Sunday, December 4, 2016
"A flight of perplexed unstable minds"
My wife and I watched a 20/20 show last night about a Christian couple in Tennessee. They had 18 children. They wanted more. The wife was 44 and had been pregnant for every one of the past 22 years. The husband ran a tree-trimming business and claimed he made ends barely meet. They insisted they did not get any government aid outside of the tax deductions. They shopped at Goodwill, got loans off their oldest son who had his own business, same as his father, and they welcomed the Lord's will if He deemed fit to give them more children. The interviewer asked why they judged birth control a sin, but not fertility treatments. I did not catch their rationale, however.
Not my normal fare, but it got us talking. I reasoned that while I was wired for religion, I understood its good and bad qualities much more as I aged. I figured some of us are predisposed by genetics as well as culture to seek out spiritual paths, even if they were by nature irrational or futile before facts.
As she got older, my wife's felt disenchanted with any organized religion. She's tired of the bickering, money grubbing and score-settling that makes groups deigning to seek the will of the Almighty look so petty as they divide over doctrinal minutiae and territorial land grabs and denominational dispute. I share her discontent, as a few years ago, I found I could no longer tolerate the services we attended. The God-fearing and God-submitting pleas, no matter how explained by ancient precedent, appeared to our mindset relics of an Iron Age sky-god's petulant demands upon beleaguered desert herdsmen.
Sure, none of this is new since if not Spinoza than Voltaire. But the Age of Reason takes a long time coming to many corners of the world and into many souls and/or brains inquiring. Only recently have we reached a third of the American population daring to admit that they are not religious, even if some among these "nones" might lean towards spiritual exploration personally. I wonder how our ancestors felt free to even entertain such thoughts freed from sin and guilt? My wife thinks that our own generation might be (at least in our family cases) the first, and I'd certainly concur as to my side.
It makes me notice, too, a detour that I sense a few around me taking. If the evolutionary process has driven many of us towards monotheism under political and social pressures the past few millennia, the lingering traces of magic, astrology, rune casting, divination, sorcery, witchcraft, and sortilege may appeal to some bewildered by the current rush to destruction. If we are passing now the tipping point of global warming, and if capitalism is hell bent on turning what remains of our planet into a wasteland, we lack political solutions; we face surveillance invading our minds as it has our actions.
Certainly, the rational scoff at this retreat to discredited traditions. If those teachings in scriptures are discarded as remnants of pre-modern superstition, all the more those whom the jealous God rejected before His reign appear suspect. Yet, there may be bits of common sense in how a rejection of the Lord may reveal a less assertive, more modest embrace of the scraps scrabbled from the flakes of ink, the dust from the palimpsest, the air infused with the enthusiasms of the older yearnings in our DNA.
My skeptical outlook dominates. The British Humanist Society's quiz tagged me at 93%. I've been academically trained to sift evidence, and to study the urges in literary culture of the seeker soberly. So, I am predisposed towards objectivity. But underneath, deeper maybe than that altar boy I once was, there's a sympathy for the home team, the old gang, those who looked to Ogham or rivers and trees for direction. I am very far from them, but the centuries intervening still sustain my own quest.
I reckon I will leave this life remembering a phrase from one with whom I have no other inkling in common. Where my consciousness will go I have no idea. I am no wiser than ten billion humans who have lived and then passed on before me. My ashes will or will not be scattered where I love, under redwoods. I will return as all does to dust. Aleister Crowley's last words were "I am perplexed." As one whose first "major band" was a teenage admiration for Led Zeppelin, I can relate to that reaction.
[P.S. Long ago I enjoyed G.M. Young's A Portrait of an Age (1936). Above I use a great quote from it. This historian of the era preceding him would have been about 25 when Queen Victoria died.]