This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on December 14, 2014.
God is eternal.
I do not say this as a compliment. Often we compliment people with things which are slightly beyond their actual merit, and it is sometimes annoying to discover that they have received it as fact. I state it as fact, because the concept of deity hinges on the eternity of the being. Which is why when I am self-conscious about the socialized tendency to give this being a gender- like right now, when I’m writing in a philosophical bent- I call it things like ‘being’ and ‘entity’. But even these are contentious. Does God exist? It’s hard to say. Existence as a concept seems to fall short of what deity suggests. Were I to watch you fall into a black hole- of course I’d save you; I assume I could, having come that far, but let’s presume. Were I to watch you drift into the event horizon, you would appear to remain there, static, for as long as I watched after that. Having ceased to ‘exist’, our time-bound universe would keep a wistful sort of memory of you forever. Thus science projects.
Our universe is more fragile and more finite than we make it seem. We are often confronted by a profound circle with zero as its centre and infinity as its circumference. Merely by drawing the x- and y‑axis on a graph sheet, we run the risk of distracting ourselves with eternity; which is why we have the nice white margins, to help us stay sane. Our world is governed by boundaries more useful than mere gravity and thermodynamics- the limitations of our knowledge. But sometimes these limits are tickled by irreverent people and phenomena. I transcended the petty belief in the supernatural for a while a couple of years back. The problem with my blissful agnosticism was, once in a while you come across a case of blurring in the lines of reality. Cases like that guy who says he doesn’t need to eat. Who doesn’t need to eat? It’s blasphemous. I clung with faith to the assured disbelief of the Indian Rationalist Association, who have consistently found such people to be frauds. They’d catch this guy out too, I knew, if he ever dared to agree to be studied. Then I wondered why it worried me so much. What does it mean if our limitations aren’t limitations? We know there’s invariably a gap between what we can comfortably achieve and what our maximum capacity is. To state the vital concern: how much candy could I eat if I could transcend the nervous feedback from the pulp in my teeth?
We’re a weird species. So many years after we became civilized, we still paint our faces and go through physical pain to conform to fashions. But we’re good at one thing- every generation does something big that the previous ones thought impossible. Our range of possibilities have so exponentially expanded that now smart people look at wacky ideas for the future and respond with a giddy ‘Who knows?’ But some things go too far; they seem to imply that we are underachieving, kind of. Like the guy who is hating on food- he’s not alone. Political prisoners are regularly reported to go weeks without eating. It concerns their jailers so much, they force-feed them. These jailers, they have torturing in their job descriptions, but they won’t let a guy starve. It’s just not human. Eternity mostly frustrates us by its simple law of addition, but beyond that it mocks us. It derides us for quitting.
God is good.
This isn’t a compliment either. Good means ‘pleasant; right; ‘positive’. It also, for some reason, means ‘forever; completed’. ‘For good’, we say. In essence, ‘god’ and ‘good’ are equivalent concepts. The origin of the word ‘good’ revolves around the concept of ‘together’, which makes sense. The glue of our expanding, decaying universe is the ambition of negative particles to gain positive attributes. It’s the only hope of stability for us, but it’s our interminable struggle. But how do we define good? It is part of the nature of our peculiar reality that it is often easier to define ‘bad’, and work from there. I agonized about the Japanese yin-yang thing for a long time, then I realized that it’s human nature. When you keep getting abused, you rationalize it; you come to think it normal. Indeed, our belief in supernatural evil is harder to get rid of than supernatural good. We often think about the similarities in religions, but there’s even more similarity in the horror stories of cultures. The percentage of the global population who agree that Hitler was supremely bad is greater than for those who agree that any person is supremely good. Because of this, it’s hard to solidify good into a single being. What would you do with the bad, anyway? Why is there bad to begin with? How does a chaotic nature arise from a uniform, stable origin? It baffles both my science and my faith.
Beyond the problem of conceptualizing a perfect goodness, it seems almost cheesy to the intellect. Why do we need an external source of positive behaviour? I don’t know. Why do we? Because we do. I discovered in my time as an agnostic that it’s hard trying to teach the spirit to stop looking without; you end up looking to the ‘Universe’ and ‘Mother Nature’ and the ‘common good’. Fact is, our economy requires selfishness to survive. Logic recommends it. Instinct demands it, however complicated the chain from action to reward. So why do people get all irrational and go and die for other people? There’s no reward there. Also, we pretend like caring for the future is rational. It isn’t really. But still we do these things; we apparently have to. You can’t even break the law of goodness; you only circumvent it, by convincing yourself that the situation isn’t so bad, or that they could help themselves if they wanted to, or that they are actually bad people who deserve it. Suggesting that such a powerful law is innate is as disturbing as the option that visualizes it externally. Why we naturally choose the latter I don’t know.
I want God.
‘The kingdom of God is within you’. This is the point where faith and ethics diverge; one is a controlling force, the other is an enabler. Power is something we can never have enough of, even in our small universe. Our armies work by this logic: more power, less struggle. This is what makes deity and eternity frightening. If they matter, if they have an effect on our world, then we have that much farther to go before we are king of the hill. This is why we are perversely pleased to find that perfect people aren’t so perfect. Because perfection is a triumph over our broken nature, and if somebody achieves it, it makes us lazy by comparison. Back to that guy who says he doesn’t need food. If I get stuck on a desert island with him, I can’t rationalize my logical cannibalization of his body by saying that he’d have eaten me. He would have just sat on some palm fronds, with a flower in his hair, meditating. Also he has transcended the need to pee, apparently. He is like every teacher I’ve ever had who told me ‘fair, could do better’, except he says it with his life. To feel satisfied with my life, I need him to be a fraud. This need in all of us is satisfied by scandal after revelation, and even when we feel sad we are subconsciously relieved. Which is why democracy in religion is such a frightening idea. It’s easy to like Zeus; he’s surviving the death of religion nicely. All he does is kill people and have one night stands. But what do you do with a religion that asks more of you? So in protest we focus on the imperfections. We say, ‘religion is at the root of all evil’. That thought isn’t supported by logic or science, though we say it in support of these alternative pillars. The bad things that happen happen because of fear and greed and passion. If a religion promises transcendence, then every common human you see is a mere apprentice. Everybody goes through the stages, in groups and as individuals. First, God appeals to you as a bugbear, a sort of negative reinforcement. Then he (or she, or x) becomes a touchstone, a magic lamp, a wishing well. Then, finally, deity becomes the clearest mirror, revealing your own brokenness. And you begin to scratch frantically at your shell, hoping to find a gem within.
My aunt loved animals as a child. My mother told me how she would go to hens’ nests and take the eggs that failed to hatch, and kindly break the shells for the poor chicks within. They always died. It’s no good trying to crack the shell from outside. The force must arise from within; that’s the only way you know you’re ready for the world outside. If we were dropped into eternity, it would kill us. We would find ourselves in a place without time, with a place which transcends the concept of order. The idea of streets of gold is a solid one, though scientifically impossible in a place beyond matter. Another boundary-breaking thought confronted me about a year ago: it rains diamonds on Jupiter. It raises the question, so what’s the point? The answer- if we knew, it would kill us. Mere cracks in our consciousness are capable of weakening our survival instinct. A concrete appreciation of eternity makes our lives a disease, and death a blessing.
I was coming to this place after searching science for answers, and finding only data. Then I found an unusual little sermon in ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’. (I don’t know how I forgot it when I listed the books of my childhood.) It came from Arthur, when he lay recovering from his fever. He described heaven as a blueprint, a thing we can build by our actions. It was a thought I hadn’t come across before, though it’s essential in many faiths. It turns the power we crave into a responsibility. ‘Thine will be done on earth’. In my earth. As daily we fight selfishness, as we tell the truth when the lie would be easier, as we lift people up when it would serve us to prey on them, we pray this prayer with our lives. For a perfect world, with perfect people, in perfect peace.
We want God.
I’ve always avoided talking about God because there’s so much conflict across beliefs, and conflict doesn’t serve the peace I crave. This is probably the most personal essay I will ever write, and I wrote it as a thank-you, really. It’s been an interesting couple of months, back alone with my thoughts after a foray into the Real World. Depression doesn’t bring me helplessness; it brings me anger. I’ve seen it in others, so when mine comes I avoid people. I avoid God too. On Thursday we finally talked, and then in the evening, with the lights out, my mother and I talked. With our faces obscured in the dimness, we shared with profound honesty, talking about eternity. Today, I sat in church, barely fighting the urge to sleep. Then I began to notice whole sentences from my thoughts, from our conversation, being repeated in my ears. My eyes cleared, then misted as I watched people. These thoughts that enable us, that we are God, these are thoughts that are whispered in minds everywhere. I wondered if I should share this little experience, if it wouldn’t be venting like I’ve been worrying about recently. I am sharing it for those who have heard the whispers.