It’s time for a confession. Something happened to me, and I’m about to share it with you.
If that sounds an unusually grandiose introduction, considering you’ve been suffering my blather in this noble rag for 20 odd(!) years, it’s because there’s a substantial part of me that can’t believe I’m really going to put this one into print.
Now I’m building up your expectations of the tale, when what is important is not the story itself, but my reaction to it.
Let’s go back to August 2001. I’m living in north Co. Mayo, walking along a glorious sandy beach. The sky is cloudless, the breeze gentle and warm, and I’m the only human as far as I can see, hear or smell.
Stopping in my tracks I splay my arms out, lean back in exultation and roar:
In an instant, from deep inside and audibly all around me, a voice booms:
“No! Thank YOU Charlie!”
Simultaneously, I experience a fast-forward slide show of all the pain and hurt I had felt and inflicted upon others during my life in California. I see 4 years of rage and depression fly by. I see hurt morphing into comfort in that house in the Claddagh. I see anger becoming love with the recent meeting of a lass, who later becomes my wife. I see agitation blending with confusion, emerging as delight and enjoyment. At that moment I am loving my life, writing this colyoom and another in the Irish Examiner, selling features galore, finally living my dream.
A second or so later it’s over, and I stand there, alone on the beach. Staring at the ripples of water running around my feet, I laugh out loud, as torrents of thought flood my brain. ‘Woh!’ cascades into ‘Spooky!’ and then ‘Whoops! I’m a crazy man!’
Despite the wonder and awe I feel about what just happened, it somehow makes perfect sense. I understand. I had been grateful and given thanks, but was then reminded that I am merely a speck in the order of things.
My life’s path had caused pain and damage, yet now there was the chance of repair; of joy on all sides.
Hopefully you can understand my trepidation in sharing this experience with you. Maybe you’re off calling the men in white coats to come and get me.
“Oh look, Charlie thinks he’s Joan of bleedin’ Arc! He’s finally losing it, hearing voices. He thinks the sky’s talking to him. Oh, and his ego is so incredibly massive, he actually thinks God is saying thank you to him!”
So it’s out there. Sounds like I am too, but no.
I said this wasn’t about what happened, so why have I just told you this most personal and whacky tale?
The late Gerry Ryan used to say it on his radio show, and recently I heard Newstalk's George Hook say it again, with a giggle:
“Ah well, you see, there are no atheists in foxholes.”
Clearly the inference is that we all turn to God when in fear of our lives. The reason I’ve been willing to prostrate my sanity and vanity in front of you is because this smug self-satisfied denigration of others’ beliefs deeply upsets me. Respect should be shown to all, not just the religious.
Personal beliefs are no less worthy than religious beliefs, yet every time this colyoom mentions religion, I receive abuse.
When I wrote about the abortion referendum back in 1992, I received in the mail used condoms, a dog turd, vile photographs and finally, unaware that I had been successfully intimidated, I stopped writing about the Church.
My argument is no more with Catholics than it is with my own Jewish background. I don’t give a monkey’s if you’re a Muslim or a Sikh. You can be Humanist, Shoemanist or downright Poohmanist for all I care.
I respect your right to believe in what you wish. However I do not respect your right to belittle or mock the beliefs of others. Anyway, religion itself is not the issue here. Faith however, is personal, and until now, I’ve chosen to keep it that way.
Regular colyoomistas know I describe myself as a Jewish Atheist-Pantheist mutant, which might sound like a randomly crass tumble of words, but actually best sums up what I believe.
Personally I feel no need for formalised religions, but as they influence so many people I want to learn of them and from them all. Billions of people want a ticket beyond the grave, and believe that if they obey rules, they’ll make it. On the way, their faith will bring them great comfort; their religion will provide order in their lives.
That’s genuinely wonderful, but for me there is no outside force or figurehead. It’s all one and yet nothing. Essentially I find no comfort in reincarnation or everlasting life. Rather, I would find great comfort in them, were I to believe they existed.
The human in me wants to believe that there’s a latent benevolence behind the balance of nature and the chaos of the universe, but I don't know. I’m an animal who will return to dust, but on the way I’ll use my faith, my spirituality and moral codes to live what I perceive as a good life; at least a harmless life, at best beneficial.
So now you know. I’m an Jewish Atheist-Pantheist who heard what others have called the ‘Voice of God’, yet nothing changed my beliefs. There’s plenty that we don’t know. We see neither the infra red nor the ultra violet in a rainbow.
Something happened to me on that beach. It’s a beautiful mystery that makes no sense and perfect sense, and I can live with that anomaly. Just because I have no formal religious belief doesn’t mean I lack resolve in my own faith and spirituality.
So please, stop patronising those of us who choose faith without religion. There are atheists in foxholes.
© Charlie Adley