I have a cousin who is very religious. She came over the other night and we talked about this and that, until the chit chat grew serious and we set off down the path of what’s-really-going-on, at first with some trepidation, but then running headlong, really digging in to race to the bottom of what-ails-ya. My poor cousin has been beset by problems – challenging kids, unemployment, an ugly divorce – and she is sad and feeling defeated and hopeless. I asked her if she had ever been happy. A fat tear dropped from her eye. I asked her if her faith helped her, if it comforted her or gave her strength. She said no, and that’s not the way it worked, ‘it’ being faith, I guess, or maybe religion.
This baffled me.
If faith doesn’t give a person comfort or hope, what’s the point? How can faith not steer someone towards benefit, good or a raison d’etre? I guess some people have faith in disaster, doom, and the forces of evil, but really, who? I don’t have faith in too much, so the concept is not something I think about often, and I didn’t want to push it with my cousin. I didn’t ask her, but I’ll bet she’d say that faith had to do with accepting the word and instruction of God, because God said, and you, the human, exercised your free will to follow the word of God by pledging your obedience, in the faith of the righteousness of the Lord. In others words, yours is not to question why. Still, I question. Is that all there is? Because God says, “I said so?”
To me, faith is belief that is so strong that it defies logic. It is difficult for me to understand the concept, unless it is put into very humanistic terms. For example, despite the voluminous evidence to the contrary, I believe in the good of humanity, even -dare I admit my brazen naivete?- that human beings have a basic inclination towards good as opposed to evil. Really, I can think of so many weighty, monstrous examples that negate such fond, fruitless thought that the very idea that I propose, when looked at rationally, seems ridiculous and downright childish. But, still and all, I believe. I look logic in the eye and say, “Huh? Are you talkin’ to me? I’m sorry, can ya speak up? I can’t hear ya! Whad you say?” I become rationally challenged, and quickly hail the short bus to get a ride to my crafts class. That’s faith.
But, I get something out of that faith. It’s not just a moral high ground, though I do feel like the benefit of the doubt is just and right, and that I would rather die optimistically and deluded than live hopelessly and paranoid. I get comfort from my world view. Where there is faith in good, there is possibility and redemption. There is hope and joie de vivre, regardless of the dismal reality. Of course that very spirit often skips happily hand in hand with denial and delusion, and I do realize that; I guess I’m just not strong enough to face the alternative and embrace the over powering forces of evil, entropy and defeat. I know this about myself, and I can live with it. It may be a tad shallow, but I’m a happy pappy; that’s where my natural outlook falls. Can’t help it. I’m a believer.
How can you have faith without the expectation of personal satisfaction? It’s a mystery to me. If faith means to obey now, and later to get your reward in the afterlife, even if that means you will accept misery in the present life, count me out. I’m greedy and impatient. Also, I’m disobedient. I’m a people pleaser, yes, but I hardly ever do what I’m told, and frankly, I resent being told. Lots of times, I will do dumbass things just to prove that I can’t be told what to do. I am stubborn and foolish, but at least it was my idea to be that way. My freshman year of college my parents told me I had to maintain a “B” average at the third rate state school I got into. Rather than being told what to do, I dropped out. This pattern continues today; I recently took a creative writing class, because I wanted to learn new things and see what I could do, and I paid out the wazoo to do it, but refused to do any of the exercises as they were assigned, on account of I didn’t like the teacher trying to make me do anything his way. Also, whenever he made suggestions for improvement, I thought, “You are a buttface. I don’t like your name and your eyes are squinty and you’re not the boss of me. Blah diddy blah, blah diddy bloo, you are dumb and your breath smells like poo.” That is what I thought every time.
Second, I don’t care about the afterlife. I don’t believe in Hell, and if I did, I don’t think I would go there, because I TRY to be good. If I’m just deaddeaddead, and weasels rip my flesh and worms eat me (Good luck with that, weasels and worms! I’m getting cremated, suckahs! How you like that mouth full of ash, foolz?), so be it. I’m dead, so what do I care? If I get reincarnated, that could suck, because maybe I’ll come back as a pigeon, and then I will hate myself and may be eaten by a homeless person, who, instead of taking consolation in a meal, despises his lot in life even more because he had stoop to such a vile, unprecedented low. That would be bad, but pigeons have brains the size of black-eyed peas, so I probably wouldn’t be thinking about that then.
So…faith? I dunno. It’s a weird game. I guess I’ll play it, but the only rules I’ll play by are the ones I make up.
Pigeons: Unbelievably stupid, or diabolically clever? You be the judge!
BONUS: People who are smarter than I have thought about faith. Here are some of their opinions.
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” Freidrich Nieztsche
“Skepticism is the beginning of faith.” Oscar Wilde
“You want it all, but you can’t have it.” Faith No More
“Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies. ” Mother Teresa
“To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly. ” Benjamin Franklin
“Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re holding on to.” Anonymous smart person
“Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one smart pillow.” Anonymous poetic smart person
“I sit and watch, as tears go by.” Marianne Faithfull
“Any real record person knows that the number one most powerful marketing tool, when it comes to music, is repetition.” Nile Rodgers, musician, producer, founding member of the band Chic, and all-around pop/rock/hip-hop legendary dude. By the way, “Le Freak”, a song by Chic, repeats the word “freak” 42 times. “Le Freak” is the highest selling record ever on Atlantic records. Here is a guy playing it on the ukulele. Enjoy.
“Happiness is the longing for repetition.” Milan Kundera, author. Kundera’s most famous book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, deals with the concept of “eternal return”, which states, as I understand it – and how Wikipedia explained it to me – that the universe is limited and finite, but time is infinite, and so everything recurs, and will continue to, forever. Frederick Nietzsche was a proponent of this theory, which he sees as possibly positive or negative, depending on how you look at it:
What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life, as you now live it or have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small and great in your life, will have to return to you, all in the same sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down, again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon…or how well disposed would you have to become of yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?” From The Gay Science
He goes on to say that:
… in order to endure the idea of recurrence, one needs: freedom from morality; new means against the fact of pain…; the enjoyment of all kinds of uncertainty [and] experimentalism, as a counterweight of this extreme fatalism; abolition of the concept of necessity; abolition of the “will”; abolition of “knowledge within itself”
from Will to Power
I’ve lost you, haven’t I? You thought it was going to be something different when you saw The Gay Science, right? Suffice it to say that Neitzsche is probably right. All evidence points to the inevitability of repetition. Still and all, lacking absolutely everything it takes to “endure” the idea of eternal recurrence or return, I prefer to remain an ‘unbearably unenlightened being’ (see how I did that!), which is certainly why I make the same mistakes over and over and over, like a monkey with a miniature cymbal. (Brian Fellows of Safari Planet says: “That monkey got a crazy eye! Make it to stop looking at me with it’s crazy eye! I’m Brian Fellows!”)
D. H Lawrence was not overly fond of a life bound by redundancy, as evidenced by this quote:
“But better die than live mechanically a life that is a repetition of repetitions.”
Lawrence Durrell, poet, novelist, dramatist and travel writer, said:
“History is an endless repetition of the wrong way of living.” Durrell is best known for his Alexandria Quartet, in which the first three books tell essentially the same story, but from different perspectives.* On a side note, D.H.Lawrence, who was considered to be a pornographer for most of his career was married to the same woman he married when he was 27 until he died in 1930 at the age of 45.(She was six years older – let’s here it for the cougars!) Lawrence Durrell hung out with literary dirty-birds Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and named his daughter Sappho Jane, after the famous poet from the Greek isle of Lesbos – no, really! That’s where she’s from!- who was known as much for her sexuality as her work. There is some speculation that Sappho was bisexual, but there is a preponderance of evidence that she spent most of her time in Lesbos (insert rim shot here… on the drums, you idiot!) Sadly, Sappho Jane Durrell hung herself. Durrell married four times. There is no evidence that any of his later wives allowed him to chose the names of their children.
The last word on this subject will have to go to Donna Dixon, the actress you remember from tv show Bosom Buddies. “I’m very hard on myself because I know how good my body can look. [I have learned to] use less weight and more repetition so I don’t become too muscular.”
Well said, Donna.
Other last word – Remember I told you about Sum, by David Eagleman? The first story in it is about repeating every moment of your life in the afterlife, only arranged differently. It’s great. This link is not it, but is the fabulous Jeffrey Tambor reading another story, “Metamorphosis”, which starts, “there are three deaths”…the last one being when your name is spoken for the last time. In other words, according to this, you can’t go on until there is nobody left to remember you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3scl5em6uSc
*Last word, for reals! There is a FANTASTIC short story about the same event told from different perspectives by Robert Coover called “The Babysitter.” When I first read it in college I thought it was the coolest story I ever read. I promptly forgot everything about it – title, author, etc. – except the plot. Special thanks to Dr. William B. Warde, who was able to find the story, based on my description, in less than a week.