Wide awake at four o’clock this morning trying to read myself back to sleep by reading about people who, wide awake at four o’clock in the morning, heard the voice of God calling to them.
One of them doesn’t think the voice he heard was God’s, exactly. He believes it was the voice of “the mind” of the universe. It’s the mind we all share in. It’s what the the “mind” speaking to us in our heads draws its voice from. I think he means something like Emerson’s Over-soul. But it might as well be God.
The other didn’t hear an actual voice speaking but he believes God was calling him nevertheless.
The first person is a fairly ordinary guy, except that he has spent nearly forty-five years thinking about what the voice said to him and what it means and what he and everybody else is supposed to do about it. The voice made him a philosopher. Although he never pursued formal training or held a teaching position and in fact continued at his job as a brick mason until he retired, over the years he has donated what extra money he has been able to spare to funding university-sponsored essay contests in which entrants are asked to answer the big questions about life, the universe, and everything.
The second is a scientist. Not just a scientist. This scientist. Dr Collins had been struggling with---or against---a dawning religious conversion when God spoke to him.
On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.
God had called on him to become an Evangelical Christian.
Obviously, and not incidentally, God did not call upon him to give up being a scientist. He went on with his chosen career and not as one of those quack scientists oil company apologists in Congress call upon to “debunk” global warming or creationists trot out to support intelligent design. Collins is a creationist’s nightmare, an Evangelical who believes that evolution happens to be how God did it.
Both these men’s stories are versions of one of my nightmares.
I am terrified that some night---or early morning---I will wake up hearing the voice of God and that I will listen to it.
I don’t believe in God anymore. That anymore is the key part of that statement. Giving up my belief hasn’t made me feel smarter. It’s made me feel robbed. I miss it. I can still feel it sometimes too, the way an amputee can still feel a missing limb or a grieving person will feel the company of a loved one or friend who has died. But when I try to stand on it or reach out to embrace it, it vanishes and that leaves me sad and frustrated and…lonely.
It also leaves me feeling relieved.
See, much as I miss it, I don’t want it back because I don’t, well, believe that if I start believing again I will actually believe. I’m convinced that if my belief returns it will only be a desperate subconscious attempt to fool myself into believing so that I have a defense against fear, despair, sadness, or loneliness or all of the above.
In other words, I’m scared that I will believe because I’m scared.
Consequently, I’m on guard all the time against any thoughts that might indicate I’m starting to believe again. This means that if God ever does decide to talk to me, he’s going to have his work cut out for him.
There’s not much of a point to this post, but it does let me tell one of my favorite anecdotes.
I had a friend, an English professor and poet, who was as unapologetic an atheist as an atheist can be. One of his favorite things to say, which he usually said after hearing of some good, kind, noble, or decent thing someone had done, was, “Too bad there’s no such place as heaven.”
One day he pulled this in front a of a colleague, another poet who was not only a believer, but as unapologetic a believer as a believer can be. He was also a touch flamboyant and had a way of delivering the simplest statements in such a grand, gushing, and utterly charming manner that you wanted him to be right even if he was in effect calling you an ass just for the aesthetic beauty of it. And when my friend delivered his favorite line, the poet threw him a great big beatific smile and said, “Oh, Jim, you are going to have such a beautiful deathbed conversion!”
Jim threw a book at him.
I hope it was one of the second poet’s own books.
Anyway, that’s my fear for the day, a beautiful deathbed conversion.
This morning, though, at four o’clock, the only voices I heard were the birds’. They were beautiful in their own right and God kept his majesty out of it.
Apparently, Collins causes fits in atheists too.
By the way, the book I was reading didn’t help me go back to sleep because it’s too interesting: The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer. I’m going to be reviewing it here within the next week or so. Next up for review, though, is T.C. Boyle’s newest novel, When the Killing's Done. Not that I’m assigning homework.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Friday I reviewed Boneheads: My Search for T. Rex by Richard Polsky.