Monday, November 1, 2010

Devil Candy

His conviction fascinates me and yet I can hardly discern whether it is conviction or an extraordinary lack there of that makes him an atheist.

I don't know how or why I consistently find myself debating perfect strangers on a variety of topics, all of which i am vastly unequipped and uniquely unqualified to debate on. As I ride the dark Jerusalem-bound transport from Tel-Aviv, the ambiance is that of a foreign black and white film. Across from me sits the classic intellectual; wire-rimmed glasses, skeptical eyes, with the faintest hint of hunger in his laugh. Ten minutes in and we’ve already begun wrestling the tired debate about the existence of G-d; as if either of us understand the first thing about G-d.

The thing about being an atheist, I’ve always believed, was that you had to be logical. You had to be calculated, which meant you had to be cold and fantastically unfeeling. It was for those reasons this school of thought was forbidden to a person like me, given my track record of emotion.

Something about this guy tells me he too possesses few of those qualities. His questions are hot, his accusations passionate, laced with what seems to be the accumulation of years of pain and challenges. Tetris blocks of hurt and resentment that fell for some time but never quite fit together. Until one day his screen jammed and shut down. And he shut down too. Never played again.

He's smart, I can't deny him that, but as an atheist, he simply is not compelling. I get the feeling he thinks about G-d more often than I do.

But his questions are good. So good, it makes me wonder how many people he's bounced them off before me. How long has he had to manipulate his words so that we can dance in circles around the truth?

I tell him what I’ve learned. Stories of kings and rabbis and paintings so exquisite they couldn’t possibly be the result of accidental spills and random encounters. I tell him about this, about that, I rack my brain for anything that can prove to him that my faith isn’t futile. But nothing I can summon on such short notice is impressive or earth-shattering. Even I am not convinced.

He smiles at first, like he’s going to give in, but then he shakes his head. “Your stories are nice”, he tells me, “but they’re just fables."

He’s quiet for a while, now it's just us and the silence I created. And it gives me time to consider the fact that I can’t properly validate my own beliefs. Loathe as I am to admit, I can't help but wonder if one day my default faith might exhaust. It’s an odd feeling to know you believe in something so urgently and yet you can't explain it, you can't justify its presence or reason with its force.

The silence lasts for several moments before he moves in for the kill. As the words form on his lips my heart sinks deeper into my chest. It dawns slowly, growing voices and faces with each vowel, each syllable confirms my deepest fear.

Of course I believe in G-d- I was never given the option not to. I was told since before I could talk that there was a G-d, as my mother led my right hand to cover my eyes. I was taught in the first grade that in the beginning He created the heavens and the earth. It ran on loop in my head like a chant. I was convinced in elementary school that He's suspended in the air and brainwashed all through high school to know that I could never understand His perfect existence. How convenient... how brilliantly executed, how cunning the efforts to keep me from questioning, from uncovering the truth.

He's right, isn't he?

I was forced into this faith, was I not? I can't remember having been given a choice...Now my heart is beating outside my chest... What if he's right?

"Tell me I'm wrong," he dares me. But I can't; I'm mute with doubt. I can't think of a single response to the proud smile that begins in his eyes and spreads like an avalanche over his features.

"Truth is," I whisper, on the cusp of surrender. And really whatever comes out of my mouth next could narrate the rest of my life.

"I don’t know why I believe...I just do."

As the words tumble from my mouth, I’m not sure whether I’m talking to him or myself.

"You're right. I was taught that there is a G-d. I was taught for years to understand His existence. I was taught to appreciate an existence I could never understand...But never, in all those years was I taught to believe."

No longer do I care to sound trite, or cult-ish, because I may very well be both, and chances are I'm neither.

"Belief can't be taught. And it can't be learned. And the crazy thing is, once you have it you can't unlearn it either."

I have no more points to prove. When I forsake my stupid-smart philosophies and pretentious theories, when I'm not so arrogant as to believe I can understand, my mind shuts down and submits to an inexplicable power. To simple, un-glamourous, honest-to-god belief. Something I cannot nor do I wish to understand.

Is it exhausted? Maybe. Is it cliche? Probably. But it doesn’t stop it from being completely, ridiculously, obnoxiously true.

"Hey it's okay," I tell him, "if you believe." I attempt a wink, which turns out to be more of a face twitch "...I promise I wont tell."