Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Natural Capacity For God

"I devoted myself to Renaissance philosophers and I discovered that the men of secular modernity, once they had emerged from the darkness of the Middle Ages, had found nothing better to do than devote themselves to cabala and magic."
                           Umberto Eco, in Foucault's Pendulum

Why are we humans always drawn to the occult, to spiritual things, to religions and UFOs, to the unexplained and unexplainable. A friend of mine says humans have a natural capacity or urge for the sacred. He then, being a fundamentalist Christian (strange how I hate to levy that word, 'fundamentalist,' on a friend!), goes on to say that all other religions are falsehoods spread by Satan, who capitalizes on this urge, but I digress. I like how he put that notion of an inborn draw towards... well, we won't name what, but towards something.

Now, I've long been a skeptic, and even went through a straight up "atheist stage" in my late teens. But I thought that was behind me; I'd discovered eastern religion at age 19 and finally had a system or spiritual basis that appealed to my mind as well as my heart. Yet, as I was hiking, looking at Nature with a mind that wasn't daily ingesting books, blogs, movies and even music sprinkled or saturated with spiritual undertones, away from a culture that, though post-Christian, still has Christian underpinnings, after the mental echoes of these things had died away and my mind had cleared enough to think its own thoughts, I realized I'm still an atheist. I wrote an essay on it, which I may post later; for now, I'll just say I was struck with how deep that goes. I began to doubt even all the Zen stuff, the notion of inner peace and balance, higher states of consciousness, all of it.

Of course, there's much I don't know. I don't really know anything. Descartes built a whole system of thought on his phrase "Cogito, ergo sum: I think therefore I am." I can't seem to go any further than that statement, in itself. I know that I am, because I experience things. Beyond that, what am I? What the hell is this world? Don't know.

So there's a sort of confusion in me. My friend is right; there does seem to be a natural inclination towards spirituality. Even now I'm attracted to philosophical and even spiritual books. I'm considering taking yoga, and I still meditate, if rarely now, and erratically. I wonder if all my life I've been trying first one thing, than another, going first one place, then another, looking for something outside myself that would bring satisfaction, and think maybe I just finally need to get serious with the spiritual thing.

But another part ridicules that thought. I just don't know anymore. Nature seems totally blind to us, random and indifferent. When I'm out there for extended periods, and am theoretically at my clearest, it really does seem empty of all meaning, like that poem Dover Beach gets at. So I wonder if I'm just again being deluded by any of the various myths and fairy tales we've been telling ourselves for centuries, a miserable soul grasping at straws.

I'll likely expand on some of these topics later.


  1. I don't think I even know what that means anymore...

  2. Personally, I think we search for spiritual and/or philosophic meaning because we know intuitively that we are each part of something greater -- the world around us. So, we look for frameworks that best speak to us of these unknown connections.

    I wouldn't be so hard on yourself. A lot of us spend a great deal of time trying out different religions or philosophies until we find one that clicks. I see nothing wrong with sampling the many items on the smörgåsbord of life. :-)

    By the way, I consider myself to be an atheist, in terms of religion, and a Taoist, in terms of philosophy.