Sunday, June 22, 2008

Faith, Part Three

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman, 1865

I had convinced myself, through science and logic, that faith was nothing but a game humans played on themselves and that the enlightened ones had no need of it. And I viewed all religions with a faint scorn, all right for those who needed such a crutch, but I was not such a person. I had the figures and charts, and I could see that it was a sham.

But still, in all my certitude of the non-existence of the divine, I had flashes of it. I remember clearly, one half hour late at night, when I was at work, alone, in winter and the first snowfall of the season came down. And I had a longing to believe again, a yearning for Jesus as the Son, and I let it in. For a full half hour, I was a believer again, just as sure as when I was a child, and comforted in the faith. And just as suddenly, it left me, without warning and without me pushing it away. One moment I believed, and the next moment I was atheist again, utterly incapable of that belief.

And I was sometimes envious of the faithful. A woman I know lost two teenage sons a year apart, a terrible tragedy that would have sunk many. But a simple and unwavering faith saved her, leant her strength, and I wished to have such a source of support. But wishing did not make it so. I experimented, told myself that all I needed to do was allow myself to believe. But that scientific, coldly logical side prevented me every time, told me that I could not believe what I did not believe.

It was at this point of my life that I began seriously to observe nature. While I had camped and hiked all my life as a family activity, now I began to go out into the woods and fields alone. And what started as simple walks began instead to be meditations. My scientific side was satisfied with learning the birds and the flowers and the trees and the constellations, but my spiritual side was busy soaking in the beauty and the majesty and the perfection of nature.

The Beauty of nature, the Truth of the universe all around me began to be proof enough of something Divine. Whether it is a Being or a Force, I do not know, I do not believe I can know while I live, but I believe it exists. It is the mechanism through which flowers reflect light in broken prisms of color, it is the power of the water eroding the canyon, it is the push and pull of the stars which keep all in balance. It has taken me into account from my beginning, and it marks my footsteps upon the earth, for I am part of the whole; I cannot separate myself from the universe. The Divine knows all things past, present and future, for it encompasses it all, and if it does not direct all things, it at least knows the potential of all. It is the spark within me, as it is within all things, and it is what defines the essence of all things. It connects us all to each other, living, dead, inanimate, perhaps even intangible. I hope--I cannot say I believe--that when I die, I will enter the consciousness of the Divine, and know all things, be all things. It is perhaps more likely that I will simply drift into oblivion in a million pieces, to be reassembled and used again as the Divine sees fit. That would be all right, too.


Troy McClure said...

Wow AΦ, deep stuff. Would you say attitudes to the divine tend to relate to time? You said it "has taken me into account from my beginning, and ... knows all things past, present and future, for it encompasses all." Most quantitative physical theories, even going right back to Newtonian physics, view reality as "from outside time," or at least that's my take on it. I mean like, there'll be a big differential equation with time as the independent variable, but then when you solve it, you get a function of time, which mathematically is just one big object. And that's how I see the physical universe: just one gigantic beautiful intricate lump of stuff, but static, if you consider time as just one of the dimensions.

If I wanted to believe in a creator, my money would be on the already very compelling argument from Nick Bostrum that we are very probably living in a computer simulation. But I think you're not really focusing on creation, but some other idea of divinity and spirituality, right? That's interesting. I've moved from saying I don't believe in God, through to saying I don't believe in gods, and now to saying I don't believe in spirits. But I don't really know what I mean by that! I suppose that's not necessarily crazy---I don't know what a snark is, and that's got a lot to do with my not believing in them---but deep down it's pretty clear that people are talking about something when they mention spirits, divinity, et cetera, whether it's purely psychological or what. So I sometimes wish I knew what the heck it was.

anglophile said...

Hey, Troy, thanks for commenting. I'm not a big physics person, so I have a lot of trouble with the whole thing with time. In theory, yes, I understand it as just another dimension, but in practicality, I think our physical selves compel us to experience the one-way aspect of time. Of course, we are told the Judeo-Christian God has always existed and always will exist, which seems to me to be saying He can exist outside of time. I suppose, if a being were able to step out of time, or above time, or "remember forward" in time, that would tend to bestow god-like qualities on such a being, wouldn't it? I may be relying a bit too heavily on Star Trek for this.

The idea that we are all living in a computer simulation is not one I can embrace too easily. It may be true, it may not, but it doesn't solve the real problem, which is, even if we are the product of some computer simulation, who created the guy who is running the simulation? I have also heard theories that we were brought to earth by aliens, but that poses the same problem, who created the aliens? I don't pretend to have all the answers, and it is all too likely that my beliefs will continue to evolve and change. I may someday come full circle and return to Catholicism (although that seems to me very unlikely). But like m-a, I'm always asking questions, and I think that's about as much as we humans can do.

kirtina said...

lovely, ma'am.

markmier said...

AΦ (I like that, Troy)... we sound pretty similar in our "spiritual journeys" (such as they are). I too was raised Catholic and now don't believe in any spirits, largely because of my knowledge of science and all the implications of a logical worldview. And I agree that I am... calm... when I'm out in nature.