Is Life Unbearable Without Faith?
January 23, 2011 Leave a comment
I heard this question asked of a paraplegic man on the radio. A paraplegic man who was in such a state specifically and solely because he asked God for guidance. And then ignored God’s guidance and did what his doctor’s wanted anyways. At least, that’s how he tells it. And you know what, I apologize for that. No more snarky atheist from me for the duration of this article.
This guy had terminal cancer. Like, the kind where you’re dead in two months. “And two months was 22 years ago.” You know, that kind of cancer. He dreamed God told him he was healed, and he didn’t need to undergo a risky radiation treatment. So he did it anyways. And the procedure left him paraplegic – and probably also rid his body of cancer.
At this point the interviewer asks this devoutly religious man if he thought life would be unbearable without faith.
This topic abounds with hidden questions. First, is there any wonder and mystery in the world without faith? – i.e. faith saves us from the cognitive desert where everything boils down to molecules, wisps of protein chains and the great cosmic ocean. I’ll get back to this.
It also seems to imply a choice. That we can choose to have faith to save us from the void of scientific rationalism. Let’s be clear. If you choose to have faith, then you do not have it. Faith is something intrinsic about the human character. Filling that God hole by choice is a grand act of self-delusion made out of fear. Like immediately securing a girlfriend after losing a previous one. Living life hopping from drifting ice patch to drifting ice patch. Always one wrong move from slipping off into the deathly cold and insubstantial waters that keep you aloft.
There also seems to be no hope without faith. I struggle the most with this principle because it’s so opposite to my view. I’m literally a dog trying to comprehend colors here. But my best stab at this problem goes as follows:
What’s the point of life if there is no Paradise? Life oftentimes seems indistinguishable from hell. The Biblical hell. Adolescents scarred by napalm. Minefields instead of futbol pitches for a backyard. Rape. Organizations that systematically abuse and molest children. Addiction. Sudden and traumatic loss. Pandemic disease. A Continent dying from HIV. Etcetera.
How can man redeem himself without a cosmic forgiver? An infinitely compassionate being, like a cosmic Dad who always understands and never judges.
These seem to imply a childish emotional state. That we have done wrong and witnessed horrors and we want them to be made right. With no concrete effort, mind you. Just by ‘thinking’ at our cosmic redeemer, He can solve it all for us. Unless of course, he doesn’t.
My perspective when faced with all these challenges isn’t to go running for Mom when your brother falls funny off the trampoline and breaks something. Why can’t we bring the Garden here? Why does faith – for so many, but granted not for all – seem to give an excuse to wait for Paradise? I think we can make this Earth a paradise. All it takes is the willpower to do it. And instead, we choose to indulge the whims of televangelists and corrupt organizations that embezzle our ‘good will towards man’ in systems of defense for heavenly child rapists and protections for next year’s poppy harvest. The possibility exists for man to shake off the shackles of stone age abandonment, to stop searching for Mom to coo and apply a sympathetic mental bandage. Our redemption can be achieved wholly without cosmic intervention.
Most of Earth’s faiths promise eternal life. Either in a paradise after death or in a system of infinite rebirths towards achieving a persistent death in heavenly splendor. Does the prospect of eternal life justify an Earthly life? No. Living one life in the pursuit of an eternal life gives no meaning to the first and must, as a damp foundation must rot and wither, deprive the second life of any meaning. And in any event, most Paradises are lazy affairs. The best explanation for what one does in Paradise goes something like: “Well, you can do whatever you want” or “Just Being in the warm glow of God’s love for Eternity…”. Rampant faggotry if you ask me.
On the question of Wonder and Beauty, I again find myself as a two dimensional object trying to comprehend a third dimension. We all know that a third dimension exists. But as a two-dimensional object, all I can understand are the four-quadrants of eternity. Varying degrees of left and right. There is no up and down, just flatness forever. But, of course, you say – there is an up and down. For me, it’s impossible to understand up and down without thinking about it. Well, there may actually be a fourth dimension. One that we aren’t aware of because we cannot percieve it with our sense organs. However, we can imagine it. To bring a two dimensional plane into the third dimension, we just unfold one side of it, like opening a piece of origami from a flat folded pattern into a box, for example. Now, imagine unfolding that box in the same motion to create a three-dimensional object that has a void at its center. If your mind just did what mine does, you’ve imagined the fourth dimension. In a fourth dimension you could enter one side of that box and instead of coming out the void in the center, would exit the opposite end of the donut-shaped object, but in only the amount of time it would take to traverse the shorter end.
Your rational mind has just experienced a wonder of discovery that happens regularly in what you may have previously understood to be a boring cosmic desert. There’s plenty of wonder to be had. Just first, shake off the bronze age shackles that are limiting your answer.
The paraplegic, when asked if life is unbearable without faith, paused for a second and inhaled audibly before responding with doubt. Maybe now you can have some perspective on the questions he had to comprehend while pausing to take a deep breath. And instead of answering in the fashion of bronze age man, you can offer a more nuanced response.
Here’s the radio story. A southern writer who knows quite a lot about Southern literature, especially an understanding about the greats like Flannery O’Connor.
Oh, and if anyone else has anything to say about the [life with faith > life without faith] argument, I’d surely like to hear it. This was just a thought experiment I’ve been working on since I heard the story on Thursday or Friday night.