I met for coffee yesterday with a new friend, Samuel. He had responded with interest to a note I put out on a local online community network, hoping to put together a small, non-sectarian circle of men with a common interest in exploring and enriching the experience of our lives.
Samuel, it turned out, is the pastor of a new, small Christian congregation here in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, so it's hardly surprising that our conversation turned to God. And hardly surprising that I was soon aware of my own familiar reaction to any mention of God; it's what I can best describe as an inner cringe, an immediate, emotional distancing, an almost scornful denial.
I recognize it in part as an intellectual skepticism. It's that old argument: if God is this all-powerful, all-loving, all-merciful being, how can He stand by and allow us humans to treat each other with such destructive hatred, and to make such an un-godly mess of the world He supposedly created? The "free will" answer could never quite hack it with me. My rationally-trained mind also has difficulty with belief in anything other than what can been seen with my own eyes or proved by empirical method.
But this fails to explain the emotional charge that arises with the mention of God, or Jesus, or the Christian religion. Indeed, of any religion that requires that "leap of faith" I've never been able to make. Knowing something about childhood wounds, I look back to my own childhood, to the longing I'm sure I must have had for some physical manifestation of the love and approval of my father, that distant figure who stood at the altar in his priestly robes or preached from the pulpit, a God-figure personified... Perhaps the "explanation" lies here.
I told Samuel something of the story of my name, how I was given it by my father because I was born on the day of the (Anglican) Feast of St. Peter's Chains, and how I had learned much later in life that I had carried those chains around with me for more years than I could count; and how deeply I associate with that name and the biblical Peter. I have thought a great deal about two aspects of Peter, Peter the Rock, and what I have always thought of as his counterpart, Peter the Betrayer. But Samuel pointed out, quite correctly, that Peter was not the Betrayer--that was Judas--but the Denier. "Before the cock crows twice," said Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, "thou shallt deny me thrice."
And so it was. And so it still is. Peter the Denier. Of God. Of Jesus. If I think about it at all, I'm conscious of that spontaneous denial whenever those names come up. (Funny, I have no trouble at all with the Buddha!) Perhaps therein lies the charge. This needs a good deal more reflection...