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GOD ALONE knows when last I prayed. I want to believe that the last time I did it even half-seriously– or quarter-seriously, or one-eighth seriously, or one-sixteenth – was at university, 30 years ago, when, every May or June, after liming on Paradise Beach for the preceding two-and-a-half terms, I would beseech the Almighty to let there be four questions on each paper based on the two measly topics I could manage to revise in the two days before each exam. (God unfailingly prevented me from failing, indeed, allowed me to graduate with honours.)
It’s actually far easier for me to remember times in the last half-century when I didn’t pray: 14 years ago, e.g., when my two-year-old son almost went into hypovolaemic shock on an emergency-room gurney, it seemed far more important to keep a clear head and do what I could to assist the doctors scrambling to save him. He lived, but that was thanks be, not to God, but to Dr Dwarika.
I remember, too, not praying 23 years ago, the weekend before Easter 1993, when my father died in the ICU. And, as recently as December 2014, when I thought I might be having a heart attack, it never occurred to me that I might pray. If my daughter is late returning home on a stormy night, I may worry until I sweat beads but I have no rosary beads; I get more comfort from a WhatsApp than a novena. Believers like to say there are no atheists in foxholes but here’s one agnostic who’s bumped through several huge mortal potholes without God ever being thrown into the picture.
But there was a time when I did pray; and did believe it made a difference; and that difference was always good (or at least always beneficial, if only because it saved me from agonizing for a little while). There was a time when, if someone asked me if I believed there was a God, I would reply, “I don’t believe: I KNOW!” Like millions of others, I’d say I’d felt “His” intervention far too powerfully to deny. I remember that kind of God as a great comfort during the periods of uncertainty in my life, which began shortly after my conception and have continued until this sentence.
I miss Him sometimes.
Like the martyrs of the Shaitanic State (the holiest men on the planet), like Pope Francis (who really seems like he could be a great guy if only he weren’t religious), like very many very intelligent people I know, my life was much simpler – and far, far easier – when I had God. No matter what happened to me, I could pass it on to God, and He would absorb and diffuse it all, rendering it non-threatening to me, like some kind of supernatural ground-wire.
Though I had begun doubting God when I was six years old, and a nun had told me sternly that my kitten, which had died that morning, would not go to Heaven, I did not finish God off properly until, probably, Hugh Wooding Law School, when He proved to be a lot less helpful with what were far more demanding final exams (if only because the standard of teaching was so much lower than at Cave Hill).
And when, in my mid-20s, I began to see the limitations of my own Earthly father it became impossible to miss the far greater failings of my supposedly Heavenly one: no good God could do the things that the one I was raised on does; indeed, if He really can’t stand lesbians and/or shrimp, I would not want to spend a long weekend with Him, far less all eternity. (I still have a soft spot for the Catholic version of God, all its mysticism and incense, and that VIP saint section in Heaven, but that’s more like my fondness for KC & the Sunshine Band’s, “That’s the Way (Uh-huh, Uh-huh) I Like It!” I don’t actually delude myself that it’s good.)
Without God, I have had to handle all of life’s challenges on my own, or with only such help as can be had from my family and friends, many of whom, like me, have more or less dismissed God, as a being and a notion.
And, like me, they can be terribly frail. And unsure. And, sometimes, as bewildered and afraid of dying as they might be, at other times, confident and full of life. (The real point of God: to obscure, with holy smoke and divine mirrors, the certainty and finality of death.)
In a real crisis, when the axe of ill health or bad luck hangs over my head, my family and friends are all but completely helpless. They have no holy scriptures to read, no mysterious sacraments to bestow, no divine guidance to channel. They have no firetrucking answers at all. They have only shoulders to lean on or arms to be held in. All they can say is the bitter truth: “It’s hard. It’ll pass. Hold on. I’m here.”
It is very, very difficult to face very, very many things – arrhythmia, arrest, abandonment – and that’s just in “A”– without God.
But the truth is you don’t need Him – or drugs, or single malt scotch, even Caol Ila – if you’ve made enough love in the relationships you’ve nurtured in your times of strength to sustain you through the darkness and into the light. I miss God. I do.
But I love humankind.
At least the good-looking ones.
And I far prefer to live with, and love, imperfect humans than live and die – and squander my love upon – a God who must be worshipped, even when all He can do for you is throw dust in your face.
BC Pires has an almighty target on his back. Read more of his writing at www.BCPires.com. Happy Bir’day, James