Every once in a while one of my colleagues gets suspicious enough to ask me if I am religious, usually when I’ve got charcoal wittingly smeared on my face. I look down, shuffle my feet, and declare with a confident mumble, “Yup.” It’s not exactly the Apostles’ Creed, I admit, but it effectively brings the conversation to a screeching halt in most professional settings. For what it’s worth, I’m a Knoxian Calvinist and I’ve read all the Exegeses For Dummies, as well as the Exegeses of the Exegeses which come apart like Russian dolls if you need something to keep busy with while waiting for Kingdom Come. It’s really quite fertile intellectual ground that a lot of people got burned alive for typesetting, but hey, who am I to judge? Anyway, this means that I believe in Predestination, which is not easy most days. Apparently it was part of my Destiny to write this blog. “That’s not much of a Destiny,” you may be saying to yourself. Trust me, this is one of the least banal and thankless tasks that is apparently required to fulfill my bargain-bin Destiny. That’s the whole downside of Predestination, really, is that you can’t trade yours in for a better one. I like to think I’m out here making the best of things.
One of the ways in which I profess my faith is that I fairly consistently write “f*cking” instead of you-know-what. This also goes back to the fact that I am a prude with extremely delicate sensibilities. In fact, it is the strong moral compass dictating my decorum that has allowed me to navigate the morally-grey landscape of Academia this far. I’ll glibly write “shit” “dickhead” “dammit” and lots of other things without a second thought but I draw the line at “f*ck”1. To repeat the above: I’m actually a raging Jesus-freak. Because I am an academic Scientist, this means that I’ve been to church three times or more in the last twenty years. Comments are open so feel free to tell me I’m a deluded little girl for believing in all that mumbo-jumbo. I’ve got a big old travel mug full of hot steamy masses-opiate right here next to my computer so I’m all ready to go. If the internet has taught me nothing else it’s that believers looooooooooooovvvvve to be told how they shouldn’t believe just as much as atheists looooooooooooovvvvve to be told how they should. However, a wise millennial also told me that if I put something about religion in my blog I would get a lot of “traffic” whatever that is, so have at it. All that tithing gotta come back to momma.
One of my favorite senior scientists, who possesses a rare sense of humor that has weathered even the degradation of fame, likes to chastise me soberly on this point. “You know, ninety-three percent of the National Academy does not believe in God,” he sermonizes, then skips two beats and adds, “but the other seven percent believe that they are God, so it all balances out.” Most of the male scientists that I know are atheists, and unlike me, they are quite up-front about it. Some arguments revolve around the obvious ridiculousness of the very premise of religion, which isn’t particularly persuasive to me because it so closely echoes the consensus reaction to my early scholarly output. Most of their didactic treatises in contempt of religion feel to me like yet more dry prescriptions from imagination-deficient old men, and I learned the wisdom of ignoring those long ago. The women I know seem much more content with the idea that everyone should find her own Path. Science often requires me to believe things that I cannot see, and supplies and supports multiple ways of knowing, and so I find no discord between my work and my theology. I am worldly enough to appreciate that there is no excess of food and safety on our planet, but it also seems ludicrously presumptive to be an atheist on behalf of suffering millions who are not atheists themselves. In the end, I suppose that grief and trouble could drag me to disbelief, but I will not go willingly to meet it. All life’s wonder seems to fold like a telescope with the same question at each junction, “And what causes that?” When one gets to the ultimate base a wholly reasonable recourse may be to shrug one’s shoulders and postulate God.
One of my few relevant opinions to which I consistently give professional voice is that the scientific description of evolution, with its fits and starts of natural selection and extinction, and with all its imperfections, is far more mystical and inspiring than any feeble miracle cooked up inside or outside of Rome. You’d think that the idea of everything on Earth being related via a profound and singular origination would appeal to institutions so historically down on any hint of division. Creationism doesn’t bother me because it’s wrong nearly as much as it disappoints me by being a cheap knockoff and an empty piñata. Choosing not to teach evolution is a vicious withholding from children craving intellectual sustenance. If you choose not to learn about evolution you senselessly deny yourself an experience just as moving as receiving your first kiss, or holding a newborn baby. I don’t expect to leave a legacy when I die, unless perhaps it is a comfort to the people who have loved me that I have had the deep and enduring satisfaction of having done all three. That, and my hand-written directions for coaxing one hundred and fifty cups of watery coffee from the old percolator on Sunday morning.1With the important exception of “Ofuck”, which still makes me giggle every time I write it. It just looks better without the “*”; I’ve experimented extensively.