Free Will


Vince has written about how he doesn’t believe in any god. I used to. For 50 years I never doubted God’s existence; I guess that’s called faith.

I was a seeker. I didn’t assume that, because I was born into a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools, and lived in a Catholic neighborhood, I would always be Catholic.

I spent my teens investigating other faiths and converted to one when I was 18. I’m not trying to be coy by not naming it. Once Vince is out it’ll be no big deal. I belonged to a congregation, went to services every week, and put Vince through religious school, much to his displeasure. I wasn’t a happy clappy bible banger. My congregation is as liberal as they get. Yes, I’m still a member, even though I don’t believe in a god.

Since my dad had died young, I had no problem believing in an invisible father figure who would always be there for me.

Problem was, He wasn’t there for me. For 50 years, I prayed. I tried the begging, pleading prayers and the grateful, worshipping ones. I tried shutting up and listening, aka meditating. But I never heard anything. I never got any answers and never felt comforted. People said, “you have to be patient,” and “maybe God’s answer is ‘no’.” I was well aware of how we contort our logic to make sense of God. For instance, how athletes thank God when they win but blame themselves when they lose.

Then one day, when I was 50, my belief in God just went poof! and disappeared. It was like a light switch had been flipped off. What a relief! I no longer had to try to shake answers or love out of a being I couldn’t see or hear. I was free to pursue or not pursue whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to wait around for a sign from God. If it didn’t work out, I could analyze what went wrong, figure out my part, if any, and do it different next time.

Soon after my faith evaporated, I read the old classic novel Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham, which is about an abusive relationship. This passage jumped out at me and summarized how I felt: “He was responsible only to himself for the things he did. Freedom! He was his own master at last. From old habit, unconsciously he thanked god he no longer believed in him.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say everything is due to my effort, like in the old Rush song, Free Will. It’s easy to be smug when you’re a millionaire rock star. The fact is, we live in a world with constraints like race, class, intellectual and physical abilities, bad luck, good luck, etc.

Another great mind, former professional wrestler, Navy Seal, Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, got into hot water for saying “Religion is a crutch for weak minded people.” I wasn’t weak minded all those years. I’m a very intelligent person. I just think I needed a father figure and I had been steeped in the Catholic life up until age 18, where questioning God’s existence just wasn’t done.

This new development did throw a wrench in the works for me in my Alanon meetings. Alanon is for families and friends of alcoholics and addicts. I attended weekly meetings and “worked the program”, as they say. Alanon, like AA and the other 12-step groups, uses the term higher power interchangeably with god—and everything depends on believing in one. In my group, people only used the word God, and spoke of God, personally, like he was kindly uncle. I kept going for a year but it finally bugged me so much that I quit.

I’ve written in previous posts about believing that human connections are the key to spiritual growth and inner peace and a feeling of belonging and all that jazz. Vince is counting on his sober friends to keep him sober, and I think he’s on the right track.

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