I come from a Christian family. We didn’t always go to church, but the values were always there. My family members may have smoked, drank, and swore, but they believed in the power of Jesus. I did too, for a long time. When something is instilled in you, and you’re surrounded by it, you don’t always think to question it. If Jesus was good enough for my great-grandparents, my mom, my aunts and my cousins, then I guess he was good enough for me.
There was a time in my life when I was a devout believer. I went to church every Sunday. I studied my scriptures with diligence. I prayed daily. It may be worth noting that I was going through an extremely difficult time then…living in hellish conditions. I thought that my following all of the rules and doing what I was told God wanted me to, I’d find a way out. I’m not saying this is what is behind religious belief in general…it’s just what happened to be behind mine.
When I started college, my religious practices took a back seat. Frankly, I didn’t have the time, and a big part of why I had continued with it in the first place was the community. Since I didn’t have that anymore, I wasn’t as driven. Gradually, religion (not necessarily faith) became less and less important to me. And then my mother died.
Let me back up here, for a second. I’ve already told you t hat my family is Christian. Going hand-in-hand with that, for them, anyway, is the belief that everything happens for a reason. You may have heard this before, especially if anything awful has ever happened to you. “Everything happens for a reason.” “God works in mysterious ways.” Sound familiar? This is another belief that I had never thought to question. I believed in fate. I believed that God has a plan for each of us, and all of the things that happen in our lives are just a part of that plan. I believed that we may not understand the reasons behind things now, but everything will be revealed to us, and it will all make sense in the afterlife.
When my mother died, it rocked me to the core. I was halfway through my senior year of college. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving. My mother had just been diagnosed with cancer a month earlier, though she had been ill probably for years before that. We had been extremely close, and I couldn’t imagine my life going on without her. I was angry, for a very long time. I was angry that the world didn’t come to a stop. I was angry that I woke up in the morning. I was angry that the sun still shone in the sky. Everything felt like a personal affront. You see, I had already gone through a bunch of shit. I was busting my ass, trying to find something better. I was toeing the line, doing everything that was asked of me. I thought God and I had an agreement. And then, he comes along and takes the one thing that I needed. That was a low blow, God.
So I wrote off God the way you’d write off a friend who somehow screwed you over. We’re done. It wasn’t that I was denying the existence of God. No, he was there. I just wasn’t going to have anything to do with him. And the belief that everything happens for a reason? Gone, out the window. I couldn’t think of any good reason for God to take my mother away, and if anyone else could, I certainly didn’t want to hear it.
As the months went by, I started thinking more and more about life. Life in general. My life. My mom’s life. I realized that I didn’t want to live being afraid of messing up. And I didn’t want to spend my life preparing to die. Religion had told me that you need to do x, y, and z, and that if you do, you’ll be vastly rewarded in the afterlife. Except there’s no real guarantee that an afterlife exists, or that if it does, it’s anything like the harps and halos we’ve heard about. It didn’t make sense to me anymore. God is all-powerful, and he’s supposed to be benevolent, but he’s got us running around like rabbits, after a carrot on a stick, oblivious to the hounds behind us? Nuh-uh. Sorry, man. Not buying it.
I stepped back from Christianity, and thought about what I’d heard about the nature of God in general. Just about every religion has some creation story. I thought, what if God did create the world? What if this life is a gift from God? I asked myself, If I were God, what would I want from people? I came to a few conclusions. If I were God, I wouldn’t care if people worshiped me. God is not a narcissist. He knows what he’s capable of, but I don’t think he needs others, especially human beings, to acknowledge that. If he did, I think we’d see an awful lot more divine intervention in the world. I decided that God is loving, and if he isn’t, I didn’t care. After all, who is really going to worry about appeasing a god who is a total jerk? Not me. So being loving, maybe God did give us life as a gift. And I figured, if I give someone a present, what do I want them to do with it? Pretend I give two people identical gifts. Awhile later, I pay them a visit, and I notice that one of them has the gift up on a shelf, where they keep it in immaculate condition. The other’s gift is all beaten up and worn. They might both appreciate their gifts, and they have different ways of showing it. But to me, it’d seem like one was getting more use out of it. I figured, God doesn’t want us to treat our lives like delicate china, holding it out at arm’s length. He’d want us to dig into it with both hands, experiencing things, learning, and growing as much as possible. I had realized that nothing is a certainty, and from that day forward, I stopped doing things because of what might be.
I realized, those rules? They don’t matter. God has more important things than to tic off items on a list for each person. Did you brush your teeth today? God doesn’t care. What ultimately matters is that you live the best life you possibly can. As for things happening for a reason? Eh, maybe they do. But I don’t think it matters. I think this is something people say to comfort themselves when they don’t understand what’s happening. And that’s fine. But I also think there’s a selfish expectation when it comes to the “reason”. People focus on themselves, and what is important to them…and they often project that on God. You ever notice how when people talk for God, he always seems to agree with them? I think there may be a reason for the way things happen, but we don’t have the necessary perspective to understand them in this life, and so it really doesn’t matter. For me, it’s much easier to think that there isn’t a reason for everything…because otherwise, I have to try and find some rationalization for every god-awful thing that happens. I’d rather not put myself in that situation, so a completely random universe, it is.
I don’t currently subscribe to any particular religion, and I know plenty of people who think that I’m missing out because I “don’t have God” in my life. I guess it’s a common misunderstanding, but I really don’t feel like I’m missing out. You see, the way I see it, God is not some magical being up in the sky. God is love, and I’ve got plenty of that, all the time. I don’t go to church on Sunday (or mosque on Friday, or temple on Saturday), because I’m there all the time. Everyone does their own thing, and that’s cool to me…but I think it’d be cooler if people realized that it’s about putting forth your best effort, and showing love in your own way, rather than trying to force their ways on others, or pretending to speak for him.
This has been on my mind for quite some time, so I figured I’d share it with you all. I’m sure there’s something I probably left out, or that could be clarified, so if you want to ask me anything, by all means, feel free. I’ll probably touch on the subject again sometime in the future…but this is a starting point.
*I use the pronoun “him” for God out of habit. Quite honestly, I don’t think God has a gender…and if he does, I don’t think it really matters. God could be a man, woman, sea lion, mosquito, tomato, Cthulu, or purple people eater for all I know.