by Frank L. Ulatowski Jr.
An altar boy, twenty years prior to now and forced to comply to the parents that bore and raised him, watched the moderately vigilant parish priest perform a ceremony long since devoid of any sort of real meaning, either metaphysically or emotionally. His father, a church usher, would watch approvingly from the back of the church as his son went through the expected motions, much as he did when he was a child. While this boy did his churchly duties, he observed his surroundings, rooted through memories, and questioned the cacophony that came from his parents, grandparents, and, even a great-grandmother, whose holy disposition always inspired the young urchin to be as good as humanly possible, no matter how devilish he became. All of the aforementioned parties had various degrees of separation when it came to opinions on religion but, they all agreed on one thing, one fact mind you: God was present everywhere, especially in church. There was no room for argument, the final judgment was absolute, and there was no debate; God was there and this boy had no right to deny this common knowledge.
This "truth" always struck the boy as weird. He let his precocious curiosity roam, and it would almost always, without fail, get him into trouble. How does God fit inside the Tabernacle? Isn't it a bit tight in there? Does it hurt when Jesus is eaten by the masses of people? Doesn't eating the body of someone that you worship seem grotesque and down right perverse? Why did God torture Job? What about that book that he had read about humans being evolved from monkeys? Why aren't the dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible? Questions like these and many like them would pervade the thoughts of the youth for years to come.
It was either a condescending grandparent, or, more often than not, a parent with a natural aversion to any sort of enlightenment that would make attempts to degrade the child's logic. Who gave you the right to question what we tell you? It's better to go to church and be safe than not go and be damned. Listen to your parents. We know best. At his tender young age rhetorical skills weren't generally needed, so he found it hard to argue his point. Nevertheless, the boy saw flaws in what he was being indoctrinated to, whether these "facts" be from his family, church, or the rancor-inspiring experiences of Catholic school and catechism, in which he had no choice in matters of attendance. On the lighter side, this prehistorical form of ancestral bullying, the boy would later realize, was only out of parental concern, but, at that time, it made absolutely no sense to him. This would later bring another series of questions to mind and it made the sprout question his own judgment. Maybe he was wrong in questioning anything his parents said. Maybe their life experiences had shown them something that he wasn't privy to. Maybe he should listen to his family. After all, they were his family and they wanted nothing more than for him to succeed. I mean, he was only a kid, right? What could he know? Much later on, this boy would have come to grips with the proper question that he should have been asking himself; what couldn't he know?
A young man, about ten years prior to now and much more hostile to his parent’s rule of law, sits in a local book store with a Penguin Classics copy of A Nietzsche Reader. The book was filled with large excerpts, smaller snippets, and several pithy maxims all there for the intellectually curious. One of the larger excerpts caught his eye, and he delved into the meat of the text, voraciously consuming the words. At the end of the feast, he sat back and digested what he had just taken in, along with the quote that he had first heard come up in colloquy on a previous engagement. To make a full and fair judgment of such blasphemy, he needed the full context of the parable and not just the minor quote. The excerpt was entitled The Madman and the infamous quote was, "God is dead".
After this revelation had time to sink in, after the full meaning of the parable wrecked his metaphysical illusion, the young man could not fully accept this explanation that was laid out by this screwball. Surely, Nietzsche was wrong as history clearly stated with his later divergence into insanity. God couldn't be dead. The creator can't be destroyed by the created. Besides, for all the young man knew, Nietzsche could have been predicting his own future as the madman that stated that insidious quote. This did not, however, stop the prodigious flurry of questions that sprang forth. These questions could not voluntarily quell their own violent torrent. They broke the dam and now his ignorance was flailing helplessly in the water. In a tributary of questions, ignorance can not swim.
These questions needed to be satiated without regard for any previously respected cultural or familial memes. How does everything exist and maintain its equilibrium without an underlying structure? If God doesn't exist then why do millions of people worship him? Is this all habit brought on by fear of damnation? Were he to end his relationship with God, would that endanger his soul? Did he even have a soul and was an afterlife even possible without God? What about ethics and morals? Were they not an anthropomorphic version of God in the person practicing them? The real inquiries at the core of all these ruminations, questions that bore great resentment in him and forced an explosion of titanic proportions in his heart, were ones that were much more degrading to humanity as a whole; had his family been LYING to him all these years? This naturally proceeded to the next question of a similar nature; were THEY lied to ALSO? These were the festering questions that gave him a great disdain to his ancestry, his race, his species and, religion in general. The questions kept spilling over and the floor at his feet was knee deep in thought and the foul scent of putrefying ignorance.
Further brooding led in other directions. Logically and, with that, epistemologically, religion fell flat on its face. There were no definitive proofs, be they historical, logical, or empirical, of any kind that were so over-powering to make claims to the rightness of anyones particular moral standards. People judge by what they knew growing up and by what seemed right given their particular social standing and region of origin. Religion seemed to be a mass opinion poll, a vote of with leading contenders and underdogs, all vying for control, that pushed opinions to evolve with every voters basic in-born morality meter. As usual, more queries surface. Does the face of morality change with the popular opinion? Had current atrocities like murder and pedophilia been the social standard and fully acceptable at any one time anywhere? Maybe morality isn't moral. Maybe morality is distinguished by what is ADVANTAGEOUS to survival. What seemed to be the biggest irony to the young man was that very few "theologians" ever took time to realize for a moment that perhaps they were, dare we say the word, wrong. There seemed to be less backing to religious morality than he had previously believed. But wasn't that the point of religion? Belief? The young man had stepped into a lion's den. This was a risk. Sometimes questions were better left unanswered.
The monsoon had come. Emotion comes apart at the very seams through nihilistic reasoning, and this young man had come completely and utterly apart. The battle between his maturing self, the self that despised ignorance but hated what he now knew, and the younger self, the self that knew nothing but ignorance, came to a head. It would force him to the brink of mental destruction, many times close to ultimate collapse, and he longed for peace. But peace wasn't as forgiving as he would have liked. It would take time for his wounds to heal, and he had time. It would take time for him to forgive his family for their misguidance, but, ultimately, it was their ignorance that the young man would have to forgive.
After some time, the young man found a vast and deep consolation in science and philosophy. A few books by Carl Sagan and a very well known book by Richard Dawkins eventually opened his eyes to a comeliness that he had failed to see in the scientific arts. To this young man, Science always seemed comparable with the invalid stepchild of the drunken patriarch of civilization, Culture. When Science transgressed Culture and its norms it was beaten with excessive force. This was not because Science was a bad child but because it was a good child. It was evident that Science, when given its free reign, worked but there was always a constant and watchful eye over its shoulder. Heresy was, after all, what made Culture's world spin during the Inquisition. Culture may have been the enemy he'd been seeking.
Epiphanies, philosophical and scientific, would abound in this path. They were the opiate he'd scoured existence for. Philosophy and science had become his true drugs. The young man realized that the true believers in miracles were not the Christians, Muslims, or Jews. The true believers were of no great religious sect with glorious histories or empires that spanned through the millennia. The great believers in miracles were philosophical scientists. The young man realized that it takes a builder to assemble anything, but it takes improbability, GREAT improbability, to reach the vantage point and behold natural and GODLESS miracles. His leaden shawl of guilt began its slow and decisive process of evacuation from his weighted shoulders. The weight was relieved, but not completely. To him, God was not so much dead as he was unneeded.
The young man observed. The young man read and studied. The young man lived. The young man tortured his beleaguered family for their short-comings and their lack of a questioning nature. The young man tortured himself, wondering why he was the alien. The young man tried to console himself in an existence without God. The young man forgave himself and his family. The young man then became an old man. All of this before the age of thirty. It was very hard on him for almost a decade, but this was his self-imposed curse.
Now, this young man is a full score older than the altar boy he was at one time and has found consolation in an agnostic world view that, while being morally sound and optimistic at heart, garnishes itself with a realistic pessimism that Schopenhauer himself would find engaging, almost to the point of argument. He has an image, almost a hologram, of a world in his head that he still holds faith in and that he knows is possible with the unification of culture on the whole and with science as the backbone of society. Perfection is impossible, but that doesn't make striving for it any less noble. He still maintains some hope for reincarnation in his newly refreshed heart, but he doesn't hold that dearly to it. Wishful thinking doesn't make for right thinking. He admits that he may, indeed, be wrong, and that God may punish him with fire and brimstone for the total lack of respect and veneration that any self-deifying and sanctimonious individual reserves for itself. He also admits that he may cease to exist after death, which, contrary to popular opinion, frightens him not the least. There is no point, logically or illogically, to fear the inevitable and he takes pride in his respect for the great divide between life and whatever, if anything, lies beyond.
Through his breakup with God, the young man persevered with obstinate abandon only to come full-circle back to that wondering childish self that he had castoff so long ago. This young man is no longer the cynic nor the nihilist that he once was. This young man believes in the human race and its grand pastures that it cultivates for itself and by itself. This young man has grandiose plans for the not-quite-immediate future. This young man despises money and chooses a simple life. This young man likes to instruct and, given the right person, loves to listen. This young man has an affaires du cœur with books and knowledge. This young man needs empirical evidence for belief. This young man believes that answers exist, whether they be in the stone of the earth, the dark matter of the cosmos or in the depths of the subconscious mind. This man has found himself.