Thursday, July 21, 2011

I love the unknown.

This morning I came across an essay I wrote for a philosophy class a few months ago, and thought I would share it here:

Let Go, Let (go of) God, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Unknown

Several years ago, I came across the Wiccan Rede which states “Do what you will, but harm none.” I take this to mean that I should live and do as I please, but be considerate and aware of the effects my actions have on everyone and everything around me, such that I don’t behave in a way that is hurtful to any thing. I believe that rational beings have an inherent understanding of what is right and what is wrong, and when thoughtfully considered, that understanding can generally be described with some form of the Wiccan Rede.

As a child, I attended Unity Church, a Christian denomination that stressed Jesus was the example, not the exception, and that everyone should strive to be like Jesus the person. I never really had a sense that God was a threatening or scary entity. My concept of God was that he was more like a cross between a year-round Santa Claus and a benevolent genie – he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, and if you wished hard enough, things that you wanted would come to be. As I grew older, I realized that the God I made wishes to and the God that other flavors of Christianity prayed to weren’t exactly similar. My God was like an imaginary friend. But theirs was serious business. Theirs had a capacity for cruelty that I could not fathom, was demanding of praise and admiration, and required monetary sacrifices of people who couldn’t afford to give. The Christian God of grown-ups didn’t jibe with God as I understood him to be. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew that I was not capable of believing what I was regularly told I should believe by the mainstream Christian community.

Sometime in my early 20’s, I read Robert Ingersoll’s “Why I am an Agnostic” and it had a profound effect on me. In his essay, Ingersoll reflects on the path he took from blindly following the beliefs of his parents to the realization that we do not and cannot know the truth about the wonders of nature. “When I became convinced that the Universe is natural,” he writes, “that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom.” It took some years of really thinking and soul-searching, but I eventually came to similar conclusions as Ingersoll, and once that happened, I experienced – and still experience – an intense sense of relief and calm. By accepting that I am ultimately responsible for my well-being and for the well-being of my fellow man, I had to stop making excuses for my actions or lack thereof. My decisions are my own, guided by my own hand, and I have to take responsibility for all of my being.

About a year ago, I was talking to my mother about my uncle, who had pancreatic cancer and probably won’t make it another year (he didn’t). She said that she was worried about him, because he wasn’t religious and she thought he would be afraid to die, since he didn’t believe in heaven. I mentioned Epicurus to her: “Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?” She said she hadn’t thought of it that way, and that she felt better about her brother to think that he had the same logic as Epicurus. When you accept that “the Universe is natural” and that what is is all there is, you are free to live presently, with no fear of what might come after.

If there is no ultimate authority watching over every action, and no fear of punishment for wrongdoing by the eternal pain and fire of hell, what stops mankind from descending into chaos?  As I said before, I believe that rational beings have an inherent understanding of what is right and what is wrong. It is right to treat others with kindness and compassion. It is wrong to murder and steal. It is right to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. It is wrong to attack someone without provocation. Treat others as you would be treated. Do what you will, but harm none. As long as we as a society and as human beings follow these basic guidelines, chaos will not ensue.

There are big questions to which I would like to have answers, but rather than make up answers to satisfy my questioning, I am content with admitting that I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a God, I don’t know if anything exists beyond death, I don’t know where the universe came from or where it is going or why we are here. But I accept that I don’t know, and won’t know, and that I don’t have control over anything except what I do and say in this moment in time. It is this acceptance that grounds and centers me and allows me to be fully present in each moment so that I can make the most of what precious time I’ve got.

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