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Giving up the ghost


The Observer has waivered on religion throughout our life, from a good church-going lad in our younger years to where we are now, with our belief in hocus-pocus of all types shed at some point like the paper skin of an onion. It's been a long, strange trip to get here, one that puts us at odds, we know, with some of the people we love most in this world. Maybe the spirit of belief will return to us in our old age if we make it that far. But for now, that's where we are.

It was, in the end, the lack of actual magic in the world that finally drove us over the edge. We're not talking about the magic of a sunset in Bali or the magic of a child's smile on Christmas morning. Nor are we talking about "We prayed for Grandma, and she got better ... in this billion-dollar hospital ... full of highly trained doctors and nurses." No, not that. We're talking burning bushes and talking snakes, Lazarus coming forth and Sampson's magic hairdo, the Red Sea parting and water into wine and 40 days and 40 nights, the ark tempest tossed. Where is all that? Where, oh Lord, is all the Harry Pottering? A version of that question was one of our first as a precocious, still-religious child: Why did all the undeniable miracles seem to peter out the minute whatever holy hand wrote the Bible lay down his pen? Why are we left with this world that is — while so full of natural wonder and beauty — explainable? In the end, those questions stretched the thread of our belief until it snapped.

In giving up religion, we've been forced to give up other things, of course, including our hope to see Dear Ol' Pa again someday, restored to health and good cheer in the afterlife. That thought alone kept us invested for a long while. But eventually, we had to let go of that, too, and admit that there is, more than likely, no Big Rock Candy Mountain in the sky. Don't think we gave it up easy. We mourned.

Lest you think Your Old Pal is one of those folks looking to persecute The Believers, we don't have a problem with people being religious, as long as they don't turn it into a club to beat other people. That said, having given up the idea of heaven also meant accepting one of the most unjust things we can think of: that if there truly is no After to the Afterlife, then folks like the 9/11 hijackers, abortion clinic bombers, those who used the Bible to justify slavery and Jim Crow and parents who kick out their gay kids because of some passage in Leviticus will never know they were wrong. If Yours Truly is right, folks like that die confident in the belief that God smiles on their actions and will welcome them in heaven with open arms. Then their brain function stops, their porch light winks out, and their consciousness ceases to exist, while still believing they were right.

The Observer is OK with the idea that there's probably not a heaven. Really and truly. We've made peace with it. We've found it makes one live life without putting stuff off until later, and makes us tell the people we love that we love them right now instead of waiting for Eternity to make amends. But we're still a little pissed that there's probably not a hell, either. Because there are some people in this world who are surely in dire need of one. Or, at the very least, 10 minutes in a white room, in a kitchen chair before a sign that reads: "You were wrong about everything, and you made other peoples' lives harder and more unhappy because of it." A few moments to reflect, and then: lights out.

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