My dad and I have been talking a lot about humanism. So when it was time for me to preach here in Palo Alto back on November 1 (I only preach twice a year), I decided to preach about humanism. When faced with the question “Do you believe in God?” our society likes to force us to choose from three options: (A) Yes. (B) No. (C) Don’t care or don’t know. In the sermon, I held out for a fourth choice: (D) All of the above. So, Dad, the text of this sermon is now online.
I always thought that was such an odd question. “Believe in”? As in, maybe it’s all made up like Santa Claus and the reindeer, or the tooth fairy, or whatever. When I was a UU kid, I used to lie awake at night and say to god: hey, I don’t know if you’re there but if you are, I’m not sure I think you’re real, so don’t get mad at me if you are, okay? My best friend at the time was Catholic, and we talked a lot about god/God. She worried about me, so I in turn worried about the whole notion of the existence or not of a big powerful guy who might not like the fact that I wasn’t sure he existed or not.
However, Santa Claus? Definitely Option A. The Tooth Fairy, B. God/god, yes indeed, all of the above. And it ain’t waffling, it’s active wondering.
Jean @ 1 — Ooo, “active wondering” — great phrase, I’m going to steal that.
But… the Tooth Fairy, option B?… I don’t think so!
One could go philosophical and ask if the believe in God question refers to a concept or something else.
It’s pretty obvious to even hard-core skeptics that God, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy all exist as concepts.
Where we find disagreement on the believing in God question isn’t at “concept” level — it’s usually at the “entity” level.
I have proof: a note from the Tooth Fairy. She left it under my pillow, along with a quarter, one night late, explaining that she had come the previous night but was frightned away by my cat.
She writes on tooth-shaped paper, in case you ever wondered. And that (says the person brought up to know that Santa Claus is your parents) is the secret of a magical childhood.
When my young adult aged daughter was a child, this is how she had figured out how Santa Claus worked.
Basically, she figured out that “Santa” could only get stuff that her parents could afford (she never got the limo she asked for) and that’s what provoked her to ask us if her parents were “Santa.”
A few years later, I mentioned that at least one theologian (Buber?) thought that God existed in the relationships between people. I asked my daughter if Santa existed in a similar way in the generous relationships between friends and family.
The expression on her face when I suggested this relationship aspect for Santa got me her “are you bullshitting me” expression.
Amy @ 4 — Huh, I never got a note on tooth-shaped paper. All she ever gave me was quarters, and the occasional half dollar coin.
I guess the curse of being the oldest kid is that you get let in on the secrets. Like one Easter mom said: “Jeannie, I forgot to get Abby a present from the Easter Bunny!” So, Abby got some of my toys. And one lost tooth from Abby resulted in a couple of my silver quarters going under her pillow. And the china tea set “Santa Claus” gave me, the one Dan tripped over and broke by accident on Christmas day, got replaced by *ahem* Santa’s “helpers” (aka Mom and Dad, who I made promise not to get mad at Dan!). I, however, still believe in Fairies, Elves, Leprechauns, and the possibility of levitation.
The best answer to the God “quiz” is to recognize that all answers are imperfect (including Option D) because the mind is imperfect – we humans objectify everything, be it a grain of sand or the Creator of the Universe. All knowledge is imperfect and limited (we don’t know yet what we don’t know), therefore it is probably a safe bet that knowledge and opinions about a Supreme Being are especially flawed. We each must find what has worth to us. Perhaps for some, the answer lies in “community”, for others it might be art (screw people, art endures – that was Proust’s conclusion). Everyone is different, and there is no right answer.