A maybe-atheist considers ‘god’ by Stephanie Wescott
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
I’ve always considered religion an anti-intellectual practice. Faith in something unseen, unknown and unprovable; devotion to an ancient text, a being in the sky; and living according to groupthink social conservatism seemed to be deeply blind and unthinking ways of being.
But recently, a change of heart. These are dark times. Climate Change, the Age of Trump and Australia’s own messy political palaver have sent me into a spiral of angst and gifted me an unshakable feeling of doom. I have been looking for hope in the usual places; in the places I know and can see. In poetry, in the writers who show me a better way of noticing, in the things in my world that are beautiful and resilient; the things that remain still and strong and unwavered by the chaos around us.
I have been seeking answers from the most brilliant minds in my world. The question I pose is, ‘But how do you remain hopeful? Even now? With all this?’
I have so far been unsatisfied with the responses. Suggestions that it is a choice or an innate disposition do not sit well with me. These responses bear a closeness to a naïveté that I spend my life working to avoid. To remain hopeful by choice or accident of birth in a time when the evidence leans towards despair, telling us we have but twelve years to fix the dire mess we are in, and when the powers above us show no willingness to do the right thing for us, is, to me, beyond comprehension.
I think we live in an interesting era of post-truth, where truth is both as relative as the version your social media algorithm tells you it is, and a product of a hyper-scientification of the answers to questions humans have been asking forever. A scientification of wonder, faith and spirituality. The ironic mocking of white-girl spirituality for example, which, sure, is deserving, also speaks to a contempt for those who seek a higher meaning beyond themselves. Strangely, those who treat capitalism as the glorious framework for their inner lives are treated with less disdain.
I have been thinking differently lately. Thinking that actually, faith can be considered a deeply intellectual practice. It begins with a choice to dim the noise of the modern world, where your reality exists in projections. Instead, faith requires that you go within to listen to whatever is in the subconscious, that inner world that rationality and scepticism tell us holds no reason, holds no power over the outer-world, the ‘real’ one.
Faith is a dangerous thing, too. The state of Alabama this week passed the most restrictive anti-abortion laws of all the American states, citing ‘Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God’ as their guiding principle. I have begun to think of faith and social conservatism through the chicken-and egg-framework. Are conservatives drawn to faith as a prism that upholds their own prejudices? Or are these born of the early indoctrination of a faith-informed childhood?
When I think of faith I think of my mother-in-law’s resolute sense of peace in times of crisis. I think of her holding me before I step onto a plane and entrusting me to god’s care. I think of the vernacular of grief, of love, and of hope she draws on to console, encourage and to express her devotion to her family. I think of the emptiness of my own language in these same circumstances. I have to draw on cliches, or well-worn, rehearsed sentences empty of the potency of meaning I want them to have. It is as if my lack of deeper spirituality has created a chasm between what is in my heart and what is in my words.
I do not know what God/god is. Who they are, what form they take, if they exist only in the recesses of my imagination—and maybe that is precisely where I want them to stay. But I am curious. Could I create a relationship with a god? Something or someone to speak the most devastating and inconsolable thoughts that come more frequently now than ever before?
I wonder what it would feel like to entrust your life to the work of someone else’s hands. Is it weakness or strength? How dissimilar is it to a belief in the universe doing this exact work? Or blind chance?
I take it as a sign of my intellectual maturation that I am no longer as staunchly and stubbornly atheist as I once was. I am embarrassed by the arrogant intellectual superiority of my youth that worshipped Dawkins, Hitchens and Hirsi Ali as miracle workers of the modern world. I see in this the same devout religious fundamentalism I would mock. ‘Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.’ 1 Corinthians 10:14.
I remain curious, I remain open, and I remain committed to what is within and what is beyond. This is the kind of thinking, speaking and inner work we need we need to do. These are dark times. We need to work with our fundamental humanness; what has been lost, what is scorned; to plea for empathy, love and mercy.