I went back over the post to make sure it was honest; and it was. There were a lot of things I left out though, things like being threatened with a whipping for not wanting to go to church, watching the deacon fighting the preacher in front of the church, and me spiking the punch at a church potluck, etc.
Church brought out the worst in me. To this day, I do not know why that was. It might have been the incident where the Sunday School Teacher talked to me about burning in hell, or it might been because I cheated on a math test in sixth grade. It might have been I was just a naturally curious kid, or it might have been that I was just a ornery little cuss.
It seems to me that I walked into the situation with a chip on my shoulder. If my memory serves me well when the teacher told me that there was a lake of eternal fire waiting for me if I didn't join the club, I was already looking for a reason to argue.
I wonder now if it was something passed down in my DNA. I never had a thing against God, but the whole religious set-up struck me as being strange; it still does. Why all the convolutions? If God wanted things to be a certain way, why not just create it that way? The lake of fire thing seemed to me, right from the beginning, to be patently unfair.
According to Church people there's so much sin in the world, how could human beings, being surrounded by idiots, ever present evil, oceans of sin and misdeeds, not get some of the crap on us? My preachers used to talk about the straight narrow path to heaven, and I couldn't understand why God just didn't make it a twelve lane highway. You know, help a brother out kind of thing.
That kind of thinking would invariably lead to outright skepticism. I think that most people would want to believe in heaven and a wonderful afterlife, but with the reality of mortality slapping them in the face, it's kind of hard.
I know a lot of people would retort now to say you have to have faith, but I have never understood the idea why merely being a human appears some kind of weird test. What kind of school did my parent's enroll me into? What's my goal supposed to be? If it's a test that involves everlasting damnation, don't we all deserve top quality teachers so we might actually learn the information on this test? Is it possible to cheat? I mean I cheated on a math test once.
Then, if there is no test, and the whole thing was concocted whole cloth to explain the lack of tangible evidence, does that mean that life is utterly pointless like the atheists say they believe?
I know now that this question has determined the outcome of my life.
My parents and I were thrust into the prodigal son scenario without our knowing we were acting out a drama as old as time, and into a plot line that might illustrate the very laws of nature.
I left, I squandered, I returned. I came back after getting married and having my first child. My wife and I couldn't have gotten through those early years without our parents. Being around them during those times helped us to clearly see the workings of their faith.
In War and Peace, the character Pierre Bezuhov, who searches endlessly, at great personal cost, for true meaning, finally finds what he has searched for in his marriage and in becoming a father. That's when he thinks the thoughts I quoted in the previous post.
"but as love was brimming over in his heart he loved men
without cause, and so never failed to discover
incontestable reasons that made them worth loving."
Christ's simple injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself. Even as a
kid it caught my attention and engraved itself into my brain. It probably even kept me from turning away completely. I don't try to fool myself into believing that I have ever really adhered to the demands it places upon those who grasp its truth. When my dad died, and I had to deal with the fact that I wasn't going to get to see him or listen to him ever again, I began to lean on it for comfort and since then have suffered myself whenever I see others suffer.
There's another line in the novel that caught my attention.
"But it was obvious that in spite of the many interesting
things they had to discuss, the baby, with its wobbling
head in a little cap was absorbing Pierre's whole attention."
What a wonderful image, a parent totally in love with his child. How different from what we see today when parents often hand their children over to electronic devices so that they themselves have time to get on their electronic devices. And what a great reminder of what is truly valuable in our existence in an age where we dispose of and squander life as if it had no real meaning.
I was happy when I was being a Patriarch, it gave my life meaning.
The only part of the post that rang a little false was when I said I was still up in the air on the subject of God. I meant that I am essentially in the same place where I was the day I sat in Sunday School class and raised my hand to question the existence of eternal damnation.
I believe in the existence of God. It is impossible not to. To all of the mealy mouthed mutterings of those who profess to not believe and say the whole human existence is a random joke, I respond with a look that I used to give my seventh graders when one would ask a question like, " If Hitler was trying to kill all of the juice in the world, what was Abraham Lincoln doing to prevent it?"
I have even developed a better understanding of some of the things we learned in Sunday School. I see the whole eternal damnation thing as a misinterpretation of what was meant to say something to the effect that there are natural rules of existence and if you go along with the rules energy amplifies and if you don't, it decreases. In other words, we select our future by the actions of our present.
Pierre Bezuhov comes to his final understanding of life when he realizes that his whole life was spent looking toward the eastern horizon trying to see the story played out against the backdrop of the sky. It is when he understands that he has strained his eyes for nothing as the the meaning of life was always there before him, in the falling of a leaf, the crunch of boots on frozen ground, the hint of a breeze, and in the laughter of a child, that he knows he had finally found the truth that he needed.
So, I've always known that you don't find truth in the words of a Sunday School teacher who only mimics the party line. Truth only comes as the result of suffering and with keeping one eye open even as you sleep lest it sneaks up on you.
I'm come to one hard and fast rule of life, and it is that you learn some from other men, great books, and the observance of nature, but depending on the outer world to provide your life with meaning, is futile. The truth that most of us, not all, desire can only come from the deep wells located in our inner selves. What we must do to obtain it is to open up and let some sun light into those areas that the raisin counters tell us to ignore.
Back in Sunday School, Tolstoy raises his hand and the Sunday School teacher acknowledges him. The children listen because his haunted eyes, slow movements, and deeply creased face commands them to, "Once we admit that human life can be guided by reason, all possibility of life is annihilated."
The teacher's mouth drops open as he ponders the meaning of the word annihilated, and a twelve year boy sitting in the corner raises his finger to his chin.