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Faith without Religion


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1 hour ago, JessiesMom said:

@gandolfication - the way I see it, Jesus was foreshadowing how things would be when the Kingdom of Heaven was here. I have heard the Kingdom of Heaven be described not as some kind of afterlife, but rather as a way that life could be lived in the here and now. Jesus wants us to work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to the here and not by being his hands in the world. So, it is our job not to worry about what happens after we die - but to live by these rules now. From this perspective, these are not things that will happen without human action. We are to comfort the mourning, give food to the hungry, give water to the thirsty...etc. This fits with what he said about when we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, and so on - it is him that we are helping.

This interpretation makes more sense.

I do not think it bears a strong relationship with what the words actually say (in either modern language or the ancient Greek).
I'm taking issue with the text, not you.  I used to study, memorize and 'apologize' (defend) the Bible during most of my life until 2010, when I stopped.

One of the reasons I wrote the first post above, is that I have been in part on a quest to see if I can find or fashion a much more open, liberal, and non-literalist version of Christianity than the one I practiced.  Certainly, plenty of people do this, just not ones I grew up around or have ever seen modeled in close proximity.

What I find is that with many precepts from the Bible/Christianity, once the concept or principle is taken from the context of its literal text and plain meaning and extended out in a much more progressive, often figurative, metaphoric direction, I not only don't have a hang up about it, but often, like or cherish it.  And by that time, the concept often bears little to no relationship to what its text actually says.  Christians (and other religious adherents) are constantly giving rationalizations for things and saying that what it actually means is something far different even including essentially the opposite of what it says (many Christians for example have tried to).  Again, I'm not directing this at you (you have described your love of 'faith' not religion anyhow); rather I'm describing a hangup I seem to have, when (I perceive) things don't say what they mean or mean what they say. 

A psychiatrist I quickly stopped seeing, once told me, "you seem to struggle with ambiguity."  It was the wrong thing to hear at the time.  I was in law school, where we split hairs for a living.  It offended me then, and still bothers me.  But I suspected then and know better now, he was on to something.  He didn't mean I had trouble understanding ambiguity; he meant that I don't like it, and about that he was right.  This estimable pastor and friend I had breakfast with a few weeks ago was preaching sermons on Ecclesiastes.  In them, he described some of the many "both-ands" of the Bible that seem to contradict.  Paradoxes I think.  This bothers me because I thought I did well with prodoxes - always did from literature and art anyway.

Lawyers in their writing and judges in their opinions can do this at times, when they're trying to reconcile contradictory principles, or 'tension' as we often put it.  But the point is that good analysis does reconcile it some way.  So maybe I do just dislike ambiguity and the imprecise.  My wife and I frequently get into arguments because of communication problems - or as I see it - the fact that she is a terribly imprecise communicator, often saying things very different from what she means.

I suppose faith is about not demanding clarity and answers, let alone certainty about things.  Ironic that this would be the path to greater peace.

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2 hours ago, moodyjuniper said:

I don't know why, but I experience religion and spirituality much different than most. You're all so eloquent with words to describe these ideas. I'm a feeler. I'm nonverbal most of the time, a quiet person. I force myself to talk more than I want to because life is easier that way. I like the community the church provides, but in practice, I prefer to experience God, which is why I like meditation so much. I also struggle with the blood and guts part of Christianity, although I am Christian. I gravitate toward the positive and comforting parts.

I'm reading Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado, and today's reading describes my experience of God perfectly.

"She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which means, 'God is with me.' (Matthew 1:23)

The white space between Bible verses is fertile soil for questions. One can hardly read Scripture without whispering, 'I wonder...'

'I wonder if Eve ever ate any more fruit.'

'I wonder if Noah slept well during storms.'"

🙂

I like to think God is fun and has a sense of humor. I love the way the Bible repeats over and over, God is with you. God is with us...

That's nice.  I used to share a lot of that, and also prefered to experience the "still, small voice," to "be still and know that he is God," etc.  I read a good many of Max Lucado's books (and other similar Christian writers too...he inspired a bit of a genre), although not that one.  Always liked the way he painted vivid pictures and told stories.  He tended to focus on the positive and comforting parts, which I too gravitate(d) toward.

When I believe in God, I always try to imagine him (her, it, whatever) as being mostly a loyal and loving friend.  Friends choose to love you.  Parents do too, but it is expected (and they have legal obligations to care of their kids).  With friends, it is all grace based on choice.

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19 hours ago, Epictetus said:

My life has been expensive to the animal kingdom and to the kingdom of microbes.  So many creatures have perished so that I might live and they have not perished voluntarily.  Someday it will be my turn. 

Civil laws do not permit this, but if I could, after I am gone I would like my body to be thrown out into the desert so that animals and microbes could finally get their calories from me . . . kind of my way of saying "thanks" to the universe. 

I never thought of it this way before (do bugs die because we live?).

anway, I had to post this back here.  It is from an article I was reading on Rotten Tomatoes on future villains in the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU), of which my kids and I are big fans.  Talking about a guy named Galactus

One of the early cosmic-level entities devised by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Galactus famously came to Earth to consume all its energies to satiate his enormous appetite. But in a curious twist, this does not make him inherently evil. Like all sentient life in the universe, he must consume other life to survive. 

 

I never really realized, but I guess this is true too.

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Everyone and I mean literally every social construct humanity has created has been in some way or form a means to try and cope with the unacceptable reality that surrounds us. Religion and the idea of faith often associated with it are of course no exceptions.

If we look at it logically and pragmatically it's all utterly absurd and extremely self centered but at the same time there's a certain logic to religion, if the reality of our world is so painful then why not make up a different one that at least makes us feel better in the time we have?

Because here's the thing, all these ideas about faith, meaning and purpose they exist only in our minds. They have no form or existence beyond us, so why not just accept them for what they are and try to make them work for us without actually lying to ourselves?

Make up your own beliefs, create your own symbols and start your own traditions. You don't need a larger organization, a history or even anybody else. Have faith in being a good person for the sake of being a good person, be kind to others because you wish for a kinder world or whatever it is that you wish. Give yourself meaning while accepting that there's no meaning beyond ourselves.

Sure that sounds a lot easier said than done but I honestly think it's the only real solution to the conflict a person experiences when they wish for spirituality while also not being able to reconcile it when the reality they face. Create faith to help yourself because you need it, while also understanding and accepting that it's a fiction we tell ourselves to be able to keep going and there's nothing really wrong with that. At least in principle.

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On 4/18/2019 at 4:05 PM, gandolfication said:

only left two options - nihilism and hedonism, both of which come up empty in pretty short order, and certainly don't provide any answer, let alone antidote to death and hopeless despair.  No meaning lies that way.

Just replying quickly as someone who was raised atheist and raised with strong morals, ethics and values... that I find it a really strange concept that "without religion all that's left is nihilism and hedonism".

I don't agree at all... Look up "humanism" on Wikipedia... There are soooo many life philosophies that are about doing good and being ethical and caring about others.

In fact, if you look at it in terms of human evolution... then animals actually live in groups and support each other and if they are higher order animals, even do altruistic acts... because it makes them survive better than if they are just individuals with each individual seeking its own success. Living in a group and being inter-dependent makes us need each other and makes us be wired to help each other. Really, it's a trick of evolution to wire the brain for things like "social rules" and "morals" and "ethics".

We had that stuff for hundreds of thousands of years, before the human brain ever INVENTED religion.

Religion came way LATER than things like ethics, life philosophy, meaning, purpose, etc.

And really, you could argue that human brains invented religion only because our brains were too limited to understand life/ the world in a scientific way. Stories and parabels like "there is a big man in the sky who made the world out of nothing" are an easy fix for the brain for things that are too difficult to comprehend in any other way.

So even tho *in your personal life* you had religion first and then a lack-of-religion later... In terms of humanity, animals, the earth... religion showed up incredibly late in the game... We've had millions of years of evolution and religion only ever showed up in the last couple of thousand years... That's a blink of an eye, in the grand scheme of things. And if you look at how long the modern form of Christanity has existed that you'd identify with, then that's a blink of a blink of an eye.

So I think you've got it kind of back to front... The underlying condition is not religion... and you've somehow lost that...

The underlying condition has always been just nature and things existing... and humans have *added* religion on top of that, like a layer, because it makes life "easier" or "nicer".

This notion that "life without religion is unlivable" really stems from the traumatic loss you experienced when you stopped believing, IMO.

Life-without-religion is FINE for millions of atheists around the world, and I dare say the biggest percentage of them are pursusing NEITHER hedonism or nihilism, but are just living lives based on basic ethics the way all animals/ mamals that live in groups have rules for "how to interact with each other in a positive way".

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3 hours ago, Sophy said:

Life-without-religion is FINE for millions of atheists around the world, and I dare say the biggest percentage of them are pursusing NEITHER hedonism or nihilism, but are just living lives based on basic ethics the way all animals/ mamals that live in groups have rules for "how to interact with each other in a positive way".

👏👏👏 Morals and ethics derive from mutually beneficial interaction, not from religion or theism, which as you already pointed out, is a very recent, man-made entity.

I agree with you that nihilism and hedonism are not the only choices when one discards religion.

Atheism and humanism are not bad things...I would submit that they are both more natural states than religionism.

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3 hours ago, Sophy said:

Just replying quickly as someone who was raised atheist and raised with strong morals, ethics and values... that I find it a really strange concept that "without religion all that's left is nihilism and hedonism".

I don't agree at all... Look up "humanism" on Wikipedia... There are soooo many life philosophies that are about doing good and being ethical and caring about others.

In fact, if you look at it in terms of human evolution... then animals actually live in groups and support each other and if they are higher order animals, even do altruistic acts... because it makes them survive better than if they are just individuals with each individual seeking its own success. Living in a group and being inter-dependent makes us need each other and makes us be wired to help each other. Really, it's a trick of evolution to wire the brain for things like "social rules" and "morals" and "ethics".

We had that stuff for hundreds of thousands of years, before the human brain ever INVENTED religion.

Religion came way LATER than things like ethics, life philosophy, meaning, purpose, etc.

And really, you could argue that human brains invented religion only because our brains were too limited to understand life/ the world in a scientific way. Stories and parables like "there is a big man in the sky who made the world out of nothing" are an easy fix for the brain for things that are too difficult to comprehend in any other way.

So even tho *in your personal life* you had religion first and then a lack-of-religion later... In terms of humanity, animals, the earth... religion showed up incredibly late in the game... We've had millions of years of evolution and religion only ever showed up in the last couple of thousand years... That's a blink of an eye, in the grand scheme of things. And if you look at how long the modern form of Christianity has existed that you'd identify with, then that's a blink of a blink of an eye.

So I think you've got it kind of back to front... The underlying condition is not religion... and you've somehow lost that...

The underlying condition has always been just nature and things existing... and humans have *added* religion on top of that, like a layer, because it makes life "easier" or "nicer".

This notion that "life without religion is unlivable" really stems from the traumatic loss you experienced when you stopped believing, IMO.

Life-without-religion is FINE for millions of atheists around the world, and I dare say the biggest percentage of them are pursuing NEITHER hedonism or nihilism, but are just living lives based on basic ethics the way all animals/ mammals that live in groups have rules for "how to interact with each other in a positive way".

Thanks Sophie.  I'm so glad you replied to this part.  I love your perspective on this.

I'm going to reply to the first half of your message here, and the rest in a second reply.

I think of humanism as a branch of the other two, mainly hedonism.*  

Yes, of course people can and do live ethical lives entirely apart from any belief in deity.  They can and do live lives of altruism, nobility, goodness, empathy and self-sacrificial love.  There is no evidence or reason that an atheists can't or doesn't do this every bit as much as a theist, and indeed it can be said they even do it with greater altruism and ethical virtue, since they do not do it either through empowerment of for reward from, the deity, eternal life, etc.  Let's once and for all, dispel this notion that a-theism is inconsistent with living a 'good life.'  People can.  They do.

(Let's also dispatch with religion, and think in terms of god/faith/redemption/grace/eternity and such - an intelligent and loving force behind the ultimate curtain, as it were.  Or not).

And what you're describing above...of humans working to help each other, etc., is unquestionably beautiful.  Contingent.  But beautiful.

But it all ends the same.  The theist has REASON for hope.  The non-theist, in the end, can find only pessimism, logically speaking (and I think ultimately emotionally thus as well).  We suffer and struggle and survive through this largely agonizing life, then have only death to look forward to ultimately.  Then we are forgotten forever.  We were just dust with electricity pulsing through us for a while, giving illusion to animal consciousness.  Oblivion.  Nothingness.  We strain to and can't really even imagine it.  The end.

I can get on board with certain parts of rationalism, materialism, and I am a humanist (maybe not a well-informed, experienced one).  But if you keep pushing the limits and asking things like, what's next?  Why?  What could it possibly mean, or probably better phrased, why and on what bases, could life or anything potentially matter?  Ethics, goodness, altruism, empathy, collaboration, even progress...don't get at that answer.  (One threshold faultline here I think likes in the question of whether one finds/sees meaning existing in impermanence.  I confess I don't.  I may be wrong about that...but if I am wrong, I am only wrong for a time...once we're not here, it is safe to say, then there is no meaning in it any more).

 

I've been having this same conversation with a friend who's not on the DF.

He asked me if I believed that everyone has 'faith' in something?  I do of course, it's how I started this post. So he asked what, and here was my answer.

I've had to think about this a lot, and answers are short.  If I had to identify what it is I have 'faith' in these days, beyond just saying the 'unknowable,'... I suppose it would be:

  • God (we have and will talk much about)...it just seems so challenging to believe in
  • infinity (quantum parallel worlds as a source of hope, eternity, etc., even though most likely we'll never connect with them)
  • humanity - I'm sure we need not talk about why and all the ways and reasons this is destined to fail
  • innovation/technology - that we may indeed evolve and converge with information theory into a unified connectedness...things like uploading human consciousness...recognizing, understanding all of the ways, visible and hidden that we are all connected, and all the same in all the ways that matter most
  • And death.  Specifically the finality of death.
 
That death ends pain.  No more terror of living.  I believe that.

 

 

 

*I read the wikipedia article on Humanism as a human-centered philosophy.  This is what I mean.  It rests upon rationalism and empiricism.  But worldview/purpose/reason for living is something larger that transcends even this.  Philosophies are based on certain first principles, presuppositions, a priori assumptions, and properly basic beliefs.  Relevant examples here would include things like:  I should care about reason.  Evidentialism matters.  There is meaning and intelligibility.  I believe in laws of logic and reason.  Science is a key valid form to discern (and predict) truth, but there are others.  Science and empiricism are necessarily limited to discerning and predicting truth about questions subject to actual falsification (thus at this point they can't and don't disprove that I have infinite doppelgangers).  We do not know in all cases that the future will be the same as the past (though it is a properly basic belief to believe it will be based on empiricism.  Our senses are valid, reliable even though they often deceive us about reality in certain ways.  Knowledge is based on experience (among others) and that knowledge is tentative and probabilistic subject to continued revision and falsification.  Etc., etc.

 

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it.

(I did not realize how much of modern humanism as philosophy comes directly from literature...something I like, as it deals more in metaphysics and art than literal empiricism).  

I'm not trying to play with words here.  I am simply saying there are really big questions that empiricism.  This comes from The Great Debate, to illustrate how there are in fact numerous methods/paths/ways/types-even of truth.  They are not all answered in different ways.

 

We might ask , “Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?” And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you’re now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case.

Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question.

.

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55 minutes ago, LonelyHiker said:

👏👏👏 Morals and ethics derive from mutually beneficial interaction, not from religion or theism, which as you already pointed out, is a very recent, man-made entity.

I agree with you that nihilism and hedonism are not the only choices when one discards religion.

Atheism and humanism are not bad things...I would submit that they are both more natural states than religionism.

Agree.

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4 hours ago, Sophy said:

And really, you could argue that human brains invented religion only because our brains were too limited to understand life/ the world in a scientific way. Stories and parabels like "there is a big man in the sky who made the world out of nothing" are an easy fix for the brain for things that are too difficult to comprehend in any other way.

So even tho *in your personal life* you had religion first and then a lack-of-religion later... In terms of humanity, animals, the earth... religion showed up incredibly late in the game... We've had millions of years of evolution and religion only ever showed up in the last couple of thousand years... That's a blink of an eye, in the grand scheme of things. And if you look at how long the modern form of Christanity has existed that you'd identify with, then that's a blink of a blink of an eye.

So I think you've got it kind of back to front... The underlying condition is not religion... and you've somehow lost that...

The underlying condition has always been just nature and things existing... and humans have *added* religion on top of that, like a layer, because it makes life "easier" or "nicer".

This notion that "life without religion is unlivable" really stems from the traumatic loss you experienced when you stopped believing, IMO.

Life-without-religion is FINE for millions of atheists around the world, and I dare say the biggest percentage of them are pursusing NEITHER hedonism or nihilism, but are just living lives based on basic ethics the way all animals/ mamals that live in groups have rules for "how to interact with each other in a positive way".

Yes, yes.  This really is saying to things to me:  (1) that 'religion' isn't the answer to all things (agreed); and (2) hey, look around and notice/realize that you still have everything to live for now that you did when you thought you had that cosmic loving friend, 'god', true or not true, it was just how you believed.

Hopefully I haven't butchered that too much in my paraphrase.

Now, I too would like to dispatch with the word and concept of 'religion,' and not as a word trick.  A reason for purpose, that things should matter, is what 'god' is to me.  Is there someone or something which can calm the storm of the terror of living and then of death?  This is what won't go away.  I know that millions of atheists live 'fine' lives, get by, find as much happiness and fulfilment as Christians (debatable, but I conceded it).  The theist has much more direct reason to support it - this is part of what you mean by making it 'easier' or 'nicer.' No doubt.  I personally see the non-theist view though, as having to construct benign fictions to accomplish this (and by this, they engage in the same embrace of delusion that the religionist is accused of and perhaps also does).  The fact is, we cannot face and do not have any real answer that deals in a serious way with the unmitigated horror we face in life and death.  Redemption does.  Only redemption.  My definition of redemption is:  All things are or will be made okay.  If anyone says, No.  Sorry to break it.  Things aren't and will not be made even 'okay' at all, I first salute their honesty and courage.  And I wish them luck in this disastrous realization.  One virtue of Christianity or theism, made up or not, is that it does at least deal very seriously with the unmitigated horror we face in life and death.  And in redemption, it does also postulate an answer that stands firm on laws of logic and reason.  That is to say, if one accepts some of the un-provable (and unfalsifiable) truth claims--namely there's a loving source of redemption--crucially, it does answer the absolute most challenging problem all of us have, with stunning, elegant, internally-consistent and integrated logic, reason, and truth.  It may all fail or succeed based on these tenets that some understandably mock as preposterous, but it should be ceded that if true, then it 'works,' where other systems, philosophies, 'answers' do not.

If it succeeds, it is because of the literal impossibility and unacceptability of any contrary.
(I urge those intrigued and interested in the interesting logical proof of this to listen to the Great Debate Does God Exist by Dr. Greg Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon Stein, on YouTube....much less of it has to do with religion than with an elegant, practical discussion of how we live).

 

btw, I want to say here, that philosophically speaking, dealing with 'death' is not morbid.  It is rational and normal to start by dealing with this most fundamental of all realities we can know.  In fact, from the ancients to now, it has always been part and parcel of discovering if there is a possibility of living a 'good life, and how.

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I'm not sure that either life or death are actually "unmitigated horror".

They just "are".

As atheists, we're probably more used to staring into the sometimes scary abyss.

It's probably like learning to sky-dive. Yes, on the one hand, jumping out of a plane can be sheer terrifying and goes against ALL of our instincts for survival.

Even tho I've never sky-dived, I'm pretty sure there are people that truly enjoy it and love the adrenaline rush and do it over and over.

Yes, living a life without religion is living a life kind of without a spiritual safety net.

But really, you only die once over.

And everyone dies once over, no matter what.

There's a lovely Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown says to Snoopy "Some day we will all die, Snoopy" and Snoopy replies "True, but on all the other days we will not"

(You can google it, it's really lovely)

So like the sky-diving example, atheists probably just have more *practise* at going *gulp* and getting goosebumps about how living and dying *can* be scary (but aren't always) and then managing to turn those thoughts around and finding simple meaning in things like sharing situation and thoughts and feelings as friends, or helping each other, or learning new things, or achieving something, or experiencing compassion or overcoming hardship.

There's plenty of "worthwhile" stuff in life that doesn't require eternity or spirituality to "make" it worthwhile.

A sunrise is beautiful, just because it is. Because we connect to existence, the universe, and everyone else who has ever lived and will ever live.

I do think it's a thing of *practising* and *learning* to live with it.

And I remember as an atheist teenager going through all the big "angst" questions and all the soul-searching "meaning of life" stuff. And yeah, as a teenager, that was some seriously challenging and often scary stuff.

I think it's a muscle you can train over time tho. It gets easier.

I think for you it's really complicated by that "trauma and loss" element of how you experienced religion being ripped from your life like a painful wound.

I think that painful experience of loss and confusion and hurt and loneliness really affects your thinking about an "absence of religion" in a calm, constructive manner.

And I'm not trying to be "pro-atheist"... I think you know me well enough for that.

I think if you find back to a religious faith that works for you, that's a great outcome.

I would just like the alternative to not be so scary or so painful or such a burden for you, ya know?

(((hug)))

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On 4/18/2019 at 8:02 PM, gandolfication said:

I'm with you on the works/actions as the real substance of faith.  And they do make for a compelling philosophy of living...I think all applications of the golden rule, do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.  And perhaps also the law of sewing and reaping (or causation).  So they're beautiful.  They're how I've always wanted to live (even though I don't live up to them).

Do you believe the 'if-then' promises of the beatitudes?  Do you really believe, for example, that those who show mercy will be shown mercy, etc.?  

I also wanted to respond to this and I hope I'm not "over-simplifying" this...

I think it's actually a concern to think there's a God who "keeps score" and who records your brownie points and misdemeanours.

As an atheist, when I am kind to someone, I don't do it because I think there's anyone "keeping score" or because anyone will "reward" me.

In fact, all of my life experience says that doing good things (or doing bad things) is not a tit-for-tat thing.

I know a lot of people who are really lovely people... what I'd call "good people" who have had absolutely atrocious things happen to them in life.

And it's not because "they deserved it".

Same goes the other way... When you look at how life "rewards" people who can be crap, superficial, ruthless, selfish... I don't think there's some kind of universal "reward and punishment" system for good and bad deeds.

So why am I kind to others, as an atheist?

Because I believe in being kind *inherently*.

Sometimes (but only sometimes!!) if I am kind to one person, they will be kind back to me, either directly or sometime later.

But it doesn't always work that way.

Sometimes, you're kind to someone and get nothing in return.

Sometimes, people are kind to you, and you can't give them anything in return.

So, often, I think we "pay stuff forward" rather than paying it back.

So, my reason for being kind/ doing good things is that I "believe" (have faith) that many/ most other human beings (evolved apes/ mamals that we are...) also mostly try and be nice/ kind to others, where they feel able to do so... and that somehow, it all kind of comes out in the wash most of the time. Somehow by most of us giving some kindness, most of us end up receiving some kindness. It's not a perfect system, but it seems to kinda work.

And in a way, I think that's actually a much bigger leap of faith... To trust that others are going to treat me decently... just because... just because it's a better way of living than if we all treat each other like sh*t and mistrust each other.

Just because, in many/ most situations in life, kindness is *possible* and because most of us know that life with kindness is *better* than life without kindness.

Just "because".

So yeah, I don't think there's any kind of real reward/ punishment system... Not on a universal level.

There is some element of reward/ punishment in social systems... Often, if others observe us being kind, then they will socially reward us for it (tho there are no guarantees for this).

I also don't believe in "karma"... Other than that there's a subtle "sense of karma" that our conscience seems to have... That if we *know* we did our best... if we know we were kind... if we know we made an effort... Then our conscience rests a lot easier... We have a deeper sense of peace in life... It's a subtle thing, but I think on the level of our own conscience, there's a certain level of interal "reward and punishment" that we do too.

And yeah... these notions *can also* be expressed spiritually... But that is not *necessary* for having deep, true, authentic, meaningful motivations for being kind or doing good things.

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Also, I shared this with a friend today and thought it might be helpful in this context too.

It's pretty much the rules of live I live by... my philosophy...

It's from "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum... an excerpt from the book...

 

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the D*ck-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK."

 

Edited by Sophy
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On 4/20/2019 at 2:24 PM, Sophy said:

Also, I shared this with a friend today and thought it might be helpful in this context too.

It's pretty much the rules of live I live by... my philosophy...

It's from "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum... an excerpt from the book...

 

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the D*ck-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK."

 

I love the ethos of this.  It has this atmosphere of groundedness.

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On 4/20/2019 at 2:04 PM, Sophy said:

there's a subtle "sense of karma" that our conscience seems to have... That if we *know* we did our best... if we know we were kind... if we know we made an effort... Then our conscience rests a lot easier... We have a deeper sense of peace in life... It's a subtle thing, but I think on the level of our own conscience, there's a certain level of interal "reward and punishment" that we do too.

So I think this is probably the most compelling reason to do good.  Because it benefits the doer.  And that contains a kind of self-perpetuating authentication and motivation.  If I realize that I will be my best by doing good and kindness to others, it is a recipe for a happier, healthier, grander life.
I don't do good things or not because I think God is watching.  Maybe I did to some extent when I was younger.  But at some point, that kind of thinking and motivation left me, except perhaps in certain schemas that I am either scarcely or not aware of at all.

I emphasize the "er" in the descriptions of life above, because as you point out, the rain falls on the 'righteous and wicked alike.'  I only quote from the Bible, as a work of enduring literature that has captured certain phrases quintessentially (not because I'm citing its authority on literal matters).

Doing good because you know in the long run it will benefit yourself is simultaneously consistent with the notion that reciprocity will benefit us all, from Kant's categorical imperative and the same essential notion from many philosophies, and from utilitarian ethics.

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On 4/19/2019 at 10:24 PM, Reinhardt said:

 

I found a lot of interesting points in here, and I'm going to respond to this in-line, in red:

 

Everyone and I mean literally every social construct humanity has created has been in some way or form a means to try and cope with the unacceptable reality that surrounds us. Religion and the idea of faith often associated with it are of course no exceptions.

Sure.  (A distinction can be made between religion as any kind of construct, and an irreducibly fundamental question as to the reality or not of 'god' as one understands that...which is to say as a concept and real, extant being, the realness or not of it can transcend mere abstraction, into reality).  

If we look at it logically and pragmatically it's all utterly absurd and extremely self centered but at the same time there's a certain logic to religion, if the reality of our world is so painful then why not make up a different one that at least makes us feel better in the time we have?  Yep.  But with equal force, I can also say that to make believe there is any meaning, whatsoever, in anything--including what we are saying now, is just as much of an utterly absurd and extremely self-centered notion.  It is all a clanging cymbal, signifying nothing.  

Because here's the thing, all these ideas about faith, meaning and purpose they exist only in our minds.
I'm not sure how one would go about proving or disproving this.  It seems an a priori first principle we must assume, presuppositional, as part of a chosen worldview.  Not a criticism, just observing.  I do not think it can be demonstrated that these things do not or cannot exist in reality outside our minds.  It is their nature and the nature of the universe and reality as we know it, in some sense, baked into the definition, that "faith" in something unseen can't be disproven. By "unseen," here I mean something that eludes our 5 senses.  Philosophers have observed the only thing I can really know for sure is that I exist.  Everything else rests on some part supposition.

They have no form or existence beyond us, so why not just accept them for what they are and try to make them work for us without actually lying to ourselves?  Make up your own beliefs, create your own symbols and start your own traditions.   I have had this thought so many times and tried to do this in so many ways.  It is observable that some people are not able to do this (and probably I am one).  For those who can do this, I remain eternally jealous.

You don't need a larger organization, a history or even anybody else. Have faith in being a good person for the sake of being a good person, be kind to others because you wish for a kinder world or whatever it is that you wish. Give yourself meaning while accepting that there's no meaning beyond ourselves.

Sure that sounds a lot easier said than done but I honestly think it's the only real solution to the conflict a person experiences when they wish for spirituality while also not being able to reconcile it when the reality they face. Create faith to help yourself because you need it, while also understanding and accepting that it's a fiction we tell ourselves to be able to keep going and there's nothing really wrong with that. At least in principle.

I love this.  I think it's beautiful.  I have tried to create this kind of 'benign fiction,' and to some extent I do.  I must.  We all do.  We tell ourselves stories.  It is what our minds do.  So perhaps another way for me to think about it, is just that whatever story I'm telling myself is destructive, and I'm better if I can change the direction, however slightly and gradually even, of the story to something just healthier.  I've kept trying to do this - of course this is the very thing depression attacks so mercilessly.  But everyone here knows that.

thx

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On 4/20/2019 at 1:50 PM, Sophy said:

I'm not sure that either life or death are actually "unmitigated horror".

They just "are".

As atheists, we're probably more used to staring into the sometimes scary abyss.

It's probably like learning to sky-dive. Yes, on the one hand, jumping out of a plane can be sheer terrifying and goes against ALL of our instincts for survival.

Even tho I've never sky-dived, I'm pretty sure there are people that truly enjoy it and love the adrenaline rush and do it over and over.

Yes, living a life without religion is living a life kind of without a spiritual safety net.

But really, you only die once over.

And everyone dies once over, no matter what.

There's a lovely Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown says to Snoopy "Some day we will all die, Snoopy" and Snoopy replies "True, but on all the other days we will not"

(You can google it, it's really lovely)

So like the sky-diving example, atheists probably just have more *practise* at going *gulp* and getting goosebumps about how living and dying *can* be scary (but aren't always) and then managing to turn those thoughts around and finding simple meaning in things like sharing situation and thoughts and feelings as friends, or helping each other, or learning new things, or achieving something, or experiencing compassion or overcoming hardship.

There's plenty of "worthwhile" stuff in life that doesn't require eternity or spirituality to "make" it worthwhile.

A sunrise is beautiful, just because it is. Because we connect to existence, the universe, and everyone else who has ever lived and will ever live.

I do think it's a thing of *practising* and *learning* to live with it.

And I remember as an atheist teenager going through all the big "angst" questions and all the soul-searching "meaning of life" stuff. And yeah, as a teenager, that was some seriously challenging and often scary stuff.

I think it's a muscle you can train over time tho. It gets easier.

I think for you it's really complicated by that "trauma and loss" element of how you experienced religion being ripped from your life like a painful wound.

I think that painful experience of loss and confusion and hurt and loneliness really affects your thinking about an "absence of religion" in a calm, constructive manner.

And I'm not trying to be "pro-atheist"... I think you know me well enough for that.

I think if you find back to a religious faith that works for you, that's a great outcome.

I would just like the alternative to not be so scary or so painful or such a burden for you, ya know?

(((hug)))

For me, a lot of this hinges on one of the fundamental questions, what gives life its value?  Is it scarcity?  Or permanence?  Or something else?

While I don't want to dwell too harshly on it, even here, I do think death, (and a painful life) are horrific.  Once one takes very seriously, the definition of pain--and particularly whatever is each person's worst pains and fears--I think this demonstrates itself.  I know there are good moments and things too, and really I don't want to minimize that or adopt a self-fulfilling negative attitude (even though in part, that is one definition of depression I think).

Beauty (and value) from scarcity is the principle.  Rarity can make something more beautiful, to me, but I have never thought it was enough on its own.

Yes, I also think that atheists naturally tend to have stronger mental toughness types of defenses, since they have not  had the luxury of believing in a god that had their 'back' and made everything okay, even if only in an ultimate sense.

Your imagery of skydiving out of a plane is a vivid one (I sky-dived when I was 18 - it was fun, though one guy almost died, and I have a couple friends whose lives were touched tragically by a family member dying - so it takes on this aura of seriously-stupid thrill-seeking to me now).  Here's what amazes me.  The metaphor of jumping out of a plane or jumping without a net so to speak, applies equally to the faith one has in a god or the faith one has in these other worthy and noble things you and others are talking about - beauty, humanity, the meaning we create ourselves, etc.
Both of us are choosing to have faith, to trust in something...though when it is in empirical reality, we don't see it and think of it as being the same kind of faith.  But it is.  Its just that our language, culture, traditions, etc., don't put it in the same category.  Either way, we are putting an answer in to the question of why go on?

 

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So, after the day I've had... I'm a bit exhausted and brain-dead... So apologies for what will be a poorly worded reply.

Your posts of the last days have me thinking that you've taken equal measures of religion and mental illness and squished them together in a big, messy, painful, tangled blob.

When you say "life = suffering" that to me is 100% depression talking. Seriously, 100%.

As you know, I have PTSD which entails *some* depression, but I do not have depression on a daily level.

So I know what life without depression is like.

And I know for a fact that life does not = suffering.

Yes, life *contains* *some* suffering.

Sometimes, it contains quite a bit of suffering.

But if you say life = suffering, then IMO that's a mental illness speaking, not a religious question.

And to try and fix a mental illness by using religion...? Is a messy venture, unlikely to succeed, IMO.

Religion is not a bandaid for mental illness, where treatment and therapy aren't helping.

Or, at least it shouldn't be.

Yes, for millenia, religion has often been all that people could turn to when they struggled with mental illness.

IMO the results have often been poor, tragic, devastating.

And I think we are lucky to live in an age where we have treatment and therapy for mental illness.

And as long as your depression has you experiencing that life = suffering, then I think no amount of faith/ religion/ whatever is going to help.

I think you need to separate these 2 questions out... And they have become incredibly intertwined for you.

My impression is that by conflating these issues, you're actually getting further away from a solution for each issue, rather than getting closer.

Get therapy and treatment for the depression.

Then, when you can actually *feel* joy and value in life and don't think life = suffering... then ask yourself questions about faith and religion.

If religion were able to cure mental illness, it would be a very popular, free cure and everyone would be doing it.

Depression is a real thing. It's ruining your life. It's making you suicidal. It's robbing you of a reason to live. It's potentially making your children orphans at some point.

Don't equate the inner dialogue of depression (life is suffering, there is no point, everything feels awful) with real religious questions.

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17 minutes ago, Sophy said:

So, after the day I've had... I'm a bit exhausted and brain-dead... So apologies for what will be a poorly worded reply.

Your posts of the last days have me thinking that you've taken equal measures of religion and mental illness and squished them together in a big, messy, painful, tangled blob.

When you say "life = suffering" that to me is 100% depression talking. Seriously, 100%.

As you know, I have PTSD which entails *some* depression, but I do not have depression on a daily level.

So I know what life without depression is like.

And I know for a fact that life does not = suffering.

Yes, life *contains* *some* suffering.

Sometimes, it contains quite a bit of suffering.

But if you say life = suffering, then IMO that's a mental illness speaking, not a religious question.

And to try and fix a mental illness by using religion...? Is a messy venture, unlikely to succeed, IMO.

Religion is not a bandaid for mental illness, where treatment and therapy aren't helping.

Or, at least it shouldn't be.

Yes, for millenia, religion has often been all that people could turn to when they struggled with mental illness.

IMO the results have often been poor, tragic, devastating.

And I think we are lucky to live in an age where we have treatment and therapy for mental illness.

And as long as your depression has you experiencing that life = suffering, then I think no amount of faith/ religion/ whatever is going to help.

I think you need to separate these 2 questions out... And they have become incredibly intertwined for you.

My impression is that by conflating these issues, you're actually getting further away from a solution for each issue, rather than getting closer.

Get therapy and treatment for the depression.

Then, when you can actually *feel* joy and value in life and don't think life = suffering... then ask yourself questions about faith and religion.

If religion were able to cure mental illness, it would be a very popular, free cure and everyone would be doing it.

Depression is a real thing. It's ruining your life. It's making you suicidal. It's robbing you of a reason to live. It's potentially making your children orphans at some point.

Don't equate the inner dialogue of depression (life is suffering, there is no point, everything feels awful) with real religious questions.

So first, how are you?  I'll let you answer then when and how you want, but I wanted to ask.

Yah, no doubt, I have 'squished together' (like that) mental illness and trauma from loss of faith.  (I've just started calling it trauma, because I think it is, even if not physical in nature; and the loss of faith is the more traumatic than the loss of religion, which was always 'just' social trapping and outward expression).

I look at it like this.  Even if my life has contained (or ends up containing) more moments of 'happiness' than suffering, if given the choice to exist or never have existed, which I would I pick?  The vast majority of the time, and almost all of the time spent during depression--I would choose to have never existed, by a huge margin.  If I could flip a switch now, I would.  And I would have said that most of the time, over at least the last 10 years...for long periods, that's all I wrote about, depressingly enough.

"Religion is not a bandaid for mental illness, where treatment and therapy aren't helping."

No, that's true.  But hope.  Hope is an antidote.  The only answer I know of...and then always the question, to hope, in what, exactly?

Re: 'treatment and therapy," ... what can I say.  I've done A LOT of it.  I don't regret doing it.  Sometimes it helped me get through...to the next time.  Am I really better for it?  As much as I really want to and always try to find a way to say yes, I don't think so.  Really.  Each new dive, if anything, seems to go deeper.  Yes, sometimes, I have some new tools, but they equate to something like coping by spooning water off the Titanic - it's a nice activity to keep one's self occupied with, but won't really help overall.

Yah, the question of purpose/meaning/redemption/motivation is inherently connected to sound mental health for me, you are not wrong about this.  I see how some other people appear to be able to separate them, and I'm glad for them.  I'll try, as I have before, to take your advice and just put off the question of faith and even meaning/purpose...for myself, for the good of my kids, etc.

Regarding the pain and terror of 'anxiety' (wow this is an understated term for what we really feel), I can try to just get through, to make it manageable, but I doubt I can stop asking myself, why should I get up today, or why shouldn't I today end my life.  It just comes at me.  For a while recently, I was staying so busy and this conjured a sense of hope and excitement, that I wasn't thinking about it.  I tricked myself for a while, that things could get better (that's too harsh and literal, but you know what I mean). 

The point, of course is, life hurts.  Badly.  I hurt.  And I can't stop.  And I can't handle it.  Nothing helps.  I keep asking myself, why do I keep trying to keep going?  Similarly, why do I think it is some measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society?  or world?  Fear, and conditioning, I assume.

I know that depression lies and says, this is all life will ever feel like again, and I know my memory, my objectivity fails.  And yet...I'm struggling to get to the next moment.  I'm cannibalizing myself with each and every one of the negative emotions, and stress, and probably inflammation, that ultimately will **** me anyway, more slowly, and more painfully, and I want to go now.

But instead, I'd rather thank you for being a friend.  I have no idea what's right, or real, or true, or anything any more.  I'm just tired of the waking nightmare.  Right now, I can't face starting work, while I know it is exactly this procrastination that will lead to more, worse, pain and suffering.  It's almost entirely irrational (not entirely, since there is something I'm getting from it - god I hate this).

"Don't equate the inner dialogue of depression (life is suffering, there is no point, everything feels awful) with real religious questions."

This makes sense, as I read, and re-read it several times.

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I agree that you're cannabalising yourself at the moment.

I still think you need to be on disability and getting inpatient treatment.

And I do think that that would go a long, long way to curing/ improving your depression.

The fact that that is not an option in the US with its healthcare and social services system....?

Is appalling, IMO.

It's like letting someone die of asthma or diabetes... treatable diseases.

I dunno what to advise you from within the logic of the US system.

I think you need to go on disability and do inpatient treatment *until you are better*.

But I realise, in the US it all comes down to $ - the same as it does in 3rd world countries.

It's really disturbing.

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35 minutes ago, Sophy said:

I agree that you're cannabalising yourself at the moment.

I still think you need to be on disability and getting inpatient treatment.

And I do think that that would go a long, long way to curing/ improving your depression.

The fact that that is not an option in the US with its healthcare and social services system....?

Is appalling, IMO.

It's like letting someone die of asthma or diabetes... treatable diseases.

I dunno what to advise you from within the logic of the US system.

I think you need to go on disability and do inpatient treatment *until you are better*.

But I realise, in the US it all comes down to $ - the same as it does in 3rd world countries.

It's really disturbing.

Disability, I could handle for a while, or some kind of break (inpatient wouldn't help), but it isn't in the cards.

What we have in the US, is a mental health reaction or triage system.   I guess I'm finding most things appalling right now, but also banally common.

Yah, I never know what I'm going to do either, and I know this is one reason I think about sui cide as a solution, but it does seem like the only real one.

Anyway, I know I'm just not feeling good, and self-sabotaging at the moment...I can always describe it, just can't improve it.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Purpose, Meaning and Faith

Part 1:  the Awesome Universal of Death

"Every man dies, not every man really lives."

I don't know if William Wallace really said it, but it's the best, stirring line from Braveheart.  

We are all dying.  Right now.

One of my old friends I've recently reconnected with used to admonish people to remind themselves at least daily by repeating, "some day, I'm going to die."  I like to think of it more in terms that we all are already in the process of dying, not because it's more morbid, but rather because it makes it more real and stark in the here and now to think of it that way, that in terms of time, cellular atrophy, mental and physical decay, and the natural order of entropy, yes, as i key this sentence, I am dying...the moments are floating away toward zero.  

This is the conclusion of everyone who thinks, or looks around at life and observes.  With respect to Ben Franklin, this is life's one true constant and equalizer.  For some of us with depression, we can feel the specter of death stalking us like wraith or valkyrie (personally, I picture the Nazgul from LOTR or Dementor from Harry Potter, since they're both identical stand-ins for the grim reaper).

I have a younger brother, much smarter and more thought-through about these things than I was (even though it's nearly all I ruminate on), so that even when I was at my rapier best, he could outflank me standing on almost mathematical formal logic of true philosophy (which alas, I never formally studied, curse it).  When we would really battle over this, and scar each other up a little, I remember he would compliment me for having the awareness (he would have said foresight) to treat death with the seriousness it deserved as truly unacceptable.  Uh, thanks Peter, I think.

Recently, the idea of looking at life backward, starting from the grave, and seeking to live it with that perspective in view has continued to intrude upon my daily awareness.  Several friends--including one here on DF  (@Sophy)--have either invited to discussion, shared a passage from a book, an article, or otherwise brought up and discussed this idea, in their own words. 

One of these--a sermon series on Ecclesiastes--points it out in rather stark fashion, begging the reader to see if he or she can discern the throughline of hope through despair, pessimism and the cruelest of ironies.  Ecclesiastes 1: 1-4a:

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh

(emphasis added).  Consider, the 'preacher' (or teacher) writing about this utter meaninglessness is reputed to have been the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, who also enjoyed staggering wealth, great respect, unparallelled victory in war, and a rather prolific love life (I think I'd be happy with less than half of his 700 wives and 300 concubines for good measure).  And yet, there he is, looking around, taking the long view, and realizing, indisputably, it was all just meaningless, because sure as the sun would rise again, in a flash, it would be over and because of that, nothing could really matter.  It would have been a little like Job cursing God before anything bad happened to him, for no reason other than existential angst (wouldn't that have been just as warranted by the way?!) 

Maybe it's because I was born into this kind of dualistic thinking about good/evil, light/dark, salvation/damnation, redemption/meaninglessness, or maybe these are a reflection of laws of logic and reason sewn into the fabric of our minds and the universe itself.  These invisible, invariant, abstract entities, that are nonetheless as real as gravity, and nag at us.  Try to resist them, try to run from them, to find a way around, over, under, through or past them, and they gobble up the ground you thought you were running on, like an unstoppable villain in an animated fantasy film.  And from a rational, material, non-transcendent worldview, the author in first half of ecclesiastes was right, and so was every nihilist thinker right on through to Rust Cohle (Google some youtube clips if you want a treat).

Some people seem to find their way around this, at least in how they live (and it's a beautiful thing not to be mocked or minimized).  Futile.  Painful still in the way life and art are.  But beautiful.  For without redemption, they too will disintegrate into nothingness their beauty matter no more.

This is precisely the tension, the almost euphoric agony I feel nearly-constantly torn between:  the fleeting, ethereal beauty of life, where rarely, but on occasion: 

"I feel absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds, the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh.  I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.  It's as though it had all just come into existence.  I can never make these moments last.  I cling to them, but like everything, they fade."

-- Christopher Isherwood (Colin Firth), A Single Man

One of the most exhausting things about this is that you can work, and talk, and read, and think, and struggle and fight to find your redemption, your meaning, and ... still lose and come up completely empty.  And even if you win for a while, it can feel very much like losing.  I think this is what the song below is about (if you've never listened to it, its beautiful, although haunting).


A Thousand Kisses Deep 

The ponies run, the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while and then it's done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it's real
A thousand kisses deep

I'm turning tricks, I'm getting fixed
I'm back on boogie street
You lose your grip and then you slip
Into the masterpiece
And maybe I had miles to drive
And promises to keep
You ditch it all to stay alive
A thousand kisses deep

And sometimes when the night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up our hearts and go
A thousand kisses deep

Confined to sex we pressed against
The limits of the sea
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me
I made it to the forward deck
I blessed our remnant fleet
And then consented to be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep

I'm turning tricks I'm getting fixed
I'm back on boogie street
I guess they won't exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep
And quiet is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep

And sometimes when the night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up our hearts and go
A thousand kisses deep

The ponies run, the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while and then it's done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it's real
A thousand kisses deep
 
But I’m still working with the wine
Still dancing cheek to cheek
The band is playing Auld Lang Syne
But the heart will not retreat
 
I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray
I never had their sweep
But once or twice they let me play
A thousand kisses deep
 
I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet
 
Who loved you with his frozen love
His secondhand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep
 
But you don’t need to hear me now
And every word I speak
It counts against me anyhow
A thousand kisses deep

- Leonard Cohen



 

 

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Purpose, Meaning and Faith

Part 2:  Fighting for Meaning

The idea of making one's own meaning, fighting on in the search, the journey to discover, to find one's own meaning, is not new.  It is seen as noble.  But not if it is ultimately hollow because it's built on sand, and false.  Some atheist friends would make a distinction between finding meaning 'in' things rather than a meaning 'of' things.  Suuuuurrrrre, if that works for you.  I can get pretty abstract, but that one meant nothing to me.  Some of the wiser ones (by my judgment), would move closer to the honest edge, and acknowledge that yes, all is ultimately vanity, it won't matter, but they took their meaning where they could get it, and that was consequently from the rarity of beauty, from love, fragility, humanity.  Which I tried.  And I love the tragically beautiful, and even beautiful tragedy, but this wasn't enough for me.

And so I battled and hated God.
What a moronic thing to do and to say.  It's embarrassing to write.  But I have to.

The article @Sophy shared was from Mark Manson, titled Find What You Love and Let It **** You.  It's about tough, bracing battles and even a life, spent failing forward, in pain, confusion, banality, of the writer, Charles Bukowski.  He apparently toiled for some 30 years in the post office before finally amassing the guts to risk leaving to publish and writer, and as he put it, "starve."  But it seems to me he, and everyone who keeps going, maintains some certain spark of hope, which is what makes a  person willing to choose anyway, and to risk.  That, and desperation.  Bukowski, actually would go on to enjoy significant fame and success both in Europe and the U.S., here, as the "laureate of American lowlife" - he was unusually honest and profane, even for a writer.

So many of the ideas of my former Faith have their exact secular analogues, just in slightly different words.  In orthodox Christendom, there is the idea of one's 'calling' from God - this literally is the grand purpose one feels compelled, called to, by God, the witness and confirmation through the Holy Spirit.  When one feels it, there is nothing more powerful in the world.  Any obstacle can be overcome, any suffering worth the cost.

This is what I mean by purpose and meaning, but also the broader notion that there is a "redemption," or justice that ultimately the kinks and contradictions are worked out, and things make sense, and that we are all okay.  Presently, or that we will be okay.  The alternative, not being even okay, is the definition of being unacceptable, of a disturbed state, fractured, non-integrated, I think it is a foreshadowing of death itself (the believer would say sin).

As I've been confronting all this anew again, I have come to, or comb back to (I'm not sure), some uncomfortable conclusions.

- That any faith is necessarily a choice, a decision.  There might be logic and reason and evidence, but the free agency of being human implies a choice, for we all believe in something.


- That I get to make up a fair amount of whatever 'system' of faith I choose to have, since that's what everyone else is doing anyway.  Even if their is some objective, absolute truth, any individual person only can know a sliver of it through the dark glass we see through now.

- Whether "God" is a real person/relationship who interacts in my life, whom I could talk to, pray to, feel, experience, etc. - as I was so convinced of all my early life; or an abstract "concept by which we measure our pain," (John Lennon), it doesn't really change the price of tea in China.  Or in Dayton.

- This means I really can choose what I like and think is true, and what speaks to the best of us, and leave the rest, and I need feel no guilt or shame from this.  My faith, at any rate, incorporates self-acceptance and love as a need and a good, and self-hatred and self-absorption as a root of dysfunction.

and

- Whether that 'higher power' -- god as I understand it -- is more person who knows, cares about me, and has my back (which I always wanted and so long believed), or an abstraction, like the real, but invisible, invariant, abstract, and often inscrutable entities that are laws of logic, reason, somewhat like gravity, or the Force, might change from day to day.  It's okay, or it'll be okay.  Even if it's not.

Whatever truth is, I have a choice, with each moment, to accept all of reality exactly as it is, or to try to hide and run from parts of it, as a form of surrender to fear and pain.  As much as the worn-in mental grooves of rumination seem to make it seem otherwise--like I only have 4 real different thoughts any more that then repeat ad infinitum-- nevertheless, I get to make a choice of what to believe.  And like every other person who's ever lived, I can choose the good and make up half of it as I go.  And recognize that when I judge myself by an impossible standard, I can occasionally stop.  Breathe.  Be at ease.  Smile even.

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Just started reading your posts and love them.

Just want to note 2 things before I forget them...

1) Saying that "all is vain" can be depressing but doesn't have to be. Said and thought and felt in the right manner, it's  a gentle truth, a deeply liberating one, one that entails elements of farce and slapstick, in the best possible way... Like the archetype/ tarot card "the fool"... My favourite archetype/ card.

 

Which leads me to

2) You have the soul and heart and mind of an artist. They always think and feel deeper and wider than "normies" do. They transcend normal daily life and in fact, they don't really fit into its constraints... it wears them down.

A huge, core part of my healing was identifying as an artist and writer, first and foremost. Yes, I choose to have a day job cos of food and rent and bills. But that has nothing to do with my identity. And... I stopped hanging out with normies... I made sure all my friends are artists and writers and philosophers and musicians... people who don't fit the mold, people who break the mold, as a reminder and validation that for as long as I live on this silly, cute, lumpy, vain, sometimes painful planet... I will never fit the mold, I will always have an artist's gaze, I will always be drawn to the meta level, to the flipside, to the underdog, to the unusual, to the exceptional, to the inspirational.

Living that life isn't easy. Plenty of artists succumb to depression and madness. Look at dear old Vincent. 

But if you have an artist's soul and *don't* live an artist's spiritual life, then life is pure hell and feels like numb, meaningless torture.

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Oof... I love, love, love Leonard Cohen...

Making me smile and sniffle on the bus on the way to work. Life and the universe are worthwhile for those moments... Leonard is divine and blessed. His words and songs are like religion, mass, communion to me.

This is the stuff that matters.

This is the stuff that makes life worthwhile.

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