No doubt you know I don’t believe in you – but that’s OK, because, for all I know, you probably don’t believe in me either. Still, out of consideration for everybody else who may be reading this, I am obliged to respect you, not take your name in vain and even, to the extent possible under the circumstances, consider you holy.
So, let me first thank you for those things I am commonly supposed to be grateful to you for. I won’t attempt to list them, because most of us share the basic ones. But I do have a few special ones, such as my name – what luck to be born with one of the rare names which has so many good connotations! – also my intelligence (which I assume is a good thing) and my talent as a writer.
I suppose I should also be grateful for living in a very desirable part of the world, and in a relatively peaceful time – and for the relatively long, healthy life I’ve had, relatively free of terrible events – also for the mostly good people who have helped me on my way.
But now we come to the other side of the picture. And first of all, my biggest complaint is WHY? You have allowed us – at least up to now – to glimpse a vastness, both externally and internally, beyond our comprehension. We will die without understanding any of it. And, speaking of dying, this phenomenon called “life” is enough of a mystery in itself. And to me, one of its strangest and most horrific aspects is the peculiar system of life feeding on life – of living things eating each other in order to stay alive.
I once read a story of which I can remember nothing but the last line. A large man, apparently facing imminent death, thumps his own body, and says, “What a feast for the worms!” At one of my colleges they used to sing a song which began “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,” cheerfully mocking the process of decomposition. And of course, the most famous of college songs, going back to medieval times, and usually sung in the original Latin, is the one which begins “Gaudeamus Igitur, Juvenes dum sumus” (“Let us therefore rejoice, while we are young”) but ends with the mournful refrain, “Nos habebit Humus” (The Earth will have us”).
So thank you, God (I suppose) for allowing us, at least occasionally, to be so jolly about a truth so grim.
But my complaints don’t stop there. Why did you have to concoct a system in which not only do we all have to eat each other, and eventually reach a point at which we ourselves get eaten – but on the way, we generally suffer more and more losses, pain, and deterioration?
I can hear you saying, “Don’t forget about reproduction!” Yes, it’s true that, quite apart from the pleasures of sex, most people have children, and often grandchildren, which in itself is a form of rebirth and immortality. This forces me to get a little personal and point out that none of that applies to me. I will leave no descendants, not even any nieces or nephews – not that fecundity is any guarantee of happiness.
And then there are all the other gifts you have sprinkled upon us – any number of disgusting diseases, disorders, and defects of the body and mind – enough to fill six pages of Roget.
But wait! There’s more! With all of these misfortunes, one might expect that, having so much in common, would draw people together. But instead, what do we get? – War, Crime, Violence, Hatred, and a whole catalog of Deadly Sins – most of them involving people hurting each other (and in some, also hurting themselves).
And ironically, as it would seem, much of the conflict in the world arises from different conceptions, God, of YOU! – different ways to imagine you, obey you, communicate with you. And to think that you are responsible for all this!
I once (in my early twenties) wrote a poem called “The Atheist’s Prayer,” which was full of paradoxes, such as the very first lines:
“God, who does not exist,
Help me to deny thee
Lord of the lordless, give me faith to have no faith,
Give me the wisdom not to understand – and the power to doubt.”
I’m afraid that you, God, and my readers, won’t feel that I have come very far since then.