GOD AND CLOCKS
by Tom Imerito
Despite early evidence of my innate skepticism, between the ages of three and eighteen I acceded to my mother’s steady insistence that I attend Catechism lessons and go to Mass every Sunday, under threat of spending eternity in Hell for doing otherwise. The punishment struck me as being only a tad more just than eternal damnation for eating meat on Friday.
Being a skeptic by nature, I never found believing in anything invisible easy, least of all in a purportedly loving a God who would send me to Hell for doing something any reasonable person would call a minor offense. So, when I first heard the story of Doubting Thomas. the apostle who refused to believe his compatriots’ report of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to them, without empirical proof, I adopted him as my hero. I was, after all, his namesake. Or so, with just a touch of conceit, I imagined.
When I asked my Mom if I was named for Thomas the Apostle, after a moment’s hesitancy, she said yes, adding that she really liked the name, too. Despite the fuzziness of her response, I kept Doubting Thomas on as my patron saint. After all, both of us had the gumption to pronounce our names as though the h was absent.
But all delusions of saintly grandeur aside, I took Christ’s assertion to Thomas that “You believe because you have seen. Those who believe without seeing are blessed,” as an insult. What could possibly be wrong with honestly demanding proof to ascertain the truth? Were Thomas and I less than blessed? No. How could an apostle of Christ not be blessed? For that matter matter how could an altar boy like me not be blessed?
In response to this slight, I resolved to conquer faith by means of ardent practice. I prayed hard in church. In the morning, while brushing my teeth, I offered my day to Christ, At night I said my prayers in bed. I went to confession and confessed my sins. I went to Mass and received the Body of Christ. For a time, I managed to hammer a measure of fervor into my flimsy faith. But the fervor I experienced compounded my Doubt to increasingly ponderous levels.
Hard as I tried to believe in the unbelievable, my conscience would not allow me to subordinate the undeniable reality of my daily experience to a set of implausible claims made by a roster of centuries-dead holy men.
However, in the interests of domestic tranquility, I managed to keep my unrelenting doubts to myself and went along with my mom’s unquestioning belief in the Divinity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the biblical miracles and the rest of Roman Catholic dogma much the way I managed to believe the earth was round despite the undeniable flatness of my walk to school each day. All the same, the harder I worked at believing, the more insistent my doubts became.
For instance, at the age of seven, when memorizing the catechism for my first Communion, it crossed my mind that the statement Man was created in the image and likeness of God might be truer if posited the other way around — God was created in the image and likeness of Man. I felt as though I had uncovered a secret that only the priests and nuns who wrote the catechism knew, but for the sake of the enterprise in which they were engaged, could not admit.
At a more fundamental level, I never came close to admitting that I was born in a state of sin, or that the barbaric execution of an astonishingly prescient man two thousand years ago, had anything to do with the salvation of my soul.
Drilling deeper, neither could I understand why death should be followed by an eternity of either penitential suffering in the bowels of the earth or paradisiacal ecstasy above the clouds in the sky. Or for that matter, why I deserved an everlasting soul while turtles and earthworms did not.
My theological coup de grace came as an altar-boy learning the Latin Mass. I asked the priest-in-charge if God would receive my prayers kindly knowing that I did not understand the meaning of the Latin words I was reciting. The priest told me, I didn’t need to know the meaning of the Latin words for the same reason that I didn’t need know how to make a clock in order to tell time.
His words smacked of verbal trickery. I might have been ten, but did he think I didn’t know the difference between God and a clock? Disinclined to ruffle the priest’s feathers, I pretended to accept his dodgy explanation. At the same time, my spirit (maybe ego) puffed, much the way it did when I came upon the Man-God/God-Man turnabout in the catechism. After a minuscule moment of thought, I concluded the priest knew as much about God as I knew about making clocks.
God and Clocks. Food for thought. Maybe food for Doubt.
If you found this soliloquy entertaining, you might enjoy Heretic’s Prayer my novel about a young heretic woman in the year 1203. Her name is Marie Guillamette and her faith makes mine (maybe yours) look like that of a flea.