by Tom Imerito
By my junior year of high school my inchoate sense of skepticism had gestated into a fully differentiated alter ego that sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear as I went about the spiritually conflicted business of my teenage years.
Despite my persistent doubts about the notion of God, compulsory attendance at Mass three mornings a week commingled with four listless years of high school Latin, resulted in a flash of insight during Mass one weekday morning.
As I began to read the Last Gospel in Latin, which by then I understood, the words In the Beginning was the Word knocked my skeptic off his perch on my shoulder and onto the floor between the bench and the kneeler. As I sat staring at my Daily Missal, English and Latin juxtaposed across the pages, my mind scrambled to get my skeptic back onto my shoulder and my thoughts back onto the bi-lingual text.
As I re-read the words In principio erat Verbum – In the beginning was the Word, it occurred to me that maybe God was just a word.
“Gobbledygook,” my skeptic chided as it writhed asprawl the kneeler.
“No,” I insisted. “This explains the God-Man thing years ago, in the catechism. God started out life as a Word. That’s what the Last Gospel says. This explains everything.”
My skeptic screwed itself around and looked up at me, its fingers grasping the edge of the bench. “Not everything,” it hissed.
“Okay, not everything. But a lot.”
It scrooched around, and huddled under the next pew.
With my skeptic in retreat I went back to my original thought: God Was a Word! My mind served up a game of semantic ping pong. The Word was God. God was a Word. Back and forth.
Blissfully for me, by then I was writing words, lots of words, every day. I was writing a weekly column about school activities for a local newspaper and serving as editor-in-chief of my high school paper. I was becoming a writer. If God was a word, how much closer could a human get to Him than to emulate Him by writing Words, the things the Gospel of Saint John says He was?
Just one problem: The market for Analects, Sutras, Vedas and Testaments had experienced a glut two thousand years before my moment of enlightenment. So I did what many creative types with grandiose ideas do after their formal education; I went to Madison Avenue where I sustained what might well be the most unremarkable career in the history of advertising. The good thing about my involvement with finding clever ways to sell stuff was that, being an egghead, my career gravitated toward increasingly complex topics, which landed me on the scientific end of the writing spectrum.
Science writing took me on a carnival ride through some of the most advanced areas of science and technology, such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, as well as mundane ones like religious refugees settling the American Frontier and men with picks, shovels, and blasting powder, mining coal and digging tunnels.
Surprises popped up more frequently than I expected. But the biggest surprise came with a story about a new topic called Transhumanism. (Stick with me here. There’s a payoff.) Strictly speaking, Transhumanism is not a branch of science, but rather, a trend toward the use of technology to improve human lives. For example, eyeglasses are a rudimentary example of a Transhuman device because they enhance our ability to see by means of manufactured objects. Same with hearing aids, fitness trackers, pacemakers, organ transplants and, (controversially) test-tube babies.
But the biggest surprise came not from a scientist or innovator, but from a theologian whom I asked about the ethical and spiritual impacts of incorporating advanced technology into human bodies. With barely a blink, he cited a fourth century Church Father named Athanasius of Alexandria who said, right around the time of the first ecumenical council, “For the Son of God became man so that Man might become God.”
Shocked by the words, Man might become God, once again, my skeptic fell off my shoulder and onto the floor. As though seeing the Sun for the first time and looking right at it, our shared doubt paled in the brilliance of the words of the Gospel. After a lifetime of seeking, faking and falling from faith, giving in to the fog of agnosticism, surrendering to the vacuity of atheism and enjoying the humanitarian solace of Buddhism, I came to the conclusion that: The Word was God, whose Son became Man so that Man might become God. Happily for me, the Catechism’s tautological definitions of God and Man resolved themselves in a single sentence that worked both forwards and backwards. The fact that the sentence was pronounced by a Doctor of the Church… and a Saint, gives the words credence that test bounds of doubt.
As offensive as the thought of Man becoming God may be is to some, it can hardly be denied that it also carries a sacred obligation to care for our Selves and Creation, the way a loving God would. For my part, if Man becoming God entails taking responsibility for the well being of humanity and its cohabitants on planet Earth, I’m with Athanasius.
It occurs to me that in the process of embracing my skepticism, my sense of doubt has turned upon itself. But if skepticism is bound to doubt everything, it has no choice but to doubt itself…. At least that’s what the skeptic on my shoulder whispers in my ear. #
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.