The following is a guest post written by Jeff Hyde: “I’m a teacher and a thinker, the latter often to my detriment. Trying hard to be less worried in a very worrysome world.”
First of all, I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about ANYTHING they believe. I teach high school and this qualifies me to understand the futility in any endeavor that attempts to do so. People seem to learn things in the category of “values” or “morality” at their own pace, and typically through a process of trial and error that is fraught with peril. Of course, I’m speaking about people who approach such things with a modicum of rationality, which immediately takes high school students out of the picture. I also understand that there are people who never question such things, and I am alternately very sorry for them and very jealous of them. These folks must waltz through life perfectly content with their unassailable philosophy of certitude. Wrapped in a cocoon of “right,” their tight little hermetically sealed lives occur in a strange vacuum where those of us with doubts are, at best, ungrateful sons of bitches. It is these folks, I suspect, to whom this blog is dedicated.
Second of all, I am technically an agnostic, which is basically atheism for the commitment-phobic. This commitment phobia extends to nearly all parts of my life, so don’t think that I’m hedging any bets here. It’s just that I have been proven wrong so many times and about so many things that I no longer see any absolutes. Yeah, I am aware that if you jump off a building you will die, or that if you drown you no longer have the ability to breathe and THEN you die…but what about the stray awning that cushions your fall so that you just sort of roll onto the pavement, or that weird pocket of air under a random coral formation that gives you just enough air to swim to the surface? Unlikely things happen all the time, so why would I absolutely deny the possibility that the unlikeliest (ie. a single entity creating the entire universe) is absolutely impossible?
The primary condition into which we are born is fear. It is universal and extends to each and every animal on the planet. No matter how elegantly we attempt to justify and rationalize consciousness as some superior adaptation that elevates our species above the rest of the animal kingdom we still find ourselves in a quandary of having to eat, shit, and die. Hence, we are animals. Moral animals, yes, and that morality stems from the need to live together as a species without completely destroying one another. Certainly many of the basic tenets of our laws are derived from those tablets which Moses hauled off Ararat, but the thing is: they work. Without law we would remain moral creatures, of this I have no doubt, but it’s nice to be accountable to something. Unfortunately, law alone is not enough to alleviate our fear. It helps in the same way that an organized bathroom makes morning rituals go quickly and smoothly so that you can trot off to work in an orderly fashion. However, the laws that address our basic xenophobia of other humans do not address the massive and oppressively omnipresent fear of our finality.
That we come with an expiration date is a natural and necessary fact of our carbon-based existence. It maintains a symbiotic relationship with nature. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Here we interject the entire raison d’etre of our belief in a higher power. We are afraid that we are dust, and rightly so. I maintain that it’s possible that it’s a trick of our consciousness. Is our adaptive consciousness so special that we have our own little harvester in the sky to scoop up our ever-so-special “essences” and coddle us for eternity? Yes, but it seems like a trick: I refuse to believe that we’re that special. At best we are an accident, consciousness is an accident. Its defining characteristic is self-awareness and in self-awareness we are simply privy to MORE fear: the external fear of the other, and the internal fear of ourselves.
Religion conveniently allows us the means to justify our xenophobia while simultaneously providing us with a sense of solace. It gives us a way to validate our specialness and codify the rules by which our essences are scooped up and coddled. I truly believe that ANYTHING which takes away our fear for even a moment is a beautiful and necessary thing. I would never deny a person their sense of solace no matter where it is derived. We exist in such a hyper-fear state that even a kernel of peace can be akin to sorcery. The problem I see is in the codifying. It goes back to that unassailable sense of “right.” It just seems like such an easy path to pointing fingers and placing external blame for the conditions in which we live.
Take, for instance, the issue of gay marriage. We have all heard the rallying cry of indignant ministers wielding their orthodoxy like a flaming sword of justice. We have all heard their cries of alarm at the inevitable slide into Sodom precipitated by such things as gay marriage. Seriously, what the fuck? If certain Christian sects can welcome things such as this with open arms, and we can agree that Christians all take Christ as their personal savior no matter their denomination, then why do certain Christians have to go on and on about the minutiae of orthodox rules which were definitely written by people with the reasonable motive of keeping things running smoothly over a thousand years ago? I get very confused about the mixed messages inherent in this. “Love thy neighbor” unless, of course, they happen to be gay, or Muslim, or, god forbid, liberal. Again, we must justify our xenophobia because we’re better than that; we are the special children of the great harvester in the sky.
I like the term “harvester in the sky” for several reasons: 1. It’s appropriately ridiculous, and 2. I believe that all of this goes back to the basic needs we faced as an agricultural species that needed a way to get along and solidify the horrifyingly temporal bonds of community. The early leaders of mankind recognized the aforementioned facts of fear and they played on our innate sense of it like a grand piano. When we finally settled ourselves into aggregate communities we needed the law and threat of hellfire. What’s the best way to achieve this? Use what we know and manipulate our chief concerns: survival through vegetative magic and the consistent inheritance of patrilineal wealth. Religion has codified this beautifully. Is it any surprise that so much biblical language is presented in seasonal and vegetative allegory? The spring seems like magic…hmmm? I know, let’s use resurrection as a metaphor, that’ll get some buy in! Duh. It’s so obvious that our love of fable and our own uniqueness has caused us to fall right into their trap, we’re powerless against it.
I obviously have issues with orthodoxy. It has caused many problems within our species throughout history. It’s also gotten us this far, which is something I can’t deny. But there is something else involved here. Something that I personally can’t question: humans have this strange propensity to experience things outside the periphery of their daily existence. Some of this I can explain, some I cannot. For instance, my sister died a biological death at age three but lived to tell the tale. This is true. She drowned and there was no pocket of air hidden inside a random coral formation that allowed her to swim to the surface. She was revived after her heart stopped. She claimed what everyone claims under similar circumstances: that she saw a light and a dead relative sent her back. She was three. I refuse to believe that she was smart enough to know that this is a thing. However, I have a theory.
The most traumatic thing we can do is die. There is a second most traumatic thing, though, and when you look at it, it seems an awful lot like the story those nearly dead folks tell when they come back. When you are born you start in this dark and quiet place of warmth and comfort. All of your needs are met. You are protected. You then proceed to be squeezed out of a terrifying tunnel and into a cold, well-lit environment with all these loud giant versions of yourself standing around gawking at you. This is scary shit. I think that, when you die, you remember the second most traumatic thing that ever happened to you: it’s the only point of reference you have for what’s going on.
Okay, I believe my explanation of this event is pretty undeniable (after all, I’m special just like you), but there are other things that are outside of what I can conveniently explain. I have felt the moment that poets and prophets talk about where you no longer see yourself as this solitary organism careening around in a dangerous and hostile environment. I have had this sense that we are all here together and that everything will be alright. It was fleeting, but it happened. I was able to reflect on my constant state of fear from that vantage point. We are like teabags steeped in it. I could see that it’s a mistake to be so afraid, that the whole point of this existing thing is the interconnectedness of like organisms; the communion of people who take solace in each other.
Can I explain this? Only to say that I believe that what I experienced is the state that we’re SUPPOSED to be living in each and every day. We don’t, and it’s a shame. So please, grab at anything that gets you closer to peace, but do so in a way that is responsible to that idea of fraternity and communion. There are many ways to achieve this, and no one person has the correct way. I would love to feel less alone and afraid all the time, but I’m afraid that’s not the way we’re wired. I’m afraid we’re wired to be suckers. Let’s hope I’m wrong, after all, I have been known to be wrong a time or two- haven’t we all?