The Inner Struggle

Despair, “Dover Beach” … Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

Snow”, by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”  (2013)

More poetry, and a bit of historical background, a sort of “how did I get here?” moment.

I once had a co-worker, almost 20 years ago now, who was an intelligent and articulate atheist, and who never tired of explaining to me how ignorant and superstitious was my embrace of the Catholic Faith. I think of Pauros sometimes, and the irony of his name, whenever I dwell upon the inevitability of self worship in any philosophy which denies the existence of God.

DelphiHe, Pauros the Greek, was an Ubber Geek, and knew not much at all outside of our shared programming specialties, namely COBOL, Pascal, Borland Delphi, and C++Builder. That was back when the civilized world was completely engulfed in its Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt regarding the approaching end of the world, the secular end-times, also known as Y2K.

We were both employed in part because of our knowledge of and ability to program in COBOL, and to maintain the COBOL based financial systems for a Health Region with thousands of employees.

These systems were running on a UNIX platform, a large-scale computer system, Hewlett-Packard if I remember correctly, although I was not the network admin. I think I might have also been employed there because I was the only other programmer in the whole department who could work with Pauros the Greek.

Anyway, the point was that he could not bring himself to imagine anything that couldn’t be tested and proven scientifically, empirically, he always insisted that he needed data to back up anything and everything. He refused to contemplate or imagine the universe and everything in it as a subset of reality, created by a being who existed outside the universe.

Solipsism

My fallback position when beaten down by yet another tirade about my “primitive superstitions” was “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio, or simply to drop some offhanded remark to the effect that “Solipsists are out of touch”.

This always provoked sulking followed by further tirades on the “stupidity” of my views. It was a really fun place to work. Pauros the Greek simply couldn’t admit that his “beliefs” were every bit as much “faith based” as mine.

He and another similar friend, Caoimhín the Celtic Prince, who I met later, have always personified what I see as wrong with Atheism. Behind all their precisely articulated views was the same premise: there is no God, no ultimate meaning beyond ourselves, beyond self.

SolipsismBut, if there is no real meaning to our lives, what is the point of living? No answers there … nada. Caoimhín the Celtic Prince, at least, would admit that his worldview was faith based like my own.

Both were fundamentally unhappy people, for example, Pauros was working hard on getting rid of his third wife without loosing any money and Caoimhín never landed a wife, though not for want of trying. They both were completely wrapped up in and focused on what was wrong with the world of their existence.

But, no answers were forthcoming to the “Why?” question. If life was meaningless, why didn’t they just kill themselves? Pauros’ reply to that question was, “Well, a lot of people do kill themselves because they don’t have the courage to live with the truth.” Caoimhín, on the other hand, believed that it was possible and desirable to be a good person (where did his standard of ‘goodness’ came from? No answer there).

Caoimhín, curiously a big fan of LOTR, maintained that life was worth living, even at a time when he was dieing of bowel cancer. Maybe Caoimhín, in his clear and present understanding of the end, was perhaps more of an “Atheism Lite” philosopher, maybe “meaning” was creeping in “at the end of all things”.

At the End Of All Things

Neither Pauros nor Caoimhín could ever explain how life could be worth living and yet have no meaning? This paradox was not even acknowledged. But atheism, when consistently, logically, lived out, seems to me to be a life of self-deception or despair, or some combination of both, a sliding scale of illogic and unhappiness, a pride in despair, so to speak.

This is all about pride, despairing pride, lonely pride, providing the self I worship with a dark comfort. This is sin, this feeling of superiority is terribly attractive, easy to get attached to, like so many of life’s pleasures.

Once you are there, in your despairing superiority, it is hard to to give it up. Its akin to the feeling of superiority one is tempted with when the current government, which one didn’t vote for, takes everything to hell in a hand basket, and one feels a smug “I told you so…”.

On the part of the atheist, any departure from this “rational” superiority of despair, any turn towards not having “the courage to live with the truth”, would mean that all those superstitious people you have so enjoyed mocking and sneering at really do know more than you. It would mean you’re not so special any more, it would mean giving up being special by virtue of the belief that everyone else is a fool.

Unfortunately, self-referential meaning is only a short-lived stop-gap: it is real only in the sense that the stage set of Elsinore Castle (see Hamlet quote above) or Darth Vader’s Death Star is a real place. We can suspend disbelief while the play (our life) is being performed, but at some point, the curtain falls and one must leave the theater. The “poor player” strutting his stuff must leave the stage.

So, if “Helping Others”, “Doing Good Work”, and “Having Friends” are just a “stage setting” and “green screen special effects”, then what? Pauros and Caoimhín seemed to share a vision, that vision which John Lennon articulated in the popular song “Imagine”, and it’s beautiful song . . . if you don’t think too hard about it. If we don’t think about it then the “nowhere” outside our “ME” universe surrounds our cold fortress of solitude, and there is nothing else, no joy, no forgiveness, no point in anything, just put your Ruger in your mouth and save the planet from your wasteful consumption of resources..

The vision: “Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people, living life in” … WTF Man? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? Whaaa?  Now I have been around the block a few times, my blog is named “notmyfirstrodeo” for a reason. In my experience, peace is not the default state of human beings. All I need to do is look at myself, and most of the people I have met over the last 50 years, to recognize that anger, jealousy, insecurity, envy, contempt, selfishness, fear, and greed are deeply rooted in the core of every human.

Even a cursory look and listen about us today with unjaundiced eyes reveals the big lie of our atheistic culture. There is no god, there is no devil, there is nothing outside of the self … and all the evil we see playing out everywhere around us is just a figment of our imagination. They are not really people, they have no value, out out brief flame. Medical malpractice, traffic accidents, abortion and euthanasia, mercy wagons, 9/11, all the same … erasing the inconvenient …

It seems to me that a cultural embrace of atheism, namely “Secular Humanism”, leaves folks with all the same problems as history suggests, but worse! The 20th century’s atheistic human rights track record, that is, the human-rights track record of atheist countries, like China, and the Soviet Union, and Canada, is poor.

I know and understand the difference between imagination and wishful thinking. If atheism is true, if life truly has no meaning, then all of our actions cannot have any meaning either, there is no right or wrong, no rights and no responsibilities, no justice, no love, entropy rules and at the end of all things we are just so much rotting meat turning into dust.

And the difference between imagination and wishful thinking is beautifully captured in the poem “Dover Beach” by Mathew Arnold:

Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold, 1822 - 1888

Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Cheers

Joe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… and miles to go before I sleep …

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The Inner Struggle

Day by day …

Started yesterday shoveling madly at 7:00 AM to make sure the walks and such were clear for customers and deliveries. Here we are 24 hours later and everything is melting and every where I shoveled is clear and dry. Great.

Today things were warm enough to melt in places and the weather geeks are calling for rain tonight before everything freezes up again and makes morning driving treacherous. Japanese Chill Out on the speakers, sipping Port and contemplating the difficulties for modern man  in the FIAT of the Blessed Virgin.

Over on David Warren’s blog we find the following tonight:

I am struck by the contemporary response to the ancient Christian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, as of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. We just can’t believe anyone was so “pure.” Which is a paradox: for in the same moment we think this we have undermined our notion that there is no such thing as purity. We have revealed that we know exactly what we are denying. This is the paradox of atheism. I’ve never met an atheist who did not know exactly which God did not exist, little as he knew Him.

and

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est:  “For He that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is His name.”

This is the mystery of the fiat of Heaven, the decree that we are strangely free to honour or ignore. In our sinfulness, we usually ignore it. But she who was without sin honoured it without hesitation, becoming in that moment the Mother of God. At the moment of His earthly conception, she, as his mother, set for the world His first example, of joyful obedience to the Father’s will.

We sinners find this hard to understand. We moderns are afraid to render the fiat as Mary did; are alarmed even to hear it, because God’s plan for our own future may not be congruent with our own plans. And it is true that we have the right to choose: the way of life or the way of death. And have been given some time to think about it.”

And, as he so often does, David has absolutely nailed my stumbling block to the wall in perfect clarity.

As Augustan prayed “But I, miserable young man, supremely miserable even in the very outset of my youth, had entreated chastity of You, and said, Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet. For I was afraid lest You should hear me soon, and soon deliver me from the disease of concupiscence, which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.”
Confessions, XIII, Chapter 7, 17

I find myself vaguely reluctant, a shadowy background of reluctance, seen out of the corner of my spiritual eye. Reluctant in my prayers offering myself and all that I am and ever will be wholly to God’s plan for me lest it turn out to be not what I expected or wanted. I remarked on “Confessions in another post alluding to this discomfort.

I know with certainty that as much as I am reluctant so am I failing to live God’s will for me and yet I know absolutely that He holds everything in his hand and I am nothing without his thought. So much for logical embracing of reality … my mirror is warped. I see the knot and cannot touch it with the tools at hand. What now?

To think on the fact that God created all and is all good and deserving of all our love.  How could a being such as this have anything but my best interests in mind in His plan for me? So  it has to be as Augustine proclaimed: “…concupiscence, which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.”.

I am, obviously, quite attached to my favourite sins, my favourite trains of thought, my favourite judgements and opinions, my pride, my ego, my surety that I see things aright … hmmm. Charity for all and malice towards none, a high setting of the bar. Do I REALLY want to give up being judgmental when it is so much fun and makes me feel so superior?

Time for another glass of Port.

Cheers

Joe

Das_Jüngste_Gericht_(Memling)“May God grant you always…
A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you,
a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you.
And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.”

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