Journeys to Humanism: The Universe Is the Answer

Journeys to Humanism,’s regular series, features real stories from humanists in our community. From heartwarming narratives of growth, to more difficult journeys, our readers open up about their experiences coming to humanism.

Andra Miller
Walnut Creek, California, USA

When I was a young girl I went every Sunday with my mother and two sisters to a Presbyterian church in Oakland, California. In Sunday School, I found stories from the Bible to be as real and believable as fairy tales, which of course I knew somebody made up. I did enjoy the fun of fairy tales and a few of the Bible fables, but it was clear to me they were simply fiction.

When grown-ups acted like the Bible stories were true, I ignored them and went on with growing up myself. Despite my disbelief in biblical tales, I did want to be a good person and find a way that god could be real to me. Somehow I couldn’t do it, but I kept trying. My final ruse for myself was to simply define god as “goodness”. We all certainly believe there’s such a thing as good.

My final attempt to be a faithful Christian was after my divorce from my first husband, whom I left because I found myself shrinking as a person due to his attitude toward me. It had occurred to me while he was away for two weeks that I could re-establish my faith in myself by redecorating the spare room in our Oakland hills house. I got my father, a carpenter, to help me by installing some shelves, and I handled the new curtains and the shelf-painting. My self-confidence came back when I saw what I could accomplish on my own with a bit of help from Dad. At that point I realized I must leave my husband if I was to save myself, and so I gathered my clothes and moved to a place near my work—a very inexpensive Berkeley hotel used by some of the foreign students attending the University of California.

I remember my first evening there, looking out my window at the sky sprinkled with stars and a crescent moon, and saying to myself, “This all belongs to me.” Clearly, my faith in myself was returning, but that’s not the same as faith in god.

As I had broken the vow I’d made to remain married to my husband until I died, I felt that I needed to pursue a real religious connection, and joined the local Presbyterian Church. While our group of new members was being sworn in, I was stunned that each of us was required to answer, “Yes,” when asked by the minister, “Do you believe that Jesus is your savior?”

I hadn’t been warned that I’d be asked that, and I didn’t even understand what Jesus had to do with saving me, or even from what I was being saved. So I simply said that I accepted Jesus as a great teacher. They overlooked my sneaky demurrer, and I began a journey to be a truly good woman.

The journey didn’t last long. After a few months attending church, it became a problem for me, as I decided that people who talked about god meant god the mystical person, not god the good. I realized I was cheating by making that substitution in my mind, and I admitted to myself that I was simply unable to believe in the whole real concept of god.

So what did I believe? That concerned me until suddenly one evening when exploring my doubts, it occurred to me that the universe was the answer—that I’m a part of it, I’m at one with it. At that moment I felt a huge emotional—almost physical—release. It was an incredibly strong feeling. I was reborn, so to speak, I finally had something I could truly believe in.

Years later, after I’d lived in New York City for a while, I went to a 9/11 first-year-anniversary concert at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Sitting in one of their pews, I read their brochure and was astounded. Thinking of how this organization’s philosophy could have helped me back in Berkeley, the phrase that came to my mind was, “Where have you been all my life?” Here was the place at which I could have saved myself a lot of grief. I thought, “Where was Ethical Culture (and humanism) back in Berkeley all those years ago, when I needed it?” Well, clearly, it never occurred to me to look for it, or perhaps it’s more likely that humanistic organizations weren’t all that visible in my self-centered world. Thank goodness it is more visible to those in the search now.

We all have our own stories of how we came to be humanists, and we want to hear yours! Fill out the form here to be featured in this series.