Sunday, November 30, 2014


There is an increasing level of hate that appears to be infecting an increasing number of civilized societies.  Or what seems to be known as civilized societies by definition.  It is a hate that is pouring out like molten lava from an angry, very angry volcano.  It is killing men.  It is killing women.  And it is killing children.  It is killing all forms of life without even the merest display of remorse.  And as bodies fall lifeless, I wonder where the sanctimonious are.  I wonder where the religious leaders are.  I wonder where religion is.  And then I realize that it is religion all over again at the core of this hate even as it preaches love, morality and ethics in its sanctified halls.  Those sanctified halls built with the money of believers tithing as if every contribution will forgive all their transgressions throughout the past week.  Walk into these halls and you'll be transfixed by crucified Christs, entombed Talmuds, crosses, stars, crescents and all manner of religious symbols and accoutrement meant to captivate your reverence to an unseen god. 

Where is this god who never appears but in paintings and in marble and whose voice is never heard?  Why does not this god break his silence and tell humanity to stop in that deep, resounding, bellowing, intense manner we expect? Instead, the believers get an apathetic god’s silence.  I can’t help thinking of the resemblance of this god to the silent parents of today’s undisciplined and destructive kids acting out in the most negative ways their entry into adulthood.

I was born a Jew.  I was raised as a Jew, though loosely enough not to infringe on my ability to think.  I believed then there was a loving and forgiving god who listened to my prayers and, if I was good, would grant me my wishes.  Sometimes.  I rarely went to our temple and only on High Holy Days, if then, with my mother, grandmother and aunt.  The men chose other activities less religious like playing gin around a pool reflecting the Miami Beach sun on to their already too tan, sweaty skin.  I was touched by the meanings of the prayers and bought into the rising voices and spirit of the congregation.  I wanted to believe.  Until, I could not.

I knew what God sounded like.  He sounded like John Huston.  What did he look like, I wondered until the night I no longer wondered.  I remember as a child of 10 or so, I stayed over at my best friend’s brownstone on West 103rd Street in New York City.  Neither of us ever fell asleep quickly and often not until her mother angrily called out an order to shut up.  We tried as the silence fell around us.  My mind usually did flip flops at this time, a habit which still plagues my ability to fall asleep.  And this night was not any different as I shot up in bed with a revelation.  A fearsome revelation.

“Carol, I know what God looks like.”

“You’re nuts.  My mom’s going to kill us.  Go to sleep,” Carol whispered.

“God looks like an embryo,” I persisted, announcing with a controlled fear of having knowledge I'd be better without.

The second after the last word was uttered, a fear overcame me.  I was sure that I had just unearthed a secret of such proportion that my life would have to be ended by some mysterious force sent down from above and now on its way to fulfill its mission.

“How did you figure out something so stupid?” Carol whispered.

“Okay, it’s said that we are created in God’s image, right?” I answered, knowing my life was about to end.

“Right,” Carol parroted.

“Well, then?  There it is.  When we’re first created we’re an embryo.  There!  You have it.”

Both of us lay awake all night, fearing the dread of retribution from not an embryo, but The Embryo.

Every creak and every noise that old brownstone emitted was a sign our lives were about to end.

I had figured out what God looked like.  How could I believe in a god that looked like an embryo or a shmoo.  For those of you who are not aquainted with shmoos, they were popular cartoon characters created by the amazing political cartoonist Al Capp and provided great joy for both children and adults.

But I continued to believe anyway.  My beloved grandmother believed.  My beloved mother believed.  My idolized aunt believed.  But as my grandmother and, many years later, my mother passed so did my beliefs.  When my grandmother died, it was the first time I had lost a human being that I loved dearly and the first time my heart broke into pieces, leaving it permanently scarred.  When my mother died at 69 years of age after suffering the cruel and torturous effects of cancer and the cold and inhumane medical treatment given her, I remember the feeling of numbness and aloneness and desperation to escape.  I remember finding a wall into which I wanted to melt and disappear.  Instead, I found a corner which I attempted to wedge my way into in an effort to become that corner if I could. I found myself slipping down on weak legs into a huddle of flesh.  It was that day God died for me.  It was that day that God evaporated and disappeared like I wanted to do.  It was that day that I was reborn Motherless & Godless.

They say that once you heal from a devastating event, in this case the death of my mother, your anger at God is rationalized away and your belief returns and is often more intense than before.  Not in my case.  As time passed and the healing progressed, my belief in that god never returned.  It was like an epiphany, but not of the spiritual kind.  It was a release and a new sense of awareness and freedom that seemed to envelop me.  Though I must admit there were times that I feared being confronted by that god’s anger upon announcing to friends, who persisted in talking about their reverence, that I was an atheist.

I still think of that god I abandoned long ago.  I still ask why during this world’s upheaval hasn’t the Judeo-Christian God shown himself.  To which I get from believers the same Pavlovian response they always give to similar questions: “Haven’t you ever believed in anything you can’t see?  God works in mysterious ways.  He doesn’t have to show himself.”  Well, far from convincing me of the presence of their god, that response just pisses me off as just another religious gimmick of avoidance.  Have I believed in something I could not see since my conversion to atheism?  Yes!  I believe my mother is present and that she hears me talk to her.  And that she delights in my lighting a candle for her on the anniversary of her death, not forgetting to put a red rose nearby.  My mother loved red roses.  And she loved unicorns and for her, I also believe in them.  I haven’t seen one lately, but my hope is I will.  I also believe in the possibility of superior alien life somewhere in the vast universe and beyond and yet I have never seen any.  I hope I do for in seeing one, I will be assured that the species I had no choice in being part of and have so little respect for is not as superior as is thought. 

Every day, I am flooded with the news that envelops the internet.  Between Yahoo, The New York Times, Twitter, CNN, and our inconceivably inane local news, I feel like I am being buried alive.  Each grain of dirt joining other grains of dirt falling on my chest stopping me from breathing and only allowing gasps of my despair and perhaps a muddy tear falling down my cheek.  I see stories of such depths of depravity and evil, I can only think where is that unseen god so many have so much belief in?  Why is he allowing so many to suffer, to die, to wander homeless and afraid?  Is his keeping his unyielding mysterious ways so important to him?  Is it more important than alleviating his creations’ suffering?  Does he condone the seeking his imagined love and his protection in flagrantly expensive houses of worship?  Is he pleased by the annual dues paid in order to show him reverence?  Does he not want to shout his anger?  For surely he would not condone this.  Is this not a protection racket kept enriched by bribery?  If you give, you will be saved.  If you give, you will be forgiven.  If you give, you will get good seats for the High Holy Day services and maybe that new car. 

What is so bewildering is the denial by so many of the hypocrisy of religion.  There is in almost every religion divisiveness by race, class, wealth, politics, and all manner of separation within the same denomination.  These are not only acceptable but often promoted by the clergy and parishioners.  Then there are the 7 Deadly Sins of lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy, and pride.  And though they are sermonized against, they are kept alive and nourished by a human propensity for self-indulgence and more hypocrisy.  Did I forget to mention gossip...and adultery?  With all of this delinquent behavior, one would think that this god would be much pissed, pissed enough to come out of hiding and announce in that announcer voice: “Enough!  Give me your cell phones and go to your rooms.”

I do think of when I am aged and suffering infirmities and looking at death in the face.  I wonder if my steadfast disbelief in a god and in religion will hold.  Will the fear of the darkness and unknown about to unfold consume me so that I will fall back on the early rituals of so many years ago; the rituals that consisted of hoping that the god I grew up believing in was there to lead me safely through the unknown and/or perhaps answering my request for a painless death and/or giving me just a little more time?  I am hoping not.  I am hoping that my rational thought that brought me to my present belief will hold true and that the human courage we all have that blooms during times of fear and uncertainty will be enough to see me through.  I am hoping above all that my life was lived decently and with care and with a minimum of judgement on those whom I loved so that my passage is traveled well.  And for that, I need only believe in the strength of my heart.

By the way, my capitalizing or not capitalizing the "G" in the word god changed as did my belief.