By April L. Bogle
My father was a pious young man who attended a Bible college, but he gave up on God while serving in World War II. Instead of seeking a savior, he turned to seeking truth based on fact, becoming a professor of history, and then a university chancellor. He created a regional campus so that members of our community — farmers and factory workers, housewives and high school graduates, Black people and white people and every color in between — could have affordable access to higher education. So they could embark on their own path toward truth.
His moral compass was honesty and integrity. Lies were not tolerated in our home. Nor was blind faith. Once, at age 9, when I was spouting off about how I was going to ask God for this and that, how God was on my side, how God was looking out for me, my father sat me down in his big desk chair and told me his truth.
“Wappril,” he said, using his pet name for me, “you need to know that there may not be a God.”
“What?!” This news was way, way worse than learning at age 5 there was no Santa Claus. The room spun and I was afraid to stand, unsure if the floor beneath me was still there.
“God is a concept that many people choose to believe,” he said. “It helps them in certain ways, but there’s no evidence God exists.”
To help me understand his point, he took me out to our front porch to witness a raging summer thunderstorm. The rain was so heavy I couldn’t see the houses across our street. It blew toward us, cooling our faces and dampening our clothes. Lightning cracked open the sky and thunder shook the ground.
My father stood quiet, observant, unafraid. “Shouldn’t we go back inside?” I shouted over the storm. “This is scary.”
“It is scary,” he replied. “And powerful. And magnificent.” He paused until a round of thunder rolled past. “And I think you can see how a long time ago, before people understood science and nature and how weather works, they could imagine the concept of God. That something so loud and violent, so far beyond their understanding and control, was a God. A force in the sky that was punishing them, or maybe saving them.”
I faced the storm. I imagined myself in a forest, alone, eating berries and suddenly caught up in twister like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I ran for cover, bowed down and asked to be saved.
“I think I understand,” I said.
Decades later, after my father passed, I spoke with the minister of the Congregational Church near our family home. He and my father had worked together with other community leaders to support the civil rights movement. They helped calm the anger, stop the race riots, and bring people together for civil conversations.
“Your father didn’t attend my church,” the reverend said, “but he was the most Christian man I’ve ever known.”
There it was. The path. Truthfulness leads to goodness. Perhaps even Godliness.
As I reflected on the reverend’s words, I remembered that during the culture wars of the 1960s and ’70s, my father had been labeled a “Communist,” a “n—lover,” a “radical.” Those who truly knew him simply called him a “good man.”
And here we are again, in 2023, in the midst of the same culture war. Only this time, the definition of truth has been twisted. The understanding of good has been turned upside down. The path is now blocked by fear and anger.
How can we clear the debris? How can we find our way through this storm?
We must face it by searching for the truth. We must not be afraid. We can stop reading speculative news articles and listening to fear-mongering newscasts. We can dig up the facts. We can start conversations. We can speak out but also listen.
Then, after the thunder rolls past, we can find common ground, walk along the path together, and once again see the divine goodness in each other.