Three AM, a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep and was feeling pretty restless. I’d decided to go for a walk to see if I could clear my head a bit. I put my headphones on and tried to listen to an audio book instead of the workaday anxieties scratching at the back of my mind. The streets were empty. The stoplights had switched to the late-night mode of blinking only red. Everyone in town was asleep. My mind wandered back to a conversation I’d had with my friend Paul one late summer night many years ago. I’ll try to summarize it.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Energy (heat, light, etc.) goes where there isn’t any energy. All systems tend toward entropy or an increased state of disorder. This disorder manifests itself as a rotting apple, an exploding fuel tank burning itself out, or some other dissipation of energy. Living things have about seven distinct characteristics, which include a higher level of complexity than the environment, a barrier against the environment, reproductive capabilities, etc. These represent the tendency toward order that all living things share, a tendency toward imposing an order on the disordered environment in its own image.
For example, if I eat an onion ring, then my body will tear it apart and use the constituent bits to make more me. Life wants to make more of itself.
This “order” represents what is desirable to us, at the most fundamental level.
We love music because it creates from an infinite number of possible dissonant arrangements a recognizable theme. We hear the melody and take pleasure in the variations that weave a higher and more complex order from what would otherwise be noise.
We have really good orgasms if something in us thinks that we’ve connected on some appropriate level with our partner, a level that in evolutionary terms indicates an increased probability of successful reproduction.
We like a Rembrandt because of the gorgeous, radiant life in his portraits. He created a visual representation that everyone recognizes on some visceral level, and the measure of his genius is that so many people share this recognition. It isn’t a smudge; it’s a pure moment caught in a canvas. (I have no idea why people like Jackson Pollack.)
Now put death/disorder/entropy on one side and life/order on the other side of a great big cosmic balance. Someone dies and someone else is born. Someone has a great personality and someone else has an ass to die for. A superstring sweeps out an orbit and whatever would be the opposite of that probably happens somewhere, I guess.
Take it up another level. Say God is on one side, Not-God is on the other, and the general region in the middle is where Life dukes it out to a draw, more or less. It’s where we leave our give and take and where order is balanced by disorder. Law versus Chaos.
Two what-ifs here:
What if we’re the fractal elements of an even greater order, which some might refer to as a Supreme Being? We’re all on the right side of the scale, all our loves and lives and failures, and the gestalt creates a living pattern that, from some unimaginable perspective, outlines the face of God.
And what if all that amounts to the proverbial dot on a dot on an atom in a molecule in a cosmic blade of grass.
I’m not sure what this has to do with the argument at hand, really, except that it got me thinking about my faith and what I believe in.
My faith has never (ok, rarely) waned. My discomfort was never with any possible God that may exist, but with certain of His putative servants and their “works.” I loathe any organization that works to suppress our natural human urges to make love, and drink, and read, write, paint, hear, act, watch, or sing what we like. To me, these people are about censorship, regimented thinking, embezzlement, exploitation of the elderly, chauvinism, sexism, homophobia, opportunism, hypocrisy, repression, and voting a straight Republican ticket without reading the names above the levers.
But it goes deep than that now for some reason. It goes beyond my faith and touches on my very beliefs. I watched a powerful movie long ago called The Believer, about a young man who was involved in the White Power movement. The irony was the man was a Jew. As the movie progressed, it flashed back to his years in Hebrew school when he would argue with the teachers against the belief of a just God, one of love, mercy, and grace. Instead, he offered, God, if He did exist, was a bully who demanded too much of a creation He ultimately screwed up. He made us too weak and then tempted us, and when we failed He destroyed us. Was it not easier to simply believe there was no God than to believe in a wrathful deity who wielded such power over the meek and helpless? He gave us free will and then dared us to exercise it. Where does our inherent weakness lead us in the end? I know myself I used to be afraid of being angry with God. What would happen if I raged against Him? And even if I did it silently, He knew my heart. That I could conceive both sides of that argument, I figured, was God’s ultimate mind game. Some sense of humor.
Anyway, the movie struck a nerve and it haunts me.
I’m tired tonight. I’ve been spending less and less time at the cabin because, well, it’s fall in New England, which means the days are cold and the nights are wicked fucking cold. Still, I can’t seem to stay away completely, so I go for a couple of days and then come back into town for a bit. I’m loathe to make a final visit though, mostly because I’m not really sure where I’m going to go after that. The cabin has pretty much been my sole mission for the past few months. For sure it’s been the only place I’ve felt safe and at peace. I’m not ready to lose that yet.
I’m tired tonight. As I write this, I’m lying in bed staring out at a beautiful full moon. I’m desperate for sleep, but afraid to close my eyes. I’m growing frustrated with the effort.