Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Loss In A Godless World

Loss is the only human constant. It's the only thing that every person on the planet can say they've experienced, to one degree or another. From the moment of our birth, we start losing time. Through our lives we lose family, friends, opportunities, possessions, positions, reputations, illusions and hair. Eventually, we all lose our lives. Nothing is permanent.

This can create a bleak view of the world, especially for the lucky few that are godless. How do you handle loss when there's no one to turn to for comfort? How do you deal with loved ones gone forever when there's no shoulder to cry on? These are some of the first questions I get when someone learns that I don't believe in a deity. The godridden just can't conceptualize a universe where there's no one to hand them strength of character in times of trouble. But the western world views strength of character as a virtue, and there's a reason for it. Our society depends on people who are rocks during a crisis.

So, where do the godless turn when loss threatens to overwhelm them? Where do we find our strength of character during crisis? These are hard questions to answer, and I can't even begin to answer them for others, but I know where I go.

What strength of character I have comes from my own experiences, the lessons I've learned the hard way in life. My father once told me that it was okay to panic, but that I had to wait until it was safe to do so. That was my first lesson in how to "deal". It wouldn't be my last, but I can't even begin to estimate it's worth. There have been others, of course. Mostly, it's just practice, though. This "Don't Panic" philosophy gets plenty of opportunities to shine in my life, and the lives of those around me.

From the death of family members all the way down to the breaking a favored toy, we all experience moments of "Why me?". It's a normal kind of question to ask. Why has this awful/dreadful/insignificant-but-annoying thing happened to me, and not someone else? Humans are pattern-seeking animals, and we are amazingly good at it. A purpose to all things is the ultimate pattern, and it comforts our pattern-seeking monkey-brains to believe that everything happens for a reason, that every loss is an act of will, that every missed opportunity is just a setup for something better down the road.

But the godless mind knows that rationalizations are just that, and nothing more. An honest mind has to 'fess up to wanting these comforting stavers-off of mourning, grief and frustration. But like eating sweets, just because it feels good doesn't make it right. A little bit of emotional self-blinkering is probably alright, and an argument could be made that it's even necessary, just like the occasional Almond Joy isn't hurtful, and has at least of bit of goodness in it. But delusional, chronic self-deception serves no one.

Humans lose things. Entropy increases. These are facts of life. The godless don't have the same tools for dealing with loss that the godridden do. We can't tell ourselves that there's a plan, that it happened for a reason, that Sky Daddy loves us or any of the other deceits that help to float religious belief. All we have is ourselves. Our inner strength is all that allows us to accept reality as it is, not as we want it to be.

We deal with loss because we must. It's the flip side of every good thing in the world: the smile of a child, the caress of a lover, the joy of good food and good company, the rush of triumph, the glory of invention. Loss is a fact of life, and the godless should always strive to face facts. That's why we're godless in the first place.

Previous entries in the Godless World series: Flexibility, Purpose and Reason.


Blogger vjack said...

Bravo! Excellent post, and I couldn't have said it better myself. Loss, like all human experience, shapes who we are. I completely agree that hiding in delusion is unproductive.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would go so far as to say that the only one who can display the virtue of courage is the one who entertains no illusion of an afterlife. I would go so far as to say that the only one who can have true fortitude is the one who goes through loss [or faces the existential dilemma] with no delusions of grandeur. Perhaps I'm too critical.

The man who develops virtue, strength of character, is not able to "receive" it from "on high". Either you develop it, or you delude yourself into thinking things aren't really so bad, and so you don't have to fear or face reality. Those of us who face our fears and conquer them are greater.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Coralius said...

I couldn't agree more.

And I don't think you're too critical at all.

9:04 PM  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Amen (if I may say that). Especially the last paragraph.

3:13 PM  

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain


Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu