Sunday, September 02, 2007

Godless Awe and Inspiration

I am reminded today, for what reason I am not entirely certain, that religion is not a necessary requirement to be inspired by the Universe. Ah, yes, now it comes to me. One of the young girls who is at my coffee shop while I write this is going to a catholic high school and studying the world's religions. It can be a fascinating study in anthropology... but I have been through that and found every one of them lacking the inspiration that the real Universe gives me.

I lost my 'faith' a long time ago when the contradictions of the ideas of faith came crashing into the reality of the Universe as revealed by science. I am not the only person who has had reality dissolve their faith away. Even Mother Teresa experienced this:

From TIME Magazine Article, August 23, 2007 -

"On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist." "

The article goes on to say:

"Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa's inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn't there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book's Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." "

I must place myself fully with this camp of atheists. We are creatures of habit and I can only guess at the Mother's inner views for sure, but the implication is clear to a skeptic... she lost her faith and could not come to terms with it. I'm sure that she is not the only one. Perhaps, obliquely, it is not unlike the older generation of people who are in fact homosexual but unable to come to terms with it and thus they repress the notion and end up in men's rooms in Minneapolis airports looking to satisfy their mental, emotional, and physical desires that they repress... but this is, again, just speculation.

Here, I speak only for myself. I am fairly certain, upon reflection, that my liberation began when I was about 8 years old. I received a small telescope from my great-uncle Arthur and a book to go with it entitled simply Stars by H.A. Rey. I read about the 'Great Nebula in Orion' and after learning the positions of the stars, one cold December night I took my new instrument on my first tour of the true Heavens. Before my eyes swirled a ghostly green apparition the likes of which I will never forget. If I were a person of 'faith' I might have thought poetically that I had 'glimpsed the face of God.' I did not... instead, I got my first true glimpse of reality. Faith was no longer necessary. Instead, logic and curiosity became my constant companions and they have never failed or abandoned me (unlike a mythical god from the mythology of our primitive neo-cortex that we have yet to abandon as a species). I offer as exhibits to that wonderment and inspiration the preceding pictures at the beginning of this blog. The awe and inspiration of such pictures as these from the Hubble Space Telescope are a greater testament to Nature and the Universe than any work of man... and yet it precisely the work of science and of our minds in search of reality in the raw that has made them possible. It brings to mind the quote some attribute to Christopher Marlow's The Tragic Tale of Dr. Faustus where the doomed wizard states "Vi veri universum vivicus vici"; roughly translated: "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the Universe."

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