Waking the Dogs

13 Cookie napping

Bess fills the paw prints left by Cookie, shown napping here.

It’s been a red-letter several days in my quiet life, and I’m afraid it has me sounding off more than I should here on topics that normally I would let lie with sleeping dogs. I have a fear of goading beyond their endurance persons who generously visit my blog.

Two days ago I received a letter from my former wife with news of our only child, a daughter, who has grown up and thrived in another country. Three children of her own, a good marriage, a prosperous career — all fantastic. It was a bolt from the blue which literally brought tears of gratitude. We’ve had no contact all this time. I’ve mailed  letters to both of them, and hope mightily to continue the conversation.

A dear friend and neighbor with whom I’ve shared the details said today, “I know you don’t believe in God, but I think your ex-wife’s reaching out to you is a blessing from God. He is responsible.” And here is where the dogs stir.

I wouldn’t have this dialog with my neighbor because I renounce any effort to argue with another person’s piety. For me “freedom of religion” implies freedom *from* religion as well, but also respect for others’ beliefs provided they don’t cause harm.

But here I say with trepidation that I don’t actually *disbelieve* in God either, it’s more like I don’t have an opinion on the matter. Can I choose not to believe anything for now except that the universe makes more sense if we respect all life? I like the “don’t kill” commandment. Is it number six? I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have lizards and tarantulas.

Atheism isn’t an option for me because it is itself a systematized form of thinking about being without God, of disbelieving in “him.” It’s as much an article of faith that “He” isn’t as that “He” is. Neither leap is congenial to me personally. I simply choose not to take a stance. “I would prefer not to,” like Bartleby the Scrivener.

A canny philosopher or theologian might say that my being on the fence is not a tenable position, or not an honest one, that I must poop or get off the pot. (That metaphor wears out quickly.) It may be true. I try with all my heart to keep an open mind about most things. I may yet be “surprised by joy” like C.S. Lewis in the matter of religion.

Meanwhile, my question is: Why the rush to attribute a good happening to God? Is it possible my ex-wife, bless her soul, acted on a generous impulse of her own accord with no divine intervention? Should God be credited also with bad happenings? The burning deaths of folks in Greece and California due to wildfires? The drowning of children in the duck boat? I don’t want to be the one telling relatives and parents it was God’s will. I know the debate over “why bad things happen to good people” is as old as the rocks in my driveway, but I haven’t followed it closely.

My aunt, member of a mainstream Protestant sect, told me once she believed with all her heart that on the Day of Judgment every person who ever lived would be resurrected in the flesh. We were driving home from having held hands and wept as we watched my uncle, her brother, draw his last breath. All I said was, “Ina Bess, I love you.” I believed that she believed her belief. That was enough. Love fills in the blanks. I implore forgiveness if any of this comment smacks of squib. It’s far from my intention to be sarcastic or ironic about matters of faith.

Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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4 Responses to Waking the Dogs

  1. robstroud says:

    Here’s to joining others in the prayer that you may be surprised by that great joy that C.S. Lewis encountered when he was not at all seeking it.

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    “Poor or get off the pot”. I never heard that one. I must find an instance where I can use it.

    Of course not holding a firm believe is the much more difficult water to tread of allowing multiple ideas to coexist without choosing one and excluding others. It is the ability to handle cognitive dissonance and not knowing.

    It is also why, to quote Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity”. The less you know, the more you think you know, and the more you are willing to die and kill for it.

    I see people as a bit like hermit crabs. We need some shell to exist within, and they are all eventually too small if we live long enough. It’s very difficult to be shell-less (shellless, sheless?).

    I was a confident atheist/existentialist until my mid to late thirties when I smoked some Salvia Divinorum and tripped into the after-death void. Now I know that I don’t know.

    • JMN says:

      “Now I know that I don’t know.” That’s perfect! I live on Sir Arthur Eddington’s remark: “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it’s queerer than we CAN suppose.” I think I said “poop.” It it’s “poor” I goofed.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Hah. He’s not the only one that said that, or a variation of it, and I quote it all the time. I tend to use the variety that says “stranger than we an image”, but the message is the same. I do think that’s very true. We certainly accept that our own daily lives are stranger than any other animal on the Earth can imagine.

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