I have been trying to stuff some theology into my head, on the theory that if other genius kids think it's interesting there's probably something worthwhile there. If you're doing Christian theology, logically you ought to start with the Bible -- or at least a Bible -- so I did.

I seem to recall trying this about fifteen years ago or so, and it didn't work that time, either. It turns out that if you have no emotional or spiritual investment in the thing, the Bible is a surprisingly boring book. One wonders if the Catholic Church resisted the idea of letting the faithful read the Scriptures themselves for so long because they didn't want to field questions about why the Almighty couldn't get a better editor.

During one particularly shitty week, I even tried to read St. Thomas Aquinas' More's Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulations. I figured that, even if the religion didn't technically apply to me, it would at least be a book full of someone's attempts to be reassuring.

None of it is really sticking. The problem I keep running into is not that I don't believe in God. I'm perfectly willing to postulate that as an axiom. I've read so much Gödel and Cantor and Hofstadter that at this point, I'd almost be disappointed if a complex logical system started with a rational concrete thing you could take a picture of and drop on your foot. If I can entertain myself trying to figure out the timeline of the Sherlock Holmes stories from internal evidence alone, I can entertain myself by trying to figure out the implications of a universe run by YHWH.

The thing that I find most difficult to get a grip on is that literally all of the Christian theology I have tried to smash into my head assumes that every human being, deep down, longs to be judged as worthwhile by an authority figure. That's the comfort aspect of the Abrahamic religions: There is something out there that outranks you, me, and everyone all put together; it can tell you that yes, you are a good person;  and it has the final word. No matter what any human says, if God says you're okay, you get to feel validated as a person.

I do understand how someone could feel that way. If that's how you think, then the existence of religion makes an awful lot of sense. I don't, though. Maybe I once did, when I was very very small, but I don't have any memories of a time when I didn't fundamentally just want authority figures to leave me alone. I learned very early on that the adults around me decided they knew what was going on completely independent of anything I said -- or the truth, for that matter -- and that my life was far calmer if I could just fly under the radar as much as possible. Being the darling smart kid of the school was nerve-wracking in many respects. It's not that I couldn't do all the fantastic things they wanted me to do, but why do they keep talking to me? What on Earth do they want? And what will they do if one day they run into a thing I can't do?

There is a lot to be said for the conception of God as an authority figure whose love is unconditional, but it's been my experience that a lot of people who give lip service to this idea are not-so-secretly convinced that God is also a mean motherfucker and likes to punish people with contagious diseases and weather-based disasters. I think the slant on that one is that God punishes the children He loves to teach them to be better, but I suspect that this is also the logic behind giving your kids a hiding when they backtalk, which is also not a paradigm I ever wanted to be part of.


  1. You may want to try the writings of Dame Julian of Norwich. It is less emphasis upon the judgmental aspect and more upon the emotional experience.

    1. That may help. BPL has a few of her writings, and a biography or two. Selections put on hold for pickup at Copley. Thank you!


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