A belief in God assigns one to a life of deep contemplation or no contemplation at all, depending on one’s disposition.
I’ve always known that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, but I’ve recently realised that I don’t actually believe in anything. Well, O.K., not entirely true. There are fundamental concepts of physics that I feel obliged to entertain in order to participate in intelligent conversations. But belief in the existence of atoms and molecules is quite different from that of a mythical character, which requires a certain commitment of faith. And I don’t really do faith.
I’ve never been able to accept as truth a story that strikes me as fundamentally incredible, be it Santa, the Tooth Fairy or the Virgin Birth. I suspect I’m a deeply suspicious person, or perhaps lacking in imagination. Or maybe there is a faith gene, and I just don’t have it.
Whatever the cause, I feel just a little bit ripped off. Every culture on earth has some version of a story that explains how we got here, what we are supposed to do here and where we go next. It would be so reassuring to have a grand narrative to cling to, explaining everything and negating the need to endlessly search for truth and meaning in a Godless universe.
I never chose to be an atheist. Atheists have often struck me as rather smug and self-righteous – a little bit like Christians. My father was agnostic. I put this down to essential laziness and a general reluctance to think deeply about anything of a personal nature.
A belief in God assigns one to a life of deep contemplation or no contemplation at all, depending on one’s disposition. To my certain detriment, I seem to be a deeply reflective person, which appears to have rendered me entirely incapable of accepting any spiritual assertions with which I feel no experiential resonance.
I once accompanied a friend to a Baptist church service in New York, where the congregation shared with one another an undeniable bounty of love and compassion, extended equally to friends and strangers like me. I felt like a fraud as I sang and clapped, tears rolling down my heathen cheeks, swept up in the heady emotions that flowed through the congregation like sacramental wine. Part of me wanted to renounce the cursed atheism that held me apart from this loving throng. I ached to throw myself on the altar of human kindness and beg for God’s healing love.
Of course this would have been the religious equivalent of a late night drunken text to an ex and I’ve always felt that decisions of lasting significance are best made in relative sobriety. So I repressed the urge and left feeling unsatiated, rather like a vegan at a Brazilian barbecue.
Belief is an idea enshrined by the illusion of certainty. It is the stale remains of one true moment that we could not bear to let go. Truth, on the other hand, is fleeting and elusive. Neither tomes nor temples will contain it. It is neither reassuring nor challenging. It just is. Belief obstructs truth just as surely as clever words obscure true feelings and lead us into emotional disintegration.
Bugger. This post really was just going to be about Santa Claus, I promise.