Shrugging Off God
I was born into a family that was nominally Jewish, but
religion was never a big feature of our lives.
My mother dutifully lit the Sabbath candles
evening, but we switched the electric lights on and off throughout the
Rest as freely as we did on every other day of the week.
We didn’t mix milk and meat, but it was okay
to eat bacon--so long as my grandmother didn’t know.
On the High Holy Days, my father and brother
went to the synagogue. I just took the
day off from school and played with my friends.
Yet despite this lackadaisical attitude
observances, my parents believed in God their whole lives.
I began to harbour doubts at a fairly early
age, perhaps seven
or eight. My brother, who is four years
my senior, came home one day quite upset.
“My friend Mark says there is no God,” he announced.
“That’s what his family believes,” my mother
replied. “We believe there is a God.” So
that was the
official word in our household. But
still, it started me thinking. Why did
family not believe in God? Could there
be any truth to this rumour?
After all, as Jewish kids, we had
been taught that there is
no Santa Claus, while all around us, gentile kids believed in him. They seemed to do it because other people told
them to, then they stopped because other people told them to. Could it not be the same for God? There were
other parallels too. People asked both
God and Santa for stuff, but only occasionally did either one deliver. Santa’s record was actually better than God’s.
And another thing: nobody ever seemed to see the real Santa, and nobody
seemed to see God.
I reserved judgment and
ignored the issue for several
years. Then when I was about 15, a
woman who had adopted elements of various eastern religions came and
my high school. She said if we wanted to
communicate with God, we should close our eyelids and turn our eyes
gaze at a phantom “third eye” located somewhere around the middle of
foreheads. If we cleared our minds and
repeated a mantra, we could sense the presence of God.
Individuals who were receptive often found
that God would then talk to them. She claimed that when St. Paul was struck by a flash of blinding light
on the road to Damascus,
actually happened was that his third eye had suddenly opened, and he
acquainted with God. We could, too, if
The woman seemed genuinely
to believe what she was saying,
so in a spirit of scientific inquiry, I decided to give it a try. Lo
behold, something miraculous happened.
As I sat quietly with my eyes closed and upturned,
repeating my mantra,
a sensation of peace came over me such as I had never known before. God
talk to me, but I was excited nevertheless. Something had definitely
different inside my head.
I repeated the exercise on
several occasions, each time
asking God to give me some sort of sign that he was listening. He never did. For
the first few times, the feeling of peace
returned each time I followed the instructions. But eventually I had to
honest with myself. There was never a peep out of God. Not
a sigh, not a whisper. Nothing.
Disappointed, frustrated and bored, I stopped trying.
The evidence for God was
looking pretty scanty indeed, when
I heard about a book called The Passover
Plot by Hugh J. Schonfield. His
thesis was that an historical Jesus had indeed existed, but that his
resurrection was a meticulously-planned fraud designed to convince his
of his divinity. I devoured the book
with keen interest. I don’t recall whether Schonfield was an atheist or
not. It didn’t matter.
Added to my earlier doubts, his book was the
second-last step on my road to atheism.
The final step came about
two years later, at age 17, when I
read Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.
Rand was a committed atheist--an
atheist--a proud atheist. Here was someone willing to stand up and
shout what I
had hitherto been almost afraid to hint at. What’s more, she had
better to offer: a moral code based on
reason. Human beings could understand
what was right and what was wrong, she said, by working it out
their minds, instead of relying on hand-me-down instructions from some
This was all I needed. I
was hooked. The last scales fell
from my eyes, and my atheism was confirmed.
I now know, incidentally,
what caused that feeling of peace
I got when I tried to communicate with God by looking up at my “third
eye”. Researchers studying the phenomenon
meditation have learned that turning the closed eyes upward is one of
reliable ways of slowing the brain down from its normal alert pattern
brain waves to a lower-frequency, relaxed pattern called alpha waves. What the visiting Christian lady had been
teaching my high school class was one method of achieving the relaxed
state that author Herbert Benson writes about in his book The
sensing the presence of God, it may well be that science
will some day explain this in neurological terms too. Dr.
Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at
Laurentian University, has found that by stimulating the temporal lobes
brain with a magnetic field using his “God helmet”, he can make many
feel the sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room".
Some of us may just have temporal lobes that
are more easily stimulated by nature’s random electromagnetic fields