10 January 2015

On writing, veering into God & atheism

Appearing before the beginning, as always, is a picture of the paper separator from a box of chocolates.

I imagine myself asking a group of people to give individual answers to a question about writing. This group would contain all types of people: not just professional writers but anyone who even desires to write.

Here is the question: How would you define success in writing?

One person might say: “I consider my writing successful when my book becomes a bestseller.” Another might say: “Writing is successful only when it gets published by a reputable company.” And another: “I don’t care about money or publishing – I’ll say that I’ve achieved success if I can just finish this piece that I’m working on.” And yet another: “Every time I write, it’s automatically successful, because it gives me pleasure.”

Then I wonder: How should I myself answer the question?

I think I’d say this: “I consider my writing a success when it seems to have been written by an alien god (not this world’s god).”

Having said that, I want to add: “I speak as an atheist.”

But immediately after labeling myself an atheist, I feel uncomfortable – and not at all on account of the fact that, at least where I live, atheism is anathema. The reason that I wince when accepting this term is that, although it fits, it is ill-fitting. I prefer the way that William Blake uses words – here is a passage from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounc’d that the gods had order’d such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

I believe in any book’s God as much as I believe in the character Don Quixote. The God of Abraham is a character that was dreamt up out of the breast of a certain poet; and, when I read about this God in the Hebrew Bible, I choose to believe in his existence (I suspend my disbelief) exactly the way I believe in Don Quixote when I read that holy and sacred book by Cervantes.

I think the act of reading is an excursion into belief; so, for me, to read without believing is oxymoronic. To gaze at words on a page without fleshing them out in your imagination, without allowing them to reside in your own human breast – this is simply to lack comprehension: it is ignorance and impatience.

So, I believe in God when I read of his tomfooleries in the Bible. But let’s say that a churchgoer tells me that this belief of mine is not enough, and that what I just said is tantamount to admitting that I am an atheist.

I’m fine with that – I accept the label because it is clarified by the context.

But, outside the setting of this churchgoer’s judgment, I find the term atheist incorrect; for it is plain to me that All deities reside in the human breast; so, to call myself an atheist would be like declaring that I am averse to poetic imaginings, which is the opposite of the case.

Finagle a point to this diversion, pretty please?

It is unfortunate that those who despise all religious systems must often refer to themselves as atheists, even though they may love the workings of the human imagination and be capable of believing in any deity (at least for the duration of that deity’s poetic tale).

Imagine the difference it would make, if the followers of all churches or priesthoods were to stop commandeering the word ‘believer’ and instead accept a newly coined term ‘undiscerner’—derived from the adjective ‘undiscerning’—on account of the fact that they have surrendered their ability to distinguish between sensible objects and mental abstractions.

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