I blame Rebecca for needing to write this essay. She is always asking me about one religion after another. Last time we had a debate about reincarnation. Actually, I should really blame myself because I was the one who put a podcast on her iPhone which really floats her boat, On Being. (If you are interested in spirituality and religion, go to your podcast app at once and subscribe.) Fortunately, we never fight about this. I think it is because we are so opposite. She likes hearing about different religions, debating them, considering them for adoption, etc., I find none of them more than possible, at best.
That is the crux of where I am on this topic, which is somewhat unique. Whenever I hear someone put forth their argument on his or her religion is the one, the most I can say is "It's possible but it is not very probable." This is a huge comfort, right?! No, it is not and that is why I wish I had another answer. But that has been where my belief system has been mired at age 19 when I left Catholicism over those lost hamburgers (one of my first columns here). I don't necessarily consider this a good thing. It's just that is where I am. I cannot force a belief system inside myself even though I am totally convinced that for most people it makes life a lot easier to live.
This being stuck has had its moments. I remember one time a friend of mine told me about her experience she had meeting this ghost. She just would see it in this one house. They could not talk. I asked her a bunch of questions about it, which she answered, and then she asked me if I believed she saw a ghost. I told her the truth, "I think it is possible but I wonder how probable it is that there are ghosts. I always wonder if I don't want them to exist because then it would mean there is something after life. But I don't disbelieve you." She was far from insulted because everyone else she had told the story flat out disbelieved it or laughed at her. I found it no more or less probable than any other supernatural belief.
Then there is checking into the hospital. You are asked your religious beliefs because when they give you bad news, and I've gotten the bad news, they would like to also give you some spiritual comfort. So I am always wanting to claim something, anything, but the dratted fact is that I have no replacement belief. It really would help at this juncture to hedge one's bets but I have nothing to claim. So I check the box on the form which says "none". Heck, it would be better to check the box which is "other" but I can't even do that. After doing this for my cancer surgery, I drew a nun as a roommate, fittingly enough. We got along fine. She watched her televised meditations. I read my crime novels while listening to Chet Baker on my iPod. I think that kind of says it all.
Ironically, when I am not writing these articles, I have been studying anew the photographic art of Jerry Uelsmann. I absolutely love his work and have done so for decades. I go back to it when my own visual imagery hits the doldrums, like now. For those of you into the surreal or iconographic or, dare I say it, religious side of imagery, you need to go see his work here. I found a ton of his images on the google image search engine so I am putting one of those to the left to inspire you to visit his site. I think my fascination with his work is very telling about my sitting on the fence over the God issue. How many non-Catholics after all would pick this as their top Uelsmann image?! The next guy we discuss, below, would have hated Uelsmann's work.
This is the late, great Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011). He was a writer, an excellent one with a great sense of humor, who also regularly debated public figures over whether there was a God. (I have a video on my Mac Air of his debating Tony Blair which I shall watch shortly.) Hitchens was a very committed atheist. He believed as profoundly in atheism as his opponent did in whatever was his religion. Then Hitchens got cancer. I was not surprised he did not come around to a religion. He was as fervent a believer as his opponents so why would he switch a belief which sustained him? He wrote a book of essays about dying, Mortality, which was published after his death. It is excellent. His book before that was the bestseller God Is Not Great.
His argument was religion ruined everything and he always used current religious atrocities worldwide as his proof. Anyway, fascinating writer and an equally fascinating public speaker. He is all over You Tube if you want to check him out. You will either love him or hate him. He had no middle ground fans who attended his debates. Here are archives of his writing and videos at Vanity Fair where he wrote monthly. Also, his Atlantic archives and Slate archives.
But my point is that I envy Hitchens because he believed in something fervently. Yes, his fervent belief was in nothing but it did the job for him. When he checked the none box at the hospital it was with pride of purpose not a it's just so improbable lament. Heat, passion, sense of purpose sustains you, vagueness does not.
I also envy Rebecca who waits patiently while I am getting my Subway sandwich at Walmart because she is plugged into her favorite show On Being on her iPhone. She is avidly listening to the spiritual thought of the day whereas I cannot rise above reminding my sandwich maker to not forget the jalapeño peppers.
There are few things inside of us over which we have control. We can't control our thoughts or our feelings so it should come as no wonder that there is no way of controlling whether there is a belief system there or not. If you have one inside of you which sustains you and does not fester and bring forth intolerance towards others, I think you are lucky. In fact, it would be my honor to have you replace the nun as my next hospital roommate.