Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

04 July 2007

Dear God

When it comes to UFO’s, I don’t know what to believe. Like I said, I’ve never seen one. On the other hand, I do believe in God. Now there’s a dichotomy; how is that possible? I’ve never seen God either. I just believe that there is a Creator who was and is responsible for life as we know it. In some ways that is illogical, yes, I’ll grant you that. But to me at least, I see convincing signs all over the place. So I’m always disappointed to hear someone say they do not believe in God. I think to myself, “How empty their life must be!”

I have occasionally made references to Matthew and his very entertaining blog, littlewoodenman. Matthew lives in the inland city of Juticalpa, Honduras with his girlfriend Angel where they are working for the Canadian organization CUSO (their website gives no clue as to what "CUSO" stands for). They’re both young, energetic, full of idealism and joy of living. How else do you explain two Canadians uprooting themselves from what must have been a comfortable life and relocating to some Godforsaken part of a third-world country?

In a touching recent post, Mathhew laments the passing of his younger brother Adam, who five years ago succumbed to a disease called vasculitis. You can (and should) read the whole post here. In it, Matthew says something I find disturbing.

“As an atheist, I don’t have the luxury of believing that Adam is now, somehow, in a better place. I simply don’t know where he is. And I’m fine with that, considering. I’d be no less sad about it than I am now if I truly believed he was in Heaven.”

I was going to leave a comment on Matthew’s blog, but I decided instead to answer him here. So here goes:

Dear Matthew,

I am so sorry to hear of your pain regarding the loss of your brother Adam. I know how hard it must still be for you. Some things we never truly and completely get over. Especially the things that seem so senseless and unfair…the things no one can adequately explain.

But I am also sorry to hear you claim that you are an atheist, which is to say that you do not believe in God. How very sad.

As a pilot, I’ve been lucky to see this world from a vantage point afforded to relatively few. And it makes me appreciate the beauty of our planet from both above and below the surface, from the macro- and microscopic perspectives. But it also convinces me that this all could not have happened serendipitously or by chance, like some big cosmic accident or happenstance. No, quite the opposite. From what I’ve seen, this world was very deliberately created. Moreover, created just for us!

Now, I’m not going to get all religious on you. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I’ve come to see all religions as various ways of controlling people’s minds and actions. I believe however in a Creator which I and others call God. And I believe that Jesus Christ was the human manifestation of God on our planet. The evidence of this is fairly convincing. But aside from those two things, everything else is open to question. (Expanded spiritual discussion available on request - Ed.)

I know, I know…we cannot prove the existence of God. As the rock group XTC asked in their coincidentally-titled 1986 song, "Dear God," Did you make mankind, or did we make you? Good question. Absent of any solid proof, it’s easy to just assume that God does not in fact exist. It’s not like He talks to us (well, not anymore, although He apparently did at great length once, however He has inexplicably stopped all subsequent communication).

Well, some things just have to be taken on faith. Sure, okay, but where does that faith come from? When we’re young, we merely parrot the beliefs of our parents, whom we trust implicitly. Eventually, we come to our own conclusions. In my own case, I can point to one time (although there have been others) when God absolutely intervened in a very concrete and physical way in my life. To ascribe the outcome to “luck” or “coincidence” or anything else would simply be inaccurate and naive. (Details on request.)

However, believing in God does not mean that I necessarily credit or blame Him for all the good and bad in the world. I don’t blame Him for wars, “the good dying young,” my bad landings, or my dead car battery when I’m already running late for work. Neither do I thank Him on the days when the car does start and I make all the green lights on the way. (Strangely, I do routinely thank Him for my good landings. Hey, I need all the help I can get!)

It gives me great comfort to know that there is a higher power than me – that there is someone I can turn to for guidance and help and strength – that I’m not on my own, cast adrift to fend for myself in the sea of sharks we call “life.” As for you, Matthew, can you not acknowledge the astounding good fortune of “someone” sending you your own personal Angel? Angel! Coincidence? I think not.

Matthew, you even betray your own doubts - your lack of total commitment to being an atheist when you say about your brother, “I simply don’t know where he is.” This tells me that you believe he had/has a soul, that he still exists in some form. Yes! Our lifeforce, our consciousness, our soul - the thing that makes us uniquely us. It continues after we die (and may very well have existed prior to our being born). Where does it come from?

Well, those of us who believe think we know where it comes from. We humans may have slogged and slithered out of the primordial soup, shed our gills and fins and evolved into the walking/talking rocket scientists and rock stars we are now, but how does that explain our sentient consciousness, our innate ability to discern “right” from “wrong?” No other fish or mammal seems to exhibit these peculiar traits. No dog or cat has designed and built a submarine, as far as we know. It wasn’t the dolphins that sent one of their own to the moon. Apes did not produce the iPhone. The Nobel Peace Prize has never been awarded to a giraffe ("Next year, next year!” the giraffes say).

Matthew, you say you’d be no less sad even if you knew he was in Heaven? I disagree. Look, I’m no expert on theology. But it makes me feel good to know that you and Adam will be reunited some day (in Heaven or…wherever), just as I believe I’ll be reunited with my father, and my best friend Jim, whose evidently insurmountable emotional problems caused him to tragically commit suicide at age twenty-five.

And I do believe that. I wish you would too.


Matthew said...

First, CUSO used to stand for Canadian University Students Overseas, but nowadays they send people of all ages, so they renamed themselves to simple "CUSO". Yeah, doesn't make a lot of sense.

Second, thanks for your condolences, but especially for your long and thought out response. I started to write out my comment but it grew and grew, so I posted something back on my weblog.

Hal Johnson said...

I don't discuss religion and spirituality with many people, because it's a very personal thing, and people can get upset if presented with viewpoints contrary to theirs. That said, from an intellectual perspective, I really don't understand atheism. I can fathom where an agnostic comes from, but it almost seems that atheists have faith that there is no God. Hm. So, if we had no microscopes, would atheists have faith that amoebas didn't exist?

Like you, Bob, I believe in God/The Supreme Being/A Higher Power because I've felt the presence of God in my life in profound ways. Not often, but when it's happened, the reality of it has hit me between the eyes.

And, while organized religions tend to leave me with more questions than answers (not necessarily a bad thing), I believe that life goes on after we leave this earthly plane. One day in 1991, while flying offshore in California, we were trying to get a man off of an offshore oil platform who had a family emergency. The ceiling and visibility were varying from barely at instrument approach minimums to zero-zero. We made three missed approaches, but the weather observer informed us each time that the weather had picked back up. I felt a presence with me that day, and I've never flown that well in my life, before or after that day. I felt absolutely energized in a strange and wonderful way. We had fuel for one last attempt, when we made it into the platform. Roger, the guy I was flying with, could only say, "Damn, Johnson." (From him, that was praise bubbling over.) The man got on board, and we climbed back through the fog and headed toward Santa Barbara Airport. When we leveled out, that feeling of having a presence with me departed. I felt deflated, spent.

When I got into the office, my mom called. My dad had died that morning, suddenly, of a heart attack.

I can't offer Matthew concrete evidence that life goes on after we "die." I can only assert that I don't just suspect that there is such a thing as a soul. Nor do I believe that there is a soul. Nor do I have faith that there is a soul.

No, I know that there is a soul. I know of it because of that particular morning in 1991, the last time I worked with Dad.

russell madden said...

The comments posted are extremely cordial. I appreciate both sides talking openly and expressing their personal views. If more discussions were opened this way i feel there would be less conflict in this world. I agree with Bob in his beliefs and think they were very will expressed. Matthew, I also am verry sorry to hear of your brother Adam's passing, he is in a good place.

Matthew said...

For anyone who's missed it, a lot of back and forth on this has taken place on the post I did.


It would seem you've gotten on Angel's nerves a little bit, and she's not allowing your comments to my post to become public anymore. I would ask that you try to understand her position. She takes her spirituality (however she may define it) seriously. Just as you say it's insulting to be called "not special" because "there is no God", it can also feel insulting to be called "empty".

While I'm always willing to continue the discussion, and I do not agree with taking down comments outright, it's her weblog, too, so I have to respect her decision. I sincerely hope this doesn't dissuade you from leaving comments on our site in the future if the mood strikes you.

With topics like this, there is a strong temptation to get the last word, so maybe we can just let it rest for the time being. If we're ever in the same place at the same time, I'll gladly sit down with you and talk about this or any other topic until the sun comes up.


Redlefty said...

I believe that the amazing diversity of thought in our world (yes, even atheism) helps us all keep challenging ourselves and moving forward.

Bob, that was a very kind letter. And Matthew, your response to it, and your service in life, are marks of great character. I'd dine with you anytime, no matter what you believe.