Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Life Without Religion Requires Bravery, and I Am Not Brave

That I can’t coax myself into believing that there must be a place in my life (or after) where everything will be made plain is something that I grieve.

This is probably what I miss most about religion. Even when I was wrestling with this or that interpretation of this or that doctrine, I was able to believe that somehow, at some point, everything would be illuminated. ‘The truth will out’, is an exhilarating and sometimes terrifying saying that I like, but without the promise of ultimate revelation it seems a little bit blunted. Years of religion have made me self-absorbed. I’ll have to train myself to accept that there are mysteries beyond my comprehension, and to understand that the light may never be turned on in many rooms of the mansion of my understanding.

A life without religion is a life intended for the brave. I’m not always so sure of my bravery. I used to take solace in the idea that in the afterlife, the many confusions I’ve endured about my own motivations and the motivations of others would become clear. Because I am not inherently brave, I haven’t always spoken when I should, or explained myself where it might have been helpful. I have not always acted when action was required, because in the back of my mind, I knew that at some future date the cosmic score keeper would explain my occasionally mystifying intentions to both me, and everyone else. The cosmic score keeper would also explain the mystifying actions of others to me, and to them, and we would all be at peace, because then we would understand.

There are these dark and sticky chords inside of me—inside of us all—that need unraveling. Why do we want the things that we want? What do we actually need? Why does one thing make us feel one way, and another thing make us feel another way? If these things are to be genuinely understood, we’re going to have to do the leg work ourselves. That is an intimidating thought, because not only am I not inherently brave, I occasionally battle against laziness. There is a lot of hard work implied in a life without the benefit of having truth delivered via some self-declared authority. The up side is that even though all of the work is going to need to be done long hand, at least we have some proven tools that we can use for exploration: Science. Art. Reason.

Unfortunately for me, I’m not an expert at any of these things.

There is also the matter of living considerately. When I was religious, I would hurt other people’s feelings, or inconvenience them in small ways sometimes. Not always on purpose mind you, but things happen, you know? If the damage seemed small enough, I wouldn’t try to make any kind of amends. My attitude was ‘it will all come out in the wash’. God understood that I was okay. He knew that I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt or inconvenienced.

Now, I don’t have the assurance that ‘The Great Explainer’ will make everything okay in the post-game wrap up. Now, if I hurt someone’s feelings or inconvenience them unnecessarily, I’ve got to make things right. All by myself. I have to be more thoughtful towards my fellow beings. Without religion, people are no longer means to an end, but ends unto themselves. When I was religious, I looked for God in people. You see, the religious mind doesn’t believe that people themselves are worthwhile. The religious mind believes that any good thing you glimpse in a person is really just a reflection of God shining through. When I hurt someone, I don’t need to make amends to God. I need to make amends to the person I hurt. It was much easier for me (not inherently brave) to simply say a few prayers when I did someone wrong than it is to actually look the person that I hurt in the eyes and say ‘I’m sorry’.

A big difference.

I am not brave. I am not overly smart, or exceedingly talented. I’m not always thoughtful, or kind, or selfless. I bite my nails, and have a tendency to overeat. I worry about being received well by people that I respect, and I require loads of validation and encouragement to feel good about myself. I also suffer from a restlessness that I can’t explain.

These are facts about me that I have not looked into adequately, partially because for so long I have expected that they would fall away at some future moment of reckoning. My religion allowed me to not own them. Deep inside of me I knew there was something divine. Now I don’t know that anymore. Life used to be about bearing crosses and swallowing dogmas. Now, I realize that my personal flaws aren’t crosses so much as they are puzzles to be solved. I haven’t completely shaken the dogmatic belief that there is something holy about suffering, but I do realize that there are things that can be learned from it. For instance, strapping a cross onto a cart with wheels is far more efficient (and way less painful) than lugging the thing around on your back.

Cross posted at Kos


Spencer Troxell said...

Willie Y's comment didn't post for some reason.

Here's what he said:

"I think it's a lot better in life to take ownership for every thing that you say and do and how you treat your fellow human beings. You should rely on yourself and your feeling to get through life. And you, pesonally learn life lessons that you have worked out, by doing what is right and just."

Lodo Grdzak said...

Its a big mess, that's for sure.

Steppenwolf said...

I found god a comfort and a burden. A stick for my back. I realised fairly recently that if I waited for god to sort things out, I'd have a long wait. All I can do now is be true to myself. I know right from wrong by now.

You can never truly know what's going on in other peoples heads. You can go crazy trying to figure it out. But we can't help it I guess.

Steppenwolf said...

You know I think we each get the god we deserve. Rather, we get the god we think we deserved. My god hated me, he persecuted me, cursed me. Since he's been gone I've realised it me, I hated myself. There was no god behind my ill fortune or my good fortune. I don't know if I'm braver since he left, but I'm freer.

Spencer Troxell said...

That's a really interesting thought about getting the god we deserve. I don't know if we 'deserve' the gods we end up with, but I certainly think there's something to be learned about a person from the god they claim to believe in. God as a projection of our ideal self, or personal guilt, or feelings we have about a parent, or authority in general, or any number of other things seems like a thought worth investigating.

Think about it: There's no way for us to validate anyone's claims about God or Gods, so ultimately what we decide we believe about a supreme being has to be a matter of projection or wish fulfillment, or some kind of neurological issue. It's certainly not rational.

Religion may not have taught us anything about any possible gods, but it has definitely taught us a lot about ourselves.