Monday, April 24, 2006
From Doubt to Doubt to Faith - My Story
This synopsis, this disjointed, terse narrative, tells only the most critical events that influenced my beliefs. I omitted volumes. I left out the transitions. I traveled from the most profound, ingrained doubt to sublime hope. I offer this to share faith.
We took the train from
On one nice day, we climbed a hill on the outskirts of
I remember visiting a death camp. The name escapes me -- I would have been about six years old. In one room, black and white photos of living skeletons watched me as I studied them in return. Their eyes seemed huge because the skin, shrunken from starvation, stretched so tightly across their skulls. I saw a big shower room, like a boy's locker room at school, with drains in the tile floor and showerheads along the wall. My mother or father explained that poison gas, not water, came out the shower heads. I struggled to understand. I saw a lamp. A parent explained that the lampshade had been made of human flesh. We stood outside, looking into a ditch. The Nazis forced people into the trench and machine gunned them. They buried the victims in mass graves. My child's mind struggled with the enormity of the horror.
My father told me no one can prove or disprove God. He said the world and the things he'd seen undermined any faith in a merciful, loving God. He saw enough innocents suffering and dying to cause him to doubt the Methodism he grew up with; to doubt seriously the very existence of God. He said he was agnostic, leaning towards atheism.
We never went to church.
We owned a small black-and-white television, but all the programming was in German. After six months, we moved onto an American military base and I started school. I learned to read. I made friends -- my best friend, whom I loved with all my heart, was a little black classmate of mine named Jimmy. In first grade, we would hug and even hold hands. Older boys made fun of us because we were so close. I didn't understand why until much later.
In the third grade, I began to read a lot. I read every biography and every science book the modest library at our little American school contained. My family traveled
When I turned nine, my father was posted to
I went on long, solitary walks on the beach. I studied the moods of the sea. I pondered and played. In hot weather, I swam every day, often for more than a mile. I made friends. I played chess competitively. I started dating.
In 1968, we moved again.
The "National Honor Society" made me a member.
(It occurs to me that each incident, described with barely any detail, deserves full treatment. But this is already a long, boring story.)
Early in the school year, we took some kind of big test. After the results came in, my English and science teachers asked me to attend the library every day instead of going to class. They did not really want me disrupting their work. They said as long as I kept up a perfect "A" average on tests and assignments, I need not come to class. That suited me. My English teacher gave me a self-study book of 10th grade grammar. She told me that was my assignment for the year. I finished it in a week or so, but didn't turn it in until it was due. That way, I could continue to read what I wanted to.
The "National Honor Society" booted me out.
One day the principal called me in. He handed me some papers, "You might be interested in this." So it was that I helped organize the first ever Earth Day celebration.
My father retired. A military band played. I met a good number of general officers, with one, two and three stars on their lapels. There were medals, a ceremonial sword, and, I think, a salute involving guns or artillery. We moved to
I got a job and enrolled in high school.
The "National Honor Society" inducted me again.
In college, I read Freud and Plato and Aristotle. I read Kant and Wittgenstein and Maslow. I read Russell and Achinstein and Rom Hare. I wallowed in Hume, Locke and
I was one of eight philosophy graduates out of a class of over 2,500. I remained the doubter, still seeking wisdom. I went back and studied economics. I discovered Samuel Barber, Debussy, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg and Gershwin.
I fell in love and married; had six months of real happiness and fourteen and a half years of pure misery. I divorced. I kept on reading, and writing. I sold a little good poetry here and there and a lot of really bad fiction. Kept my day job; started teaching various technical subjects at work. My employer banned all writing on the side for money, so I stopped.
I met the true love of my life and remarried. I followed her to church -- I'd follow her anywhere. I got interested in the same problems that troubled my youth. We went to Sunday school. For her sake, I played the part of a believer. I tried to overcome 35 years of skepticism.
We decided to take a Christian Disciple class. Then we took another. And then another. After years of intensive study, I became familiar with the Bible. I learned what Jesus actually said and did - so different from the shrill, hateful, divisive theology I had gleaned from reading newspapers, magazines and books. I learned what the Bible really teaches us about God - so very different from the spiteful supermaniac the television preachers worshipped. I learned that for Jesus' first miracle, he turned water into wine: proof He could not be the relentlessly grim, anti-fun God my high school friends had worshipped.
After 40 years of skepticism, I learned, and began to believe.
I began to believe, and joined the community of faith.
It still bothers me to hear so much hatred uttered in the name of Jesus. It saddens me to read snippets of scripture used to rationalize greed, injustice and fear. Most disturbing is the abuse of the Word in the relentless pursuit of power.
I still work on understanding theology. I remain troubled by doubts.
Yet, by the grace of God, I do believe. Thanks be to God.
Thanks for sharing it.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you better.
Your fear that a longer more detailed account would be boring is unfounded. I am sure personal insights into the meaning of your life experiences would be fascinating.
Please feel free to develop and present a fuller version some day.
I'm glad you remain troubled by doubts - it's the best gift of all in a way, and takes us to the heart of God, if we let it.
Thanks for sharing.
Peace and Balance.
Kinda cool reading some of your history. Ich mochte kennen viel. Something like that. Tough to write Deutsch without the umlate above the letters. Just pretend it's there.
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