I suspect many people would prefer boundaries and limitations of some sort, rather than be left contemplating a void that passes itself off as freedom.
But I was talking then about our daily world, with its need for daily bread. What of our spiritual world? Can we live without boundaries there?
Tolstoy said that faith was one of the forces by which we live.
So only with some difficulty then.
And so it is that most people on this earth retain their faith, despite the unflagging efforts of the proselytisers of reason.
The proselytisers of reason are left baffled by those who insist on retaining their communion with a spiritual reality.
The proselytisers of reason have small minds.
A life based on the answer ‘I don’t know’ to the question ‘Why?’ is hard to endure. Why are we here, to what end, for what purpose? Why must there be so much struggle in life—even in the midst of plenty—why so much suffering, so much pain? Why are my days filled with so much I care nothing for? Why so much drudgery? So much tedium?
‘What is missing from the misery of the world, as well as from its moments of happiness, is some principle by which they can be explained’—Camus.
Looking up at the countless stars of the heavens may well give you a sense of stupendous awe, but it will never give you a sense of meaning.
There is a certain irony, methinks, in all this, because we only have ourselves to blame—we have disturbed our own sleep by digging around so much in the earth, by insisting on prising open the secrets of the heavens. The more we have understood this universe and our place in it, the less secure we have become in it—and in ourselves.
We have reasoned ourselves into a state of terrifying doubt.
‘For humankind’s chief malady,’ Pascal once suggested, ‘is its uneasy curiosity about things it cannot know—and it is not so bad for it to be wrong as so vainly curious.’ John Stuart Mill said he’d rather be Socrates, sad but wise, than a happy yet ignorant pig. I think most would opt to be the pig.
But then the prophet of reason exclaims, now look here, I offer you freedom from superstition and myth, I bring light where there was darkness, I give you your liberty!—and the sane response of most is to curse the prophet of reason (who is too stupid and vain to understand why) as a destroyer of the foundations on which alone a tolerable existence might be constructed.
So much freedom, so much burden.
Better, they say, to pass our days according to precepts that tell us why we live as we do, suffer what we must and die as we will, than to believe that our lives and all that is attendant on them, the good and the evil, have no real meaning at all, or at least none that we can discern.
It does not matter in the slightest if what you believe is entirely fanciful—there need be no congruence between belief and reality for belief to be wholly real for the believer. And, if real, in that sense, then the dulling of the psychic pain such belief brings will be as real as that which a dose of morphine gives to the dying.
It is preferable, in other words, to live a life hemmed in, both from without and from within, than to be burdened with a life the entire responsibility for which lies with no one but one’s own self.
I read once of an Epicurean whose epitaph simply read NFFNSNC. It stands for non fui, fui, non sum, non curo—I was not, I was, I am not, I care not. I’m fine with it all until I reach non curo.
|God telling Moses who He is.|
I Am that I Am, announced the Lord to Moses, thereby setting the template for all of us (which, I suppose, is as it should be—we are, after all, made in His image). And so I am that I am, and I had no say in who I am—no one ever does, it is simply the fate of everyone that we must be someone—and so I am a devout unbeliever, an ardent atheist, who sometimes wonders if it wouldn’t be a fine and pleasant thing to have faith in a benevolent maker who watches over all of creation. But I have no such faith, and no means of conjuring it into existence—I am, perversely, to that extent exactly like that unbending believer Luther—‘Here I stand, I can do nothing else’.