I was a lonely child. The father I loved was a soldier who, through postings, was missing for perhaps half the first ten years of my life. When I was ten or so and he had returned to civilian life he walked out on us altogether. For the next four or five years circumstances and my mother combined to make my contact with him very limited, until he skipped the country to escape her and disappeared completely from my life. In the space of the next 40 years I would hear from him perhaps two or three times before news filtered through that he had died.
My mother told me she had ‘sent him away because he didn’t love me’, gifting me with the realization that my unlovable-ness in the eyes of the man I loved above all was the root cause of all that followed in terms of poverty and hardship. This thought she fostered in too many ways to describe.
She did not love me well, even to the end, though I cannot say she did not try.
In the loneliness of the bullied, shy, gawky, bespectacled childhood and adolescence the promise of ‘God’s Love’ was very important to me. Early on, inspired no little by the alleged Christ’s self-sacrifice, I took self-sacrifice as my ‘way to go’. I sought, as a child, to end my own life, believing it would effect a reconciliation. I failed and was censured for trying by people I trusted and who never knew nor sought to know my motives. I was kind, tolerant and generous, because that was what I was told God wanted, but also because I knew – as I still know – that it is the only valid way to live.
Time after time, however, ‘I knocked upon the door’ and was not answered. Time after time I tried to reach that state of ‘faith’ which I believed would end my loneliness, would end my endless nightmares, but would also empower me to do good in a world where I saw good was lacking.
The last time I tried to end my life I was about 18 years old and, like many others who have tried and like many who have succeeded, my main motive was that I seemed not to fit in the world and that my ill-fitted-ness was a major burden on others.
I passed that time, made a bad, young marriage, and determined that I would try to live a good life on the basis of what I had seen and learned. I resolved not to treat others as I had been treated, to make time to listen to those who were troubled, to love generously and avoid the mistakes I had seen made in my own family and others. God still did not come to me, though I never ceased to want Him in my life.
About a quarter of a century ago my then wife gave birth to a heroically handicapped baby, the greatest treasure with which I have ever been endowed and for whom I was the principal carer for the four and a half years of her struggling life. In caring for her, in meeting others caring for their own, and in losing her, I discovered the reality that Hell is truly a place on Earth. It is a Hell with which far too many people continue to be familiar.
Curiously, my daughter’s life and death brought about a temporary crisis in my mother’s religious beliefs but did not affect me. I had decided that if God existed He, She or It was not an intercessionary being, that if He, She or It existed it had nothing to do with the circumstances I was facing. They were to do with accident, to do with nature, to do with anything other than some great, invisible manipulator.
And it was at this time that two things happened, I guess. One was the realization that if this God was not of an intercessionary kind, He, She or It were effectively redundant. The other was the realisation that the only God imaginable to me was not a God that anybody else referred to, for only intercessionary Gods made up the tableaux of others’ beliefs.
Surrounded in my daughter’s lifetime and death-time by people grieving for what had happened to their children and who were grasping at straws for ‘reasons’, I heard too often the question “Why me? Why us? What did I/we do to deserve this?”
The price of the concept of ultimate justice, the warp and weft of Abrahamic religion, is the belief that everything has a reason, that people get their ‘just deserts’, that bad things are trials and tests designed somehow to improve us, to make us more worthy of a love we would never have asked for had we known it would come at such a price. And were it only those who suffered who considered the possibility that they were being judged it would be enough for me, but to have others, professed believers, claim that the deaths and mutilations of others, the hardships and poverties of others, demonstrated that they were being justly punished for unseen sins, appeared and appears to me an abomination.
I have lost many that I have loved, I have seen others undergo the same and I have experienced and seen the exquisite agonies of those concerned. The final nail was this: were I to lose my remaining child as the result of a vicious action by another, no matter how cruel or ugly the manner, I would have a hard time pressing for – if it were available – the death penalty for the perpetrator. I would have a hard time knowing that the perpetrator were deprived of his liberty for the entirety of his life unless I had some certainty that those in whose charge he was were endeavouring to reclaim him to humanity and were not merely abusing him. I COULD NOT – were it available to me – condemn that perpetrator to torture, and certainly not to perpetual torture.
I am merely a man. How can I, then, be more merciful than God without that God being less, in sum, than a man? Such is not a God that has any worth, any value. It is for human beings to seek to eliminate children’s nightmares, to eliminate wilful violence, disease, poverty and hardship. God has no part of it. I am still working on mine.
Free at last from superstition.