I Miss God

And that led me to my senior year of college, when I took the course that destroyed my capacity to believe in reality itself, Steven Pinker's Science B Core: The Human Mind. In every session, I was confronted by arguments that were the logical conclusion of positions forwarded by Kant three hundred years before. The universe is not as rigidly ordered as we suppose, but rather our minds filter information and predispose us to conceive of reality in the terms that have historically been most beneficial to human advancement and evolution. Why can a human differentiate between two faces, but not between two crumpled balls of paper, when to a computer the angles and shadows on the paper are infinitely simpler to compute than the angles and shadows on a face? Because the minds that made infinitesimally small advances in their predisposition toward recognizing human emotions had infinitesimally small evolutionary advantages. Why do we look for meaning in the cosmos? Because the hunter who interpreted footprints as meaningful was likely to eat better than the hunter who was not predisposed to seek meaning in nature. Our minds have evolved to find meaning and to find human characteristics in chaos. Why else would every issue of the National Enquirer have another "Jesus" in the clouds or "Mother Teresa" in a cinnamon roll?

A few million years of mental predisposition coupled with emotional turmoil could easily have gotten us to where we are today. I watch my sisters with their children, doting and anticipating every need, and I am amazed. Parents might see signs of independence and self-assertion growing daily, but to an outside observer what seems obvious is the mental conditioning. How could a child possibly grow up without believing that some parental functionary exists to meet his or her every need? A baby cries and his mother burps him. A need is met without being expressed. Are we not thereby programmed to believe that someone knows us better than we know ourselves? But when countless studies suggest that infants would shrivel and die without this attention, I am not surprised that our deeply felt need for an enduring parent is so pervasive.

Richard Dawkins and his ilk believe that religion is a social ill. Perhaps it is. But religion is the natural outcropping of a human instinct. We crave meaning. We crave a benevolent, omnipotent parent. We crave group cohesion. These cravings are the product of countless generations, selected because of their benefit to the species. We cannot simply wish religion away. Atheism is like Esperanto. It never manages to satisfy the need it exists to critique.

And so I miss God.

I say this in no uncertain terms as a scholar and not as a person of faith: human beings cannot thrive without God. God is written into our very genes. God is present, yet only as a ghost. The astounding capacity to explain God away does not simultaneously satisfy the need anymore than the awareness of obesity and cholesterol and an expanding waistline makes French fries taste bad. We are who we evolved to be, and we cannot change it.

My sexuality is, at best, a secondary concern for me. If I were offered the assurance that the God of my youth were real, in exchange for surrendering my sexuality, I would take the offer without hesitation. I would be a fool not to. Yet no such assurance exists, and in the absence of God, reality can only be an effort to make oneself happy. Someone once said that all we can hope for in a materialist universe is easy work, a painless death, and good orgasms. I conclude regretfully that this is true.

The $64,000 psychological question is whether desire to have satisfactory orgasms gives me an incentive to question. It's possible. Biology predisposes us to faith in God unless something else gives us incentive not to believe. But when belief is reduced to a matter of biological incentive, the battle of faith is already lost.

I have little to say to gays or to Christians. Gays dismiss Christians as dogmatic, oppressive, and heartlessly self-righteous. Christians demonize gays as rebellious, self-centered, and selfishly revolutionary. Neither is true.

As a Christian, I learned to be compassionate, to "suffer with." When my mother cries and worries, I can commiserate with her anguish over my sexuality. Perhaps I should reject anyone who seeks to manipulate me in this way, but that would mean rejecting the fundamental part of myself that is compassionate. That, at the end of the day, is the root of my struggle with sexuality: being openly, politically gay means rejecting the kind of gentle, compassionate, self-effacing portions of my personality, portions which I prefer to any sort of "I'm here and queer, GET USED TO IT!" rebellion.

But that doesn't make women attractive to me or settle my overpowering desire to share my home and my bed, my joy, my anguish, my life. I experience an existential loneliness I cannot even describe. I have had to build a thick wall around myself to keep getting up in the morning. I can barely expend the psychological energy required to engage these horrific and unfair questions, so I have ceased. There is no category for me, and trying to forge one was draining my life away for far too long.

5/7/2010 4:00:00 AM
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