I’ve been reading John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, for a couple years now. It’s a good blog, but there is something, I don’t know, provincial about John Scalzi’s worldview. Maybe it’s because I’m young, but I really can’t let go of this notion that no matter what age you are at, you should be striving to learn new things and have adventures and shit. Scalzi will do that, but only if it doesn’t rock the boat too much. Please don’t read this as a takedown. I think Mr. Scalzi is an engaging writer and a fine human being; it’s just that when he writes stuff to the effect of, “This life is all we get, but I have my family and my friends and my work, so I’m happy”, I find myself agreeing with each individual point, but somehow not liking his conclusion. On one hand, his desire to accept the limitations of his own existence and live in the present has an almost Zen quality, but on the other hand, it seems like a cop-out. Who wouldn’t like to live forever? Who wouldn’t like the thought of an afterlife? I’m not saying I believe in one, only that I have to admit that the thought is rather seductive. And there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of etc., etc.
I think for a lot of people, the need to believe in a Kingdom of Heaven or whatever is less about getting to take what they have with them than it is about contextualizing this life. There are so many Big Mysteries and shit that it seems almost a shame to live so short a life and barely even scratch the surface. As Christopher Hitchens once said, the discussion about what is good, noble, pure and true is the only conversation worth having. So I try not to obsess too heavily over the meaning of life and shit. Because it’s been my experience that all that stuff about God and infinity has a way of working itself out. But of course, that’s only conditionally true. There are no preordained conclusions, only what you have the power to make happen. And honestly, it can be such a relief to let go of something that you thought you needed, but now realize that you can live without.
It’s funny: I don’t consider myself a believer, yet in debates, I often find myself more sympathetic to the Desmond Tutus than the Richard Dawkinses. It’s not so much that I believe that Jesus rose from the dead or disagree with Dawkins about how preposterous and silly that is, only that I don’t understand why he, Bill Maher, and their ilk are so intent on seeing religion as the enemy rather than fanaticism. I’m not sure if there are too many isms that I would consider inherently evil (maybe fascism, but that is definitely the exception that proves the rule). My worldview is fundamentally about how we are all one but not the same (and yes, I did just borrow my philosophy from a U2 song), so it seems like kind of a waste of time to argue that it’s impossible to separate a person’s religious views from their professional life, even though we all do that to some extent. I’ve worked in a coffee shop despite not drinking coffee myself. Why is it so much harder for a creationist to study evolution? Sam Harris’s latest book is about separating spirituality from religion. I feel like he’s coming at it from the wrong angle. I respect his goals; I’m just not sure if those two can be separated, at least not completely.
There are some changes coming my way right now. I just found an apartment and am coordinating the move-in details with my prospective roommate. He seems okay. The hardest part of moving (I might have said this before) is finding my places. Where do I go for sushi? Where do I go for a burrito? Where do I go if I just need to get out of the house for a while? There’s a shopping center not too far from the spot, and due to its convenient location (it’s right next to public transit), I’m taking the place even though rent plus utilities comes to slightly more than I make on my current job. I guess I’ll have to find a second job soon and live off of my savings until then.
I heard a story once about the writer Quentin Crisp. Crisp was an effeminate gay Englishman who was an actor and storyteller in addition to writing. The story goes that he would talk to anybody who called him up, even if they were calling to wish death upon him. I guess he was just curious about what made them tick. He could have gotten an unlisted number or screened his calls, but he decided not to. I feel that no matter who or where you are, you have to be willing to engage with the people whose lives are completely alien to your own. Saying, “Oh, my time is limited, I have to focus on what’s really important” is one thing, just don’t confuse that for leaving everything the way it is. And acknowledging the existence of something transcendent and divine does actually mean admitting that you have had religious experiences. If you want to say that you believe in a higher power, but you don’t think it’s God, fine, just don’t argue that everyone who identifies as a skeptic or a humanist is by necessity an atheist. I had to put aside The God Delusion because that’s all Dawkins did for the first chapter or two. What an insecure man.
Most things exist on a spectrum: race, gender, sexuality, and apparently, religious belief. It’s wrong to force people into dichotomies, but it doesn’t mean that the labels are themselves meaningless. We are, after all, only human.