THE PRIVILEGE OF FAITH
When faith fails you, try logic.
A humor piece I wrote and performed for We Have Questions, a monthly storytelling event at The Second City, in Chicago Illinois. Every month has a. theme, this being my response to the question: "What in God's Name?"
I was a precocious child.
For the uninitiated, that is a word that you use for children that are both shockingly smart and terrifyingly annoying. I was, assuredly, both of those things. In spades.
When I was 5, they put me in genius kid school, which is just about the worst place I can imagine for a bunch of genius kids; one or two in a room can be manageable, but 25 is a nightmare. Within the first few days of first grade, clear factions were already established and held in place by the very most duplicitous of means. Whatever we had been before, we quickly found value in becoming competitive, manipulative show-offs, and we all had something to prove.
While I can't be sure exactly how my classmates fared with their families, I was having a rough time delineating between my "at school" and "at home" behaviors and had taken to trying to stump my mother with a string of incessant questions I knew she couldn't answer. What's the air made of on Mars? What did dinosaurs sound like? What's smaller than an atom? My motives weren't entirely poor—I genuinely wanted to know the answers to these questions—but part of the point was that I knew she didn't know. This being a technique I had learned at school to make people feel stupid.
One evening, when I was about 6, I had worked it out in my head that everyone had a mom and dad, and their moms and dads had moms and dads, and so on until you could probably go back to the first two people. While this made some logical sense, I knew, practically, that I had probably surmised something incorrect about the evolution of our species, and that, at best, this must have been some time so long ago that no one would still know who they were anyway. I myself, back then and until this very day, cannot name a single one of my own great grandparents, so I already knew it was impossible to name the first two people that started humanity. But I asked my mom anyway.
And she fucking answered me.
While I was busy racking my brain to figure out how anyone could possibly have this information, she was busy explaining to me the major plot points of the fucking book of Genesis.
I had many follow up questions. How long ago was this? Where did they live? Did they have last names? What were their kids' names? I told her it sounded made up. She told me that when I got older, I would realize that some things require faith to make them real.
I was a six-year-old child who, for the better part of a year, had learned to hurl facts as barbs, and here was my mother trying to woo me with a series of fairy tales. This was religion? These, the tenants of your God? I had, until then, casually knelt beside
my bed every night before I went to sleep, palms pressed together beneath my chin, praying for an escape from the poverty my family and I suffered, and it suddenly seemed so obvious why it had never worked: because it was all bullshit. There was no God.
Ironically, I believed in Santa Claus for two more years. But to my credit, Santa makes a lot more sense than the Judeo-Christian god. Santa has one job: to deliver presents to kids all over the world. Rather than being portrayed as all-powerful, canonically, Santa is merely magical. Unlike a god, Santa can't do it alone: he has elves, magic reindeer, and his wife, Mrs. Claus, to aid him in this once yearly endeavor. At a glance, it just seems way more plausible than a vengeful, omnipotent, jealous god who is somehow also his own son. Right?
But eventually, even Santa couldn't hold up to my investigative scrutiny. When I was eight, testing the hypothesis that Santa wasn't real, I whispered the word 'fuck' into my bathroom mirror, alone, every day during December. When Christmas morning came and the toy I wanted was, in fact, waiting for me under the tree? That's when I knew it was all just another lie.
He knows if you've been bad or good. It's right there in the song.
So who the fuck was this present from? Certainly not the North Pole dwelling list maker who would have already long known of my closed-door fuckery. Everyone knows fuck is the worst word there is, and I had objectively said it enough times that month to warrant some coal in my stocking.
There was only one explanation: I had just scientifically disproven the existence of Santa Claus.
I had also successfully gotten away with saying the word fuck for a month straight with absolutely no consequences, so, spoiler alert, I left that one in the repertoire.
The more years that passed I began to experience faith as either a tool of the disingenuous or the ignorant. I mean, there's a reason it's so frequently paired with the word blind; faith is belief against all logic, and though my mother thought herself so frightfully prophetic, I've never been able to make any room for it in my adulthood. I have seen faith relinquish the most undeserving from blame or struggle, seen it legitimize the most feeble work. I have actively hoped for things, as in longing for something that is possible, but faith is not this. With faith, you can believe in outcomes despite the evidence that it isn't real or attainable, and I have never been capable of valuing that.
I once had an ex who, much like I may have as a child, tried to ensnare me in a trap of logic which, in his mind, proved the existence of God, his lazy hypothesis hinging on the fact that a lot of people believe in God.
“Either God exists,” he proposed, “or everyone is suffering from a mass delusion. Is that what you think Miranda? That everyone is suffering from a mass delusion?”
But, like, of course I think that. That is a perfectly logical, reasonable position for someone like me to take.
I'm a black woman.
I've traveled my entire adult life. I've been to every continent save Antarctica, but I've never found a place where I don't see people rationalize the mistreatment of women and minorities based on the mass delusions behind systemic racism and misogyny. And unlike my straight, white, male ex, I have been forced to live with the repercussions of a world created by those delusions.
For him, faith is simple. He has “faith” that things will go as he plans them, yet fails to recognize how his family's whiteness and wealthiness are actually the conduits to him attaining those goals. When he was 26, he got in a pretty severe accident on an island in the Puget Sound, just off the west coast of Seattle.
“It's a trip that I survived,” he used to say, “I still thank God for it.”
He always somehow fails to mention his father paid for the helicopter that airlifted him to Harborview so they could scoop his precious brains back into his skull.
But all evidence suggests that whatever we have been before—a manipulative show-off, an uneducated Mormon, a black atheist, a white boyfriend—that one day death will find the lot of us, and we will, one by one, slip into a black void of unconsciousness from which we will never wake, and from which there are no helicopters nor gods to save us.
And maybe then we will have nothing left to prove.