Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Andrew Bertaina’s nonfiction piece, My Daughter and I Discuss God and Puns
John: Your first reaction, when confronted with the possibility of your daughter asking you about God, is to lie. At first glance, it seems like a perfect signifier for how strange and fraught this subject remains. Why do you suppose this is? Alternately, could it be seen as a sign that God is slowly being reduced to a myth we share to comfort and amuse our children, like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny?
Andrew: Ah, well, it’s a bit denser in my case. I had talked to my former spouse about the God question when we were separating, and she’d asked me not to tell the children that I don’t believe in God directly. It’s a delicate situation. I want them to make up their own mind when it comes to religion, but I’m not sure what the best way to do that is. My first reaction is to be honest with them about evolution, but it’s at odds with what they are hearing at church, so I wind up in contortions. I mean, essentially my kids are asking me if I believe we’ll live together for an eternity of happiness, and I have to be like, meh, we’ll all just be dust.
I know that belief and religion have waned in the more secular west. That said, it still structures the life of many people and many people close to me, so I’m not willing to dismiss it as a myth either. It seems to hold a lot of lives together.
Faith is a very powerful force—responsible for cathedrals and genocide alike. Do you think there’s a surefire way to harness that power without any of the negative baggage that often seems to accompany it?
As for harnessing the power of faith without the baggage, count me skeptical. I’m skeptical of any institution designed by human beings, which I suppose means nearly everything. I’m not sure that religion is inherently problematic, it’s merely replicating the sort of power dynamics we see across human cultures in general. People like power and retaining power. They also like to design beautiful buildings and help the poor. I mean, I suppose the faith I put in a democratic socialist version of our country is also a blind sort of faith. At this point in my life, I have far more trust in a solid tax plan than in the ability of humans to be good on their own or with the aid of God.
Do you miss your faith? Have you noticed any negative consequences of its loss?
I do miss my faith. Christopher Beha wrote an article that encapsulated it beautifully a few years ago where he described himself as a disappointed unbeliever. I mean, belief, God, helps to structure your life. Losing that internal structure, which started long ago for me, was incredibly difficult. Losing all of that internal architecture left me in a difficult spot, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Even if I don’t have much if any spiritual life now. It’s hard not to miss the certainty that your life has a definitive endpoint that results in eternal life and also that you are loved entirely as you are, flaws and all. Who doesn’t want to be loved in such a way?
Voltaire said, “To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.” I’ve come to appreciate my own uncertainty. It would seem to make me less likely to do something really awful, like strap on a suicide vest in his name. Is it possible that uncertainty is actually the same as your black hole? Could it really be the place where God lives?
I think uncertainty is a condition for many people in the trenches of adult life. It’s hard to sort out just what the hell we’re all supposed to be doing and sometimes it’s better to not even ask. For years, I said I wasn’t sure if God existed or not. I left it up to uncertainty. The sort of theory that says, something must have started the initial Big Bang. I suppose somewhere in the depths of my brain a small spark of that remains. That said, I do believe that finding certainty and sticking with it is probably also a useful adult skill. Even if it doesn’t always make sense.
Care to share another pun with us?
Oh. I love to share puns when I get in the right frame of mind. Generally, I wait until someone says the word bear or bare and then proceed to tell five to seven puns on the word until it becomes unbearable.