Last weekend when I went to see Tim Minchin in concert, a pleasant but inebriated lady recorded a video of me yammering at her smartphone about how it is that I believe in God but still scrambled to get front row tickets to that show.
I wish I could remember what I said, because I think it was fairly concise and coherent. When I mentioned this to people later, they were also interested in my answer, so I’m going to try to present it here.
Yesterday I sat down to write a first draft of this, and I took a direction that focused pretty specifically on my practice of religion. And honestly, that’s not the point I want to make. When I spoke to the woman at the show last week, I know I touched on the idea of God as a personal thing, something I do not think should be pushed onto others. I might have mentioned that belief in God does not abrogate personal responsibility when it comes to wrongs done to others in the name of God. Certainly I should have mentioned that belief in God should never be used to claim power over others’ liberties, bodies, or personal rights, and that those who do so have committed the gravest of offenses and should be held fully accountable for same. Probably I wasn’t quite that articulate at the time, because I was pretty damn excited about my front row seat.
But in thinking over this during the past week, I’ve come to a new realization. In my time away from belief in God and away from anything smacking of organized religion, my mind was dulled. When I was a child, I took my religion very seriously, but in remembering the way I felt in church then, or in religious classes, I have always fought with the idea of God. God would be presented to me in one way, but my perception always seemed different. I would talk with God not necessarily in a prayerful way, but in a confrontational way. I rebelled against God in a way I would never dare do against my parents, my teachers, my priests or other authority figures. I was a meek soul, wanting to be good, wanting to be liked for being good. The times I would gather my mind into long railing discourses about what God did or did not want, need, or require – that exercised my mind and my sense of self.
When I stepped away and ignored that part of me, my mind was dulled and my understanding of myself blunted. When, a number of years ago, I started trying to make changes in my life due to dissatisfaction on several levels, I returned to my thoughts about God, my conversations with God, my arguments about and with God. To me, they are valuable, and their examination and pursuit contribute to my self-worth. I have thought long and hard about the quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky that my 12th grade English teacher shared with us when we were studying Crime and Punishment: “If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.”
At age 18, I didn’t understand that. And at age 39, I’m don’t think I can say the exact same thing is true for me. But now I think I may understand why he felt that way himself. If the tools that came into his life from the study of Christ were important enough that he felt he would be lost without them, holding fast to those tools even in the face of a different truth does make a kind of sense to me.
Without the idea of God as a sort of scratching post, a place to sharpen some of my own ideas about the world, about humanity, about our responsibility to our fellow beings, I’m not sure I would be who I am. At long last, I am pleased enough with who I am to recognize that for me, God must be a part of it.
This entire realization is so personal, so caught up in my own world-view and sometimes too persistent need to reinvent the wheel for myself, that when confronted with the particular narrow cultural view of religion being excoriated in a number of Tim Minchin songs, I don’t even recognize it as the same thing. That’s why when the nice inebriated lady at the show last week couldn’t get her mind around it, I didn’t even fully understand where she was coming from. Her perception of God and of religion were the cultural reflections, which are often of worst-case scenarios. (The extremists of any group, the fundamentalists, always seem to be the ones getting all the press, for good or for ill.) My perception of God is entirely personal, and I definitely feel it is nothing to press upon others. Everyone refines their tools in their own way.
And of course, no one’s are perfect, certainly not mine. I add this only to share what is still probably my personal favorite Tim Minchin song. He does like to close shows on ballads, and lately “White Wine in the Sun” is the ballad of choice. It is ridiculously beautiful and I can’t complain about it, but I do hope that it doesn’t mean he’s setting “Not Perfect” aside forever. It’s not a perfect song, but it is wonderful.