This is a one-time only post. In this category of my blog site (“The Little I’ve Learned”), I will normally stick to writing about personal experiences I’ve had as a writer, a father, and a school teacher. 95% of the time anyway. I tend to avoid topics regarding religion and politics, or anything that could cause too much debate. But recent events have inspired me to break protocol this one time, and it’s out of honor and respect for a very special boy I never knew…
A while back I remember watching a video on YouTube in which celebrity Stephen Fry, a publicly pronounced atheist, answered the question “What would you do or say if, when you die, you meet God and realize He really does exist?” Mr. Fry answered that he would ask “How dare you?” and “Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” I’ve heard a few others that I know personally to be atheists, who have piggy-backed off of this challenge, saying that if God were real, how could He allow children to starve to death, or to suffer from terminal diseases such as cancer?
Before I respond, I’m going to discredit myself by saying that, although raised Catholic, and I’ve raised my children in the Catholic church, I do not consider myself to be a devout, religious man. I’m not very good at being Catholic either. I didn’t give anything up for Lent this year, only because I didn’t feel like it. I rarely attend Mass because Sunday is my only day to sleep in, and it’s been decades since my last confession. Furthermore, I wouldn’t argue back against the atheist claims mentioned above. 1: because I’m no expert in theology, and 2: because they have a point. Except for one part, I can’t really challenge what seems like logical arguments by Stephen Fry and those who share his beliefs.
I can question though. Because I wonder, when Mr. Fry asks why he should respect such a “mean-minded, stupid God,” is his beef really with God? Or possibly organized religions? Or possibly more, what we as a collective race have envisioned God to be. Is it possible that we have perhaps personified God a little too much? Is it possible that we’re taking the bible stories too literally, when maybe they’re not meant to be? Perhaps God is not some white-bearded old guy in a robe, sitting on a cloud in Heaven looking down on us, deciding who lives or dies, deciding who gets lucky and who gets the short end of the stick. I really don’t think that’s it.
But lets get back to the question. If God existed, how dare He allow pain and misery to exist? As one of my acquaintances once said more specifically, how dare He allow innocent children to starve to death or suffer from terminal diseases? Part of me would like to believe that if God existed and were actually to answer the entire human race, He might say something like, “How could I? How could you? There’s enough food on the earth for everyone, so you tell me why children are starving to death. And thousands of carcinogens exist because of the industries, toxic poisons, and worldwide pollution that you as a race have caused, so what do you mean how dare I?” But I’m personifying God again. Just getting hypothetical here. And that doesn’t actually let God off the hook, as pain and misery can be caused by the natural world around us, in which humankind can’t be blamed for. As I’ve stated before, I normally wouldn’t even try to respond or counter any of this.
That is, until I think I found what might be an answer.
A couple weeks ago, I attended what was called a Celebration of Life for a young boy who died from brain cancer just before his 10th birthday. His name was Cameron. I didn’t know him. I only met him very briefly on two separate occasions. I attended the celebration because he was a personal student of my martial arts sensei, who had cancelled classes that day so we could attend the event honoring Cameron. In our dojo, it is established that we’re a family. So, I didn’t know Cameron, but I still attended. What I witnessed, I can tell you, I’ve seen nothing like it in person before.
Some back story: in his almost 10 years of life, Cameron had left a positive impact on everyone he came across. He never let his condition slow him down, and he was determined to live to the fullest. He loved fire trucks, and volunteered how he could with the local fire department as they made him an honorary fire fighter. He had recently also been dubbed as an honorary deputy by the Sheriff’s department in my town. He played baseball for the little league, and enrolled in martial arts classes under my sensei. Three years ago, my sensei was diagnosed with throat cancer, and fortunately survived, but at Cameron’s Celebration of Life, he was one of the speakers. I remember him telling the gathering how, when he first began treatment for the throat cancer, Cameron, came to him and told him not to worry; told him he had his back. This boy became my sensei’s hero that day. From then on, he referred to Cameron as a “pint-sized giant.” Because of Cameron’s heart and tenacity, our school’s grand master awarded him a black belt.
The turn out at this Celebration of Life was in the hundreds. The church’s parking lot was overfilled, and people had to start parking at the public library across the way. The entire fire department was there in uniform. Members of fire departments from several nearby towns also attended. Members of the Sheriff’s department arrived. An honor guard presented colors as they folded a U.S. flag while kilted men played the bagpipes, and respectfully passed the folded flag to the parents. But what really struck me with awe, were the stories told by the guest speakers about this boy’s character, his actions, his short life that he never wasted. My sensei mentioned that Cameron lived more fully in his nearly ten years of life than some people do who live a lifetime, and what everyone agreed on was how this boy had left a positive impact on them. This “pint-sized giant,” knowing his time would be short, did what was least expected and kept strong, not just for himself, but for others. And it was all testified at this Celebration of Life, where I saw a community of good people, inspired and strengthened by Cameron’s life. A loving community who served as hundreds of shoulders for the parents to lean on. The strengthened bond of the entire community that day, all as a result of Cameron’s short, but amazing life, all as a result of all the lives he touched during his time here.
I remember sitting in the back, witnessing all of this. I suddenly remembered the challenge of Mr. Fry and some of my atheist friends. And I remember saying to myself, “This, all of this, this is the answer. This is God.
And maybe that’s the simplicity of it. I’m one to believe that we should not take the stories in the Bible literally. I don’t believe that Adam and Eve lived in paradise, ate a piece of fruit that was off limits, and God said, “Okay, since you disobeyed, all of humanity, until the end of time, will suffer. I will create insects that spread disease, and hurricanes that ruin homes. All because of that piece of fruit.” It’s a story meant to teach a lesson, nothing more. But there’s one tiny part of scripture that I think just might have been meant to be taken literally. They say three particular things:
God is good. God is love. God works through others.
Maybe that’s it. Not someone sitting on a cloud, ready to pass judgment, expecting us to worship from our knees. Maybe, God is the act of good and love. Whenever someone helps a person in need. Whenever someone says “I got your back,” or puts a smile on another’s face… maybe that’s God. And it was clearly there that day at Cameron’s Celebration of Life.
On the other hand, I remember watching Cameron’s mother break down the moment they put his coffin in the cart that was to be driven away. It was hard to watch, and I had to avert my eyes. All of what I just said: the community coming together, forming a stronger bond, understanding love, their lives changed for the better because of the impact left on them by this boy… I’m sure Cameron’s mother would trade all of that just to have her son alive and healthy. I know I would. No parent should have to bury their child, and all my heart and prayers go out to anyone who has had to endure something like that.
So how can God create a world full of injustice and pain? I don’t know. But I wonder what would it be like if there was no injustice or pain? If life were easy, and just one big party. Would there be a need for endurance, tenacity, perseverance, or inner strength? More importantly, would there be a need for kindness, compassion, or love? Or faith? I think Cameron’s life, his example, and his influence, strengthened all of those qualities in the people of this community who knew him and loved him. Perhaps that’s why God allows it.
But then again, if you think about it, whether we live to be ten or ninety years old, our lives are really nothing more than the blink of an eye compared to the eternity that comes afterwards. Meaning the injustice and pain we endure is just the blink of an eye. Whether there’s an afterlife or not. But what’s the purpose of all of this if there isn’t an afterlife?
I’d like to believe that Cameron’s short life (that was not without pain and suffering, but also not without triumphs) had a purpose, and that he’s in a much better place now. And maybe he’s not. Maybe Mr. Fry has it right. But I suppose that’s where faith comes in…
I’m not a very religious guy. But I’ll never forget the feeling that hit me in the back of the church, attending the Celebration of Life for a boy I didn’t even know.
This blog has been written to honor the memory of Cameron, and out of respect for those that held him dear to their hearts, especially his parents and siblings, the Flagler County Fire Department, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department, and Sensei Dave, our mutual instructor of Shaolin Kempo Karate. To learn more about the incredible life of this brave young man, click on the link below to read his story.