For many years doubt had chipped away at my religious beliefs, but 2007 was the year that my edifice of faith finally begun to collapse. It is also the year that will unfortunately long be remembered for a triple tragedy in Barbados. Three horrific accidents occurred between July and August of that year. The first one was the 'Crop Over Party Monarch' bus crash at Joe's River where a former classmate of mine was killed, there was another accident in St. Peter about a week later that took the life of a work colleague's family member and then there was the cave-in at Britton’s Hill where an entire family died. At such times inevitably people ask God why. I was no different.
I remember a story in the front page of the local newspaper where the mother of one of the cave-in victims (when his fate was unknown), spoke of how she had a strong faith that, in spite of what everyone was saying, her son was alive, as a mother she had a special connection . Her trust in God was strong, she had no doubts. Agonisingly it was not to be , her son’s body was found days later. Something interesting struck me, had that son been found alive, the media would have run with that story from a few days previous like a dog with a juicy bone. Preachers all over would have been proclaiming from the pulpit that this story demonstrated the power of faith, wondering how there could be possibly any doubters in God's power after this. The story would have been used to convert persons for years to come all over the Caribbean maybe even the wider world. But, the story didn’t have a happy ending and so that front page article was quickly forgotten. No one probably remembered that front page even the week after. Well, if a living son would have been a tick in the God box shouldn’t a dead son be an X against him?
However,it was during the telethon to raise funds for the families of the victims a few nights later that the light finally came on for me. I remember the host lamenting that it was so hard to understand why tragedies like these happen. I just looked at the television and casually remarked, “It’s only hard to understand if you assume there is a God.” I gasped as I realized what I said. But it was true , if there is no God, tragedies are more than understandable, indeed they should be expected to happen, and happen in a random and chaotic way with no rhyme or reason. That’s what we had with the tragedies before us. As far as my faith journey went, that was the beginning of the end. That off the cuff statement in front of the tv resonated in my head like a explosion for days after. Sure, I was strictly speaking for a long time an agnostic . I knew that it was not a certainty that God existed but that was the first moment that I truly stopped assuming God. I decided that as a good scientist, the best way to deal with this eye opening moment was to do a thought experiment. For one week I would go about my business assuming God did not exist, I would look at the world through a non believer’s eyes and see what I found. I simply would reset to God mode the week following. To this day, I never switched back.
That was an amazing week . The first thing that struck me was the number of times even in one day I was exposed either explicitly or implicitly to something that made the God assumption. Many of these things I had never noticed before. Even on my way to work , I saw , 'God Bless Fat Child', 'My Boss is a Jewish carpenter', 'No Jesus, No peace, know Jesus, know peace.' On the radio was the daily 'Road Runner' show with people being wished God’s blessings on their birthday, and testimonies on how God had let them see another year. I realized there was a co worker that always told me she was blessed. That day it just hit me completely differently. In the office I suddenly realized that there were members of staff with screen savers that had bible verses. There were at least a few that had bibles on their office desks. There were posters and flyers on cubicles and even the lunch room, speaking of the importance of knowing God and following God’s word. I turned on my computer and there were three e mails telling me how I was loved by Jesus and should be grateful for his blessings, which I should share with at least 10 others. All this I saw and heard and it was not yet 10:00 am. As I pondered these things in my heart the maid passed and said gently, “ God bless you son.” And so ended the first day. I had looked at the world and I was not so sure that it was good.
Later in the week I received a 'prayer freshener' , an air freshener with the Lord’s Prayer on it but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it up in my car. The radio call-ins were interspersed by people reading the bible to show what God’s word had to say about gay marriage, disciplining children or the war in Iraq. I was not listening to the gospel station but I heard 'You Raise Me Up', 'Good Bye World' and 'His Eye is on the Sparrow.'Strangely,I suddenly noticed people wearing crosses of all types. How on earth did I miss these things before. The point was clear. These things are all part and parcel of the tapestry of Barbados , so much a part of it you don’t even see them. Of course I haven’t even mentioned the churches of all shapes sizes and denominations that dot the landscape.
I went in to a store and I saw a mission statement posted which read; “We,accepting God’s help, will be courteous and polite to customers and provide the best possible shopping experience.” I was so tempted to ask the store owner how he would determine if his employees were accepting God’s help. Could refusing help from God affect ones promotion prospects? On top of all this I reflected on the fact that our anthem said that “the Lord has been the peoples’ guide for past 300 years.” Now I realized that I was not sure what that really meant, even though I had sung it many times, taking pride in being one of the few Barbadians that knows both verses of the anthem by heart. By the end of the week my mind was just overloaded with these sights, sounds and images. But for all these things the evidence actually presented to me for this God, that was clearly super evident to others, was nil. It just blew my mind away. All I could say by the end of the week was,“ Thank God it’s Friday!”
Soon after I realized that for a time I had to listen to the gospel station in order to hear cricket coverage. It suddenly seemed like an imposition. Why should a cricket fan be forced to listen to fundamentalist rantings during rain delays or drink breaks ? I think it was part strategy for proseltysing to a new captive market on that station and one evening I actually heard one of the presenters imply as much. Once again, before this period in my life I would never have given this even a second thought.
At this time I remember thinking that nothing was wrong with promoting a belief in God, but that is not what I saw. The messages didn't contain the word 'believe'. It was not God probably, might or maybe. It was always 'GOD IS'. He has done this , he wants us to do that and he’s upset if we don't do the third. But we don’t know for sure that 'God is.' Whether you are a believer or not you have to accept that God is not a certainty and when you make the statement 'God is....' you are making a statement of fact. The existence of God is not a fact.
During that week I asked myself so many times , how people could be so sure. Was I missing something? Before God can do anything he has to exist first. You have to at least have reasonable evidence, and if the evidence was so clear why didn’t anybody present it? But truth is, it was never ever asked for, everybody just rode the God assumption. To me it was like convicting someone of murder without evidence there had even been a death.