What Do You Want to Believe In? Religion Revisited
There’s a difference, I think, between faith and religion. One can be comforting, and the other burdensome, at least in my experience. What do you want to believe in?
I found God in high school science class.
For some, this may sound goofy, and for others perhaps a little offensive, but please bear with me here.
We had reached the section on human anatomy in my high school biology class and discussion turned to the functioning of the human scrotum; how it contracted when it was cold outside to better protect and regulate the temperature of the testicles, and lowered in warmer temperatures. Clever, useful mechanism I thought.
Then I decided that could not have just “happened” all by itself. Somebody had to have designed that elegant a mechanism. Just had to be. Then it hit me.
That was God.
I was still confused as to where and how God existed, but at least now I was comfortable feeling confident that he/she/it did
The Big Bang
It troubled me to think that God, who designed such great stuff, would choose to remain mysterious. My own natural arrogance lead to my frustration that I could not simply understand the nature of God now that I knew for certain that he/she/it existed.
Eventually, science class turned from anatomy to astronomy and the next clue fell into place.
We were told about “The Big Bang” that first created the Universe. I was convinced that someone aboard a version of the Star Ship Enterprise had allowed matter and anti-matter to mix and, boom, big bang. But then something occurred to me that would change my perspective and my entire life philosophy forever. It came in the form of a simple question.
Where did that big bang occur?
If the big bang created the entire Universe, then the Universe didn’t exist before the big bang. Given that, I couldn’t figure out where exactly that event happened. It was somewhere other than in the Universe. But the Universe covers everything, right? Everywhere there is, is in the Universe.
The Big Question
I don’t think I appreciated all the implications of the big question before it actually occurred to me, or even just when it occurred to me. But thinking about it over time, obsessing over it really, led me to explore many thoughts that made my head hurt. Sometimes I just had to force myself to stop thinking about it. The big question was small and simple.
What was there… before there was?
If The Big Bang created the entire Universe, then that’s where time began, right? That’s where everything began. So, asking where the Big Bang actually happened also required that you answer what there was before there was anything. Something? What?
This whole conversation with myself took place over fifty years ago, and I still don’t know the answer.
The Most Comforting Answer
Okay, so here’s where this gets a little spacey. A little out there. Perhaps.
The more I explored possibilities for what there was before there was, and when there was before there was, the more frustrated I became. I couldn’t conceive of any answers. I couldn’t find any answers in literature or philosophy, and certainly not in science. I researched and ruminated, really, for years.
Eventually I came upon what had to suffice as the ultimate answer to my questions…
There are things that exist that are beyond my ability to conceive.
For the first time in my young, arrogant, petulant existence I had finally accepted that there were things beyond my comprehension. Things I could not understand or explain. What was there before there was? No clue. Where did the Big Bang take place? Anybody’s guess.
Why Was This Answer So Comforting?
Here’s where you may gain some insight into how my mind works.
Eventually, my obsession with knowing there were things I couldn’t really know led me to an unexpected conclusion that has brought incredible comfort to my existence and validated my faith. If there was one thing I couldn’t comprehend, it was reasonable to believe, even to expect that there were others.
God immediately occupied that category.
The mechanism of the human scrotum was just too elegant for me to believe it was happenstance, natural selection, or simply evolution. It had to be designed. But by whom? Had to be God, or some overarching designer who benevolently created all kinds of cool and amazing stuff to operate in the world. Whoever it was, or whatever it was, it was clearly another something beyond my comprehension, and that was just fine by me. Basically, I had found reason not to not believe in God.
Personally, I have never accused the human race of being generally insightful, wise, or even all that bright. We do awful things to one another constantly. We ignore obvious crises and let them get worse and worse. We often demonstrate a complete lack of humanity. How’s that for irony.
And religion is one of our inventions.
We’ve actually created many religions, which has furnished us with justification for slaughtering each other frequently over the ages. These organized religions demand our allegiance, our loyalty, our observation of their rituals, and our investment of significant funds. In return we get… hmmm… we get…
What do we get? A feeling of community? A sense of belonging? A knowing of who we are and who we are not, so we can clearly identify who we should hate?
Raised on Judaism by parents who didn’t particularly practice it much, I have often found myself asking how much God should cost us. When I was fifteen years old, just after my father passed away, I decided to go to the nearest synagogue to commemorate him. I was stopped at the door by a forearm to my chest attached to a large beast of a man who was asking “where’s your ticket?”
I had ridden up on my bicycle and didn’t realize it was the “High Holy Days” and special tickets were required to allow entry into the place of worship. I had some change in my pocket and asked how much a ticket cost. When the reply was “thirty-five dollars” I returned to my bicycle and rode away never to return, or at least so I hoped.
God has a price tag?
Even though I’ve found comfort in acknowledging that there are things beyond my comprehension, this was one I didn’t find comforting. I found myself wondering what poor Jews do without being able to go pray to God. Here I was, a fatherless Jew myself, living on social security death benefits. It was hard enough to afford food consistently. I had to worry about how to afford God?
Even though I didn’t really know him/her/it, I was convinced he/she/it would never want to require money from me in exchange for my right to pray.
The Godlessness of Organized Religion
Later, my wife and I agreed that she would have complete say on the religious upbringing of our twin sons until the day of their Bar Mitzvah. Then and only then could I talk with them about my faith, and my abiding belief in God.
At their Bar Mitzvah, the president of the congregation stepped up at the end to address everyone. This came as a surprise to me, but I figured they needed to raise funds beyond what I was paying for the session.
This fool immediately set about offending me in every way imaginable. First he complained about how many of the local children came to services dressed in their sports uniforms. My boys came straight from basketball practice. Were they to try to change before coming they’d never be on time. As it was, I was opposed to them coming at all, so I dismissed his taking a swipe at my kids. Let it go.
A friend of mine leaned into me to remind me that the rabbis in Israel 6,000 years ago gladly accepted their flock in their smocks or whatever other rags they had to wear. They were mainly farmers who had very little, but it was no problem. Until now.
Then this miserable hypocrite complained bitterly about how there are fewer and fewer “pure Jews” anymore due to all the “mixed marriages” taking place.
“Wow!” I thought. “A Jewish Nazi!! Go figure!!!”
I counted at least a dozen couples in that room who were dear friends or relatives of mine. So now he took a swipe at my friends and family.
With that I resolved to strangle the life out of him in front of all assembled. My wife immediately went to tackle me back into my chair. I believe this sick joke of a man saw the look in my eyes and resolved to end his insults immediately. I acquiesced.
Later, when everyone else had left I went to share my feelings with him as meaningfully as possible. I was intercepted by the rabbi, a gentle man of faith and good will. He apologized to me profusely, acknowledging that he was as offended as I was.
“Rabbi,” I said, “the name of your congregation is Temple Chaverim, right? And that means “temple of friends.”
“Let me tell you, rabbi,” I continued. “Your Temple Chaverim is a Temple Chazerei.”
That means temple of crap.
Faith and Religion
So here I am, a man of great faith in God who has no use for organized religion. I’m not an atheist. Far from it. Not even an agnostic. I really do believe there is something resembling God in the Universe.
Will he/she/it save my wretched soul when my time on Earth is done? I have no idea.
Does he/she/it see all the awfulness taking place in our world and simply let it happen? No clue.
Does he/she/it damn things and people when I ask him/her/it to? I truly doubt it.
Does he/she/it love me? Probably as much as any inventor loves their inventions. Not so much me individually as the production model I am a unit of.
In the context of this “What Do You Want?” series, my concept of God is constantly looking over my shoulder encouraging me to keep things in a larger context. Since we all live for an imperceptible instant in the span of time, how does anything we do or experience gain meaning or value? Will anything any of us do really matter in the greater context of eternity? Should we just stop taking things so seriously? Or not?
I confidently promise that I don’t know the answers to any of this. I only know God built us for his/her/its own reasons that I will never truly comprehend, so I must do the best I can with what I’ve got.