God, explained

As an academic, I’ve examined religion through a scholarly lens. In my undergraduate studies, the most memorable excursions into this territory were various anthropology classes and a course in Greek and Roman classical mythology; religion–specifically, the author’s Catholicism, was also at the forefront in discussions of Un noeud de vipères (Vipers’ Tangle), by François Mauriac, in my 20th-century French literature course. In graduate school, I took an anthropology course dedicated to religion, wrote about ecofeminism in my master’s thesis, taught about the intersection of art and religion in Bali, and read and wrote about religion in various other places.

In my personal life, too, I’ve done a lot of thinking about religion. I was raised Catholic but became apathetic about it during high school and completely disillusioned with it during college. After dipping my toes into the water of atheism, agnosticism, Quakerism, and Buddhism, I eventually found my way to Unitarian Universalism. That doesn’t mean I’ve found any answers: UUs themselves like to joke that theirs is an “anything goes” religion. (Although UU congregations vary widely–some are Christian, some are neopagan, some shun any mention of the word “god” within their walls, etc.–they are united by an adherence to the seven principles, often referred to as “the bookmark princlples” because they figure prominently on the “about UU” bookmark available on the literature table in most church lobbies. These principles more or less boil down to “be nice to everyone else and to the planet, too.”)

After all of those wanderings, though, it was only parenthood that enabled me to truly understand the nature of god. My two-year-old daughter is heavily into a “Why?” phase now, and my husband and I do our best to answer her questions as best as we can. Sometimes we reach “I don’t know” before she tires of the question chain. And sometimes, when we do make it to “I don’t know,” she still isn’t satisfied.

A few days ago, a post-dinner conversation (during a thunderstorm) reached this point. And at that moment, I had a religious epiphany.

Sylvia: I’m not scared of thunder.

Me: Great! And don’t forget that when there’s thunder, that usually means rain is coming, so the trees and plants and flowers will get a good drink.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: When the Sun warms the water on the ground, it causes a phase change, which converts some of the liquid water molecules to gas, and they rise up into the air and form clouds.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: Water vapor in the air condenses around dust particles, forming liquid again that falls to the earth as rain.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: I don’t know why it rains.

Sylvia: Why?

Jan: It’s just something I don’t know.

Sylvia: Why?

Me: Now I understand why humans developed the concept of a god: in order to have the ultimate “because”-type answer to these sorts of questions from two-year-olds.

(P.S. Ever since David Byrne’s fabulous album Uh-Oh came out in 1992, it always pops into my mind whenever I start thinking about god. Take a peek at the cover and you’ll see why.)

6 Responses to “God, explained”

  1. Katie Jon 16 Aug 2007 at 11:17 am

    Ah, there is a god. ;-)

  2. Ginaon 16 Aug 2007 at 2:51 pm

    See?! We really SHOULD be saying “OH MY DOG!” G

  3. Frankon 16 Aug 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Madeleine freely admits that she’s afraid of thunder. When we get into the discussion about thunder coming with rain, and rain helps trees and flowers grow, she reiterates that she’s still afraid of thunder, in a way which makes me think she would do away with the ecosystem if it would stop the thunder.

  4. Frankon 16 Aug 2007 at 10:48 pm

    [snickering at the Google ads that have popped next to Marsha’s religion article] Is nothing sacred in Googleland anymore?!? hehe.

  5. Maggion 17 Aug 2007 at 9:49 am

    for me, this phase was one of my most cherished memories of my children.

    I loved the “why” sessions with Michelle; she was the one more into “why” than Matt – he was more content to just be (could that be one of those male / female conundrums?)

    my ultimate resort was to cite the “parent’s handbook” where on page (xx), it says “(what ever would settle the question)” …….. Michelle would contemplate those answers. A few years later, a cousin was asking a why question and Michelle responded with “Because it says so in the “Kid’s Handbook” …….. which ultimately lead to “WHAT HANDBOOK? I NEVER GOT A HANDBOOK.” ….. a whole other slew of discussions …….. lol lol lol

  6. Marshaon 19 Aug 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Katie: Are you saying that God is a two-year-old? :)

    Gina: I am already doing my best to spread th use of that phrase. If all goes according to plan, it will be in the OED within a few years.

    Frank: Now you’ll have to tell me what Google ads you saw!

    Maggi: When my brother and I were little, our parents told us that the car wouldn’t work unless everyone in the car was wearing a seatbelt. I think we tested this a few times and were amazed to discover that it was, indeed, true. :)