Who could be more open to experience the other-worldly than a young child? After all, as young children we were all wide-eyed and trusting, easily convinced of even the most fantastical claims.
As a child I was no different; most of the time I stepped into my imagination to create for myself and my friends a more exciting reality. I sought to make my life more than it seemed on the surface. As I saw it, simple, every-day reality was too mundane and boring for me, and I loved to hope and dream that another reality was underneath.
Therefore, as my mother and her mother before her, I believed in the stories of the Bible. I believed, with all of my open, honest, and innocent child’s heart, that Jesus God was up there in a beautiful sparkling place called “heaven,” looking down on me with a gentle smile on his face. I believed that he once was an ordinary man on Earth, sitting atop a mountain, telling his friends and family of the many pleasures of heaven. Promising to all mankind that there is, indeed, something better out there. We need not fret at the anguish we may feel during our time down here, for we are assured that there’s something greater up in the sky after our deaths.
Christians say to nonbelievers: “Just believe, and you will see. God will reveal himself to you if you open yourself to him.”
I contemplate this occasionally, and sometimes I wonder why it rings so hollow in my ears. Perhaps these earnest, well-meaning people were correct in their prediction. Maybe we skeptics only need to close our eyes to reality, just as we did in childhood, and believe in God. Maybe then we would see him.
Then I remember: I was a child once. For the first twelve to thirteen or so years of my life, I believed whole-heartedly in the Christian God. In fact, doubt of him never once entered my mind before puberty. Though I questioned after a while, I truly feared the fires of hell. But as a quite young little girl, I imagined and knew, with all my being, that a good, loving, and powerful god existed up there in the sky.
Who better for God to reveal himself to? I prayed every night, with great eagerness and not the slightest gleam of doubt in my thoughts. My mother held her hand over my eyes before bed, praying over me in a soft, murmuring voice for God to improve my poor vision. I remember an utterance: “Bring your light to my child.”
These words echoed mockingly in my thoughts, long after the prayers had slowly ceased. Why had God ignored our pleas. Why, rather than my vision getting better, did my vision gradually worsen, as though it were taunting me, a sadist jeering at my pitiful sobs, I being wrapped in chains and smeered with blood? What more selfless a request could be sent to him–the hopeful prayers of a mother to end her child’s suffering and grant her sight? I cried myself to sleep night after night, quietly, as to not awaken my mother and sister in the room with me. I prayed in a sleepy whisper that Jesus may hear me and take pity. Put his hand over my eyes like he did to the man in the Bible and let me see the world around me before it darkened completely.
One terrible frosty night I found myself unable to sleep for the howling wind outside the walls of the room I shared with my mother and sister. I questioned the very core of existence, and the dumb luck of the hand I’d been dealt. Realizing then, in a gleam of inspiration, that it was not chance who drew my lot in life, but God–an all powerful, all knowing and all loving being–I hoped that I might have some power over what happened to me next through prayer and worship. I took it upon myself to take my rosary and reverently pass the beeds through my small cold fingers, murmuring silently the prayers accompanying each one. I’d learned that this was supposed to be a common practice as a good Catholic, and I was vaguely disgusted with myself that this was the first time I’d attempted it. After tireless hours of praying, I fell promptly to sleep and, just as immediately, had the most brutally horrifying nightmare. I don’t recall the dream. I only know that I awoke in a cold sweat with the bitter conviction that I would never do this again, God be damned. Shortly after, of course, I became convinced again of my own inevitable damnation.
Eventually I contented myself with the “God works in mysterious ways” explanation. After all, what choice did I have? The forbidden thought that God might not exist was inexcusable, even though day after day my life in school became increasingly unbearable. As a young, pre-pubescent girl, being around my sighted peers as I stumbled around, befuddled by my bad luck, was agonizing. Friendship was truly a foreign concept to me. I remember passing recess by dribbling a basketball in one far corner of the courtyard, completely ignored by the other kids and completely terrified to dare enter their territory.
A lump even now forms in my throat as I look back on my pitiful childhood, praying silently for a miracle that would simply never arrive. My urge to accept the fact that no mystical being was up there listening was blocked by my fears of hellfire, and I was more likely to believe that I was simply unworthy of God’s love. I’d like to know why, if the Christian God does exist, he could gaze down upon me and refuse to so much as give me a friend.
Occasionally I’d lash out like the wild animal I was deep down, hurt and afraid and angry, cursing the God I’d devoted my childhood to. Just as quickly, I’d apologize to Jesus Christ profusely and curl up into a ball, sobbing for another chance not to be sent directly to the pit of hell. Then I’d forget and try to get back on the horse.
I distinctly recall perhaps a month of my tenth or eleventh year spent sitting in my grandpa’s tiny tool shed, listening to the Bible on CD that my Sunday school teacher had given me. I attentively pondered the word’s coming from the little speakers, a scowl of concentration on my face. I listened from around 8 in the morning until late into the night, until each version of the scriptures were flowing through my mind, fluid as oil. I became devout as an evangelist. I preached to my family. I sought the answers to my life–what had I been doing wrong?
Try as I might, I could not the reasons why God was ignoring me. Why I had no assurance whatsoever that I would be going to heaven. The fury that resulted was directed squarely at myself as I entered the magnificently terrible period of life called puberty.
I think the greatest gift I’ve ever given to myself has been atheism. Without it, I’d still be wallowing around in a world of darkness, convinced of a beatific light somewhere far away that I may not be invited to see. Now, I am capable of seeing the beatific light which emits from life on Earth, and I am content with what is here and now. I no longer feel the need to constantly look for more, always unsatisfied, always searching.
For the time has passed when I was innocent and open enough to believe, without a doubt, stories which now make not an iota of logical sense to me. If God had indeed revealed himself to me during that time in mine and everyone else’s life, I guarantee I and the rest of the world would be a devout Christian. But a God who demands that a person believe in him after perpetual disappointment, and after their minds have naturally began doubting the things around them, is irrational and a tyrant.
I’ve also ceased to destructively tell myself that a deity could take my blindness away and make me like everyone else. I now know that no one has such power. I’m relieved. If someone had the power to see my pain and the power to take it away, but did nothing, I’d feel much less worthy of happiness. Just as I felt as a child. I’ve learned to be happy with a visual impairment. To cope with it, and be satisfied with being a perfect me. The Bible never granted this to me, for I’ve discovered that I am the only one with the power to make myself happy–to grant myself joy and contentment.
So perhaps it is true that I could actually see God if I dared only to believe. But do I dare? Would I want to know this vengeful being?
“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” –Charles Bukowski