Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do you believe in God?

I used to evade the question "Do you believe in God?".

God, it seemed to me, was inscribed in the institutions of Islam, or the Church, or indeed in the conflict that turns people against each other and erects walls of obedience, mistrust, discipline, and fear. God entered conversations as a figure of authority, ready to pass judgment and to assign to His children a reserved space in heaven or in hell. God was somehow capable of torture, as in the stories we heard as children about what would happen if we ate pork, or if we disgraced His name. God knew what was best, and the devoted people who righteously spoke on His behalf had somehow, through divine revelation, learned what God wanted from us and from me.

Such accounts of God dominated my upbringing, from the stringency of conservative Islam, to discussions with Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, and Catholics. I chose for many years to denounce such personifications of God in a reluctant and self-authored atheism. The character through which people made God available for worship and respect simply did not resonate with my heart about any kind of divinity.

Yet the denunciation of God was never a renunciation of a belief in divinity, as an abstraction of goodness, love, compassion, and justice. For me, the reluctance of admitting to a belief in God has always been haunted by my awareness of angelic divinity in my life, divinity which I find it difficult to reduce to logic or reason, in spite of my schooling in a Western secular intellectual tradition, and my subsequent engagement with Marxism and postmodernism. Although I admired the witticism of Nitzsche's assertion that "God is dead", or that "I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time", I still found it troubling to explain how God, in some mysterious way, seemed to be present in my life. God's angels, the mythical personas of the Bible and the Quran, were at once fairytale and real, embodied in a woman I have long called Mother.

Marie entered my life when I was nine. She overwhelmed me and my sister with unconditional love, support, and care. Her endurance in raising us and maintaining our family is nothing short of an act of divinity. It is in her that I gaze the semblance of holiness, the sanctity of kindness, the Abrahamic lessons of sacrifice, the Christly spirit of compassion and forgiveness. It is in her that I find the strength to pursue my endeavors and to never give up. It is through her charisma that I have learned of belief, respect, courage, and reason.

God may be the conceptual foundation of faith and love. But without His angels, mysteriously wandering the earth and entering our lives, I would remain oblivious to His wisdom, irrespective of the number of times I have had the Bible and the Quran recited to me.

Today, when I am asked if I believe in God, I can no longer say no.


  1. I've always found that a difficult question. Coming from such a religious family my parents told me Christianity was the religion of choice and free will. Even so, I was never actually given the chance to accept it myself; I was always expected to believe without question. Although to even suggest any doubt was never really an option. I look around me and see so many religious people who can be so devout and have such potential to be good. At other times they come out with the most horribly racist and narrow minded comments, frequently using religion as an excuse. Honestly I don't know what I believe at the moment, and even though I can see many things I dislike in organised religions I don't feel like an atheist. There has to be something to believe in, even if it is, as you suggested, the people around us who give us faith in humanity. Unfortunately I have not met many of them. There has to be something though, otherwise life would be pointless.

  2. Thanks Joyce, I agree with you: there must be something. And all we need really, with or without God, angels, saints, and prophets, is a faith and belief in goodness. I think that's enough, maybe at least for now..?