God has got some bad press lately. As usual, it coincides with human trauma. Much pain and confusion has been directed skyward, as if we were owed a better deal or an explanation at least.
I’m as irreverent as the next bloke, but I somehow reckon we could be missing something here.
A few years ago, my father gave up on life and decided to end it. People naturally ask why and how one deals with such grief. I felt like a sports star being asked, “How do you feel?” after winning the grand final - only at the other extreme. They didn’t seem to want a literal answer - more a faithful confirmation there wasn’t one: “It’s unbelievable” or “I can’t describe it”.
The world was mocking me. For the darkness my old man succumbed to was very much about measured answers in lieu of mystery. What is this all about? Is there a God? His need to know kept chipping away at a gut feel that said things were actually OK. Still, he hated that he couldn’t renovate his circumstances - to the point where he failed to enjoy what he had.
Finally, I think he loathed himself for subduing the very faith he thought religion denied us. Like many other estranged men, he shouldered Nietzsche’s hazardous scepticism: “No! Come back, with all your torments! All the streams of my tears run their course to you. Oh come back, my unknown God. My pain! My last happiness!”
His ruin gave me resolve. It was certainly not a good thing, but I refused to suppose it bad. Why? Because I believed that is what killed him.
He needed the world to be different. Runaway idealism unwittingly severed his connection with something bigger. He couldn’t find his way home to the sheltering authenticity of now. Angry, he then showed God who was in control.
It’s a narrative for our modern dilemma. We disallow an interventionist deity on the grounds it institutionalises human inadequacy and renders us measly meat puppets. How does one grow up by dwelling on a gap between yourself and godly perfection? “Better” must eventually become the enemy of good (as Voltaire put it). Religion is perpetual paternalism - Jesus warning us that “no one comes to the father except through me”.
Unfortunately, secularism seems to embrace a similar ruse. By standing alone we put reality before the concept of a paradise to come. Without obsessing over the destination, democracy and the market can make each moment of this admission-free journey more accessible.
Of course, the closer we get to the freedom of what is, the more likely our over-stimulated thinking will disrupt the ancient questions we tried to leave behind - like where the hell are we going?
Liberalism hasn’t solved anything - just created a frenzied state in which to avoid what really matters. Having cultivated science for our survival, rationalism can tell us nothing of why it is important we survive. Tougher yet: technology affords us more and more time in which to stew upon the apparent unfairness of our predicament.
Without the promise of eternal life, we are left clinging to existence for its own sake - clutching ever more tightly to our possessions. Meanwhile, the fretting splinters our hope of an unconditional trust in each other, without the cultish fellowship of religion. Maybe GK Chesterton was right when he suggested those “who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it”.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
106 posts so far.