I still remember the painful night I learned everyone didn’t think the way I did. I was a teenager among learned adults, a sophomore who had just gotten his driver’s license, along with a ’60 Ford Fairlane with three speeds on the column, fins and a white body that was corroded on the doors and fenders.
I was visiting my aunt and uncle for dinner, and we were joined by their friends Stan and Susan, two Fairfield County swingers. Stan was a lawyer, as smooth as they come in a cashmere turtleneck, and Susan was equally self-possessed and the darling of the country club. To my teenage mentality, these were people to be admired and emulated.
While we were eating dinner, I made the mistake of mentioning God, and the fireworks started.
Stan stopped eating and looked at me. With the persuasive self-assurance of a defense attorney telling the jury his client didn’t embezzle $700,000 (merely misplaced it), he said, “Enjoy your life because this is all there is – nothing else. There’s no God.”
Who was I to argue with an intellect like that? Nevertheless, I tried and he chuckled at my naïveté. Sad to say, my aunt and uncle didn’t come to my defense. Maybe they were intimidated by Stan or didn’t want to ruin a good friendship by standing up for God.
“This is it. There’s nothing else,” he repeated, just in case no one heard his earlier ex cathedra pronouncement. My stomach tightened. He was intelligent. He was articulate. He was suave. He was successful. And he was wrong. How was that possible? How could someone so smart be so stupid?
Years later, after encountering all sorts of Stans, spouting their atheistic beliefs, I’m convinced their view usually results from intellectual pride, anger or hurt. It’s easy to be angry at God for the way things are in the world, especially when you encounter suffering and pain or the death of someone you love. And it’s easy to attack God when you have so much intellectual pride that you think you’re smarter than he is.
One woman I know asked her father when she was a little girl, “Daddy, is there a God?” He replied: “I doubt it. How could there be with all the suffering in the world?” It’s a common response, and it affected her for the rest of her life. When children grow up surrounded by unbelief, it’s hard to find the Truth, but God can do all things for people who seek him with a sincere heart.
Atheists are more vocal now than ever before, trying to do everything from banning the Postal Service’s stamp honoring Mother Teresa to cluttering the bookstores with attacks on organized religion.
“The time for polite debate is over,” an Associated Press story proclaimed. “Militant atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith,” publishing books like God Is Not Great and The God Delusion by celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins.
They’ve launched ad campaigns from Great Britain to West Virginia, from Texas to Indiana, and most recently, in Manhattan subway stations, where posters ask, “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”
To my thinking – and I have nowhere near the brain power of Dawkins, which is why I believe in God – the New York subway system probably should be submitted as one of the proofs there IS a God, along with Thomas Aquinas’s other five.
Judging from the headlines, God’s approval ratings must be down. A recent poll suggests people are moving away from organized religion. The number of respondents who checked “None” when asked about their affiliation went from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, which means “no religion” is the fastest growing category.
There are a lot of angry atheists, along with a lot of lazy believers. Everyone has a different excuse for not believing – the theory of evolution, the existence of suffering or the bad practice of religion. But as someone once said, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”
The thing about God is that he does what he wants. He reveals himself when he wants and he conceals himself when he wants.
You don’t need to study the cosmological proofs and ontological proofs of his existence. A philosophical quest seldom leads to a personal experience of God, which I discovered, but then I got advice from a different kind of philosopher – a recovering alcoholic who believed his “Higher Power” saved him from a death by booze. “If you want to find God,” he assured me, “all you have to do is ask.”
That was too simple to be true. Intellectuals would surely scoff at the idea. Nevertheless, my friend insisted God only reveals himself to the people who ask with a sincere heart, not to the proud and arrogant. I only wish I had told that to Stan way back in the ’60s.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.