A spur of the moment post

I’m going to write what almost amounts to a short summary of my last post because I very much want to get my point across, although the scant response to that post suggests that some readers tire of the subject, while others simply won’t read such a long post. So…

I’ve written much of my admiration for the writer Margaret Deland (1857-1945). She was raised a hardcore Calvinist Presbyterian (a viciously cruel sect that, like my own boyhood church, I would label as child abuse), but married a Unitarian, and the two of them eventually became liberal Bostonian Episcopalians. One day during church, it came upon Margaret that she no longer believed any of the central doctrines of Christianity, and this led her to walk out of the service. Having thus discarded religion as the foundation of her life, she became obsessed with the question of how to survive in a world that contains both love and death.

This is also my challenge. Without love, I suppose I would kill myself, but with love comes such pain that I can’t see my way to survive it because I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd. Margaret means a lot to me, not because she found answers that I can accept, but because she struggled with the same question, a question that partially erases the chasm of the 140 years that have passed since she asked it.

I try very hard to understand how people can believe in God in order that I too might believe, yet I know that belief isn’t based upon verifiable evidence, and this makes it untenable for me. Just as believers sometimes suspect that I really do believe—based upon my inability to walk away from religion—I suspect that they don’t, or else they wouldn’t be forever “praying for faith,” going through “crises of faith,” and experiencing “dark nights of the soul,” terms that would seem to imply a hell-bent determination to believe that which one knows isn’t true. I cannot imagine that a person who thinks deeply can be a believer. Rather, I think it requires putting a brake upon one’s thoughts, only how can any intelligent person do so?

But don’t atheists don’t do the same thing? Just as believers set their face toward ignoring doubts about God, is it not true that atheists tend to ignore doubts about whether humanism justifies existence? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but perhaps he was wrong, and it’s the superficial life toward which we should aim. Otherwise, why would those believers and atheists who imagine themselves happier than I, tell me that my problem is that I think too much. Think too much?! Can it really be that a good life depends upon floating on the mind’s surface, because to dive into the depths is to trade light and warmth for frigidity and death? Such observations as I have been able to make would seem to suggest that it is so. But what then, does our choice come down to buying happiness at the expense of intellectual integrity?

This is where I get stumped. Namely, do we have a moral right to be shallow, if not outright dishonest, with ourselves, in the pursuit of happiness? I just know that I can’t do it. You could entice me with money, or you could beat with a rod, and I still couldn’t pull it off, yet it would be senseless for me to boast of my integrity when I’m only doing that for which I have no choice.

While it’s true that one can live a good life without God—that is, a life of kindness and caring—this doesn’t resolve the dilemma but rather accentuates the fact that love exists against a background of eternal non-existence that swallows-up both the love and the belovèd. It is therefore true that love gives limited meaning to life even while accentuating the ultimate futility of life, and of what comfort is this?

In a very deep sense, it’s true that I am religious because of my view that only religion can give a foundation to life. I was taught this from my earliest awareness, and it is, perhaps, the only part of what I was taught that I cannot abandon because while I can laugh about whether God cares about baptism by immersion, or whether women should remain silent in church, I can’t laugh about whether God represents the only eternal meaning to life, and, yes, eternity matters to me, deeply. Despite what religious people think, this is not a common sentiment among atheists, but it is who I am. While most atheists view religion as a disease to be cured, I view it as the sine qua non of life, yet I can’t embrace it, and the efforts of religious people to help me only accentuate the gulf between us.