This is a reaction to some of the goddy rhetoric surrounding the shooting in Connecticut:
Even as an atheist good with words, I can barely express how repulsive I find the claim that those children are in Heaven, skipping along beside Jesus as he gives them a tour of Heaven. Yet we’ve heard exactly that, and more than once.
When I posted on Facebook a day or so ago about a mental image related to the tragedy, one of my readers told me she almost threw up when that same image came to her: the picture of 20 lonely Christmas trees standing in 20 silent homes, decorated and flashing with lights and warmth, already surrounded by presents bright with colorful wrapping paper, gilt cards and shining ribbons.
And no children to unwrap them.
Even that small side part of the situation, I don’t even want to think about how the parents are supposed to deal with it.
All of us, at many, many times in life, will face something of the same thing. The choice is accepting the cozy comfort of belief in an afterlife, for which there are an endless number of smiling salesmen and cheerleaders and codependents.
Or of going with this other thing, the bleak reality of real death. Real ending of the lives of our loved ones, and even of ourselves. A reality which is lonely and barren, and has few champions.
Why would anyone choose that second one? Even I sometimes wonder it.
Mostly, I’ve gone with the same intuitive feeling you might get when a stranger pulls up beside you on the street and offers you candy. That there’s something wrong with it. That there’s a catch, and it might be a big one.
But living as we have in this goddy society for all these thousands of years, swimming in a fish tank filled to the brim with religion and religious thought, breathing it in and swallowing it for so many generations, until our very language and minds are shaped by it, we have very few answers. You have to fight to even THINK about thrashing your way up to the surface and finding a breath of fresh air. Human imagination and intelligence, poisoned and dulled by long exposure, is slow to come up with answers.
I think I got one this morning, something scary but also exciting, what feels to me like a powerful idea, and one I’ll be spending some serious time thinking about. Here it is:
True things can HURT you, but they can’t HARM you.
I’m aware that lots and lots of people think there are certain little lies, and even certain big ones (Heaven, life after death, etc.), that are helpful.
But it’s not true. There might be certain comfort in believing that bad things don’t happen, but there’s immense danger in that idea too.
Lies can unmake you. They can wound you in ways that you can never recover from. Lies open you to other lies. In fact, they demand it.
Every lie that you admit into yourself, make a part of yourself, you commit to protecting it. Because your intimate sense of SELF is bound up in it, you guard it from harm, help it live within you by creating other lies to shield it, feed it, strengthen it.
The wounding of lies is immensely deeper than you imagine. The warm, soft, fellow-traveler lies you tell yourself to protect the lies already resident in your mind will seem harmless in themselves. But they establish a familiar process, a sturdy mental habit.
And once you develop that habit, once you become comfortable with the process of embracing lies, you will accept lies from other people. The lies of outside predators will hit home in your mind like long-lost kin. The outside looter needs only one key into you, a knowledge of the type of lies you already accept, and it’s like he has the secret password to your entire being.
Familiar lies, protective lies make you feel more comfortable, more at-ease within yourself, but at the same time they help these outside looters sail past your natural mental protections and lay you open to believing – and doing – ANYTHING they tell you.
You will give your life to them. If they desire it, you will give up your life.
They don’t have to hold a gun to your head, or threaten your family. They only have to talk you into it. As they are already inside your protective barriers, it’s just a matter of saying the words, holding up the symbols, pushing your buttons. And you will march into debt and servitude and even death, cheering all the while.
True things can hurt like hell.
But they can’t destroy you the way lies can.
They can only change you. Make you tougher, stronger, more yourself, more aware in the nature of the real world, and the ways in which we have to live in it.