Here’s a sample chapter from my new book “WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace” Enjoy this Chapter and then buy the book– please!
“Too Good to Be True” Chapter 19
My wife Genie once said to me, “It’s hard to believe in something that seems too good to be true.” Then she thought about it for a moment and added, “But sometimes good things are true, even things that are too good to believe.”
In an essay titled, “When the Other Appears on the Scene,” philosopher, literary critic and novelist Umberto Eco muses on what I think of as Genie’s theme of hopeful uncertainty. He writes:
To accept even if only for a moment the idea that there is no God; that man appeared in the world out of a blunder on the part of maladroit fate, delivered not only unto his mortal condition but also condemned to be aware of this, and for this reason the most imperfect of all creatures … in order to find the courage to await death, we would necessarily become a religious animal, and would aspire to the construction of narratives capable of providing us with an explanation and a model, an exemplary image. And among the many stories we imagine—some dazzling, some awe-inspiring, some pathetically comforting—in the fullness of time we have at a certain point the religious, moral, and poetic strength to conceive the model of Christ, of universal love, of forgiveness for enemies, of a life sacrificed that others may be saved. If I were a traveler from a distant galaxy and I found myself confronted with a species capable of proposing this model, I would be filled with admiration… I would judge this wretched and vile species, which has committed so many horrors, redeemed were it only for the fact that it has managed to wish and to believe that all this is the truth… [T]he fact that this story could have been imagined and desired by humans, creatures who know only that they do not know, would be just as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the son of a real God being made flesh. This natural and worldly mystery would not cease to move and ennoble the hearts of those who do not believe.
I glimpse the beauty, the love and the peace that is—as Genie puts it so wonderfully—too good to be true during an annual service we treasure, the Service of Forgiveness. This is a service only a liturgical community could provide. After prayers the service ends with each person in our local church walking to the front of the sanctuary, kissing the icon of Jesus and then bowing in front of our priest. “Forgive me,” we say. “I forgive you,” answers our priest. We embrace and then we say, “God forgives us both.” Each person then takes his or her place next to the priest in a line that eventually stretches around the interior of our church.Each person repeats the action and moves down the line repeating the “Forgive me” ritual with everyone until we’ve each asked one another for forgiveness and have all been forgiven. We bow before children and old people, middle-aged parishioners and giggling toddlers. We ask forgiveness from people we love and from people we don’t love and even from some we dislike. The priest and the youngest infant in arms are equals in this ritual.
When I get to Genie, I whisper “Forgive me.” We hug as we’ve hugged others, but in Genie’s embrace I tumble into a healing moment of sweet reconciliation. My wife says, “I forgive you,” with deep warmth and sincerity. And she really knows me! Yet, I am forgiven! I realize that life is not a step to a better place: life IS the better place, right here and now. It’s too good to be true—and it’s real.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace