The Thing Between My Ears

Thomas - New Brunswick, New Jersey
Entered on March 5, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

“So what do you believe in then?” my older brother asked.

“I believe in my mind,” I blurted. I wasn’t sure what that meant but apparently it was enough to satisfy him because he nodded and said, “Okay. I just think it’s important you believe in something.”

His question came, while I was visiting his family in February, at the end of a conversation that mutated from a disagreement about when humans first appeared into a debate on faith. He was raised Catholic but has become deeply involved in the Methodist church after moving South and marrying a Methodist woman. I was raised Catholic and now reside in the ‘other’ box in the multiple-choice question of religion: agnostic.

Most people who know me think I’m an atheist because of my skepticism of faith. But I’m equally wary of the faithful and the faithless. What makes a religious ideology or metaphysical theory correct? One way to gain perspective on the issue would be to have an alien evaluate all of them. Holding no preconceived notions of human beliefs, the foreign creature would either agree with one or disregard the whole bunch. I’m on board with the latter assessment. No one has—or can have—it right since a supreme being can neither be proved nor disproved.

I’m happy hanging out in that gray area. For many years, though, I wasn’t. The uncertainty was stressful. It felt like an epic deadline was looming, only I didn’t know when the project was due. One day I finally realized that I didn’t have to choose sides, which ended my spiritual unease.

Almost. Periodically, my doubting nature rears its question-marked head to challenge that perception, leaving me to present new evidence to my tireless inner jury; most recently, after I was laid off in October. Reevaluating your convictions is a great way to kill time when you have too much of it on your hands.

As I sat freshly unstructured in a coffee shop, I thought, “If there is a god, this could be its plan for me,” followed by, “Don’t use the possibility that there is a god as a crutch. You have to rely on yourself.” I immediately made and prioritized a to-do list that included applying for unemployment insurance, minimizing costs and hunting for jobs. Most pressing was the need to find free street parking on weekdays. I couldn’t afford to rent a garage space or to be ticketed or towed by the city’s aggressive parking henchmen, and I wasn’t eligible for a resident sticker that would have let me park in meter-less street spots near the apartment building where I live.

Several months later, I’m still unemployed but I pay my bills on time, I have some spending money, I’ve barley touched my savings account and I’ve been writing, reading and exercising on a regular basis. And I have my parking system down pat.

Maybe that’s what I meant when I answered my brother.