Friday, January 22, 2010

Lost Faith

Isn't there some brain research which compares religious rapture to falling in love? This must be the same sort of chemistry which keeps runners running to get that endorphin high (which I have never known; knowing only the lalalalalala in my head from working out to the point where I could keep going forever). That same sort of chemistry which keeps people coming back to church on Sunday, and it must be that much better than whatever I get from watching a movie, a play, reading a book, which also feels like approaching some sort of high.

Over its edge, people say and do and believe really crazy things. As if they get pulled into their own narratives; their own private stories which have such a powerful trajectory that they can take over from reality itself: People climb into their personal story and can manage some conclusion so powerfully that it becomes an embodiment, in seeming reality.

Christ, for instance, of course belongs only in the heart, and yet the idea of embodiment - the embodied idea - is so powerful that it can catapult true believers out of all sense. Ideas are such nonsense. Truly. What's real is so much more so.

I had something like an idea of myself. A story of my life. Which can be made to look pretty OK. But the trouble with such tales is that they can collapse in an instant when glanced at from some other angle. When a single word, say, turns that wannabe conclusion into something different from what it seemed to be becoming. A twist. Like finding yourself in some video and then realizing who you really seem to others. Cringe.

This must be a kind of test; who is used to seeing themselves depicted and still feeling proud? Is that something only trained actors can do? Who else could survive the public stage? I have only one professional photo of myself, which I allow as my profile picture. I think I stole it. But it makes me cringe less.

I listened to the great great grandson of Charles Darwin explaining the man to Terry Gross yesterday on NPR. Darwin was so close to us in time, and he did struggle also with the faith around him. His own faith, one must suppose. His legacy scholar great great grandson spoke so slowly and deliberately; to an anglophile American he sounded erudite, but even Terry seemed to need to interrupt him from time to time as he rehearsed his slow way to some point.

She sounded embarrassed too, to ask the question about how it was to re-present his ancestor's life here in America, where we seem to have a lot more propensity than they do in the old country, to believe outrageous narratives. There are so many Creationists here. And the title of the film to be produced on Darwin's life - "Creation" - seems such a blatant tweak.

Well, of course he expressed gladness, this legacy thinker did, that there would be strong challenges to the thinking which in its time was worked out with real agony and cost to its thinker. A kind of survival of the fittest narrative, was the contest in question, and Darwin's legacy must welcome it.

In some ways, I can lay claim to be microcosm of America. I never would read when I was a child. I was therefore uncivilized. I know that this was directly related to what I can identify in retrospect as emotional incest. Very mild. Very common. You may recognize it in yourself if you were brought up in the suburbs. Far too much hope projected onto me.

I was thought smart, and therefore there was a kind of pressure put on me to demonstrate that, as a kind of show dog. What could I have done but refuse? Displace my interests out-of-doors, into the wild, where no-one would ever be watching. I never did read a book, really, until Plato's Republic one long night. Where I discovered the idea of the idea. And the surprising fact that I could read. I exaggerate less than you would credit.

I never could stand to see myself in pictures, though later I would find myself on television as a presumptive expert on giftedness, because I had been defaulted to the headship of a failing school for gifted kids. I cringe to think that I endured that. All of it. What could I have been thinking? That I looked the part?

It must have given me practice for this exposure here. Which I just do now, out of some practiced habit, as if I'd undergone a sex change operation and finally put on the dress in public (now there's some courage I really have to honor!). Pretending that I have something to say. Retaining, I suppose, that stupid American innocence as if things could be that simple. Hollywood simple.

Looking back, there must have been a kind of inevitability that I would study Chinese. Lots of irony, that study of the world's oldest continuous direct legacy chain of cultured civilization, represented by the most populous political entity on earth, could allow me a position of relative parity with those so much better read in English. Scratching the surface could make me relatively deep. Irony that by finding oneself on the other side of the planet, I could seem distinguished by minor efforts, just as I would by simply standing among Chinese from whom I looked different.

Inevitably, I had the wrong memory style for good study of literary Chinese. I'm deft enough with speech, but memorizing texts is not exactly a strength. In math or physics classes, I had to derive formulas during the exams, since I never could commit them, nor the recipe-like procedures, to memory. It was a painful deficit, which also allowed me to rationalize not taking any books home each night, which I wasn't going to open anyhow. There must be something traumatic which I can't remember, or is it just my wiring? I was proud enough of my ability to fake it, like some Matt Damon character or was it Leo, pretending to be a pilot.

Dad's memory is nearly gone now. Mom still can't find a way in to her own life. I still cringe at her unnecessary worries about me. They make me want to disappear. The two of them together remind me of how unlikely my own independence will always be. I'm an American, and I must be independent, authentic, and truly me. So, I fail by definition. But I do love my family. I would be lost without them.

There is something beyond taboo to rehearse these things in public. Something far worse than to expose oneself; a naked body, say. It would be better to promote the narrative to good conclusion. To write something finished.

Perhaps someday I will. I rather doubt it. How angry can we be at John Edwards, now, without being angry with ourselves for still wanting to believe those outrageous lies. What did he see in his mirror? How far is anybody willing to drive their narrative if they can seem to fill its part?

Just yesterday, I went over that edge myself. I thought that it would be important to let you in so far to my thinking that you would need to know just where and how I had come up with whatever outrageous connection I was making. That I located it, right on the toilet, as if thereby I could fix that much more credibility. Deletion is nice, though once spoken, words sometimes can't be taken back.

I wasn't so much embarrassed for myself. I had dragged other people into my thoughts. Like Edwards paying off his staffer to take the hit. What, for the greater good of the country? We can do without pretty people in love with their own reflections.

Charles Darwin made his discoveries so recently, and yet we find it strange that there are primitives among us still rehearsing Darwin's own struggles with the Biblical idea of creation? How can so much time seem to have passed? When it really was only yesterday that we lacked any good evidence for time's scale. When molecular structures for encoding legacy combinations were nowhere near a twinkle in any scientist's eye. When the stars were understood only marginally better than the way they look to me, in love.

Of course it remains offensive that humans should crowd out their projected God as if we could understand and derive those formulas which had been handed down by rote. Explanations don't and can't stand in for what we know to be true in our hearts. That we are not just random. Darwin lost a child, and felt no less pain for his understanding that it was a natural process and no retribution for his loss of faith.

You know, I understand the American romance for the wild. That sense that nature left alone must be preserved for future generations. I also treasure the Chinese sense of kept gardens and pruning and enhancing with pagodas and terraces and steles engraved with poetically related written characters to make the stamp of great poets upon the land. Even their filling in with water what we might call God's gorges. God's gouges. I can understand that, as a continuation of the inevitable and proper course of civilization. Bringing heaven's constancy down to earth. Regularizing the wild.

I am in from the cold. My apartment shakes in the wind, but it will not come down when the earth shakes. There is warmth in civilization.

And I really am just a dog in manly disguise. Not such a bad thing to be. But I've lost my faith that I'm a man. Which is rough. Ruff ruff.

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