Saturday, January 23, 2010

What good, then, is religion?

Religion may not resolve psychological issues, in fact it might make one more neurotic.

It may not cure sickness, in fact one might become even sicker.

It may not gain me friends, in fact I might lose some.

It may not make me wealthy, in fact I might become poorer.

It may not answer my questions, in fact it might raise a thousand more doubts.

It may not make me a better person, in fact it might make me worse.

It may not give me inner peace, in fact it might make me more conflicted.

It may not give me meaning, in fact everything might seem even more senseless.

It may not lessen my fear of death, in fact it might increase it.

And, though it can play a role in any of those things, I suppose, I would seriously reconsider my experiences and the purity of my motives if I viewed my faith through any of those lenses, and I would look askance at anyone who claimed that finding religion, in itself, had done any of those things for them. I would recommend staying far away from any charlatan trying to market the Faith using any of the above promises or enticements.

Religion may not make me happy. But it allows me to live with myself. And that's all I could ever ask.

Or rather, perhaps more precisely, it makes the idea of living with myself at least tolerable. Some atheists or agnostics might tell you that they can live with themselves just fine, thank you very much. But if they don't believe in eternal life...I find that hard to believe. For their whole view of existence is predicated on the idea that some day they will no longer be, that at death their self will dissolve as if it had never been. That they
won't, in fact, have to bear living with themselves forever, which even they know deep down would be a horrible fate for any person. They may, indeed, be in no particular rush, but this is their mad wish: that someday, at least, they will not be. Perhaps they can wait 70 or 80 years, distracting themselves with things in the meantime, but contrary to portrayals of them as clinging to the Self...their ardent desire, as evident from their chosen beliefs about its destiny, is actually the eventual annihilation of it entirely.

But consciousness is not reducible to this material frame; we will have to live with ourselves forever, in one sense or another, but then stripped of all earthly distractions from what we are or have become. And if you were banking on annihilation to escape being, to escape the utter fragility and absurdity of the consciousness we construct...then living with yourself forever must be Hell. On the other hand, if I have already lost myself to grace, to love, if the Self with all its flaws has already been totally consumed by Another...then maybe living with it forever won't be so bad.

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