My parents stayed married because my father tearfully apologized for hitting Mom and then worked to curb his violent dominant male temper. The redemptive message or fairytales in which Mom and Dad believed were their path to a life infused with hope and light. Their theological certainties, delusional or otherwise, motivated them to provide many people with meaningful real-life encounters with goodness and mercy.
So who is actually delusional? Who is actually following Jesus: fundamentalist Christians rejecting gay men and lesbians’ right to marry, or atheist humanists treating men and women with love and dignity? Fact-based, enlightened atheists sometimes treat people like shit, and delusional fundamentalists sometimes miss a book event in order to help a lonely hotel maid. Labels don’t mean anything. Who cares about labels when someone is slapping you in the face? Who cares about labels when someone is saving you from drowning?
Who someone is and what they do is all that matters. This is especially true because who we are changes as we grow and as we change our minds. Furthermore, we are never really of one mind about anything. Belief is never the point—actions are. We can be of two minds about biology or God but treat everyone around us with kindness.
If we wait for correct ideas to save us—theological or otherwise—we’ll never be saved, even from ourselves. Why? Because we can never have a fully correct idea. Why? Because however we label ourselves, we are still only half-evolved primates in two or more minds and multiple moods.
All we have is our stories. Today’s great art is tomorrow’s joke. Today’s joke is tomorrow’s great art. Today’s atheist is tomorrow’s ardent convert. Today’s preacher is tomorrow’s atheist author. I can’t objectively describe reality because I’m trapped in the moving target we call time. That’s what the word “evolution” means. The very fabric of the universe is unknowable and stranger than we can imagine and has a message for us: climb down off that high atheist, religious or agnostic pedestal!
Dad and Mom had a lesbian couple living in our chalet for several years in the early 1970s. One was Dad’s secretary, the other Mom’s helper. They shared a room. Fortunately, my parents were hypocritical and acted as if, no matter their official religious absolutes, the higher call was to ignore what the Bible said in favor of what they hoped it meant. Thus, without ever saying it, it seems to me my parents were affirming that the Bible should be read as if Jesus was the only lens through which to see God. The result was that Francis and Edith Schaeffer were nicer than their official theology.
I never say “I’m sorry” to my wife of forty-four years Genie without remembering who showed me how words of repentance backed up with action can change reality. Mom and Dad proved by their actions that an individual can behave as if another million years or so of ethical evolution has already happened. They stumbled onto a Jesus-motivated shortcut to a higher state of moral consciousness.
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