In his book, “God’s Debris,” Scott Adams wonders whether most religious believers can possibly really believe, since their behavior is often inconsistent with their beliefs. They have their explanations–maybe they don’t have enough faith, maybe the flesh is weak. I was among them for a long time. But if a truck is barreling toward you, you jump out of the way. It’s simple. Natural. That, Adams says, is believing in the truck.
Raised as a Christian, I took for granted the necessity of making an effort, even straining, to believe. I constructed plenty of metaphysical arguments to keep a rather frightening and unpredictable material reality at bay. The world intrudes itself, inconvenient questions and startling desires intrude themselves, and it’s difficult to maintain a set of beliefs that at times resembles a square peg in a round hole. But I had to persevere, for I was to be in the world but not of it.
The world, it turns out, had other plans. About ten years ago, I was on a trip to South Dakota, gliding through a heavy summer evening in the Black Hills, the air filled with the sharp, tangy smell of mysterious flowers spread like a purple blanket over the prairie grasses, and the sheer sensuality of it all impressed itself upon me in a way that has never left me. This was real, beautifully real, and my abstract, forced belief–well, it wasn’t.
Oh, but it’s not easy to just let go of something like that. I was terrified. I remember taking Communion shortly after this experience and being afraid that God would be angered by my doubt, which was worse than doubt, actually, because it involved not just my intellect but my emotions, which were much more dangerous. I thought I might be struck dead at the altar, or exposed as a sinner, to the shame of those watching. This fear, this too is the world. God may not be real, but fear of judgment sure is.
But I gradually left behind my Christianity. It simply dried up. Since then, I’ve looked for salvation from a variety of other religious ideas, too many to count. It’s becoming clear, though, that I am not sure what I expect from salvation, or whether I want it. You see, despite the old fear, I’ve never wanted this world to pass away. I am enchanted by the smell of those hills and a thousand other experiences of beauty.
To embrace that hasn’t seemed acceptable. Too risky. But I am and always have been of this world, even as I sought to escape it. I am this body and this mind and everything I see, hear, taste, touch, feel and dream. No redemption is forthcoming for all this. And I believe that none is necessary.