When I was younger, I was what my wife refers to as “a searcher” - one who is looking for a spiritual meaning of life. I was looking for answers to how I fitted into the universe and in what shape or form a god, if s/he existed, might take. This largely grew out of an inability to grasp the idea that I could actually cease to exist.
I could imagine my body changing, I could even imagine my body not existing, but I could not imagine that core bit that I call “me” as not existing. The knock on effect of this was that I became intensely interested in what happened after death: if my body could cease to exist, but not my self or soul, for want of a better word, then it must go somewhere. Did it linger indefinitely with the body? Was it freed to roam as a ghost? Did it go on to another realm like heaven (or hell)? Was it reincarnated into another body? Was I God, limited by human existence until I died and returned to my true state? How could I possibly know?
There were plenty of religions out there, most telling me that theirs was the one true path. And when I asked how I was to know that theirs was right and the others were wrong, it usually ended in either “because our holy book/ prophet says so” or “you must have faith”. Never one for trusting authority, neither of these answers appealed.
So I read widely, questioned frequently and debated incessantly with anyone willing to engage. I returned to education and spent 4 years gaining a philosophy degree, at the end of which I wouldn’t necessarily say I was closer to any conclusions, but I did have a far better idea of how to argue for or against absolutely anything.
When my daughter, Meg, was born with Downs Syndrome nearly 8 years ago, I would bite my tongue when people would say things like “God gives special children to special parents”. I’d know that they were trying to put a positive spin on things, and so would just nod and smile. These days I’m a lot less tolerant and would be far more tempted to say “well if that’s so, then why does He give them to so many people who abort them before they have a chance to live?” (It’s estimated that somewhere between 80% and 90% of pregnancies of children with DS are terminated in our so-called “civilised” Western world).
Now Meg was born with a hole in her heart. The first few months of her life were a struggle as we fought hard to feed her (she would frequently take over one and a half hours to feed, and would need to be fed every three hours, and would throw up about every third bottle) and give her the strength to live. At 5 months old she had to have open-heart surgery and we had to face the very real possibility that our little girl could die.
At this point, more than any other in my life, I called out for some kind of meaning, some kind of support, some kind of sign or feeling that we were not on our own with this. But what I got back was nothing, nothing at all. There was no sense that there was a larger plan, that there was someone, or something looking out for us, that the universe cared in any way shape or form. All I felt was an overpowering sense of empty randomness. Meg might live; she might not. If she did then we’d be lucky, and if she didn’t then we’d be unlucky. It was as simple and straightforward as that. There was no God; there was no Universal Force at work. This was the point that I stopped searching; this was the point I lost all interest in religion.
Now as it turned out, Meg survived and thrived, and she fills our lives with joy. But we were lucky, that’s all. I cannot find it in my heart to believe anyone who would tell me otherwise. Maybe your god speaks to you, and I’m truly pleased for you if that is so, but there is nothing out there speaking to me.