When I was seven years old—what Roman Catholics consider the “Age of Reason”—I cornered my father on the Santa Claus question. We were on the way to church, just the two of us in his ’58 Chevy station wagon, something we did at 5:30 every morning during Lent. I demanded to know how it was possible that a fat man in a red suit could perform his annual miracle. What about houses without chimneys? What about the kids in China? After a bit of squirming, my dad admitted the truth to me.
That was the beginning of the unraveling.
My father and I would have long conversations about the nature of God. He had an answer for everything. One day, again on the way to church, I was grilling him about God’s dimensions and capabilities.
“Does God know every single thing I am thinking?”
“Does God know what I am going to think next?”
“Could God blow up the moon if he wanted to?”
“Is God everywhere?”
“Is God inside my little finger?”
“Could God make two plus two be five?”
My father, who was a lawyer, an accountant, and who had been educated by Jesuits, thought for a moment. Then he said, “No, Pete, God couldn’t do that.”
That was a classic crack-in-the-dike moment. Over the next several years, one question led to another to another. The Bible and Roman Catholic church teachings did not always supply the answers I sought, so I looked to other religions, to philosophy, to science.
What did I find? I found that I did not (and probably never would) know enough about the true nature of the universe to tell anyone else what to believe, and I came to distrust the words of those who presumed to do so. I also learned to recognize and respect the power of religion, and of faith.
I believe in religion. I believe religions have the power to do good, to help people live together, and to live with themselves. I also believe that religions can sometimes breed and channel destructive forces, as evidenced–on both sides–by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Religion can be both powerful and dangerous. I believe in it, sure. It’s like asking if I believe in automobiles. Or guns. Or fire.
I do not worship; neither do I scoff.
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