Letter to My Atheist Brother

Nonfiction by | February 8, 2009

What I’m going to do is just share you something because, by having said that you’re an atheist, you remind me of what I was then and the thoughts that I harbored and the journey that I had to go through. Perhaps, your statement is a blessing because it has challenged me to write down and crystallize everything that I believe about God.

But before I start, I just want to ask that you own your statement. It is so easy to say “I believe in God” but it is a wholly different matter to say one doesn’t. To say that you’re an atheist is itself a product of deep reflection and hence must not be uttered in jest or mere fun. I expect that you take your statement seriously because this is a serious matter to begin with.

I was a Youth for Christ (YFC) before. You know that. But I wasn’t happy because I could not see God in the mass. During praise and worship, I didn’t see the point because it seemed like He wasn’t there. I read the news and with all the evil that happens every day, clearly, God couldn’t be in the world. God was absent because, if He were present, why do all these nasty things keep on happening? So I was into the classic “Suffering negates God” dilemma.

I never shared this to Mama and Papa because I know they’d be upset. But the effects of the doubt were there. I backslid from YFC because all the people were so confident about their faith that they never questioned it. Quite alarming, if you ask me. I grew skeptical of my faith and I secretly questioned everything related to God. Yes. I was self-assured but I was also lost and I felt empty.

Then, I happened to read a book entitled “The End of God”. Looking back, it was a wonderful coincidence. I was in the college library sifting through some books on atheism (that’s how interested I was; you should try it sometime too) and I picked it up. I probably thought it was an atheist book because of the title.

You should read it for yourself. It tackles the idea of God and the implications on language etc. But the most interesting part is in the last chapter. There, the author stripped the religion of Christianity to its core essence.

And the answer? Well, it’s a no-brainer actually: God is love and the doctrine of Christianity revolves around this phenomenon. If you have Islam, which preaches submission to God, and Judaism, which espouses obedience to the Law, you also have Christianity, which touches a deeper, more profound chord in our humanity.

Now, I invite you to strip away everything you know about religion. Forget about the commandments, the sacraments, the rituals in church. These are clutter, which are better left understood if and when you grasp the basic message of Christianity.

When I finished that book, I changed my perception of God. He isn’t simply a Being, because that would be limiting him to an abstract reality somewhere out there. No, God is also a behavior, a mode of thinking. He is Love: a human element which is made concrete over and over again in our dealings with people and the world. Once I realized that, I became a believer once more.

I don’t know if you could comprehend what I just said. But let’s take it this way. As said, God is love, literally speaking. Then, I ask you: do you believe in love?

I ask you this: do you believe in love? Do you believe that it exists in this world? Do you believe that it is real and not just, like what some people think, a glamorized instinct bent on possessing people and self-gratification?

I don’t know what your answers are to these questions. But this is my case: if you believe that it is love which makes one go to his friend’s side to console him in the middle of the night, which makes a mother wait for her son to come home maski kadlawun na ni-uli, which makes a father stay in his stressful, neurotic job so he can support his family, which makes a clan hold its annual reunion despite the many grudges it has to deal with internally, which makes one do household chores with gusto so his mother won’t have to, which makes a guy stick with his girlfriend who isn’t getting any thinner, which makes parents freak out over their son’s academic performance, which makes a family go to mass together, pray together, eat together, stick together…

If you believe in love and its power to make all these miracles happen, then I daresay you still believe in God. Because God is love.

These are just my reflections. These aren’t original ideas, merely derivations from some readings you might encounter soon. I don’t expect you to adopt them. All I ask is that you consider what I just said and follow the advice I will give: keep an open mind. It is okay to say you don’t believe in God. But don’t ever say that this statement of yours is final and binding. Instead, take your statement as an invitation for deeper reflection. Take it as a start of a journey because for me, it was. And if at the end of your journey, you still cannot find Him then so be it. I rest my case. What matters more is that you tried.

There you go. I think that’s it. If you were to ask me why, after this reflection, I still cling onto the last vestiges of our religion, such as going to Mass, observing the traditions etc., I would rather write another longer letter for that in the future.

As a final note, I would like to say that there are a lot of extraordinary miracles hidden in our midst. As Papa said, one of these miracles is our family. This miracle wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have Love, if we didn’t have God. Peace out.

Paolo Ray Bataller is an AB English graduate of Ateneo de Davao University. He currently works for an IT company in Metro Manila.

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