13 September 2008


I cannot understand an attitude that postpones any and all fulfillment to some ill-defined point in the future. I cannot comprehend how someone can find comfort at the idea of this ill-defined fulfillment while suffering in the ‘now’. And I find it pathetic that people grasp so much for this unguaranteed future that they lose track of the here and now. Everything that I have could vanish in an instant. Everything. Why would I grasp after the future, knowing that there is no certainty in it?

There was a brief span of time where I “tried on” Christianity again, years after I’d stopped considering myself a Christian. The why doesn’t matter, though I suspect there’s one reader here who might be able to guess at it. It felt like trying to crawl back into a small, dark box after being exposed to the light of day. Seriously. I stopped almost instantly. I couldn’t find anything of value there. When I read Plato’s allegory of the cave, I empathized with the character who escaped and tried to return.

Since that time, I have encountered variants of Christian thought that I would deem worthwhile. They might best be described as “mystical Christianity.” I find myself agreeing with many of their sentiments, yet I cannot see the point in redefining Christian symbols to mean something that few self-identifying Christians would even recognize. I’d rather start fresh, and look at the world itself, rather than try to cram an entire world into a small dank box. Maybe the hope is that, eventually, the box will rupture and allow the light of day to shine on all within.

But the one thing that really bothers me about mainstream Christianity is that there is no real sense of the here and now as having any worth. It’s all about the future. My taiji instructor likes to say “The past is a beggar; the future is a thief.” People throw away their present lives on the hope of some ill-defined better future. It’s one thing to prepare for the future. It’s quite another to fritter away the present. But that’s what I see people doing, and a notion of some divine paradise in the hereafter only encourages them.

So in this moment, contemplate what you have, what you need, what you are. Think about the things you wish you had done and didn’t, and check which of them you could be doing now. Be aware of what the future is likely to hold, and prepare, but be ready for it to change in an instant. Know that everything you have now could be erased in an eyeblink, and the world would go on. Know that no matter how much pain you feel, the world will still be going on as if nothing had happened. When you know that, and live accordingly, then you have something.

Living life on the assumption of a guaranteed future is the most meaningless life I can imagine. In fact, it’s no life at all. Living on the edge between past and future, and really experiencing it, requires letting go of those future expectations. The world may or may not be exactly the same tomorrow as it was today. My life may or may not be the same. If I can be aware of the change and flow with it, then I am really living. All else is illusion.


John said...

"It felt like trying to crawl back into a small, dark box after being exposed to the light of day"

The dark can be comforting, providing a feeling of safety, like a small child hiding under the blanket. But once you've seen the world as it really is, you know that that safety is just an illusion caused by ignorance. When life gets hard, it isn't uncommon to yearn for that comforting ignorance, like nostalgia for childhood. I'm reminded of the refrain from one of the few country songs I've ever liked: "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then".

"...to mean something that few self-identifying Christians would even recognize"

Most of those sort are what I call Paulians, since they follow the writings of Paul far more closely than the Gospels of Christ. A lot of "self-identifying Christians" probably would barely recognize the teachings of Christ.

There's more I want to say, but I'm afraid it would come out even more incoherent than what I actually wrote.

Qalmlea said...

I've generally heard it called "Pauline" Christianity, but, yeah. Reading between the lines in the NT, there was an awful lot of in-fighting between the surviving disciples and Paul's band, and no agreement as to where the genuine authority lay.

As for comfort... There were times when I found the people of the church comforting, but the religion? Not so much. Reconsidering after abandoning it... no, that wasn't about comfort. And I found none in the attempt.