So You Want to Be an Atheist
The intense, oppressive afternoon heat made me closet myself in our bedroom with the air-conditioner full blast.
I visited a cabinet unopened in over a decade. Surprise! There sat manuscripts, clippings, and files I had stashed away for reasons I can't remember. One of them is a copy of a letter dated July 1999, which I wrote to the 15-year-old daughter of a family friend.
My friend was extremely distressed when her daughter joined the Atheist Society. A faithful Christian, my friend cried on my shoulder. Since her daughter was quite close to me, I decided to write to her:
A wise old man told me when I was your age, “The day you stop questioning is the day you die.”
I choose not to die before my time, so at age 54, I am questioning still—no longer about the existence of God, but about other things: 'If I ate 12 peanuts instead of eight, will my joints ache?' 'Have I taken my maintenance pill?'
That's why there is science. It answers questions. It quantifies things. It is logical; it is linear. It satisfies our curiosity, making us feel safe.
On the other side of the equation, there is art (and faith . . . and motherhood). It is something we feel. Something we can't explain in words. Something we know in our hearts, not necessarily in our minds. Something we can't count, nor prove. Something we dismiss with, “Ah, basta!”
We need them both.
There is so much to question around us; but there is also so much to feel—so much to make us feel bad, but so much more to make us feel good. We need not look far, there's the rain, the sun, the flowers, friends and family who love us unconditionally.
Something pricked me about what you said on the phone, after telling me that you planned on joining the Atheist Society, “I'd like to know more—and I think it isn't wrong. As long as I am not harming myself.”
My answer was, 'Oh yes, and as long as you are not harming others either.'
What's wonderful about our gift of free will is that, only we have the power to control our own. As long as we are not harming ourselves and others, we grow, and live!
You've been blessed with an exceptionally keen mind. And keen minds question. But you are also blessed with a good heart. (A heart that I see in your poetry and prose, in your room, in your smiles, and in your parents' eyes.)
Good hearts know what to do.
How else could one so young write so pointedly about the non-existence of God, and at the same time write so poignantly about her dog?
Question all you want, Sarah. But ask the right questions. Because wrong questions can get you the wrong answers that harm—you and others.
Now, you ask, 'How do I know I'm asking the right questions?'
I say, 'If you look deep in your good heart, you'll know.'
Then someday, or sometime soon, you will find the right answers. Not only in printed words, or experiment results, but right in there—where you can feel the beat of the human spirit, the gift of life."
I have no idea whether the letter ever reached Sarah (I gave it to her mom, who has since stayed mum and out of touch). Sarah has not taken any of my calls either.
But I know that God's grace, not my words, has the power to move good hearts to where they should be.
(Today, Mother's Day, I think of Sarah's mom and feel her grief all over again. I pray that this episode in her daughter's life, 14 years ago, was just a passing fancy and that it all came to pass.)
*Not her real name