Could I Learn to Believe in God?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe in God — God with the big “G.” The monotheistic God who is omnipotent and omniscient. The Creator of all things — the Earth, and all of us beings. In my mind, that God does not exist, but I would love for that to change.
How do you learn to believe in God? I can tell you I have found no class powerful enough to alter my perspective. I have found no teacher to teach me that God exists — they tell me, but they don’t teach me, because I still don’t believe.
You can tell me that God exists, but nothing inside of me will change.
Both of my biological parents are Jewish, so there was a possibility at one point that I could have believed in God. It was my maternal grandfather’s dying wish that I attend Hebrew School and be Bat Mitzvahed. That is, he wanted me to have faith and be a part of the Jewish community.
I attended Hebrew school for a few years and hated it. Around the same time, I was diagnosed as dyslexic. I could barely read and write in English, a language I knew and spoke regularly, and yet I was also struggling to learn a second language in Hebrew School.
What I actually learned in Hebrew School was shame, embarrassment, and anxiety.
When my abusive biological father nearly kidnapped me from Hebrew School, that was the last straw. My mother finally allowed me to stop attending. I know she was at least somewhat disappointed, but I was nothing but relieved.
I wasn’t even 10 years old. I was in elementary school. I was just a child, and I had experienced enough trauma. Hebrew school just wasn’t that important.
I don’t remember much about what I was taught about God in Hebrew School. I only remember that it was assumed that God exists. I don’t recall if any teacher went into reasoning or proof. It’s unlikely that they did since I was so young.
But, I remember even then wondering why everyone believed, and no one questioned, the existence of God.
The questioning — as I later found out I could call “agnosticism,” never stopped, and only became more of a permanent force in my life. I took to reading about religion and philosophy in high school. Religion and the question of the existence of God became the focus of my academic interests.
In college, I was the first to declare my major in Religion. I studied mostly Eastern philosophy and religions. Buddhism and Hinduism offer a completely different paradigm with regard to the divine. Polytheism, pantheism, and “spirituality” gave me options.
I studied and wrote an impressive thesis. I graduated with honors, and continued on to get my master’s degree. I applied to master’s degree programs thinking that I wanted to teach others about religion, despite the fact that nothing in my mind, or in my soul, was settled.
It is unsettling how divergent the study of religion can be from personal practice and beliefs. So often the study of religion keeps itself clinically clean and away from actual practice — what people really do and believe.
I was sure to steer clear of personal practice, and took an interest in topics like “mysticism” and “the philosophy of religion.” If I kept understanding, reasoning, and regurgitating what I learned, I would keep doing well in school. If I kept my personal inner-conflicts a safe distance away from my studies, I wouldn’t have to come to terms with my own beliefs.
But, at some point during my master’s degree program, likely when I was alone in the privacy of my apartment, I asked myself the following questions:
How could I become a Professor and teach about religion when I had no faith of my own? How could I teach others about something I had no experience believing myself?
I was passionate and fascinated, but I was not actually religious. Is that enough to be able to teach others about religion? Is that not cultural appropriation, at least in some sense?
I still did not believe in God, or any other god(s). On top of it, I felt like a fraud.
So, I abandoned that path and went to law school, instead. It seemed like the safe and practical thing to do. I realize now that not only did I lack belief in God, I also lacked belief in myself.
Passion will only get you so far with regard to learning to believe something.
I have made a real effort to believe in God. I have learned a lot about God over the years in academic and personal settings. And yet, I still don’t believe.
There are many reasons I think it would be helpful to believe in God. Not just helpful, but satisfying. I think believing in God would bring me peace. At least that’s what it seems like from the outside.
I am envious of people who turn to prayer during bad times in their lives. They pray to God, and they feel less alone. They pray for help when they feel like they can’t do it on their own.
Being able to turn to your faith in God seems genuinely comforting.
Most recently, I have been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a group of like-minded creatives. Cameron wrote the book in the early 1990s to help people reach their creative potential. She helps people who are blocked uncover their creative children within themselves.
Cameron’s book is widely known and respected among artists, writers, and other professionals. However, The Artist’s Way is most often criticized for how often Cameron refers to the necessity of having faith in God. She considers belief in God to be central to the creative healing process.
Because this has been a challenge for people who, like me, don’t believe in God, Cameron has since made comments and suggestions for how to lessen the blow of the strong, faith-based language she uses throughout the book.
For example, if you don’t believe in God, you might replace “God” with “universal energy” throughout the book, instead.
Replacing the word “God” in one’s mind and substituting it for something else is both challenging and distracting. It’s hard to not think that as someone who doesn’t believe in God, I am not getting as much out of Cameron’s book as someone with faith might.
Though it may be an instance of reductio ad absurdum, there is a part of me that thinks if I believed in God, I would be a more successful Artist, and maybe even a better person.
It would be so much easier if I could just learn to believe in God. Now, though, learning to believe in God feels as daunting as learning that 2+2 doesn’t actually equal 4, and instead it equals 5. After 31 years of living with the reality of 2+2=4, and that I do not believe in God, it seems impossible to change my mind about either.
I see the divine in nature. I feel it sometimes when sunlight touches my skin. I feel like there might be a higher power at play when events line up in my life that don’t feel like a coincidence.
Somehow, though, I still don’t believe in the monotheistic God that I can pray to and turn to for help in hard times. I don’t feel closer to God when I enter a church or a synagogue. I don’t feel God’s presence in my life or in the world.
People seem to learn to believe in God after a near-death experience. Someone will get into a tragic car accident and spend a month in the ICU. They will come back into the world, alive and awake, ready and willing to write about their renewed faith in God and heaven.
Is that the only way to learn to believe?
If that’s my only choice, perhaps I will stick to my spiritual confusion and questioning. I would rather be agnostic than risk death, wouldn’t I?
I’m not suicidal, and I have no intent to do anything to risk my health or safety, but it definitely seems like it would take something as extreme as a near-death encounter for me to believe in God at this point.
Some sort of brainwashing might work, but again, I’m not interested in the risk of harming myself.
If there is any other, safer way — if there is any other class that would teach me to believe in God that I have somehow missed — please sign me up.
Sam Kimberle is a Writer, Poet and Artist. Her primary creative mediums are words and clay. She received her B.A. from Dickinson College in Religion and Philosophy, M.A. from Temple University in Comparative Religion, and J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Instagram: Sam Kimberle, Facebook: Sam Kimberle, Writer Creative Entrepreneur