Monday, December 2, 2013

Some Mormon Mysteries

I interrupt a long hiatus to offer the following responses to two simple questions: (1) What is God to you?  (2) Are families forever?

(1) I would say that God to me is uncertainty, probability, unpredictability, the blind spot in my human mirror onto the vast thing that is reality. I am a machine for looking into reality and seeing discrete variables causally: I see X, and I see Y, and when one follows the other I can always tell you why. Unfortunately, I will not always be right. But this does not mean that life is utterly purposeless (or utterly random: we experience things that are regular all the time, even when there is no possibility of doing a scientific study to rule out coincidence as ultimate "cause").

I can do many things with my blind spot. I can paint it to look friendly or scary. I can personify it, pray to it, wear little trinkets and whatnot to remind me of it, or I can take an opposite route--depersonifying it, refusing to pray to it, finding some other reason for whatever little trinkets I want to wear. The approach I take is heavily influenced by my personal history. Who are my mentors? What books do I read? What music do I know? Do I interact more with Jesus or the Pharisees in my particular faith tradition? (Every cultural tradition includes people focused on broad principles, that can become too broad to make useful sense, and people focused on narrow laws, that can become too narrow to be useful. If I am poisoned by hippie Jesus' lackadaisical approach to life, then I am likely to react by running towards a more strict Phariseeism to correct my fault, whereas if I am poisoned by strict Phariseeism, I become more likely to course-correct by running towards hippie Jesus. I am in the latter category, but I have met quite a few people on the opposite trajectory.)

Eternal families? I don't really know what eternity is. If it is temporal, then it is just time going on and on and on without stopping (physicists, is that really even possible? I doubt it, since time is something that exists relative to other things that change, e.g. when universes bang in and out of existence). What would one do forever? How would one live (without going insane)? I don't know. I like some change, some narrative, some regrets, and an end to life's story (with possibilities for new stories: who knows what comes after my story? not me, surely). When I see "the eternal perspective" invoked in Mormonism, I also note a disturbing trend towards preserving some (galling) injustice in the status quo: "From an eternal perspective, it does not matter so much that you are currently unsuccessful (unmarried, female, black, enslaved, etc.). Just live with that, and God will eventually set it all right" (by having some king and priest who isn't a loser like you look after it? this isn't what is meant always by any means, but it is often the message transmitted, unfortunately).

The useful eternal perspective for me exists outside time. Eternity is not time going on with no end, but a space outside time, a metaphorical space where possibility exists untapped, unexhausted, unreached (and in some sense unreachable) by human understanding. It is what Buddhists call emptiness (not nothingness, but the indefinite possibility that something might happen--or not). Instead of inspiring us to come up with self-serving stories to justify evil in the status quo ("blacks are roughing it here because they were fence-sitters in the pre-existence, women because Eve ate that damn apple," etc.), it reveals to us the poverty of material success. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, and I choose to love him (and life) anyway. Replace "the Lord" with Nature if you like. Feminize him (it, them). Do whatever you like! It is your life's work to make art of your religion. But you will not exhaust reality; you will not escape the blind-spot built into your humanity. That is not a bug, I fear, but a feature--and the only cure we have found is death (not really so bad, when one approaches it correctly: I can have really happy thoughts about rotting somewhere in the ground, providing nourishment to the biota all around me--the same way so many other beings have died to keep me alive through my mortality; I want to give something back).

(2) Families? I don't know how they exist or last universally (for all observers everywhere). I don't think I ever will, but I know that I love mine. I know that I value them in a way that I cannot value others (not because I have no use for non-family, but because I cannot be that intimate with all humanity, let alone all sentient life). In the context of my own life-story, they are essential: they are the people who hear my story, who share it, who find meaning in it, and who enrich me with their own stories--stories that contain meaning I can see (because I am close to them, for whatever reasons). I don't know how we are together. Forever? What would that mean? My sons eternally in diapers? Eternally squabbling because someone threw up or punched someone? Eternally meeting with relatives each Thanksgiving to spread diseases (and good cheer)? I prefer to think that we are together now, and that I hope to remain with them for the duration of my story: no matter what happens, they will always be important to that story. That is all I can say.

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