What I Wrote in the Book of Life
What would it be like if people were really honest in their diaries — if they wrote in them the things that in real life they don’t even admit to themselves?
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life (Revelation 20:12, RSV).
Dear Diary: I was embarrassed in front of my friends again today. No need for details — same old thing. God is getting more and more awkward, and I have to tell you, “the world, the flesh, and the devil” are looking pretty attractive right now. I’m seriously considering losing my faith.
The problem is this: Though I’d rather not believe in God, I don’t really have any reason not to believe in Him, and the fact is, I do believe in Him. Not just in an abstract God, either. The one I believe in is the biblical God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — the whole shebang. I even approve of His moral code. Can you think of anything more inconvenient? If this is how it stands, what am I going to rebel against? I won’t be able to think of anything. The situation is totally ridiculous. In order to stop believing in God, I’ll have to manufacture a crisis of faith — a crisis that I’m not actually experiencing. Or not yet.
Well, ciao. There’s more to write, but gotta run. I’m supposed to meet with my college advisor. Of course I won’t mention any of this to him, as though he’d care, ha ha. Hey, I don’t even admit it to myself. These are secret thoughts. Socrates said, “Know thyself” — not on your sweet life, baby.
Dear Diary: Didn’t have much success this week loosening my faith. Can’t figure out why. It’s not like I didn’t try.
One of my obstacles, and I hope this doesn’t sound corny, is that if what I’ve always heard is true, then God is the source of all meaning and joy — what everyone longs for, whether he knows it or not. Including, I admit it, me. If I were on a game show, and behind Curtain One was God and behind Curtain Two was Everything Else, I’d be an idiot not to say “Curtain One.” I also have a funny feeling that if did choose Everything Else, somehow I’d end up with Nothing at All. What was that song they taught us in Sunday School when we were kids? I’ve got it now: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” doodle dah-doodle dah-doo, “and all these things shall be added unto you,” doodle dah-doodle dah-doo. Something like that.
Which raises an interesting question. If I believe what I just wrote — which, unfortunately, I do — then why am I even thinking about choosing Everything Else?
Maybe because on that side, the stuff isn’t really behind a curtain. It’s in plain view. Success, a Harley-Davidson bike, the approval of the people I want to be liked by — I was taught that things like that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings, and I guess that’s true. But at least I perceive them plainly. God, I don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in Him all right. Like it says somewhere, faith is “the conviction of things not seen.” But “things not seen” tire me out.
Okay, I admit I’ve caught glimpses. I’ve known touches of grace. “For now we see in a mirror dimly.” It’s just that it’s easier on the eyes to gaze on what you can see face to face. Or should I say “face to Harley”? Whatever.
Dear Diary: Since I haven’t had any success talking myself out of believing in God, I’m trying sheer spiritual laziness instead. For the last month, I’ve cut worship three out of four Sunday mornings, and skipped my daily prayers as often as I could without noticing. It’s hard to measure progress in this sort of thing, but I think it’s working. For example, prayer is getting drier and drier. There’s a lot of water in the channels of grace, but I’m gradually drying it up. Pretty good for a month’s work.
Consciously, of course, I don’t admit any of this to myself. When I skip Sunday worship, I tell myself I’ve “accidentally overslept.” Every day I stay up late, put off my prayers until the last minute, then tell myself I’m “too tired to pray properly” — I say that God “wouldn’t want me to talk with him in this condition.” I can hardly believe how I swallow all this. There seems to be hardly any limit to my power to pull the wool over my eyes. For years I’ve avoided cultivating the virtue of honesty with myself, and at last all that diligence is paying off.
But I’m exaggerating. Some self-deceptions are less effective than others. About skipping Sunday worship, for example, I nearly saw through my excuse the time I told myself that God “wants me to have friends” and that a good social life “naturally involves some late Saturday nights.” Let me tell you, that was a close call. On the other hand, fooling myself about the state of my daily devotions seems to be much easier for some reason. I keep telling myself that I’m “seeking God with all my heart,” but that He “isn’t responding” and “seems absent” — and I believe it, poor sucker! Amazing!
Dear Diary: Congratulate me. I’ve turned a corner in the struggle. Wednesday night I slept with Sylvia. Talk about scoring, wow! I’m not talking about the sex. To tell the truth, it was kind of mediocre. Partly, I think, because Sylvia didn’t really want to do it. The real eye-opener was how strongly my sense of God’s presence has been shaken by deliberately committing a known sin with someone that I ought to treat better.
A few years ago I read in some Christian book that “not many of us human beings doubt God and then start sinning. Most of us start sinning and then find reasons to doubt God.” When I came across those lines I didn’t understand what the author was getting at, but I sure do now. I’d recommend sleeping with your girlfriend to anyone trying to lose his faith.
Another good side effect is that I’ve discovered a new self- deception. I say to myself that Sylvia and I have shared a spiritual experience. Cool.
Dear Diary: For some time I’ve been avoiding my Christian friends, but I’ve taken the next step. If I’m going to be strong about losing my faith, I’ll need encouragement. So for the last few weeks I’ve been hanging out with James and Sean.
Funny, these guys seemed so shallow only a year ago. What I tell myself now is that they have all kinds of qualities I didn’t see before. Actually I did see them, but I didn’t like them. An even funnier thing is that I don’t actually like these guys even now. But I think I can keep myself from noticing. The fact is, if I’m going to change myself, then I need to get different friends.
James loaned me a copy of The Da Vinci Codes. I’m pretty sure that it’s a pack of lies, but I tell myself that I’m “researching the roots of my faith.” So far this is working pretty well.
Dear Diary: I don’t know what hit me this week — I’ve backslided. Or is the word backslid? Anyway, I had a real attack of repentance. Funny thing is, I’m not sure what I was repenting of. It wasn’t for anything particular. The only thing I can compare it with is one of those sci fi episodes where the Klingons are blasting the Enterprise with energy weapons, and the shields are going down. With no warning at all — it isn’t fair — a massive wave of Something rolled in at me out of nowhere, strong, overwhelmingly poignant, with the scent of Eden in it. Not even my best self-deceptions could stand up to it. They flatlined. Good thing I had my lies layered, or now I’d be totally exposed. I feel sad and exhausted and kind of confused.
But I haven’t repented all the way. Since my best self- deceptions are out of commission, I’m thinking up others. I’m trying to turn the attack itself to my advantage. What I say to myself is that I’ve “had another spiritual experience” — that this “shows I’m a very spiritual person.” I’m also trying to take advantage of the fact that the attack didn’t happen in a church, but while I was out with some friends. (I told them I was feeling sick and had to go home.) I tell myself, “That just goes to show that there’s more to spiritual life than Organized Religion knows anything about.” If only there isn’t another attack right away, I might come out of this all right.
But I don’t know. My new stories are working, but only barely. They’re wavering, flickering, sort of translucent. I can see some light through them.
Is it worth it? Maybe I should just give up. Surrender. Continuous self-deception is taking more and more out of me, and it hasn’t been as much fun as I’d expected. I’m always having to invent new lies just to protect the old ones. On the other hand, now that I’ve gone this far from faith, I’d have to change a lot of things in my life to go back.
It’s harder to think clearly than it used to be. I’ve made sure of that, haven’t I?
I don’t know what to do. I’ll try to keep lying to myself. I hope nobody is praying for me. I don’t know if I could hold out against that.
Copyright 2006 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.