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.