Sunday, November 02, 2008


When did I stop believing?

Friday’s post made me think about this: there are two common sorts of questions that people ask me when they find out that I don’t believe in God. One is some form of, “Don’t you want to know ...?” It might be, “Don’t you want to know why you’re here?” Or, “Don’t you want to know how everything came about?” I addressed that class of question a couple of years ago, in this post.

The other question is, “When did you stop believing?”

This is begging the question, using the original (dare I say “correct”) meaning of “beg the question”. It’s like asking, “How long have you been beating your wife?”, or “Why do you hate freedom?”

Because the thing is that I’ve never stopped believing, because I never started believing. There was never a moment in my memory when I believed what anyone told me about God.

My first memory of a conversation about this is from the age of four or five. It was Rosh Hashanah, and my father was taking me to synagogue. I doubt that it was the first time, but it was the first time I can remember, the first time I was old enough to think about it and ask questions. Details of the conversation are approximate, of course, but this is the gist of it:

“Who’s God?”, I asked.

My father explained that God created all of us, and everything around us. He watches over us and takes care of us, and today we go to thank him for that and to ask him to treat us well.

“Where does he watch us from?”

My father said he’s in heaven, “up above.”

“In the stars?”

Above the stars, my father said. Above the moon and the stars and everything.

“But above the stars there are galaxies.” I’d been to the Hayden Planetarium.

Dad tried a different tack; he said that God made us in his image, that he makes us well when we’re sick, that he can do anything.

“If God makes us well, who makes us sick?”

But before he could answer that one, I piped up with another.

“Why does he have to make us well? If he can do anything, why does he let us get sick?”

Because, my father explained, it’s part of nature. Everyone gets sick, one time or another. And sometimes, God makes us better.

“Sometimes? What about the other times?”

Well, said Dad, the other times God can’t make us well, and we stay sick. And sometimes we die, like Aunt Ida.

“But you said that God could do anything.” Be careful what you say to children; they’ll catch you short every time. “How come he couldn’t make Aunt Ida better?”

He didn’t want to, said Dad. God can do anything he wants to, but sometimes he has his own way with things, and we don’t always understand his ways. But what he does is always right, even when we don’t understand it.

“God doesn’t make any sense,” I concluded, as we arrived at the synagogue.

And that’s what I’ve thought ever since. It doesn’t make any sense, none of it. It’s all made up, and they change the stories as they need to, to suit the nonce. And no one’s ever given me cause to believe otherwise, not with any unlikely stories of a talking snake, a boat full of animals, a pillar of salt, a virgin birth, or any such.


Hepzibah The Watchman said...

Believing is not passive - believing is an action; an active choice. Therefore, you have chosen your disbelief in God.

God is an equal opportunity Creator. He endowed all his creatures with free will, and in the end we will be judged not on what we did or who we are, but on one choice - belief of disbelief.
Just as our first sin was a choice, so our salvation will be a choice.

Unfortunately, people may confuse religion with belief. Religion is a man-made creation based on the exertion of power; power over others or power over ourselves.

Belief is a choice and that choice is the only action required. Divine judgement is based on our choice, and therefore provides equality to each individual.

May G-d bless you indeed.

Barry Leiba said...

Now, there's a point with which I agree with 100%: You, everyone, has a choice in what to believe. From the first moment that this brain that God or evolution — or both — put in my head could reason, I thought about it and chose to believe what has observable evidence behind it, to look at everything curiously and skeptically, and to reject fanciful stories and blind following.

Others make different choices. We all have the choice.

Call me Paul said...

Dear Hepzibah the watchman,

Why did God kill Aunt Ida?