Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/14/2009

“…then, in fact, despair is presumptuous” **

God.
God is.
God is not.
God is not kind.
God is not kind or helpful.
God is not knowable.
God is not.

Bipolar Preoccupation with Death
+Thoughts of death
+Feeling dead or detached
Emotional Pain of Depression
+Despair
+Hopelessness

black_hole

Black Hole; Hubble Telescope

I dread mornings. I would give anything for a way to begin the day other than awakening to morning. Because morning means I must write. God (if God exists) is not knowable at 4 AM. The cats watch me make coffee (having given in to the necessity of being awake). They paddle off, back to their favorite places (they jockey for position—one always on the shelf above my desk) to sleep until it’s time for sane creatures to be awake. They know the sun salutation does not happen until sun up. I once practiced the sun salutation on the banks of the Amazon. 

I digress. God is not. God is not kind. God is not knowable. If God were, if God were God, surely I would not feel so lost. Adrift in a sea of unknowing and unjoying. I fear the end. The end of consciousness, the end of attachment to the real. “The Cloud of unknowing.” Not in a medieval sense of unknowing God’s will, but unknowing what I have experienced. Of unknowing whether or not I am alive. God has removed God’s self from me already, so the only thing left to remove from me is me. The ultimate unknowing and unjoying. I am overcome with tiredness at four/five/six in the morning and try to go back to sleep. I know for certain that I am alone. Utterly and grievously alone. The snowshoes cat will not let me go to bed alone, but will follow me there and insist on licking my nose. He will not cuddle, will not give me comfort. He needs no comfort. He needs only closeness. His cat-talk means something to him that I cannot decipher. 

Loneliness and grief are brothers. Each is my brother. I grieve the demise of my existence. I am told that the question of God comes down to the question whether or not I am alone in the universe. If I am not, God must exist. If I am, I cannot bear the sadness, the grieving of my life, your life—is your life like my life? Are we all “like the chaff that the wind blows away?” If my grief is real. If I understand what almost no one I know understands. If I admit something almost no one I know admits. If the fact—the inescapable fact—is that our religious comfort is an invention. If the end of my life is what it appears to be. If the carbon and hydrogen and oxygen of my body simply return to the soup of the stuff of the universe when I die. If the promise of eternal life comforts people who cannot look squarely in the eye the reality that they will die. “The seventeenth-century invention of religion established the intellectual horizons necessary for anthropological and philosophical inquiries into the nature, origin and purpose of the human predilection for trafficking with the supernatural,” says Matthew Day. (aa) “…Charles Darwin…and the problem of human uniqueness.” Oh, yes, the problem of human uniqueness. Not my uniqueness. No problem. But all of us together. Are we unique as a species? Are we different from my cats? The snowshoes will die. And the snowshoes will not—will he?—have some kind of eternal soul that will go on forever as Chachi the silly little cat. 

I rehash my grief and loneliness from the forever of the beginning of my conscious life. What other 30-something-year-old did I know (that was half my life ago) who read The Denial of Death (Ernst Becker, 1973). Friends thought I was crazy. We were in the whirl of graduate school, study, obsession with our musical practice, cruising the bars to find our husband of the evening. We didn’t have time to deny death. David W, may he rest in peace, warned me. “Stop reading shit like that!” I’ve been preoccupied for most of my life. 

We believe. No creature that does not have a religion is human. Period. That’s how the Europeans justified destroying the Aztecs, the Incas, the Tupinambas. That was the justification for slavery (the primitives of Africa had only superstition and not religion, so they were only 3/5th human according to Article 1 of the United States Constitution). No creature without religion is human. Matthew Day explains it this way: 

When we consider the colonial discovery of religion’s absence. . .[it] looks less like a genuine anthropological discovery and more like a shrewdly Machiavellian line of political attack. By denying that a given indigenous population had a religion, the European agents of colonial expansion could simultaneously deny their full humanity as well: if religion was the sine qua non of human identity then any creature that lacked religion was, by definition, not human. (aa) 

Any creature that lacks religion is, by definition, not human.

eucharist

Religion

I am not human. I lack religion. I am obsessed with religion—with the shapes and forms of my cultural religion. I am pissed off that my pastor is breaking the rules and substituting a lesson of her own choosing for the prescribed mandated inviolable fixed-for-centuries reading of the Proper scripture lessons for tomorrow. Worship will not happen. God will not show up. Jesus will not be known in the breaking of the bread. I will believe none of it. I crave to have it both ways: the religious paraphernalia must be absolutely correct because the religious ceremony will get us all to heaven. But there is no “truth” to any of it.

If the point of religion is somehow to help us deal with/help us prepare for/convince us of the inefficaciousness of death, then my deep and overwhelming religious experience is something other than religion. It is certainly other than faith. 

What is religion? What is it for? For comfort? assurance? For making one part of one’s community in a way that no one outside the religion can be? The Tupinamba, of whom I learned when I was on the Amazon, had a certainty of eternal life and a spiritual connection to their community that we high church Episcopalians and Lutherans can only approximate. We, of course, find it barbaric. In our denial of death, we find it barely (if at all) human. 

… for the Tupinamba, cannibalism was far from being a form of bestial rage. The victim, drawn from an alien tribe …. was led into the village in a solemn procession, he would live as an ambiguous kind of guest for many months. He took not only the house but the wife of a recently deceased Tupinamba warrior….and might even father a child with his new spouse. Finally he was killed and eaten. . . .he had the honour of being central to a reverent ceremony, surrounded by the formal assembly of the entire tribe, who ensured that every particle of his body was devoured. . . .The victim was physically and symbolically ‘incorporated’…. took on the identity of the dead warrior. (bb) 

Is this what makes one (or one’s tribe) human?

** Father John Claypool, Rector of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
(aa)  Day, Matthew. “Godless savages and superstitious dogs: Charles Darwin, imperial ethnography, and the problem of human uniqueness.” Journal of the History of Ideas 69.1 (Jan 2008): 49.
(bb)  Sugg, Richard. “Eating your enemy: Richard Sugg searches history to explain the phenomenon of aggressive cannibalism, following recent allegations from Iraq.” History Today 58.7 (2008): 22.

tupinamba3

Tupinamba - not religion

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  1. […] written about my lack of joy (perhaps it could be called “despair”) before, but that darkness comes and goes. (I stopped that blog because it was way too serious—this blog […]

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