August 20th, 2002

abstract butterfly

The credible heaviness of non-existence

Lately I ponder the big questions--can one overdose on Star Trek: the Next Generation during those Sunday marathons? Would Data have felt more human with a flesh-toned face? Should Buffy really have really let Faith know she was in Faith's apartment before Buffy tried to kill Faith? Is it immoral to miss the Mayor, just a bit, and was the "best" demon he could achieve at ascension a kind of Sinbad film big worm?

But sometimes I do focus on the inessentials, like "books about heavy topics". Lately, I've been reading "The Truing of Christianity", by Canadian theologian John Meagher. It's a good skim, or, more accurately, a good skim/read. This book tackles a topic that interests me. Once one has applied all the science and scholarship to a major world faith, what is left? Theologians long before Meagher posited that a God who exists only in the gaps which science has not disproved becomes a fairly uninteresting God indeed; a sort of God as border magic marker. But the analysis is not that simple, about anything we take as "true" on faith in life.

I tend to see one's "spiritual" or "inner" or "deepest within" life as something which exists beyond any one particular formula for faith or reason, as I find the same search frequently exists for skeptics as for Christians, for Buddhists as for pagans, for fundamentalists as for universalists. It's not that I don't think there are "wrong paths" on some level--I suppose I do think there are "wrong paths". It's that so much of the debate about pathways and ultimate truths is so cultural and situational and divisive. Although Christian thought interests me a great deal, and feels like a "home court" to me, I have had no interest in recent years in trying to argue that it particularly produces people who are "better" than, say, the atheist form of existentialism, Tibetan Buddhists, or wiccan practitioners. I've always had some sympathy, in fact, with the Indigo Girls song about how the less that one thinks of these profundities, the closer one is to fine. But that's not really my approach at all. I just don't think I'm apt to convince anyone about my view of the world, particularly as my view is a bit fluid.

But Meagher's book posits for me once again a question over which I ponder. Granted that our many and diverse great belief traditions, both religious and post-religious, offer many insights into many things, and many threads with which to try to knit together our paths, the melding of faith and modernity remains a key problem. We can leave aside that some folks want to ignore the scientific record altogether on things like evolution, Big Bang Theory and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Others just get into boring ethnic or geographic controversy disguised as religious or philosophic debate. For many of us, leaving "who is right" aside, the traditions of philosophy and religion are so hard to match up with the harsh mundanities of everyday life.

I'm not really interested in starting a discussion of "who is right" and "who gets closest to the core". That's not really my field nor my interest. But Meagher has focused me on a key issue--it's hard to know how much tradition to save, and how much to discard.

For me, it is important to save as much as possible of the things in which one "believes". For someone else, it is important to discard all but the essentials. But whatever one's thought on this, it's a problem that runs through all life, not just "thick books about religion". One must always choose things to accept without question, things to experiment with, and things to reject outright. This is true not only about Powers that Be or their lack, but about everything.

I think that the real test of contentment may be when one can accept that one has made one's choices, and still live with them. I like that contentment better than the contentment when one views the world as so clear that no real choices arise. But I continually wonder if we shouldn't just view our choices as secondary to how we live our choices. Graham Greene wrote The Power and the Glory, a novel that posits the notion that an ineffectual "whiskey priest" on the run from suppression in revolutionary Mexico is morally superior to an otherwise morally exemplar but wrong headed soldier charged with persecuting the Church. I see a real logic to this, but when the choice is less stark, it gets more complicated.

Do our beliefs, with God, without God, or in between save us? Or is the real baby what we do with our lives, not how we formulate our notions? We've all known closed-mind devotees of "artistic freedom", pitiless advocates of mercy. But at some point don't we have to set aside "what we think and believe" and look at what we really do? This all puzzles me.