Clarity

As always, what follows is an attempt to make logical sense of something I rather strongly suspect is fundamentally illogical (not necessarily in a bad way).

I had an interesting conversation a couple nights ago that put a number of concepts in my own head into perspective. I actually find, quite often, that ideas crystallize for me as I discuss them; I come up with a lot more of my worldview in conversation with others than in solitary contemplation. That held true then as well.

I consider myself to be atheistic, but not necessarily in a static way. Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors, has one of his characters say this about atheism, in response to an assertion that “Atheism is a denial of a god”:

‘Therefore It Is A Religious Position,’ said Dorfl. ‘Indeed, A True Atheist Thinks Of The Gods Constantly, Albeit In Terms of Denial. Therefore, Atheism Is A Form Of Belief. If The Atheist Truly Did Not Believe, He Or She Would Not Bother To Deny.’

Which is an interesting perspective to take, and is also why I’m no longer certain I’m an atheist. I suppose the more accurate term would be “agnostic with atheistic tendencies,” but that just sounds unbelievably awkward and pretentious.

Anyway.

I was reminded the other night of just how many of my friends do not consider themselves religious, but “spiritual,” in that they often reject the stricter trappings and intolerances of organized religion, but still believe in a more-powerful “force” that governs life. That force may manifest itself as a god, or energy, or fate, but a surprising number of people still posit the existence of something beyond human comprehension. The inclination to demand an explanation, a plan for the circumstances of life is apparently a strong one.

I think humans are predisposed to see/seek patterns in things, to recognize synergies and syntheses in widely disparate phenomena and concepts. I certainly do, and finding interstices in the things I love is most of what I find interesting. In fact, I would consider that ability/affinity to be one of the better markers of true intelligence (and how typical, to define a term by what I myself consider one of my strengths). The desire to find patterns in our own life stories, then, is absolutely understandable, but still often misguided.

I hesitate to speak so generally of people, but I feel that there is a tendency in many people to balk at the idea of chance in regards to the patterns of their existences. Frankly, the thought that, to paraphrase my uncle, I hit the genetic lottery jackpot in terms of the family, situation, and country I was born into might be a result of purely random chance does not faze me at all. When looking back on my life, the cognizance that so much of it may have changed drastically due to arbitrary chance not only becomes clear, but fails to frighten me. I have no delusions that I was put on earth “for a purpose;” given the massive and impersonal nature of Nature itself, to bespeak of my own importance in such a way feels self-absorbed to a ludicrous degree.

I had been comfortable with all of this for years, but the conversation brought something else into focus. Bear with me. I am one of those supremely annoying people who tries to understand everything, to put it all into some framework that I can comprehend. I fully recognize that there are things beyond my mental faculties, and though I accept it is exceedingly unlikely (or absolutely impossible) that I will ever understand them, that recognition does not prevent me from continuing to try. The concept of “god” for me falls into this framework. If “God’s” (I use God here to refer to Gaea, Fate, Spirit, etc.) plan for me is so specifically tailored that I can understand it and recognize its narrative arc, then God seems rather un-Godlike to me. Isn’t one of the defining characteristics of God its ineffability? Conversely, if God is truly ineffable, and has a Plan for my life, then the functions/applications of said Plan are so far beyond my comprehension that, as it pertains to me, it may as well be Chance. The greater (metafictional) meaning of any given incident in my life would not become apparent to me until much, much later on, if it ever did, so is not the rational response to assume that is just as likely to be arbitrary? I’m going to continue on my existential path of Free Will regardless, so in the end does it really matter that what happens to me does not have some higher Purpose behind it?

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One Response to Clarity

  1. UT says:

    Re: the role of chance in one’s life, this is probably not new to you, but it is one of Malcolm Gladwell’s central tenets in “Outliers.” To be successful in life, he contends that one needs to be “smart enough” but not necessarily a genius, worked/trained hard enough at one’s craft (he proposes a 10,000 hour threshold), *and* one needs to be lucky, i.e. in the right place at the right time. His most interesting examples are: the “richest people of all time,” a disproportionate number who were business magnates of the mid-1800’s; the most successful current NYC law firms; and the major icons of the current high tech explosion. He also illustrates the role of fortuity in his mother’s (and ultimately his) life.

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