Saturday, 18 May 2013

The insufferable life

I think Dawkins is blindsided by life when he said, “We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones.” Either that, or he is laboring under a numbing spell of what I would call an optimism of panglossian proportions.

But before I elaborate further, allow me to give credit where credit is due. The popular prophet of the godless does have a point, a good one in fact. I recall a quote that says that the greatest privilege is to be alive, to be who you are, and to thank the cosmic stars for your successful birth. Indeed, I have made it. I have won the genetic lottery of life. I am born. Hooray!

Mind you, I did not just have a dream of being born. It is no illusion. I came through. I was not a potential, a hope, a mirage; I am kinetically alive, I have squeezed out. I have struggled through the narrow claws of death, the choking birth canal that was meant to strangle me, my first welcoming assassin before birth. But I beat it. I beat the insurmontable odds to be alive. I dogde its bullets. I came resurrected. I beat the greatest conspiracy of all time, that is, life’s conniving plan to end me, stillborn, to abort me from the record of human history. How about a standing ovation anyone?

But then, after it all, what’s next? How do I live hence? What makes life’s first victory so called an enduring one, sustained to its end by something or someone, beyond the kerfuffle of the first promising start? Alas, if there is such as this that Dawkins call the tragedy of missing the last train of life, to be forever stranded between the stations of life and death, an existence of non-existence, then, is there such as this, that is, to live an insufferable life that merely exists to exist and nothing more; nothing beyond what the shadows in the teleological cave have to offer? Can we live mistaking the form for the substance, the shadow for reality, the hope for the real thing? 

This is what I meant by being blindsided by life. Putting it in another way, for me, living is only living if it is living for something beyond the living. So there's more to living than living itself. Phew...

Or does life grant us this exemption, to spare us the agony of living beyond the immediate for fear that to do so we would have to abdicate, to step down from the seat of self-deification? If so, is this what life’s all about, to innoculate us from the tyrannical probing of the metaphysical so that we would not get our hallowed regalia wet?

At this juncture, I am reminded of one of Nietzsche’s poems about his own spiritual estrangement, “I know not what I love, I have neither peace nor rest, I know not what I believe, what life am I living, why?” While Nietzsche’s quest for the meaning of life is wholly admirable, if not deeply inspiring, it is the end that is hauntingly tragic.

Here’s the biting irony of an amazingly fecund intellectual life as told by one his biographers. One day, Nietzsche was taking “one of his daily strolls when he came upon a coachman beating his horse. Horrified by the brutal sight, he lunged to throw his arms around the neck of the horse and collapsed on the pavement. He lost consciousness.” He suffered three years of complete madness after that. This is the same wildly enamored philosopher who penned these words, “We are entering upon the age of Anarchy: which is at the same time the age of the most intellectual and freest individuals. Immense mental force is being put in motion. The age of geniuses: hitherto delayed by custom, morality, etc.”

Are we really living in the age of geniuses? Is this how the age of enlightenment look like, that is, a Nietzschean age of the “most intellectual and freest individuals” unchained from custom and morality? Should we then like Nietzsche start the “creation of new tables of values of our own” and remind ourselves that our primal objective must be to “become those that we are, the new, the singular, the incomparable, self-lawgivers, self-creators.” Surely, the likes of Dawkins will find Nietzsche’s brand of atheism (or antifoundationalism) extreme, if not crazy. But herein lies my point.

Just as never having been born is tragic, isn’t living for the sake of living and nothing beyond equally tragic? Now I do deeply respect Dawkins’ “immense mental force” that has set the world ablaze with his brand of atheism 101, and I am sure he does accord the same respect to those who choose to see things differently from him. And in this regard, our paths diverged.

You see, I can imagine myself riding on the Dawkins’ stallion and spreading his gospel of godlessness with the fealty of a morning newspaper delivery boy. But I am afraid I would not have the exacting tenacity of a dimunitive  jockey to go far with it. In other words, I am afraid to live the insufferable life the way I see it as one that is no different from the stunt that the atheist author Philip Pullman wished he had pulled on CS Lewis. The feisty author so loathed CS Lewis that he once suggested that he was “tempted to dig him up and throw stones at him.

Honestly, and bearing it all here, I have this peculiar loathing of God (during those crazy times). I somehow share Pullman’s wish. I wish to "dig God up and throw stones at him" (figuratively of course). But the irony that Pullman and I shared is the same irony that Nietzsche had against the object of his ire, Jesus. In our sheer denial, and in our action and passion in pursuit of our rejection of the divine, we betray the one sentiment that undergirds all sentiments. It is the desire to know Him and to understand Him. We turn away from God in order to turn to Him. We disguise curiosity with hatred, masquerade interest with aversion, and hide longing with disgust. This goes beyond the love/hate quibbles of lovers; it is between the Creator and the object of His passion; it is an intimacy of the distant.

I know many out there will be dying to cast stones at me, dead or alive, for putting up such perverted spin on the lifeworks of Pullman and Nietzsche. Their supporters would say that it is so biased, so one-sided, so typical of a cheap parlor polemical trick of a fundamentalist redneck Christian. Although I concede the possibility that I may be guilty of being overpresumptuous, and if so, I apologise for it. However, I will not disavow our repressed craving to capture or be caught by something or someone beyond the daily humdrum of our life. 

As CS Lewis once remarked that nobody is ultimately able to suppress an author who is obstinately pleasurable. In the same way, at the risk of over-reaching notwithstanding, nobody in my view, especially those who professed otherwise, is ultimately able to suppress a divine mystery that is so obstinately pleasurable. In fact, for some like Nietzsche, this pleasure consumed them all their life.

I think at this point it is timely to consider this warning made by Nietzsche’s psychologist and a monist, Paul Carus, “he who rejects truth cuts himself loose from the fountain-head of the waters of life. He may deify selfhood, but his self will die of its own self-apotheosis. His divinity is not a true God-incarnation, it is a mere assumption and self-exaltaion of a pretender.” Inspired by this quote, I see the larger question as this: Have we been living a life of a pretender, straddling between two belief systems, both at loggerheads, helplessly mired in a suspended state of cognitive dissonance, trying desperately to distinguish one and to alienate the other, keeping both separate and apart, but despite all our efforts of uncompromising sincerity, we remain torn between them, unable to fully commit, unable to still the rough waters of indecision, because our allegiance is split between them, worse still, we discovered at the end and to our horror that we have been fighting from the wrong side of the fence? (And mind you, this works both ways).

So, going back to Dawkins’ view of the privilege of living, I  quietly admire his dogged determination to wipe religion, in particular institutionalized religion, off the face of this globe. I guess he considers this life mission as one of the sublime pleasures of living. But then, my fear is this: When the mystery of mysteries has finally been eradicated or “solved”, will we then end the parole of living and begin our terminal sentence of what I'd call the insufferable life. Cheerz.

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