization of our inner God, carried out through actions.

    Our actions constantly defy what our inner conscience knows is right. Living a “Godly” life simply translates to being able to control our actions such that they match up to what our conscience wishes for us to do.

    When people “turn to God,” and “ask for God’s help” and “obey God” … they might truly “hear a voice.” That’s the voice of their conscience speaking. Sometimes, we listen and obey. Sometimes, we “follow the Devil” and let our actions manifest differently than our “God” would dictate–in other words, we sin by doing not what we know is right, but instead by doing what we want regardless.

    Again, thanks for asking–this was helpful as I definitely needed to clarify this.

  6. Second everything Salvar said. I can fully understand “God-as-a-concept” just as I can understand “justice-as-a-concept” or even “conscience-as-a-concept” (after all, it’s really just an arrangement of chemical reactions and electrical wiring that evolved to make humans more socially altruistic – not a separable “thing” as such). This doesn’t make it any more than metaphorically true to say “the law of X country is unjust”, “I betrayed my conscience”, or “God wants us to be good”. What I personally dislike about the “God” concept – as you’ve described it at least – is that it *isn’t* just about obeying your conscience, it’s about obeying your conscience *or else*. Because if it weren’t for the coercion, what would make God any more morally necessary than Jiminy Cricket?

  7. I should clarify – I like the concept of God in term of a personification of ‘the connectedness of all things’. While I believe in reductionism, and that everything in the universe will be found to be just the emergent behaviour of incredibly complicated systems of particles and energy, there’s really no way to live a “meaningful”, rewarding life unless you suspend your disbelief. Actually I quite like that… “Religious Views: Suspension of Disbelief”

  8. John: Suggesting that humans only act out of necessity, due to this Godly coercion, makes us sound even more pathetic than we are.

    What is the difference between not having free will at all vs. having free will but only doing things out of necessity or coercion? Semantically there is, but practically?

    I agree, some people do need to be coerced in order to “do the right thing” but, not everyone.

  9. I only said that religious dogma amounts to morality through coercion. If you see obeying that coercion as pathetic, I won’t argue with you. As for free will, you’re right – practically there’s very little difference between those possibilities. It’s similar to the paradox; if God already knows what I’m going to do, I can’t possibly do anything else, so how can I have free will?

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