Content 18+ I can remember my undergraduate days more than a half century ago and sitting with friends until the wee hours having philosophical discussions about things like 'God'. The memory grows fuzzy, but it seems to me that we gave God at least a 50-50 chance of existing. Maybe, mixed in with the residue of an upbringing that took the reality of Heaven and Hell for granted, we were still hedging our bets and wondering out loud: "Well, what does He expect of us?" (God was a 'He' back then.) Not "How can we serve 'God'?" -- but "Where in the hell is He, and what does He want?"
Those were the candle-lit years before technology; therefore, such conversations actually occurred face-to-face amid real, flesh-bearing people. The sharpest pupils of life among us had been introduced to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus. Existentialism and Life as Absurdity did not sound very fetching to me, so probably at that point I was still, deep-down, rooting for God..
I also read Waiting for Godot and Eugene O'Neill's haunting play The Iceman Cometh, and as the years rolled by I found myself in the same exasperating state of waiting for a confirmation that never came. "Just one damned miracle," I would mutter. "Is it too much to ask?"
I didn't need to see the Red Sea part, I didn't need to see my great grandmother come back from the dead, fresh from the formaldehyde stench of the coffin and with cobwebs of death tilting and swaying in her eyes.. (I would have settled for some water turning into wine.)
On Sunday mornings back then, the television was flooded with religious programs, and those included more than one Faith Healer.
Some cripple would be wheeled in and tossed up on a gurney, and the evangelist would go to work, panting, pumping his arms until circles of sweat appeared in the pits, shouting and shrieking, and (in the case of Oral Roberts, one of the big boys in the faith-healing business), the punch line would come when he placed his hands on the legs of the lame supplicant and cried out H---E---A----L !!!! at the top of his lungs, and the guy would jump off the gurney like a leprechaun and started dancing a jig. Naturally the audience would go crazy, swooning at the undeniable presence of the Lord Himself right here in the TV studio.
It was almost better than Professional Wrestling.
But it proved nothing to me.
It wasn't even that I expected such a dramatic event as Death-into-Life to put things right for me. As I 'matured', I began merely to hope for some kind of luminous epiphany, a Road to Damascus experience, as if some magic spell or hypnotic trance would come over me, and all my doubts would vanish.
I wanted to walk into the forest one day as an atheist and come out the other side a Believer. And it wouldn’t have mattered a jot what had happened in the forest to bring this about. Just the result.
As time wore on, and my life waxed and waned from ripeness to rot, I began to hate God. Whereas before I would have called myself an 'Agnostic', now I would savagely splutter that I was an "Atheist". But here is where the word 'absurdity' could really be applied in a meaningful way. For if I was an atheist, then I didn't believe God existed; yet, if I hated God, was that not an admission, albeit in an ass-backwards kind of way, of faith?
Why did I hate God? The Great Theologians of past and present could of course present arguments that would make my conclusions look like those of a child about to have a tantrum. But I based it on two things:(1) The Unfairness of Life; (2) The Unhappiness of Life.
I guess I was hardly the first guy to look around at all the misery and ask, "How could a Loving God permit this?"
Of course there were happy moments: pizza and football, beer and sex. But Nobody came from the sky or from out of a tree trunk to rescue the little girl abducted and butchered by the pedophile. No Holy Hands with gentle palms reached out to save the crashing jetliner and all those aboard.
The Savior was always Out To Lunch.
Or maybe it was not Christianity as a concept that I disliked as much as I despised ‘practicing’ Christians themselves. I recounted the many atrocities committed in the name of the God of Love, and every time I heard some ‘Born Again’ Christian howling on the street corner (they grow like weeds in America and are usually career asshoies who think they’ve found an easy and painless way to wash off the sins of decades), my blood would start to boil afresh.
And after hearing all the Great Arguments of all the Great Theologians, I still feel this way.
True, as I start to age precipitously and hourglass drains, I feel a genuine and growing presence inside me. Yes, indeed. But, alas, it's not the presence of God. It is the presence of Death. God now stands at the outermost periphery of all my excruciating inner conversations and sermons to myself. I say: "Maybe I am overlooking something. Maybe there is something staring me straight in the face that I am missing." But it’s death that I feel in my bones, slowly hollowing them out into tunnels of odorless emptiness.
Nor do It feel as though anything is coming to my rescue. I think to go the way of the little girl and the plummeting aircraft until I reach a point beyond all pain.
For all of that, however, there remains something at the deepest core in me, deeper even than the marrow of the bones -- maybe an intuition that won't be obliterated. Perhaps I hear the sound of some river of Yungian archetypes whose swirling waters hiss at me from the primordial past. A hunch embedded like a secret in grains older than the tired palms that are lost in the thickness of trees.
There seems to be something -- I don't know what it is -- which tells me that all will be well, that things will be fine at the end of all endings. I get this feeling now and then. I don't know what to call it, or whether to trust it, or where it is coming from, but it catches me like a gale-force wind trying to calm a nervous, swaying sky-scraper, but also like a zephyr at dusk amid rows of corn whose endless distances tell me to stay where I am... .
“Cowardice, some silly, over-subtle thought,
Or anything called conscience once,
And if that memory recur, the sun's
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.” (Yeats)
So I never know if this drop of faith, like a naked hermit in a blizzard or a snowflake in a ball of fire, is based on things real or unreal. But I can never completely….blot it out.
This morning I was having one of my terrific conversations with Yasha, the art director who is my student and friend. We discussed the future of Art in terms of Artificial Intelligence. This came about after I had shown her an article that forecast the coming time (soon) when human beings will begin to have deeply intimate relationships with robots. Sex included, followed or preceded (as the case may be) by deepening love. We will wed our robots.
It's going to happen; there is no way to avoid it. In fact, I'd say it will provide a wonderful alternative for people who, for various and sundry reasons, cannot find or sustain such relationships with real people. Already, books (fiction and nonfiction) have been written on this subject. I even wrote a short story on the theme myself.
According to Yasha, computers can now generate art, music, and poetry which, while not yet at the level of Renoir, Chopin, or Yeats, are nevertheless acceptable as offerings on the level of a mediocre but arguably legitimate ‘artist’. Who knows where it might lead?
Some years ago, when photography was invented, it looked like all the painters would go out of business. Who would need some guy to spend days smearing oils into the form of a portrait or landscape when the camera could produce a perfect likeness? (For example, who uses typewriters, phone booths, or encyclopedias today?)
So the artists knew they had to come up with something, and one of the things they came up with is what we now call 'Impressionism'. Evidently, there is an 'artistic impulse' in human beings which technology cannot entirely dominate or stamp out. Or is there?
My wife has taken up painting, and I see that she possesses a talent for it, a natural blessing of eye and hand, and a happy coordination between them both. Plus a strange and fertile imagination. We were walking our dogs the other day, and as we approached the forest and the skyline above it, I explained to her about how people like Monet were, in effect, painting light. How they would stand in the fields all day (Van Gogh with his flask of absinthe under the blistering sun) and paint, paint, paint, trying to capture the light as it inexorably changed from one hue to another -- subtle, decisive. The cameras of the day couldn't capture that.
Yasha suggested that if you set up a computerized camera in a field and instructed it to take a photo every single second, and at the end of the day some robot or art critic with limitless stamina combed through every one of those 86,400 images (for that's the number of seconds in a day), they would be sure to find several that could be called 'masterpieces.'
It appears to be, as they say, the 'wave of the future' -- never mind that neither Google nor Yandex can adequately translate a poem or even an idiom or piece of slang without disaster or comedy taking place..
Nevertheless, one day the computers will simply gobble up all the human beings. Count on it. Or think of it this way: the dinosaurs died out 65,000,000 years ago. Who knows how long they dominated the earth before then? Another 65,000,000 years? Human beings have been around for about 200,000 years. Things changed slowly at first, then faster, then faster and faster, and now in the blink of an eye. If the human race somehow survives for another million years, how should we begin to imagine the outcome? My guess is that the human race as we know it will have long since ceased to exist. They will have disappeared into their machines, and those machines will have disappeared into others even more unimaginable.
I call it evolution. Monkey into Man, Man into Machine, Machine into Who Knows What?. A natural process. What is so strange about it?
Did the 'ancient' Romans go around calling themselves 'The Ancient Romans'? Heck, no; the children of the Roman Empire represented the ‘cutting edge’, ‘state of the art’ country club of the world back then. They were the Hot Shots of the Mediterranean and Adriatic. Now they are the ‘ancient’ Romans. As one day we will be the ancient world. Bill Gates and Elon Musk will be regarded the same way we think of Socrates and Aristotle.
Ultimately, civilization will be a matter of Machines cohabitating with Machines.
Still, I remember one summer day about 15 years ago in Daytona Beach, Florida. I had just gotten out of jail and was living in a halfway house. We had to work as part of the Probation Game, and so I had a job at McDonalds. I spent the summer flipping burgers. One day I had knocked off and gone for a stroll along the beach. There was an outdoor establishment where they were selling hot dogs and soft drinks or stuff, and I went in and took a seat. Just sat there soaking up the heat of the day.
All of a sudden a little girl burst in with her Mom. She was carrying several vividly-colored balloons, and her face was generously painted over with some sort of raspberry concoction she had been licking, most of which seemed to have missed her mouth and found her nose and cheeks. Her countenance was just a raspberry mess !!!! A smorgasbord of merry smears of cherry berries !
But what has stayed with me all these years was her expression, that wild, giddy look her eyes had when she swept in with her balloons. It was an expression of unshackled, boundless, absolute, infinite Joy.
No darkness around the edges. No second guessing. Nothing hesitating in her peerless little eyes. Happiness.
And I distinctly remember registering a single thought: Either this means Nothing or it means Everything.
No in betweens. In between was impossible.
One roll of the dice against an overwhelming vastness whose silence cries Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!
Maybe I'm a fool, but I decided, against all odds and everything life on earth has beaten into me, that what throbbed in her reddening smile meant Everything.
I saw God as just another limitation.
I saw beyond Him.