There is no order in the world around us, we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
A weird thing happens when you start reading a lot about the why of life in that you begin to lose track of the why in the everyday small moments of which this life is comprised. It’s not a coincidence that many of the most revered minds in history found tragic ends, there is too much to think about and too much to experience and if you spend too much time trying to make sense of it all your whole world is bound to feel a little insignificant and/or meaningless.
I was reading recently about the philosophical case for not committing suicide, not for any reason other than trying to better understand the nuance of a complicated subject, and for the most part the consensus around it is that it’s bad. Like even the philosophers who thought it wasn’t morally wrong were still like “yeah man idk probably still shouldn’t do it” and I think that’s probably the right call. Where it gets interesting though is in the why or why not. It’s your life so who cares, right? Plato talked about it like it was taking the easy way out of this life, which is essentially a prison sentence from the gods. He felt we were put here to do our time and the same powers that put us here got to decide when we wrap things up. To change that timeline or take things into your own hands would be against the will of the gods. As the western world shifted more towards monotheism, the same idea floated into Catholicism and eventually I grew up in the American Christian church being told that pulling the plug on your own life would pretty much send you down instead of up. I remember trying to make plans to attend the memorial for a friend of mine who left this life on his own terms a few years ago only to find out that his religious family wasn’t planning to have a public memorial due to “the religious implications of suicide”. What a weird thing. Like yeah this member of our family meant a lot to us but he kinda fucked up at the end and for that reason none of his friends get to come celebrate his life. I don’t remember why I started writing about this aside from the fact that reading a lot of philosophy will inevitably lead you to thinking about the end and the knee jerk reactions that people make when they’re sad. Also, don’t kill yourself, find a hobby or something instead.
I recently took my 6 year old on a trip to Florida for some one on one bonding time. Planning the trip was a real challenge and spending a bunch of money on airfare and hotel and theme park tickets was stressful but once we got there the kid had the time of his life. On the tail end of the trip our relationship grew a lot and it was for sure one of the highlights of his young life and also of my ~9 years or so of being a dad. In the grand scheme of me trying to figure out why I’m here and what I’m doing with my life, I had overlooked the importance of taking 1/3 of my kids to the one place he has talked about every day for the last two years. Afterwards he made a painting at school of he and I together and I got real misty about it. That bonding weekend with my son, the son that I find most difficult to relate to in our normal home setting, is a why of my life that I had overlooked. When my 8 year old drones on about some Star Wars thing he saw on tv and I’m trying to get an important email sent out or finalize a proposal for work or escape my home to spend some time with adult friends so I don’t lose my sane adult mind, I am sacrificing the why that I will fondly look back on someday for a short term why that isn’t super important in the grand scheme of things.
The point I’m making above is that the universe doesn’t assign you with a why. God(et al.) doesn’t assign you with a why. You have to find your why in the chaos of life, otherwise you’ll spend the whole 15 minutes you get here on this planet waiting for something that will probably never make itself known to you. There is no order to the world around us, we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.
Speaking of chaos, the closest coffee shop to my house is a Christian coffee house, which I guess means that it will go to heaven when it dies. Every time I’m here there are no less than five (5!) bible studies taking place at the various four-tops scattered around. Pictures of African children drinking from wells built for them by American white folks cover the walls and allegedly a portion of every purchase made here goes towards providing clean water for someone somewhere. I think this is great, even though I think there is a lot of potential conflict between capitalism and genuine spiritual generosity this place seems to make it work okay. I wrote a while back about Christian industry and put the full scope of my cynicism on display as I railed against using people’s deep-seated beliefs to sell tickets to bad entertainment, and the asshole that lives in my brain wants to make the same point about this seemingly well-intentioned coffee shop but they serve a quality product and that gets guys like me to come and read books about Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom while the folks around me work to secure a spot in the sky. It’s a good balance and I enjoy knowing that a portion of the money I spend goes to help people who need it, as I am bad about making sure I allocate money to that sort of thing unless I’m getting something for it.
In this house of faith-based coffee there is a bookshelf full of quality(/s) content about how Jesus wants us to live, and in kind of a funny turn of events they have a book that was written by a guy I knew when I lived in California. I don’t think very fondly of the guy, and his book is trash so I’m not going to name or link to it, but the primary purpose of the book was to present a biblical road map for marriage. While the theme of the book is for men to pursue their spouse (which is good), the actual content is a regurgitated mess of Song of Solomon quotes twisted into the idea that women should fill their husband’s “sex-tank” otherwise the guy will likely cheat because he is a man incapable of controlling himself and women are here exclusively to serve their husbands. The guy’s wife wrote the intro and actually used the term “sex-tank”, I didn’t make that up. The most ironic thing about this guy and his book is that I was in such a bad place in my own marriage during the time that I lived in California that I actually reached out to him for some counseling… and he responded by telling me that he was too busy unless I wanted to start tithing to his church… you know, just like how Jesus handled his ministry. Anyway I’m not married anymore and it’s all that guy’s fault. That’s a joke, but his book is on the shelf behind me if I ever need a good laugh or confidence that I could probably get a book published if I was willing to debase myself enough to write something like “Jesus: The Original Punk Rocker!” and tour youth groups and Christian middle schools as a cool Christian guy with tattoos. I have Jesus tattooed on my body twice as a late career security blanket in case things go sideways for me.
I know a handful of actually cool Christian guys with tattoos for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, and I am still insecure enough in my writing to feel the need to offer asides like that in the event that someone I care about thinks I’m challenging the good work they’re doing in the name of their faith. I am not, and I believe that good works are good and people living by their own convictions is also good.
I never set out to write this much about faith, but even as someone who hasn’t actively practiced religious faith in a handful of years I feel it weighing on me constantly. It’s like the more that you learn about the themes of human history the more you realize how few themes actually exist in human history. When Vonnegut wrote the quote that leads this piece he was using it as part of a story, but the truth of it is potent when applied to life on this planet. It is absolutely chaotic and we are all trying to find ways to adapt to that chaos. For some, Jesus helps with that and I’m all for it. I think the challenge that I’m facing in my own life journey is learning how to live parallel to the Christian faith of my childhood and my family and not let the things I learn about this life and the people on it destroy my heart and my mind. How do I stay above the bitterness and the anger and the self-destructive thoughts and work to better myself and the lives of my children? It seems like that might be an easier thing to do with a weekly meeting to remind me to keep to the course or a book designed to give me (vaguely) specific instructions on how to live. I have read a lot about people my age leaving the church and struggling with the loss of their church community, and that is honestly something that kept me going to church for much longer than my heart and mind maybe wanted me to. The people doing their daily devotions at the tables around me in this temple to ethical breakfast sure do seem happier than me, but once you pull back the curtain and see what and who is pulling the strings, is it even possible to go back? Would you want to go back? Sometimes I wish I could, but mostly because it feels far more challenging to create your own path than to follow one that’s laid out for you. Trying to establish a worldview from my own reading is like standing on the beach trying to pick up enough sand to build a house that I will live in until the tide destroys it forcing me to try again. It’s exhausting and scary and important and hopefully someday it pays off, because from where I’m standing it’s hard to tell if it ever will, or if it is ever supposed to.