As some of you know, I’ve been struggling with the answer to a question that’s probably going to be coming from the kid one of these days. “Daddy, what do you believe?” It’s not an answer that I’m about to take lightly, so I’m going to take my time formulating the answer(s). But in my internal ramblings, I remembered a paper I had written for a seminar class my sophomore year (1991) at Notre Dame — a piece of prose that has stuck with me for 17 years now.
Thought I’d rehash it here — and take a fresh look to see where “what I believe” started to form. Forgive the occasional self-indulgence and logical leaps, for I was a 19-year-old ready to take on the world!
The following was written April 30, 1991 for AL212-08: Ideas, Values, Images II. (Text enclosed in ** is intended to be stream of consciousness commenting).
An Open Letter to God, Steve, Maureen, Paul and the Rest of AL212-08,
Let me first start off by apologizing to the class (yes that includes you too, Steve) for putting you after God in my opening address. I’m sure you won’t be offended, but I might just be if I were put in that position. You see, I’m not quite sure whether or not the concrete should be listed after the abstract. Do you follow? Well, please accept my utmost apology anyway.
In the first half of this semester I wrote a journal in which I devoted a little section to each of the selections we were required to read, listen to, or see. That seems to work rather well *if an “A” means working rather well*. And believe it or not, I think that was the best way to put forth my feelings on the subject of “The Mind.” However, with “God,” I really couldn’t see best expressing myself in that way. I really thought a great deal about how I could best get across what I feel. So I came up with (I’m sure someone has done this before) the idea of writing an open letter to the class. I feel that this is the best way because most of what I got out of this part of the course came from you, the class. So I figured I’d give something back. I thought I’d throw God in because without him *her it*, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.
I realize this may not be the most orthodox way to get my point(s) across, but it is what I feel I have to do. It was just the other day that we were talking about writing what the professor grade-giver wanted to hear, or writing what you really wanted to write. As you all probably remember, I vehemently asserted that I would never *really never?* write something just to get a grade. I could very easily flip out something that would get me an “A,” *which I could really use at this point in my academic career* or I could do what would do me, and the rest of you, the most justice. So there you have it — my justification for writing you a letter. I can only hope you understand, if not now, when you are finished reading my humble work…
… Wow, we really did get a good bunch of people for this Core class. An experienced photographer who has seen some “pictures” that many of us will never, a ROTC student *oxymoron?*, a Christian if one even exists, a SUFR member *at least one*. Sorry to all of you I have left out, but you either didn’t stand up and define yourself or you just didn’t disturb me enough to warrant reaction. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not passing any value judgements here. It’s just that some things that were brought up in the class offended my inner fiber. There were some things that completely appalled me. Either that or they didn’t seem logical enough. In any case, something about them made them stick around in my mind just long enough *most of them haven’t even left* to disturb my equilibrium. Bear with me, and please, do not take offense. *That means you, too, God.*
In order for you to begin to understand where I’m coming from, you must first understand what has influenced me. I come from a split-religion home, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. But that doesn’t really figure, because when my parents were married in the Catholic Church, my father basically signed away his religion *did he have any in the first place?* by agreeing *did he have any choice?* to have us kids raised in the Catholic Church. Consequently, I have been raised *forcefed* to be a Catholic. But late in high school and here at Notre Dame *how ironic!* I have begun to question those beliefs on which I was weaned. I guess I was “sparked” to question after hearing the song “Dear God” by XTC, a progressive band. The lyrics are printed below ( I think these are important).
Dear God, hope you got the letter and ….
I pray you can make it better down here
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer
But all the people that you made in your image
See them starving on their feet
‘Cause they don’t get enough to eat from
I can’t believe in you
Dear God, sorry to disturb you but …
I feel that I should be heard loud and clear
We all need a big reduction in the amount of tears
And all the people that you made in your image
See them fighting in the street
‘Cause they can’t make opinions meet about
I can’t believe in you
Did you make disease and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind after we made you?
And the devil too!
Don’t know if you noticed,
But your name is on a lot of quotes in this book.
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is true.
Well I know it ain’t and so do you,
I can’t believe in,
I don’t believe in,
I won’t believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And it’s the same the whole world round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the father, son and holy ghost,
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive,
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in…
I guess when I first heard the song, I was struck dead in the face with the legendary problem of evil.
And this is where I would like to personally address Maureen. Mo, as much as the two of us argue *and hit each other with books*, I seem to respect you more than anyone else because you are sure of your beliefs *or at least seem to*. At the very least, I envy you for this. I characterized you earlier as a “Christian if one even exists.” I say this because, if for no other reason, you have Jesus’ command “turn the other cheek” down to a science. I honestly almost lost my teeth at a couple of things you said this semester. First, you said that you would stay and try to straighten things out if your husband ever physically abused you. What happens when he crushes “the other cheek” that you just turned? What then? Would you turn the other cheek to Saddam Hussein? Adolf Hitler? The Devil? The you said *pardon me, your father said* that if someone robbed your house, it was justified because if they had to resort to stealing, they probably needed it. Do you mean to say that most burglars really need what they unlawfully take? I beg to differ.
You may ask me what I am trying to prove. I say nothing. For who am I to make some grand statement about what is right and what is wrong? I’m just trying to explain why I feel that Christianity has no practical place in the world *or at least in the world in which I live*. Just examining the diverse stances of the members of this class seems to justify my assertion. I think Paul’s rhetorical(?) question last week epitomizes what I am trying to say. “Where has Christianity ever gotten anybody in this world anyway?” When I pressed for further discussion on this question, I got the response that Christianity does nothing for you in this life; it gets you an afterlife! Oh, so what you’re saying is that Christianity does nothing for you in this life? I guess Christianity relies on one of those “end justifies the means” models. Am I wrong?
I give in to sin,
Because you have to make this life liveable.
This quote from the Depeche Mode song “Strangelove” seems to be the attitude of most of the members of this class. If by sin, we mean going against the teachings rules and regulations of Jesus, then we have all given into sin, and really don’t mind doing it. Take the group SUFR (Students United for Respect), for instance *since it wasn’t brought up at all during the semester although race was — on several occasions*. I believe we have at least one, if not two, SUFR members in the class. I wonder if they claim to hold Christian beliefs? I wonder if they have ever heard of “Blessed are the persecuted…”? I guess this martyr thing only applies in certain instances.
Paul, let me ask you something, if you don’t mind. We have already discussed this at length *the length of South Quad*, but I’m still not satisfied. Also, I’d like to let everyone else into the discussion. You claimed to be “morally” opposed to the treatment and conditioning *making a group of intelligent people into a babbling bunch of “yes sirs”* our fine young men and women get in this country’s military academies. Yet, you may someday be the actual person who is molding them into unthinking clones. It seems that getting a “free” education and the defense of our fine country is more important than standing up for what you consider a moral truth. Doesn’t seem to Christian to me! (I know you never claimed to be, but, once again, I ask you to bear with me. You of all people may understand me.)
I would like to thank all of you for waiting while I personally addressed the others. I feel that I must now get down to what has really been digging at me since we talked about it in class. Do you all remember *how could you forget?* the question which came up during our discussion of The Brothers Karamazov? You know, the question of whether you would torture and kill a little girl or a loved one if you were promised *by God I assume* that your actions would alleviate all of the pain and suffering in this world. Every one of you, with the exception of Eileen and myself, said unhesitantly that you would kill the girl “for the sake of humanity.” I honestly still cannot believe it!
This bothered me so much that I actually brought it up among my friends outside of class *after this I may not have any friends in the class*. Several lengthy discussions, one which lasted until six in the morning, ensued. I would like to thank those who participated in these conversations, especially Mindy, Gerry and Mike. But, I am still at quite an impasse.
First of all, I can’t, after countless hours of searching, find within myself the right to put a value on someone else’s life — even if that value is the alleviation of pain and suffering. Some of you said that you would be making the person you killed the savior of humanity. Don’t Christians believe that humanity already has its savior in Jesus Christ? And what gives any one human the right to determine the value of another human life? Is there any justification in taking another’s life without their consent? Once you start placing value on human life, you have degraded humanity. You have valued something that is invaluable.
I know what you’re all saying — it will alleviate all the pain and suffering in the world! It seems to me that by doing this, you have alleviated humanity of its very essence. To suffer and feel pain is part of what it means to be human. It is not the only aspect of being human, but it is integral nonetheless. Without pain and suffering, humanity ceases to exist. Where we would be and what we would become are neither for me, nor for anyone else, to answer. All that I, or others, can assert is that we would no longer be human.
Even to assume that we would be taken to some higher level of existence, an assumption risky in itself, would not justify the prescribed actions. From the Christian standpoint, it is God, through Christ, that will raise humanity to a higher level of existence – the afterlife – eternal life with God. Unless Christianity is flawed, neither I, nor anyone except Christ, can save humanity from its inherent pain and suffering. To do so would be to deny one of Christianity’s basic tenets.
So, from this, I can reasonably conclude one of two things. Either you have not thought the situation through and do not realize that it is against Christianity, a faith to which I believe a majority of you subscribes. Or, you are willing to sacrifice Christianity if something better comes along. The first I am not willing to concede. You are intelligent, responsible people, and I don’t think that you would treat such a situation flippantly. I must believe the second assertion. Christianity is what you subscribe to because you believe that there is nothing better. (In that sense, it is something like democracy.) If something better comes along, such as a life without pain and suffering, you’ll dump Christianity for the quick fix it is. Don’t deny it. By saying that you would take the painless, unsuffering world, you already have.
I just went back and read what I have written so far. I don’t quite know if I have presented enough evidence for you to realize what is screamingly obvious to me. It is just that I see Christianity *I guess I see all religions* as a quick fix to explain the pain and suffering in the world. I remember back in sophomore year in high school *seems like light years ago* that religion was defined as “an individual’s response to the mystery of life.” I cannot think of a greater “mystery” of life that the problem of evil. Why is there pain and suffering? I’m sure every human that has ever walked *crawled* the face of the earth has asked that question. No one has ever been able to answer it. Presto! Religion! This pain and suffering has some higher cause. I say bullshit! I can’t subscribe to some faith *maybe that’s my problem, I have no faith* that says to merely endure the pain and suffering! It goes against my grain, and I believe the grain of most of you. *I give in to sin, because you have to make this life liveable*.
Steve, I am counting on you to understand me. As many times as we’ve butted heads on certain issues, I think we respect each other. At least I respect you. You have the time advantage. You have seen things (El Salvador, etc.) that I haven’t had the chance and may never have the chance to see. Seeing the schrapnel-shredded body of some Salvadoran peasant *see them fighting in the street* must have made you ask the same questions that I am asking myself now. However, you seem to have Christianity on your side. You have some reason, some purpose, that you believe in. *Just somebody’s unholy hoax*. That I do not have. *My heart’s here upon my sleeve*. I wish that I did. It would probably make all of this much more bearable. *You have to make this life liveable.*
Have I made any sense? Probably not. This world really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I will not give up my question to find some meaning to all of the aspects of life. Even if I fail, I think my life *even without an afterlife* will have been worth the time spent living it. I still do not see how Christianity can be anyone’s answer. It seems to ask too much of a frail human race. I doubt that I have changed any of your minds, but please, for your sake, reexamine what you have. *There’s just one thing I can’t believe in. It’s you, dear God.*
Postscript 2008: And so begins my search for the answer to the inevitable question, “Daddy, what do you believe?”