Posted by: serrels | September 26, 2010

Faith in a Lack of Faith

Sometimes it makes you feel clever. Pompous even. At times you’ll wear it like a badge of pride, or arrogance, depending on the gait of your swagger. Once in a while you might even use it to bloat yourself with an inflated sense of superiority. But every now and then it can be difficult not believing in God.

Sometimes even a lack of faith position takes faith.

I was sharing a chair lift with one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever met who isn’t my wife. A group of us had booked a lodge south of Sydney to go snowboarding and she had come along. Our group was a mish-mash of friends, family and people I’d barely met before in my life – this girl belonged to the latter. Usually such circumstances leave me about as sociable as a caged ferret, but sitting beside her I somehow felt like making the effort, so I did my best to strike up conversation.

The story she told me made it very difficult to not believe in God.

I'm usually as sociable as this guy, but never as cute

Until she was seven years old this girl lived with her parents in Siberia, in Soviet Russia. Her family, as you’d expect in communist Russia, were Atheists – a lack of faith position that was cemented when a pot of boiling tea was spilled on her lap when she was five years old, causing third degree burns, leaving scars that remain visible to this day.

What kind of a God would punish such a sinless child in this manner, her parents asked? She would have to endure these scars for the rest of her life – why would God punish someone so innocent.

She spent three months in hospital. The soviet doctors, in their misguided attempts to help, did a haphazard job of bandaging her wounds and, to an extent, left her in worse shape than when she came in. In the meantime her parents, despite their earlier lack of faith, eventually did end up turning to God, joining a Christian group that had recently arrived from America, settling in their hometown in Siberia.

Religion slowly began to become a part of her parents’ life, and as a result the mother started speaking to her daughter about God. After hearing the stories one night the little girl decided she would pray; naively believing that, if she just asked nicely, God would fix her, and she would wake up completely healed, as if nothing had ever happened in the first place.

Of course, that didn’t happen. The prayer ended and she woke up no different to the girl she was when she fell asleep.

But then, roughly two months later, the girl’s mother received a letter from her church group. With the letter was an invitation to send her daughter to America to receive the medical treatment she needed to fix her burns.  Everything would be paid for and, immediately after filling out the permission forms necessary to leave the Soviet Union, the girl left for Los Angeles, spending almost a year receiving the necessary treatment for her chronic injuries.

That step was the first in a sequence of events that allowed the girl and her family to eventually leave Soviet Russia and start a new life in New Zealand – some would argue it was the end result of a naïve childlike prayer. The girl is 24 now, and even though some scars from her burns still remain, she looks upon them as a reminder that no matter what happens God has a plan for her. These are the scars that brought her to New Zealand, the scars that bolstered her faith, scars that brought her entire family to grace and, ultimately, into the hands of God.

Some people spend a large portion of their time attempting to attach meaning to their life, but without doubt some moments have that meaning thrust upon them. Considering the girl’s circumstances, and what she went through, how could she not have a beautiful faith in God and the power of prayer? I can’t judge her for the strength of her convictions and the nature of her faith – I can only admire her for it.

Sometimes a strange chain of events has the potential to twist and conspire like a magic trick. Suddenly our pain and suffering acquires a deep, profound meaning. As Atheists we’re supposed to ignore that and put it down to chance, or coincidence – but during these moments that disbelief can become incredibly difficult. Sometimes a lack of faith position takes a lot of faith.

I was born in Scotland, and my wife was born in Chile, before moving to Australia as a child; but somehow, for some reason, we met in Japan. We both arrived in Osaka on the exact same day. We caught the same train to Nagoya and when I turned up for my first day of work I was amazed to find that we had both been assigned to the exact same school as teachers.

And as strange as it sounds, the first time I saw her, I had the weirdest sense that I knew her from somewhere; that I had met her before.

In Japan some people believe that couples fated to be together are tied together with a single red ribbon, that they pick up that string and follow it each to other. I cringed when I first heard the story, but sometimes I wonder about the circumstances, the incredible set of coincidences and decisions I made that led me to where I am today, to who I’m with today. Because sometimes we struggle to ascribe meaning to major events in our life, but every now and then moments have a profound meaning thrust upon them.

These pieces of inanimate technology are in LOVE

Sometimes I catch my wife questioning herself. She watches in church as partners get baptised into Christianity for the other and starts to wonder if she is doing something wrong. Could she be doing more to help change my beliefs – is my lack of faith somehow her fault?

She couldn’t be more wrong: the precise opposite is true. Meeting my wife, the series of coincidences that brought us together, and the beautiful way in which she lives her life as a Christian, has been, in many ways, the greatest possible test of my faith in a lack of faith.

As soft as it sounds, I often feel that being married to my wife – the process of finding her and the impossible path we followed in order to stay together – is like some kind of incredible miracle. It’s difficult not to see it as an act of God, or some supernatural force, but as an Atheist that is what I must do. That is what I believe.

At times it seems like an impossible, bewildering choice. Because of my wife, and the amazing life we lead, I sometime find it very difficult to not believe in God. But I have to show faith in my lack of faith.



  1. Dude, for every person granted a wish by this genie-like God fellow there are, I’d wager, tens of thousands who receive no such luck.
    I’ll bet my would-be father-in-law was hoping for one of these miracles during an operation he had in 1996. He died, leaving my wife and her three siblings fatherless.
    Why can fuzzy, Oprah-happy stories validate a God but bad ones can’t disprove one? It only makes the whole concept even more without merit.

    • They can disprove it – I’d say the idea of a God letting bad things happen is the major reason most people stop believing.

      That’s definitely what made me stop believing, and it was exactly the same reason for my parents. Whenever my missus has any doubts, that’s the major issue – something really bad happened and she can’t explain it.

      My point is that people have an almost biological need to find meaning in things that happen to them, which sometimes makes it hard not to believe in God.

  2. “Because of my wife, and the amazing life we lead, I sometime find it very difficult to not believe in God. But I have to show faith in my lack of faith.”

    If you feel compelled to believe, why not believe? What’s stopping you from taking that leap of faith?

    I wish I could be as spiritually observant with myself as you are with yourself. I deliberately stop myself from thinking about my relationship with God and church. I am the only agnostic in a family of overzealous Presbyterians.

    My bro is going overseas for six months to join a discipleship group and do missionary work. He wrote me a letter today, pleading with me to go back to church and “give God another chance before it’s too late”.

    At this stage, if I do decide to go back to church, it will be only because my family wants me to. I know exactly why I don’t want to go back, but a part of me thinks I should force myself because it could be good for me.

    Impossible, bewildering choices!

    • Your real reason for going to church is in your next-to-last statement: because your family wants you to. It would be good for THEM, not necessarily to YOU. You might meet some nice people and get to socialize, but you would otherwise be bored out of your mind, inwardly laughing at the ridiculous things that you, an intelligent grown-up, are expected to believe with a straight face. Things like a giant flood covering the whole world, or the Red Sea parting, or Jesus healing a blind man in the 1st Century but being unable to heal a sick child in 2010. Things like heaven and hell (where are they, exactly?), or a god-man dying on a cross, then coming back to life and flying away to the sky like a hot air balloon. Such fairy tales are for children and very gullible adults. I doubt that you could stomach it for long.

      If you must go to church to keep the peace, then just go for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals, and maybe once in awhile for a potluck dinner. Otherwise, it’s not worth the bother.

  3. Hey Mark. I’ve been reading this blog pretty much from the start, but I’m not sure if I’ve commented yet. Anyway, this is a particularly great entry on what is always a good readin’ blog.

    But what I’m really here to say is congratulations on the Kotaku gig – I was reading through my feeds and did a double take when I saw your name and likeness! How worlds collide.

  4. “But every now and then it can be difficult not believing in God.”

    No more difficult than not believing in Zeus, Osiris, Odin, Freya, Isis, Thor, or any other deity. I don’t think you have any problems not believing in these deities, either.

    “The girl is 24 now, and even though some scars from her burns still remain, she looks upon them as a reminder that no matter what happens God has a plan for her.”

    Which somehow involved scalding her with boiling tea and watching while she endured the horrible pain of having her wounds mistreated by an incompetent hospital. What kind of deity does something like that to a child?? We read of this same deity burning little kids to death with fire from heaven (Sodom and Gomorrah), or drowning them (in the Great Flood), or commanding that they be brutally slaughtered, except for the little virgin girls, who are to be kept as sex slaves (Numbers 30). It is plain that, if this god exists, then he hates little children and does not care if they suffer and die. How is this in any way a good plan for humanity?

    “I cringed when I first heard the story, but sometimes I wonder about the circumstances, the incredible set of coincidences and decisions I made that led me to where I am today…”

    Oh, please. If it had been a different set of circumstances, you would be saying the same thing! Things don’t happen for a reason, things happen and then we look for a reason. What if you had taken different trains, but still had jobs in the same place? What if you had different jobs, but found yourself taking tea at the same Internet cafe every day? Any of a million different circumstances could have occurred that still resulted in you getting married to the same woman…or maybe a different woman. “This really cool thing happened to me, therefore God,” is hardly a logical stance.

  5. Things happen. Us humans make up stories about it. We ascribe meanings.

    If things happened differently we would still make up stories and ascribe meanings.

    The Siberian woman’s story doesn’t get me to see God. That is an interpretation. I see people who care who generously found a way to help someone who suffered. They happened to be Christians.

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