A reader writes:
Although my journey of faith has taken me from atheism to Christianity and ultimately back to where I started with atheism, Reverend Gomes was instrumental in me seeing the best of Christianity and set me on the path toward being baptized. Though, as an adult, I have returned to atheism as the only defensible religious stance, I truly cherish my memories of Reverend Gomes, his uplifting sermons, and his enormous personal warmth.
My mother was a secular Jew from the socialist wing of Judaism whose grandfather had turned down his friend Trotsky's invitation to return from New York to build the new Soviet Union. My father was a refugee from fundamentalist Christianity, who was finally able to let go and embrace his doubts when he confronted Paul Tillich in Harvard Yard and learned that Tillich, too, had doubts. By the time I was born, my mother was decidedly agnostic and my father was a committed atheist.
Shortly before entering Harvard myself, I had begun my own secret study of Christianity, a study that continued as I went through Harvard. Though I had never set foot in a church for any reason other than to admire the architecture, in my junior year, I confessed to my girlfriend that I was curious about Easter service at Memorial Church and we decided to go together.
The theme of Revered Gomes' sermon was that the Resurrection's promise of eternal life meant that there was no reason to fear death, and if there was no reason to fear death, then there was no reason to fear life. One's duty to God is to embrace life to the fullest. I was blown away. Here was my first exposure to God as a loving God, who wanted his children to experience fulfillment in the here and now, not only in the world to come. It was a far, far cry from the mean-spirited, exclusionary, and hate-filled messages that I was accustomed to hearing from televangelists and the like. From that point on, for the rest of my time at Harvard, I attended Memorial Church on every Sunday that I could.
With this memory in mind, I eventually found a church in New York that shared Reverend Gomes' vision of Christianity and was baptized. I truly enjoyed my years of church attendance, but over time I found it harder and harder to accept the existence of God, let alone that Jesus was God's son - an outlandish claim made by no other religion on earth that anyone takes seriously.
The final nail in the coffin of my faith, however, was the 2004 presidential campaign, where the specter of so-called Christians spewing bile and hatred against gays, Democrats, anti-war protesters and anyone else who was an "other" so sickened me that I became unable even to attend my liberal New York church. Since I already had doubts over critical points of doctrine, the association in my mind of Christianity with decidedly un-Christian beliefs and behaviors has made it impossible ever to go back. Indeed, I am now convinced that religious faith requires the indoctrination of innocent children to create a faith mindset. I know of few others who were not at least exposed to religion as children who have been able to maintain faith for a long period after conversion as adults.
My doubts about Christianity aside, my sadness at Reverend Gomes' passing is deep. He represented Christianity at its absolute inclusive, healing, inspiring best. It is hard to imagine Harvard and the world without him.