Friday, April 1, 2011

You're a Young Man, You Should Be Living...

Lest anyone in the future who stumbles across this be scandalized, this was an April Fools' post. Explanation here. I actually assent to none of the heretical propositions below. Duh.

This is a hard post for me to write, but also an extremely liberating one! The game has been disbanded, my mind has been expanded. Long story short: I'm leaving the Church and religion generally. In a manner of speaking. Sometime last night, while tossing and turning in bed during the wee hours, in a rush of total clarity, I lost my Faith.

It was bound to happen. For years, I think forever, my "religion" has been an incredible facade to stave off the fear of death which I think is really, as I discussed once in another post, the fear of meaninglessness. I am not one who can ignore the implications of things, I am one who tenaciously, perhaps self-destructively pursues things (with a brain my father accuses of being "like a computer" in that sense) to their "ultimate logical conclusions," even to the point of utter absurdity. I am not one who (to quote a friend) is able to stop when I find in the "ordinary experience of joy and delight, an awareness of a kind of barrier-- a place after which we ought not go further." No, I'm not like the masses able to ignore or shrug off such concerns; some sick inertia in me insists on going further, and has since I was a child.

So when (around seventh or eighth grade) I pursued those lines of thought too far, I found a vast and empty precipice of final meaninglessness at the edge of earthly life. Specifically tied to sexual awakening, I think, was the reality that all my life, my desires, my pleasures, my pains...were apparently just the chance concurrence of matter coalescing and decaying over a billion years, of genes (and memes) encoding themselves in chemicals with no real teleology except Darwin's tautology that those things continue which succeed in continuing. We were all just animals in the end, and animals constrained at that, prevented from the most raw and intense animal satisfaction by a million social constructs heaped on us (to coerce, I suspect, our labor for the sake of someone else's, some rich capitalist's, greater satisfaction).

And most haunting and humiliating of all, the fear of pain and death, the blind urge towards self-preservation that makes not even suicide an option, that drives us on to continue going about our lives seeking pleasure and fleeing pain like rats in a Skinner Box, sweating, spitting, shitting, burning animal carcasses and masticating them for our sustenance, extricating intense passions from the bodies of others and rubbing genitals to quiet the compulsive mating drive (and yet totally severed, in most cases today, even from real mating). If everything taken to its logical conclusion is absurd, then surely Man is the absurd conclusion of the logic of evolution.

Such a realization is too much for children, really. And so the comforting opiate of Faith (the most absurd self-preserving and self-replicating meme of them all) presents itself as a solution. Sure, by all visible and material indicators, the "meaning of life" ends in nothingness. Even with all the labyrinthine "internal meaning" constructed by Culture to keep people distracted from that fact, at the end of the day it is quite clear that outside the present moment and the sensations (however subtle or refined) one can procure in it, there is nothing beyond it to be seen. But that "must mean" that the transcendent is invisible! Like some Tooth Fairy swooping in and coining quarters from our dental detritus, "God" can fill the void and produce value where there is only decay. Conceived as infinite, "He" can be the final thought-terminating-cliché, the non-answer to the question of the final meaning of life, in whom all such chains of the question "Why?" for our actions and desires can terminate, He Himself "by nature" requiring no further explanation.

Well, I swallowed that eagerly for 10 years. Let it rose-tint my world, keep me safe from my trouble and pain. But it took its toll on me mentally. The mental institutionalism I spoke of yesterday is very much something with which I am familiar, obviously, and throughout my teenage years I engaged in an incredible feat of willpower (of which I am still proud for the demonstration of stamina it represents, if not the cause) to maintain constantly the comforting illusion of final meaning provided by religion, monitoring my every thought (self-preservation at its best!) to make sure that the hideous specter of doubt would not rear his head to lead me to despair, acting in my attempts to follow "morality" (or my response to failure in guilt and repentance) in such a way as to convince myself by my very actions that it all must be true (or else why would I be acting in such a silly way?)

That effort was exhausting. In college, after having escaped the real logical conclusion of such an effort in an aborted attempt at monastic life, I knew I had to change something or risk the whole facade collapsing. So I took on the "paradox" of the whole "Renegade Trad" persona. Perhaps, by confronting the neuroses and self-righteousness and obvious repression essential to any sort of orthodoxy, I could through this posturing stave off the inevitable collapse of the facade in myself. That by admitting from the start the inadequacy of the defensive mechanism and critiquing and poking fun at the clear insanity of all who embrace it, I could "ironically" maintain all that fatiguing rationalization in myself.

That was fun for a while, but it gets old fast, and at a certain point I think I was left asking "What next?" I could throw myself into a life self-immolation for "the cause" of "saving souls" and being "charitable" out of "love," but that was seemingly requiring a conservative "retreat" back into the hyper-vigilance of the facade-maintenance that my most recent detente had sought to escape. Or, I follow the arc that perhaps all truly honest men must follow and "graduate" from the religion defense altogether.

For a child, terrified at the prospect of final meaninglessness, it is certainly excusable. For most of history and most in civilization today too perhaps (for most adults are children indeed). In fact, I would argue, religion is hard-wired into us, albeit (like our drive to get off) it is vestigial from another age, another stage in our evolution, and no longer really "needed" anymore. Indeed, like our sexual urges, the "need" for religion now exists in the human brain as simply a desire to be nursed and fed for no other purpose than the satisfaction of its own satisfaction, a self-contained good with no reference to any "real" good. As if "real" good exists! The Forms aren't "out there" or "real"...they are only ever ideas in our head!

The one thing that had always held me back from these conclusions, I think, was the obvious fact that consciousness is not material. But, I realized, that's a silly excuse. Consciousness may not be material (though I am agnostic about the possibility, now, that it may be epiphenomenal in all matter, like panpsychism would propose, or somehow related to a quantum field) but matter and the external world could certainly just be an illusion in my consciousness.

And "what" my consciousness "is" or why I cannot seem to willfully control its content, or why that content follows certain rules or patterns, or whether there are any other consciousnesses "out there" simply beyond my power to explain! Perhaps all my "memories" suggesting such patterns are only something that exists for an instant and are themselves an illusion from moment to moment. Perhaps the perceived need to explain it at all is simply a construct itself, at the very least the desire to explain it could just be a "sense-content" (àla Hume) without that implying that the desire to explain has any corresponding "answer." The solipsism inherent in this once terrified me, threatened all my loves, in fact I would at one point construct "turning in on the self," on ones own subjective experience of the good like that, as the very nature of "sin" (and, of course, that meant the classic obsession with the "evils" of purposeless, contextless sex).

But, I am not a child anymore. And the choice between total meaninglessness and despair and suicide on the one hand, and religion on the other, does not now seem nearly so clear. I have long dismissed the existentialists as whiny European emo boys. But perhaps this was because their "solution" to the problem of the absurdity of existence secretly struck a chord with me. The despair at the lack of final transcendent meaningfulness, of an infinite ground for the web of signifiers, can perhaps be staved off by simply choosing ones own Good (albeit usually from among those things already, for whatever reason, apparent as such out in the world) and living purposefully with everything somehow anchored in that.

And I think that somehow last night...all these realizations finally crystalized for me, and I was finally able to let go of all the defenses once and for all, for a variety of both intellectual and emotional reasons. I've gotten to know a young man over the course of the past year whom I think has shown me the final viability and attractiveness of this solution. Rejecting orthodoxy and its repressive virtues need not mean total base hedonism, as human beings truly are satisfied by the "higher" things in life. Even by religion. In fact, I think, I will continue to be "religious" inasmuch as it satisfies me. And if the good itself is my chosen good, why does it matter to me if it is "objective" or merely "apparent"? If my satisfaction is good, I should take every opportunity at satisfaction!

I enjoy beauty, I enjoy the subtly altered states of consciousness attained in prayer and liturgy, I enjoy the challenge of thinking through theological questions. I enjoy loving my loved ones, I enjoy helping people "spiritually," I enjoy being "virtuous" most of the time. All of these enjoyments (as immediate objects of consciousness) are "real" to me in that sense, and there is not necessarily any reason to allow denying the reality of the presumptions on which they are based to get in the way of those satisfactions! Surely, even religious people must admit that the pleasures of religion would be real even if they are false. And why deny myself any pleasure?

And if I can, by throwing away the needless framework or structural scaffolding of orthodoxy or true Faith, enjoy other pleasures too, pleasures forbidden if I "really" believed in the religion, without sacrificing anything of the pleasure of religion itself either...well, what could be more the good-life than that? If the "true believers" sacrifice satisfactions of the fleshly variety and subject themselves to the torture of erecting all the facades needed to maintain their delusion, I think the militant atheists or hoggish hedonists are just as foolish for denying themselves the subjective pleasures of the "spiritual" variety. But a friend has shown me that you very truly can have your cake and eat it too in this regard, and a terrified fascination, mistaken for love, for spiritual concern, even for hatred at times, has at last come home as the realization that he was right and that the idea had threatened me all along, his very life and existence the evidence of possibilities I did not wish to admit.

So I think recently this idea has become more and more appealing to me, and thus I have tried more and more to run from it. You may have noticed that I deleted from my side-bar two blogs that I came to think represented masturbatory spiritual and liturgical pleasure without actual Faith, but now I think...what's wrong with such masturbatory pleasures? That's all they ever were to anyone, they're all that really exist! I also tried to argue with my friend for a long time about the inauthenticity of his own status quo, and I still think that maintaining such a stance while claiming (at least to oneself) that one really does have faith (while nevertheless living in this masturbatory fashion) is weak and pathetic for its intellectual cowardice.

But if I am mentally strong enough, brave enough, to admit my lack of faith (thus answering the cognitive dissonance once and for all)...while also living honestly and "existentially" in this masturbatory and solipsistic (no longer for me dirty words) fashion...then why not? Then the pleasures available from spirituality when I choose to pretend I assent to it (suspending, but not denying, my actual faithlessness in some other compartment of my brain) will be good, and yet the baser pleasures available when I choose to ignore religion will be available too! And yet I'll never actually delude myself. The best of both worlds.

Some perhaps may not be able to obtain the pleasures of religion without deluding themselves into thinking that they really believe them. I pity their lack of control over their own mind and emotions in that sense. But admittedly, perhaps religious things are only satisfying still to me inasmuch as I myself am still under the control of old constructions. Maybe someday their appeal will fade, or be revealed as just some sort of neutered distillate of the more basic, primal, animal enjoyments, just by-products of their long repression, or mere dilutions because (like the early Dorian Gray) I am not yet acclimated enough to indulge in the pure and undiluted pleasures in their rawest unmixed forms.

If I find this to be true, and in the course of my newfound revelry the "more refined" delights lose their appeal...well, my friends, if you are strong enough to embrace true humility, and humble enough to embrace true happiness, then debase yourself into your true fulfillment as the slime on a rock which is all you ever were. Eat, drink, [fuck!], and be merry, for tomorrow we die!!

April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools. April Fools.

1 comment:

JD said...