Some days ago the world paid its farewell to Christopher Hitchens. That was right about the time my interest in literature and books was being rekindled so I thought why not get to know more about the man. Finally, I wound up doing merely some superficial reading on the web and the entire enterprise sank among the number of daily chores, but one thought stayed. As those in the know may realise he was an avid critic of religion, questioner of God’s existence and the like. I myself had a “problem” with religion several years back, pondering its sense, nature and role in one’s life. Eventually, I went to the other side, became a ‘reverse’ convert and abandoned my faith in God, making diligent Sunday mass attendance and prayers a thing of the past for me. If you’ve read my About section you might have noticed that at some point I even attempted to go further than being a mere atheist and remove the concept of God from my vocabulary. Since that’s turned out too difficult and time-consuming I decided to swing with it (hence About needs a bit of an update.)
On another blog, which has passed away some time ago due to natural causes, I tried to come to a conclusion as to what religion really meant to me. Having ascribed every unfortunate event in my life to being unkind to people, swearing and masturbation I somehow started thinking if it is possible for any supernatural entity to be out there, overseeing and judging all our deeds. The conclusion I arrived at, and that’s the point where the strength of my faith started to wane a bit, was that the Bible as we know it was not put down by God, but a group of people, who one by one wrote all the letters, scriptures, gospels, etc, and then compiled them into a single volume to provide themselves and future generations with a coherent set of rules to follow to be good and righteous people. This, obviously, is a gross oversimplification and the views expressed here are those of my own, just to let the reader know. Anyhow, that was my realisation, which pushed me into thinking “Surely you don’t need to believe in God to have a strong system of moral values and be a good man. Aren’t there any other options? What about non-believing parents who do not introduce their children into the world of faith but still manage to raise them to be fantastic and worthy human beings?”
This point of view grew even firmer in me once I came to the London, where the main religion is money and the god is Pound Sterling. This kind of environment where churchgoers are in a vast minority is a very fertile ground for atheism. This is certainly not to say that I simply soaked up the views of the people among whom I lived, just like in “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but my arrival in the UK simply coincided with this particular turning point in my spirituality and only accelerated a process which was bound to take place nevertheless. I don’t even remember how it happened exactly but at some point the rational, down-to-earth side of mine became preponderant in my perception of the world. Helpful in this transition was also my frustration with the position of the institution of Church in Poland and how powerful it is in influencing public opinion, which undoubtedly leads to many violations. This topic is too long and complex of a story deserving a separate post but let it serve as an indication.
This was the beginning of my non-believage, about which, curiously enough, no members of my family found out for my four years of being an atheist. This was down to the fact that I didn’t allow myself to shove it down their throats, mainly due to the combination of moderation in expressing my views and my respect for them as the people who raised me, maintained me and generally helped me throughout my entire life.
And so it went on, slowly losing in the anti-religious angst and turning into widely understood tolerance and open-mindedness. But the departure of Mr. Hitchens actually nudged me into thinking if is it really so important, necessary and desired to do one’s utmost best and forcefully rob those who believe of their entire dogmatic cradle which has rocked them for their entire life? People grow attached to their beliefs not only because what they represent but probably also due to the fact who they endowed them from, they associate certain good moments with acquiring those values. If you grew up believing in something and that helped you do good, be a valuable member of your community what right does anyone have to come and calmly and rationally, with a smirk on their face lay out indisputable arguments why you should be wrong?
There was a brilliant double-episode of South Park called “Go God Go” (and if you are not aware of the existence of that show you must be who Plato got the idea of his cave allegory, and should go and see it immediately.) Thereby, Cartman is too impatient to wait three weeks for the release of the Wii console and decides to freeze himself in the snow to be unfrozen by Butters around the time when Wii comes out. Unfortunately, Butters’s memory fails him and Cartman remains asleep for hundreds of years, waking up in the times dominated by three factions fighting over which one is right as to the answer to “The Great Question.” The main twist of the story is that all three answers are fundamentally the same but are formulated in slightly different ways. That, however, does not prevent the three organisations from combating each other brutally and ruthlessly. What Parker and Stone try to show there is that human beings have fundamentally hard-wired separatists tendencies and that long-term peace is never possible, and this view is even more reinforced at the end of the second episode. As a kid I had many opportunities to be a front-seat observer for ideological clashes between my father and uncle, father and grandma, grandpa and grandma, ad nauseam. Dawkins, explaining the theory of evolution in the second chapter of his “Selfish Gene” tells about a spontaneous occurrence of molecules with a unique ability to replicate themselves. And nothing, as he explains, would be so extraordinary about them if it was not for two factors: namely that they just “appeared”, which illustrates that change sometimes is unaccounted for, and even if it is we can never be sure as to the accuracy of the explanation, and that they learned to replicate themselves, which at that stage in the formation of the universe was something astonishingly improbable and somehow illustrated the first, primitive form of intelligence oriented at prolonging its own kind. Maybe the selfishness promoted as Dawkins as the main vehicle for self-preservation which has pervaded to our times manifests itself as constantly proving ourselves right in front of others. And maybe that behavior remains in the sphere of unconsciously surfacing fits, animal-like instincts, until the time when some widely understood education and social grooming helps one realise that it’s not necessary to shout and throw fists every time they encounter a conflicting point of view.
What I’m trying to say is that change is spontaneous. Even if we lived in a world without religion, as it was the case back in the time of the primitive people, somehow, somewhere ideas would start to sprout (as they did,) bred out of desires, caused by void in existence that yearned to be filled. Is it going to be scientifically true? Probably not. Is it going to be harmless? Not necessarily. It’s not very pedagogical to downright forbid. Did prohibition prevent people from drinking? Does legislation prevent web users from download copyrighted content? Do your stern expression and a waving finger prevent your kid from going to your closet to look at pinup girls? Obviously, there’s appropriate time in a man’s life for everything, but curiosity heightens with limitations. It is probably another result of our selfish race for self-preservation, that when we see something intentionally put out of our reach, our automatic reaction is the assumption that the obscured item will help us increase our chance of widely understood survival. And it’s so obvious that people seem to forget it, as they forget to look left and right before crossing the street to check if I’m not cycling right at them. What I just said may run counter to what I wrote in one of my earlier posts, The Tale Of The Protester, claiming that it is that imposed political schism which prevents people from coming to an agreement and ceasing the perpetual argument about superiority of one political option over the other. Here it is important to make a distinction between a rational moderate and an extremist. I see the former as an educated supporter of a particular point of view who instead of seeking differences between his position and that of the others, looks for similarities which allow him to be a mature and conscious contributor to the intellectual progress, whereas the latter… Well, you get me. I believe there is a very thin line between keeping people disoriented as to what to believe in and maintaining that variety in balance so that they don’t kill each other. Just give them their warm and cosy bubble of life-long values, and make that bubble opaque enough so that it’s not possible to see that there are actually other people with other points of view, with other solutions to the same problems, and who actually live happy and peaceful lives. Whatever works, just no abusers, no liars, no fanatics, no money-hungry sect leaders, no close-minded seniors, etc. Live and let live.
Everyone who read Oliver Sacks’s “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” remembers Hildegarde of Bingen and her “visions.” It was one of the first women to reach the highest echelons of the catholic Church, and to be later on beatified. From the age of three she was said to receive visions from God himself, which she later would put down on paper as pictures. As Sacks, and earlier Charles Singer, admits, those pictures accurately resembled images which afflict migraine sufferers. An atheist would say: “That’s phony, those were not visions, she was just ill!” Okay… and? She was also a composer and a healer, whose faith led to self-fulfillment and happiness. Probably everyone in Poland, believing or not, knows the story of the St. Maksymilian Kolbe. As a young man he claimed to have had a vision of St. Mary holding white and red crowns denoting purity and martyrdom respectively. Being incarcerated in the Auschwitz concentration camp he volunteered for starvation in lieu for a sentenced inmate, to ultimately be killed by a phenol injection. Look at all the God-inspired music, at Bach, Haydn, Mozart, look at all the art, all the incredible architecture you eagerly go to see whenever visiting Vienna, Prague, Barcelona or Tokyo. Does your god-rejecting nature prevent from admiring all that? From appreciating how much intellect, commitment, talent and effort went into it?
OK, this is the fifht day I’m writing this post and there’s tons of other stuff I have to lay my hands on so I better wrap up. There’s never only one solution. There may be one truth, but different ways of arriving at it. I am a proponent of a semi-scientifically-based answer to the ever-pervasive spiritual question of “What is the meaning of life?” Well, once there was nothing, then there was some gas. These gases were involved a reaction which resulted in a massive explosion which gave beginning to stars, planets, galaxies and so forth. On one of those planets started to appear small living organisms, which then evolved into bigger, more complex ones. Then after a long, long time our ancestors appeared and they were confused, just like primates – their ancestors. They multiplied, hunted, gathered and wandered to, subsequently, populate the earth. They developed social codes, conventions, somewhere along the line language emerged. Suddenly they realised that they can more. Their lives and their surroundings grew in complexity. The rest, I reckon, is history. THERE IS NO MEANING TO LIFE. However, human beings realised at some point that in order to make their lives a bit more meaningful they have to make something of themselves. Spend the time a bit more productively rather than instinctively kill for food, copulate and die. The meaning of your life is what you make of it. And as long as you do not cause harm to your fellows make your life whatever you want. We are an indirect result of gas. And you know what else results from gas? Farts. Then, this is what we are. Farts, accidents in the history of the universe we are ignorant to claim we’re the only ones populating it. Just crack on with your life and don’t sweat…