Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I Believe In God

There are many, many people who believe in a God or Gods without ever having had what could be termed a divine experience. I suspect there are more than a few atheists who have had such an experience only to reject it--which is, of course, their right. It's very easy to say I do not understand this and extremely difficult, if one is being honest, to suggest this is beyond understanding.

I know all this.

And yet...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I just about drowned in a septic tank when I was a teenager. I've got a million stories, but that one's guaranteed to elicit an interesting reaction...particularly the way I tell it. I've got it into an almost-comedy routine. I always conclude with "All in all, a shitty way to go", and people laugh, and from that moment on I'm the guy who almost drowned in dogshit. It's worth it, because milking that story for laughs kills most of the terror in it.

But the fact remains that I came very close to death that summer day. Probably a lot closer than even I realize. The fumes alone would have proved lethal were I in that hole much longer. That I could well have died and didn't isn't why I believe in God. I believe in God because I can't explain why I didn't die. More: that I don't think it can be explained without invoking something supernatural, some Higher Power which passeth understanding.

In all the scores, perhaps hundreds of times I've told the story, I've only rarely mentioned the pipe. The completely impossible pipe. You'll only hear about the pipe if I really trust you. I'll usually double back to that point in the story after I've finished the tale and gauged your response. I do this because quite frankly, while I have no problem being the guy who almost drowned in dogshit, I have no least urge to be the loony guy who believes in invisible pipes. Also, I know I appear to be a pretty unreliable narrator, given that I'm right in the middle of a traumatic experience.

And yet...

First, I'd like to dispense with that 'unreliable narrator' dogshit. I've read many an account of near-death experiences, and almost all of them mention a heightened perception, also a slowing of time. Both these things I remember vividly. It seemed as if I was in that tank for an eternity, if not two. Certainly more than enough time to make note of my surroundings, which did NOT include a pipe floating at just the correct depth to allow my head to break the surface of what, I learned later, was a nine-foot-deep septic tank. I tell you now that pipe wasn't there. It couldn't have been there, else I would have bounced off it on the way down, or while I was thrashing around in the beef stew trying to figure out which way was up. (It seems obvious in retrospect, but you can't know how obvious until you experience it: shit is dark. REALLY dark.)
There is simply no way that pipe could have existed. There's no reason for a pipe to traverse a septic tank, and certainly no way this wholly imaginary pipe could have taken even my hundred and twenty pounds of weight.

And so it didn't exist...until it did. Until I began to tire of treading the heavy sludge. My legs sank, and I started to sink with them, and then my feet were resting on a good thick pipe at least six inches in diameter. Wide enough for me to walk it without the least bit of hesitation, and strong enough to let me do it. I walked from side to side in that tank, clutching the extremely slippery walls, still screaming for help and beginning to despair it would ever come. I could hear the dogs on either side going crazy. I could see the sky, four feet and a million miles away. Then I saw Bernie's hand reaching down and I grabbed it and was hauled to safety.

I can't explain it. I don't think it can be explained.

So I was telling this tale today for the eleventy-dozenth time...and for the very first time I realized I'd always skipped right over the other flatly impossible thing that nevertheless happened.
Rewind the tape: fzzzzurble bidle wisssht toblervidle schtetl zzzurp I exerted more effort. I was a scrawny kid, but I had some strength in me: I managed to get under the plate and began to lift it up. It was freakin' heavy. I took a step forward to get some leverage and was suddenly falling.
Now fast forward to the denouement: whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrzzht
I had been incredibly lucky: the iron plate had not fallen back over my hole...I must have given it just enough of a shove as I was going down.

Yeah, incredibly lucky. Impossibly lucky, more like. Consider the physics of this: heavy iron plate, scrawny kid lifting it from the ground to the vertical. Kid takes a step forward to get more leverage, which makes sense...except kid steps squarely into the black hole that plate had been covering.

If I had that iron plate vertical or very near to it, sure: then I could perhaps have given it enough of a shove to get it the hell away. But I didn't. I barely had one end at my waist, which is the whole reason I stepped forward, not to mention the reason I stepped forward without being able to see what I was stepping into.

Something saved me at least twice that day. An avowed atheist can choose to call that thing "shit luck", so to speak, and that's fine. Me, I call it God.


Rocketstar said...

Thanks for that story, I think you wrote that before we met.

You know me, I have to take the skeptical side on this one ;o)

“I suspect there are more than a few atheists who have had such an experience only to reject it--which is, of course, their right.”
-- I would be VERY surprised if an atheist had a true divine experience that could beyond a shadow of a doubt prove that God existed as most atheists use evidence to belive what they believe. If God came down from the heavens and personally proved himself to me, why would I not believe in God? I would welcome it as I have many questions for this ‘divinr’ being.

“That I could well have died and didn't isn't why I believe in God. I believe in God because I can't explain why I didn't die.”
-- But you didn’t die because he pulled you out of there, the cover didn’t fall onto your head knocking you unconscious and the fumes were not enough to kill you, or am I missing the reason you should have died? I have been in a few car accidents, none that were horrific but I could have certainly been injured or even possibly killed but I wasn’t. The event just didn’t unfold like that. I don’t know if I follow the ‘pipe’ piece of the story.

“I can't explain it. I don't think it can be explained.”
-- We can’t explain how gravity works but that doesn’t mean there is some divine power out there making it work. Unexplainable <>= divine intervention.

“Consider the physics of this: heavy iron plate, scrawny kid lifting it from the ground to the vertical.”
-- Is it impossible that this could not be recreated just as it happened? I would bet it could but who knows and I wasn’t there.

If everyone’s God was like yours Ken (just a basic higher power, creator of the universe and everything in it with no other detailed plan or rules to live by [correct me if I misstated that]) I may not even be an atheist (the conversion may have never happened) if that is what humans believed God was. The problem with personal experience is that it is just that, a personal experience. It was an event that was recorded in your brain while your brain was hopped up on adrenaline and in survival mode. The memory function in our brains is far from perfect and actually very flawed. Remembering exactly what happened and how it happened is not what our brain does well at all, just ask the many crime suspects that have been falsely improsioned or the many fishing stories men tell. Our brains do not do very well at all with remembering details, regardless of time since event has past.

I’m glad you didn’t drown in a hole full of dog excrement; that would be a shitty way to die (as you pointed out).

Rocketstar said...

email follow up

Ken Breadner said...

No worries, man. I know my memory might be flawed (though as I said, every second of that little funfair seemed like forever and the whole thing indelibly etched itself on my brain. I'll still call it God, which for me is just a shorthand way of stating everything you just stated (creator of the universe and everything in it with no detailed plan (or any plan) on 'how to live', etc.
I really should pick another word, for the very reason you ALSO stated, which is that most people have a set of assumptions about God and they don't match mine in any but the most basic way.
But what is the thing I call 'God'? Is it actually a Thing? It's certainly not something you can point to and say 'That's God'. Is it the animating force of the universe? Well, sure, but does that make it a *personal* God?
And see, that was going to be my NEXT post: The Kind of God I Believe In. So thanks for the lead-in ;-)