Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So This Is Christmas

Or: No, Virginia. I'm sorry.

Christmas is perhaps a good time to take stock of my cosmos, in the wake of these last few months. Before I finally abandoned the faith, I lived in fear that apostasy would mean despair, insanity, vicious egoism; imagine my surprise to find how little I've changed, and how in some ways I've changed for the good. Prior to my aversion, my social anxiety had developed into a full-blown complex which I would at times disguise with the help of religion- telling myself that my touted awkwardness came not from simple worrying about how others perceived me, but from awareness of the great gap between the believing Catholic and the unbeliever. (No, of course that didn't make sense.) In the months after apostasy, my social anxiety reared its head again and again; but this time I had no choice but to face it down, and I feel that I've begun to make some progress toward proportion in my fears.

I have personal crises now and then- rather dramatic ones- but no longer the protracted existential crises that had become my trademark. In my years of piety, I constantly feared and suspected that I was wrong about it all, whether I dealt with this overtly in anguished crisis or covertly by suppressing my doubts beneath an attitude of total confidence. As much as I would seek and invent patches for all my difficulties with the Catholic faith, there were always too many leaks for me to face it honestly.

And now?

As much as I'd like to say the situation is symmetric between the Catholic faith and materialist atheism, it truly hasn't been so in my experience. The longer I've persisted in unbelief, the stronger the atheist account of reality becomes, and the weaker the justifications of faith. (For example, my youthful essays to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no reason but self-deception to adopt a completely different hermeneutic for evaluating the Gospels' historicity than for evaluating other ancient accounts.) In both my age of piety and my age of apostasy, I've desired to believe, but my reason has pointed away.

I've come to the conclusion that there is no objective meaning to life, no universally binding morality, and I find I'm relieved- but not for the reasons one cynically might expect. What I rejoice in is the freedom to be genuinely altruistic and loving, not simply a prudent egoist.

You see, I've always had it in my mind that there is some objective meaning to life- just as I'd believed there was one true mathematical theory- and it was only a matter of trying to discover its content. But in a world without God, if there were an objective morality, it seems that examination of the material universe would lead only to this content: Survive. Reproduce. Conquer.

How freeing, then, to realize that the universe is quite indifferent to our very survival! There is no immutable law of human action written into the fabric of the cosmos, because we are in fact only important to ourselves. We can indeed compare different accounts of meaning and ethics, on their own terms (à la MacIntyre) and with regard to our experience and understanding; but we should not thereby expect to arrive at the One Correct Answer To Life.

And so, if caritas indeed makes sense as a human ideal, then I can pursue it after all- with only this caveat vis à vis the Catholic ideal, that futile sacrifices are indeed futile. If my noble and selfless act benefits nobody, then it is mere folly.

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