I stayed up late the other night talking to a dear friend about life. The culture we find ourselves in and its overwhelming pressures to live a life of comfort and security. In the conversation I talked about how we constantly work so hard to gain ownership over things. We kill ourselves to own material possessions. Perhaps we just want to have something to show for our lives. To hold something and say ‘this is mine’, or, ‘ this is me and this is what I’ve done’. My buddy went slightly in a different direction and related this need to possess things as a want for certainty. We want to be certain. Questionless. I thought this was interesting. Especially since we related to what my buddy has talked about before on this topic, which is the Christian account of the Creation story.
My friend points out that this first sin of humanity has to do with the act of ‘grasping’. They start from the goodness of exploring creation and walking throughout the garden of Eden. Then they are tempted by the serpent to reach and pick the fruit from the forbidden tree and eat it. The reach out for certainty. They grasp for complete knowledge. They decide to escape the discomfort of mystery by reaching for total consciousness and control. They went from a state of receiving everything as gift to a state of deliberately trying to establish ownership and possession for themselves. They had everything, yet they wanted to be certain of it. They grasped to comfort themselves in their insecurity of self worth.
However, it is good to be curious. We were meant to explore, we desire to know things.
But, this act of grasping for certainty and control and ownership is incredibly significant. And incredibly telling of human nature. This myth of the Creation Story illustrates a deeply imbedded tendency of our own hearts and minds.
I think the exploration into uncertainty is a vastly different experience than the constant effort to grab different parts of reality to claim concrete certainty. One is rejuvenating and discomforting, one is exhausting and comforting; both are restless.
I think this is one of the deeper reasons why people don’t take seriously a relationship with the mystery of a Creator, or Absolute Being, or Eternal reality. A relationship is predicated upon belief. Belief in the existence of the ‘other’. And belief is founded upon a principle of uncertainty. I am uncertain if my friend will stick by my side during this tough time. It is a mystery if this friendship will last. It is a mystery if it will cause me pain, joy, time, sacrifice, and how these things will occur. There is no ownership with a mystery. There is no comfort. There are more questions than answers. We search and explore.
I think it is a must to link the idea of a mystery to the idea of a Creator. The idea of a God. If there exists mystery and uncertainty in the most mundane aspects of my finite, material existence, then what the hell am I to make of the existence of the Infinite? This is the task of true ‘religion’. Not to provide simple answers, but to step into a relationship with the Infinite.
This is contrary to Karl Marx’s quote from ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
This quote comes from a brilliant, giant figure in human history, but the use of the term religion differs from its true meaning. Marx uses religion as a term describing a set of ideas, similar to that of a political organization, as it inspects the term from the lens of a society criticizer or economist. However, true religiosity must be viewed from a personal lens. The lens of a person, a human being with desires and questions. True religiosity deals with how one seeks and enters into relationship with the Infinite. It does not solely effect the way one votes or spends weekend evenings. It encompasses all aspects of life. In its truest sense, it is not an item of comfort or happiness. It is not a cop out. Rather, it forces one not to dodge any questions or troubling parts of reality. It throws an individual into the totality of uncertainty, without any flotation device.
Luigi Giussani, from his book The Religious Sense
“And here is the alternative in which man risks himself, even if almost unconsciously: either you face reality wide open, loyally, with the bright eyes of a child, calling a spade a spade, embracing its entire presence, even its meaning; either this, or you place yourself in front of reality, defend yourself against it, almost with your arms flung in front of your eyes to ward off unwelcomed and unexpected blows.”