I came of age in an ardently literary family. My father served as United States Poet Laureate in the late 1950s, published more than a dozen books, and won most major literary prizes. I grew up surrounded by creative people, friends of my father. Their burning energy gave me a small, mirror-like glimpse into God’s creation of the entire universe. And, like Dad and them, I felt that I might be a writer too.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church. But in my high teens and young twenties I drifted. At seminary in Berkeley, California, during the 1970s—a time and a place where anything you wanted went—I created my own religion. I called it Godianity. Certainly, I believed in the existence of God, hence the name of my religion. But I didn’t know much about that Son of God fellow, and the little I did know seemed impossibly weird.

God and I were pals. We talked to one another, like the creatives we were, discussing my new books. I was sure, in fact, that he had dictated the final 60 pages of one of my novels—Paradise—during an 18-hour burst of ecstatic writing.

Then something happened. I married a Jew. She was an atheist, and her family was mostly secular. My wife’s atheism and my Godianity coexisted comfortably enough, since my Godianity was a private credulity that didn’t war against anything else, not even against unbelief. At any rate, our passionate love triumphed over any possible squabble in the holy zone.

Then my wife became pregnant. Nine months later, our first daughter squirmed in her mother’s arms. Here’s the sudden realization of an atheist: Such a perfect, urgent, demanding, and beautiful creature must be the gift of God, not the product of some random swirl of atoms. ...

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