Reading Carol Ochs' Our Lives as Torah: finding God in our own stories, i kept feeling twitchy around the idea that it was necessary for life to have meaning in the sense of there needing to be a God, even though what finally calmed me down from my panic about my interview was giving it all over to God and i personally so need a Creator God who is intimately involved in my life. I know this about myself and have for years, that for my own sanity i need to believe that there is a Greater Someone whom i can turn to. But the idea that everyone needs this has made me tetchy recently.
Either Ochs' emphases or my tetchiness lessened as the book went on, but then near the end of the book in talking about our lives as story she talks about endings and about "and they lived until they died" as a possible ending and writes, "Those who do not recognize God have little choice but to accept this ending and choose to focus on the process of life without regard to the end. All meaning and value must be found within this lifetime because there is no standing beyond this perspective" (193). This doesn't strike me as all that bad. Then she argues that the alternative transforms life because every moment has meaning and she talks about suffering and injustice. And it occurs to me that if the argument for God is that we need our suffering to have meaning, then what's wrong with an atheist world struggling to eliminate suffering? (And let me make clear that she dislikes the mind/body etc. dichotomies and thinks we should work to make life now and here better, not just say everything will be better in the hereafter.)
She argues that with the "and they lived until they died" ending, "the broken aspects of our lives would remain unresolved" and that with the God ending, "our suffering now forms part of some larger harmony whose pattern we could not discern as we struggled in our lifetime. Now, at last, we can understand why things were as they were." Now, as i've said, i personally need to believe in a Greater Power, that i need to believe there is a plan for all of us/this, but i find it problematic as a This Is How It Is/Should Be kind of statement.
Admittedly, Ochs doesn't attempt to answer the "why is there suffering?" question much, as her focus is on personal lives as sacred text, but she does talk about how things are much more bearable when we have a why (Viktor Frankl). She says it's not important what suffering represents but how we deal with it. ("Do we bear it stoically? Do we join with others to try to forestall or alleviate it?") She does say, "For the biblical figures, suffering is meaningful. We see their lives within the context of God, meaning that all they experience falls into their relationship to God: the good is a blessing, the evil is a test or tempering of their character. Everything is fodder for a journey to greater intimacy with God. The question is how to suffer and still find God in and through the suffering, as we might find a log we cling to while a sea of pain floods over us" (194-5).
In that final chapter she discusses "The Contexts in Which We Encounter God" -- a variety of areas of human life and how they seem both with and without God (story, love, suffering, body, work, prayer, community, death) and what she says about how a belief in God can transform these things for the better, i continued to find myself troubled with the representation of how they are for people who do not believe in God.
I do like this section:
Mystics suggest that God, analogously to the place-marking zero, holds the spot for whatever cannot explain. But then we can ask whether we discovered or created zero, and similarly whether we discovered or created our God-images and God. Because zero is "nothing," we don't look at it but through it at everything else, just as mystics hold that in whatever we behold we are seeing God. We don't really know about zero, but we use it, as well as the concept it represents, as a way of viewing everything else. Analogously, knowing what we don't know and can't know, we can still use our relationship with God to help us see and understand everything else. God is the still point of the ever-changing world, the standard by which all is valued.
Two weeks before Spring Break last semester, at RCFOS we read a letter from Flannery O'Connor to a student (Alfred Corn, Emory University, 30 May 1962). This is the 2nd paragraph:
I don't know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter said, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." It is the most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.I thought of sk8eeyore.
We talked about the streams of anti-religionism in academia and vice versa, and Sylvia [not rhiannondance] talked about being at the University of Chicago and the sense of meaningless present in the lives of so many. She was raised in a secular family and recently converted to Catholicism, so i was unclear as to whether she was talking about many of the UofC-ers she knew, or herself, or both. Regardless, i don't doubt that many people feel emptiness and meaninglessness without religious faith or spirituality of some kind.
I thought of conversations i've had with Allie.
In Inklings class one day, Zia said, "If you don't care about it, why would you care for it?" and quoted Chesterton: "Old nurses do not tell children about the grass, but about the fairies that dance on the grass."
This brings up some of the same issues, plus stuff i've imbibed from my dad about how amazing science is. (Plus it reeks of Santa, with the institution of non-existent entities to explain things that have perfectly sensible explanations.) To explain to a child that plants take in the light and convert it to energy? How cool is that? Granted, Chesterton isn't saying that the fairies create the grass, but i would rather encourage children to a fascination in how the world works than to encourage them to look for things that aren't there. Is the world we have not enough, that we have to invent things in it to appeal? And yes, i have to invent a Creator who loves Creation, but i wish i could be better than that.
As for the question of "If you don't care about it, why would you care for it?" Now, i'm at peace with the fact that i'm a bad person. I'm selfish. I do actually find a lot of nature very beautiful, but "because it's beautiful" does not hold up for me as a reason to preserve something. Telling me that we will exhaust our food or energy supply or that the water level will rise and destroy buildings... those things motivate me. I have to be convinced that your doomsday prophecies are likely to actually come true, but a direct threat to existent life is a far more potent motivator for me than abstract invocations of beauty. I'm a vegetarian (who wishes she could manage the vegan thing) because i think killing is wrong and cruelty even more so. I don't know if animals have souls, but i know that they can feel pain. The gorey pictures of slaughterhouse conditions motivate me not because i think chickens or cows are cute animals but because i feel that pain in my gut.
"He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it." -C. S. Lewis on God (in Mere Christianity)
I thought of sk8eeyore -- among others -- when i read that.