Someone asked me the other day if I was superstitious. Before I could reply the person also asked if I prayed. I’m not sure if these were serious enquiries because my interlocutor didn’t wait for an answer. But the questions made me think about my relationship with God and how it’s changed over the years. It’s a weird story but I wonder if it’s all that unique?
Let me start like this. Somewhere in the film Anne of a Thousand Days, Henry the VIIIth says, “When the King of England prays God answers.” I must admit there have been occasions when I’ve felt the same. Except in my case it wasn’t prayer but a bargain.
Right up till my 30s I would often strike a deal with God. When I wanted something so desperately I was prepared to sacrifice for it, I would enter into an agreement. “I’m going to give up X, Y and Z and, in return, I want you to do A for me.”
Even though this was done unilaterally, I felt confident that if I made the sacrifice first God would not fail me. I was often right. Thus I managed decent school grades, admission to Cambridge and a few prizes and awards I badly wanted.
Unfortunately, when I most needed his co-operation God refused. At the time my wife, Nisha, was in a coma and fast fading. But the deal I made wasn’t honoured. After that I gave up making bargains.
The paradox is that almost simultaneously my attitude to and acceptance of God changed in the other direction. As a teenager and right through university I would not admit to believing in him. I called myself an agnostic. It was a convenient half-way position between atheism and belief.
Of course, this intellectual position was contradicted by the emotional bargains I kept striking. But I lived with the contradiction.
The change that occurred after Nisha’s death was small, simple but significant. From not knowing if God existed and thus being sceptical I switched to not wanting to risk he might be there and thus offending him. My new position became ‘I don’t know for sure but I’m prepared to accept he does exist’. From caution — or fear, if you prefer — was this new belief born. Today when I pray — and it’s still out of want rather than habit or duty — I address my pleas to all the Gods I know. There’s none I exclude because I can’t be sure which is the right one! So not just Ram, Krishna, Jesus, Allah but also Buddha, Mahavir, Guru Nanak, Yahweh and Zarathustra feature in my prayers.
It’s now over 20 years since Nisha’s death and, except once, I haven’t bargained with God or, rather, with any of the Gods on my list of prayer. That phase is over. I’m now a believer except there’s no single name of God I place my trust in. I believe in God with a capital G and that means all his manifestations and avatars.
It also follows I have no real religion. Faith yes, religion no. Just as I’m happy to perform the aarti so, too, would I be willing to take communion or do namaz. It’s not the act that matters but the God it’s addressed to and the possibility he’s the right one.
I know this sounds a bit like an insurance policy. I’m spreading my bets and guarding against all eventualities. But, then, isn’t that what God’s about?
The views expressed by the author are personal