Prior to Lee’s death, Pam and David were virtually irreligious. Spiritual matters gave them little cause for concern. Their interests were basically selfish yet harmless: To build their careers and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Religion hadn’t really been on the radar.
David had been raised in a middle-class Jewish household. During childhood, he attended synagogue and Hebrew school, as per his mother’s wishes. Hebrew school met three times a week in the afternoons after school, preparing him for his bar mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony designed to transition boys into men of the faith. David’s bar mitzvah was a traditionally festive occasion, with all of the family and friends in attendance. When this was complete, David figured that his religious training was finished. His mother thought otherwise.
Marian, David’s mother, desired that he continue his religious training in Confirmation Classes, which continued through Junior High School. These classes met only once a week – a small price to pay to keep maternal guilt off his back, David thought! When classes ended, Marian felt that after coming this far in religious studies, David should continue in Post Confirmation Classes, which would continue through high school. His Jewish mother won again, and religious studies continued. But once high school was behind him, so was David’s religious training.
David had many Jewish friends and family members, and he identified with the American Jewish culture. But he felt that Judaism hadn’t offered him any answers or opportunities. When he left home to go to college in Philadelphia, he left Judaism behind. It wasn’t that he had any negative feelings toward it. It just seemed irrelevant to his future and his goals. David viewed himself as a modern Jew who chose not to practice the religious traditions. With hopes and ambitions of climbing the ladder of the American Dream, spiritual matters faded away.
Until now. Now, when an unexpected death had rocked his world. Now, when his Christian wife was stating her beliefs about life, death, and what comes next.
Pam had been raised in a traditional American home in Pennsylvania. Her young mother and three siblings thrived in a small town where her father had started a dental practice. The focus of Pam’s upbringing was centered around education. Don, her father, had come from very humble beginnings, dropping out of high school and joining the U.S. Navy. While in the Navy, he realized he “wasn’t so dumb after all”, and decided to get his GED and go to college and later dental school. Don’s education catapulted him out of poverty into a lifestyle that he’d never imagined, and it was his dream that all of his children experience similar opportunities in life.
Jo, Pam’s mom, frequently took the kids to a Lutheran church in town, where Pam learned the basics of the Christian faith in Confirmation classes that would allow her to take the holy communion. The liturgies established the deity of Jesus for her, and the hymns sung by the congregation remained stored in her memory for years to come, and she would draw on them in times of need.
Although religion wasn’t a big part of her awareness, the hymn “In the Garden” with the the line, “He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own” was an especially impactful song. Pam would recall these words and believe that there was a God she could have a personal relationship with, but her prayers were primarily on an as-needed basis, rather than a daily conversation with God.
In the present, Lee’s death had brought up Pam’s distant memories of spiritual training – the whole heaven vs. hell concept seemed more relevant now that a close friend had passed. What was it that the Sunday School teacher had said about all that? If only there was a way to find out.
And what a surprise to learn that David didn’t even believe in a heaven or a hell! It was one thing to wonder about where you’d end up after dying; it was quite another to contemplate not ending up anywhere at all! But could that be the answer? There is no afterlife whatsoever?
It took about a week for the reality of Lee’s passing to sink in. The finality of death – and that death being a close friend – weighed like an anvil around David’s neck. He felt devastated. On a quiet Saturday afternoon, David reflected on all that happened while gazing out the family room glass door, lost in his thoughts, with Pam by his side. Her comment about where Lee’s soul had gone came to mind again.
An afterlife? What kind of concept is an afterlife? It makes no sense to me at all, David thought. And if I’m being frank with myself…I’m not even sure about the existence of God. I mean, it’s not that I don’t believe he exists. It’s just that I’m not sure that he does. How confusing!
Turning to Pam, he asked, “Do you believe in the existence of God?”
“The existence of God? There’s no doubt in my mind,” Pam replied, calm and confident. “After all, how did all those trees and living things get out there?” sweeping her arm toward the horizon.
David raised his eyebrows. “I’ve had years of education, and I’ve been taught that it all started with a big bang. After eons of time, there was what has been termed as a primordial soup, and from there came living slime, and over the billions of years, the slime crawled out of the soup, grew appendages and one thing led to another…and here we are.”
“I don’t know if evolution is right or wrong,” Pam responded, “but I do know that all that stuff out there didn’t get there by itself. Someone had to create it.”
Well here was another core difference in beliefs! Unbeknownst to David, his wife was a creationist! Who knew?!
One thing was clear. These two theories were not synergistic. One theory had to be correct – or at least, more correct – than the other. And the theories were so different, that it begged the question: Who was right?
David’s mouth opened to respond, and the words that came out surprised both of them:
“Maybe we should start going to church.”