What makes me a forever tortured soul is that I’m standing on the knife’s edge. On one side my ideal, my hopes, dreams and faith. On the other side my rationality, my anxiety, my knowledge and fears.
The current cultural paradigm tells me the prior things are built upon social construct, the latter upon science. They have first deconstructed meaning and purpose, now moved on to trying to even erase categories built upon biology, constantly destroying the rule by highlighting the exception.
The problem with me is that I’m not able to dismiss one or the other. In many regards I am a postmodern thinker, having rejected modernism, and yet not in the way of those out to destroy every religious tradition or cultural institution.
My own understanding is that social structures, like family, gender distinction or nation, do exist for a reason. Sure, they should not be an excuse for injustice or unfair exclusion. However, those who only see these things in negative terms or as unnecessary are severely mistaken.
There are things that can’t be viewed under a microscope that are as needed for human thriving as oxygen or water. Sure, it is easy to dismiss religion as superstition or redefine terms to suit the current demands of outliers.
But being unable to appreciate the balance of forces that keep a bridge from falling doesn’t mean that someone can keep removing structural members without consequences.
While being a critic of abuses by these institutions of culture and religion, my point has never been to destroy them. Sure, it is not acceptable, for example, that the word “modesty” in the Bible is misused to blame women for male lusts, nevertheless tearing down all expectations is an abuse as bad or worse.
Perhaps there are benefits to promoting healthy masculinity or a distinct feminine role?
Those trying to erase all difference in the name of equality are the most controlling and unpleasant people. In the name of tolerance, they are literally at war with everyone present and past trying to preserve an identity they cherish. They worship the exception while making life miserable for everyone else.
That’s where I differ from the ‘woke’ and the virtue signaling masses that empower their tyrannical edicts. Sure, I believe in recognizing disadvantages of some and making wrongs right. But that’s not what social justice is truly about. It advertises itself as being a solution, yet is only the same evil of intolerance in a new more ‘colorful’ form.
Still, I am not capable of being fully engulfed by the teachings of Christianity either. I tend to be philosophically in alignment rather than spiritually and that’s because I’m continually dismissing my own experience as invalid. I mean, so what if I got the warm fuzzies at a church service, right? I’ve also experienced euphoria on Adderall. Been manipulated by music, a rousing speech or what have you.
I can identify fully with H.P. Lovecraft:
“We all know that any emotional bias — irrespective of truth or falsity — can be implanted by suggestion in the emotions of the young, hence the inherited traditions of an orthodox community are absolutely without evidential value…. If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them. The fact that religionists do not follow this honourable course, but cheat at their game by invoking juvenile quasi-hypnosis, is enough to destroy their pretensions in my eyes even if their absurdity were not manifest in every other direction.”
But this writer of horror, who lived in his own existential crisis hell, does not seem like an example to follow. What is the point of being ‘rational’ if it keeps one in a state of constant dread about how insignificant and out of control they are? Is this holding to an agnostic and meaningless interpretation actually intelligence or simply another form of ignorance?
I vote the latter.
Command of language, the ability to pull together a vast amount of information and sift science from superstition, these are things seen as signs of intelligence. And certainly they are measures of a particular kind of capability of mind. But, as a person can be knowledgeable and unwise, saying things that bring us pleasure or purpose are not real is simply ignorant.
Serotonin is as real as the stars in the sky, the feelings this hormone produces are no different from light. It would be stupid to argue that light waves are less important because they lack mass. Likewise, to say that the spiritual is non-existent, because it cannot be weighed or otherwise measured, is not brilliance either. Lack of appreciation or ability to comprehend things of emotional value is not intellectual strength.
Nevertheless, there is a sense in which seeing behind the veil changes things, there are things that can’t be unseen. And those Lovecraftian monsters do exist even if only in the mind of the author.
My own experience, unfortunately, has left me untethered from the comfortable and floating in space. My sincerest hopes rejected as being delusion by the very people who I had thought would appreciate such things. It is difficult to cling to the belief that “with faith all things are possible” when your former pastor’s daughter, encouraged by him, supposedly missionary minded, tells you she can’t love.
It is that disconnect between profession and action that keeps me still precariously balanced on bloodied feet.
Orthodoxy has brought me a firmer foundation than the ever shifting sands of Protestant theology and practice. It is certainly more ancient and authentic than the alternatives. Still, that loss of identity and innocence, that process of degradation of my child-like faith over time, makes restoration of my soul seem as possible as a return to my mother’s womb. How to become less cynical again?
I do envy the simpletons who can ignore such things. They suffer without swaying in the belief that God is in control. Wouldn’t we all live that way if we could?
At some point doesn’t logic dictate we take the advice of Job’s wife, curse God and die, rather than continue to push through the pain against all odds?
This blog site, Irregular Ideation, was a product of my dilemma. That is what to do when the happily ever after and meant to be fairy tales are insufficient to get us beyond our fears. What does happen when those teeth of quiet desperation and endless angst finally gnaw through what remains of the moral foundation. The eternal abyss opens beneath our feet, the inscription over our heads: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Fr. Anthony, the spiritual mentor that met me in my time of need, boiled it down to a choice, either we choose to live a life of meaning or we do not. Charlotte, my bhest, has also urged me to be strong and that likewise suggests that we decide what is worth the effort. But none of that makes the choice easy or pain free. Adam and Eve never lost that awareness that biting from the forbidden fruit of knowledge gave them, the thistles of doubt and despair still remain.
It is both assuring and terrifying that the most notable characters in Scripture were tormented. Elijah, having witnessed literal fire from heaven, fled terrified into the wilderness because a wicked queen threatened him. John the Baptist, suffering in prison, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3 NIV) And Jesus himself, in angish, speaking of his coming trials, prayed “take this cup away, and on the cross felt forsaken or abandoned by God.
St. Paul, with his undisclosed “thorn in his side,” suggested a division within, the ‘spirit’ being willing while the ‘flesh’ is weak. The book of Psalms and other Biblical poetry, a great comfort to many today, suggests the writers were experiencing travails and torment. In no way were these ignorant people living a life of bliss. They were fully aware, they had their moments of failure, and choose to keep going on in faith despite this all.
As my parish priest reminds us, “If you ain’t struggling you ain’t Orthodox.”
So while my life would be so much easier if I could be agnostic and accept that we’re all products of random chance, biological robots plotting a predetermined course, that everything is about sex and power. But I don’t give in to that existential dread and will stand against those who, with seeming sadistic pleasure, tear at the foundation of meaning and purpose.
I’m tortured soul because I am able to both see the fullness of beauty and also stare into the void of emptiness. I live with keen awareness that many have died, clinging to breath and hope, thinking their salvation was right around the corner. It could all be for naught. Still, I fight. I’m not in control, I never will be, and long for that final peace when my journey is complete. For now, though, I’ll dance on this blade, my persistent uncertainty on one side and strong desire for God on the other.
I can pretty much rationalize around any moral boundaries, maybe eventually embrace a life of self-indulgence and not giving a crap about those whom I’ve stepped on to gain a small advantage. I could, more easily, give in to self-pity or be overwhelmed by cruelty and give up. Lord have mercy! Still, something within, not even sure how to define it, pushes me to endure through hardships.
At some level it makes no sense, why must we go through hell to get to heaven?
It doesn’t make sense.
But then neither does my existence. How did I come to be? If my life is finite and time stretches infinity in both directions, there is essentially zero chance of being on this moment right now. So our existence is not rational nor that we extrapolate, from our pleasure and our pain, that there is something greater. Maybe belief in the divine realm, where all is made right, is merely a survival mechanism—so why then do we question it?
And so it goes on. There is no growth without pain, not triumph without suffering, our moments of glory would not be such a pleasure if there was nothing required to attain. So why not extend this pattern and conclude that our torment, if righteous, will be rewarded…