Despite my mildly Semitic last name, my paternal grandparents were Greek Orthodox immigrants from Syria (we have since moved up to become Lebanese parvenus). My father ‘got religion’ after had he established the family business and married my mother, and in his 30’s went to college and became an Episcopal priest.
‘Father Abraham’ no less.
Now, the Episcopal church is a pretty WASPy affair; and in south Louisiana, Episcopalians are besieged by ubiquitous Catholics with a smattering of Southern Baptists and others. (It was a great surprise to discover in high school that most of the United States is protestant.) So to have this swarthy, earthy, one-eyed Lebanese priest showing up in their churches and (OMGOMG) at their convocations, was probably a bit of a surprise for more than a few of the members.
As our much-beloved organist commented at a roast for my dad later in his career, “But we all love you here, Father.
“The rest of them transferred.”
Anyway, one day in Sunday school I commented that I wasn’t sure if I believed in God. Now, if you want to bring a small-town Sunday school class to a screeching halt, have the preacher’s kid say he questions the existence of God.
As I remember it, the room became a bit quiet. The Sunday school teacher, Mr. Johnson, was a college graduate, mid-level manager, nice guy, intelligent, but probably not comfortable with the sort of philosophical discussion the the occasion required. He sat very still for a few moments, looking at me like something one of the livestock had left behind. Then, with Shlomonic wisdom he said:
“You need to talk to your father.”
I was a good kid, and usually did as I was told. So after Sunday school I was with my dad in his office. Nervously I said, “Dad, I’m not sure if I believe in God.”
At first my father gave me a look that suggested the livestock had left yet something else behind. Then he sighed, a mildly annoyed look appeared on his face and said, “Some days I don’t know if I do, either.”
That was one of the most important moments in my personal and intellectual development.
Tomorrow: Faith vs Religion
Picture: The Illustrated London News, 1862, engraving by W. Thomas from an original by H. Lejeune. From Old-Print.com. If you’re wondering if the picture is mocking saccharine religiosity or me, it’s probably a little of both.