God: Gotta love ‘im!

6 08 2009

Just finished GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

Summary: I believe what I believe. Christianity is true because Christianity is true. Non-Christian perspectives do not make sense from a Christian perspective.

Uh-huh.

Orthodoxy is one of those books oft urged on non-believers as a way of allowing us to make sense of, and perhaps, bring us to, faith. It’s not quite an exercise in apologetics, not least because its argument, such as it is, is less about proclaiming and defending the doctrines of the church than in ridiculing alternative beliefs: His critiques of contemporary thinkers are scattershot, mixing and mashing them up so as to be better able to dismiss them all as incomprehensible, and his discussion of doctrine is almost non-existent.

No, the book seems more a matter of Chesterton explaining himself to himself, a turn-of-the-century version of the Talking Heads lyric Well, how did I get here? As such, it’s a kind of brief theological psychology, with reason dragooned into the role of the therapist.

Read this book if you’re interested in Chesterton, or if you particularly enjoy the alleged wit of reversal, along the lines of ‘you think A is B, but B is A.’ O ho ho! Imagine an entire book of such bon mots:

Descartes said, ‘I think; therefore I am.’ The philosophic evolutionist reverse and negatives the epigram. He says, ‘I am not; therefore I cannot think.’

If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple.

If Nietzsche had not ended in imbecility, Nietzscheism would end in imbecility.

And on and on, epigram substituting for argument.

Allow me my own: I came looking for the argument from the man, but found the man in the argument. Alas, biography is not philosophy.

See, that’s not so hard now, is it?

Perhaps I should give the last word to the long-departed Mr. Chesterton (substitute ‘book’ for ‘novel’):

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.





Ghost in the machine

17 05 2009

She’s been gone two weeks and I don’t feel her anywhere.

I choked up as this photo loaded on to the page, but it’s been been awhile since tears could be prompted by the thought of her.

She’s slipped right through and away from me.

Grief may be about the recognition of absence, as I mentioned previously, but what of the absence of the absence?

I can tell people I mercy-killed my cat and move on. I pull FatCat close to me and wonder how she is as an only cat. I think about getting a kitten in July or August.

I don’t think about Chelsea.

There’s a photo of her propped on top of her empty food dish (a small pot I threw and glazed in her tiger-striped coloring; FatCat has a similar black-and-white dish), but I rarely slide my eyes over the shelf on which the dish sits, so I don’t see her. Out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a relief not always to be verging on tears, but I’m discomfitted by my relatively smooth transition to post-Chelsea life. I was worried about the grief taking me over, but now I wonder about the easy sequestration of that grief.

I thought she’d be here. Yeah, I know, I’m an agnostic about all things supernatural, but I liked the idea of her, somehow, hanging around. Ms. Blithe comforted me with the words ‘Travel well, Skinny Cat,’ and I like the image of her continuing on, somehow.

Somehow. I was worried that my own disenchanted naturalism would dissipate into a cheap spiritualism, that I would be unable to deal forthrightly with Chelsea’s death and thus retreat into a moony ‘when-I-see-her-again’ wistfulness.

This is not a slam against belief. My friend and colleague J. is both ‘an orthodox Marxist and an orthodox Catholic’ (she pronounces this with her finger raised) says that ‘unlike those goddamned Protestants’ Catholics believe that animals have souls and I’ll see Chelsea in heaven. (Which is sweet, really, that she thinks I’ll make it to heaven.) I demurred and noted that some Protestants allow for this possibility, but, as with Ms. Blithe’s comment, I didn’t really take it in. It’s a nice idea that I don’t quite believe in.

I ought to be relieved: my agnosticism is not as blithe as I worried it might be! My beloved cat is gone and I don’t experience her as anything other than gone. She’s dead, as FatCat will one day be, as any other cats I take in will one day be, as my friends and family and I will someday be. Dead is dead.

Curiously, however, I am not eased by the fact that I am not eased by any post-death possibilities. I ought to be pleased with myself, insofar as I sometimes suspect that my agnosticism is little more than cover for lack of commitment. I am committed to doubt! I say, even as I think I am merely keeping all of my options open. Don’t want to be caught out a fool, doncha know.

So the unbelief side of my agnosticism holds. Whoopee.

Another stage of grief? Bargaining or whatever? ‘I want my cat back. I want her here, with me.’ And that she’s not, in any way, is a kind of small desolation which confirms the possibility of universal desolation. Is this the movement out of bargaining into acceptance? That death really does mean separation?

And then wrap this whole situation in the that whole over/underreaction dynamic I have going on, and it would make sense that I lurch from constant sorrow to a certain stoniness regarding her absence, and from there to a cosmic absence for everyone everywhere, forever.

I want to be clear-eyed. I want to remember. I want to keep open possibility. I want to commit. I want to make sense.

So Chelsea’s gone and I know that. I know that too well. I just want her here, as well.

I want something more.





What next Big Sky?

19 04 2009

I don’t Believe much, although I believe all kinds of things. And I don’t Dismiss much, although I dismiss all kinds of things.

Yes, the caps signify one of the Big Issues: Is there anybody out there? Or in here, or laying about. . . somewhere? Anybody?

I mostly don’t believe, although it’s a congenial, changeable kind of unbelief, one which ambles in no particular direction and avoids no particular consequences. There’s a god? Okay. No god? Okay.

Either way. It’s not as if I have much to do with the existence of God or gods, or that gods have much to do with me. Maybe they look in on us every once in awhile, beer in hand, munching nachos and commenting on those crazy Grabowskis or McFees or Olapundes. And then they go back to doing whatever godlike things they do over beer and nachos.

Okay, so that’s a bit cute. And I’m also fudging on the notion that any god(s)’ existence is separate from us: What if they only exist because we believe they exist?

That’s the conceit which underlies Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a thoroughly enjoyable shamble through the back alleys of American beliefs and folkways. Some—many—of the old deities are nasty, and require a ritual of violence which, for the most part, has been smoothed away from contemporary religion. They’re not nice, and the people who invoke them aren’t always nice, but you nonetheless feel, along with the main character, Shadow, that the loss of these gods would, in fact, constitute a real loss. To forget the tricksters and warriors and shape-shifters would be to forget ways of being in this world, to lose mysteries and secrets and fortuna herself. And, in Gaiman’s world, the gods themselves are bereft, abandoned and small, trying not to disappear.

Even though I’m a big fan of reason, I’m not particularly surprised by my tender reaction to American Gods. As a child with an, mm, active imagination, my default position was that everything—and I mean everything—could think and feel. It wasn’t that I felt this way at all times, but that, when I wanted to, I could conjure up a sympathy with my favorite tree (an elm behind the garage, with a low branch for easy access) or cows in a field or the old cannon standing guard over the lagoon.

In fact, I don’t know that this was so much about my imagination as it was about childhood in general. Kids believe all kinds of nonsense—this is one of the delights and terrors of childhood—and readily share their stories with one another. And they learn not to share too much with adults, who at best indulge them and at worst tear their stories away and shred them. Grow up, they’re told.

As a child who experience the full range of delight and terror, I don’t particularly care to romanticize childhood. I like reason and explanation and science and the whole notion of demonstrable cause-and-effect. And I’m quite taken with the notion of chance and physics combining to form canyons, camels, and the cosmos.

But chance isn’t the same as fortuna, and the indifferent universe can disappoint as well as exhilarate. Most of the time I think, Well, we’re here for 70 or 80 years, and that’s it. If your life is to have any meaning, it’s up to you to make it, and even then, you might fail. Don’t count on anything beyond this world to bail you out of your sorrows, or let anything beyond this world to get in the way of your joys. Anything you have, anything you feel, anything you become is all here, is all you have.

And yet. And yet I think What if? I close my eyes and summon that child-sense of Isn’t there something more? You can see that in my writings today, that semi-constant questionof Is there something more? Wasn’t there something more?

I can’t put that there into words beyond the more; it is in fact beyond me, around me, running ahead and pulling up behind me. I walk under ladders and step on cracks and wish that there were ghosts and spirits and hope that not everything can be explained.