In particular, I made note of a paradox wherein the world seems to be a rational, thoroughly explicable place, and yet nevertheless comes across as insane. I said that the rationality of the world points towards God. And, I can expand on that by saying that we can know inferentially that God is not just one particular extremely powerful being, but rather is Being itself, existing absolutely while everything else only exists conditionally. And that it follows from this that He is Goodness itself, is eternal and immutable, and that while He is not what we would normally consider to be a ‘person’, is a kind of super-personality (again, I’m not interested right now in giving an argument for these ideas; I’m merely stating that I think they’re true and that we don’t necessarily need faith to know about them).
But even all this is very partial knowledge, as God isn’t something in the world that we can examine. If we want to know more, the initiative must come from His end.
Now onto the insanity of the world. Here’s Cardinal Newman, in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua:
Starting then with the being of a God, (which, as I have said, is as certain to me as the certainty of my own existence, though when I try to put the grounds of that certainty into logical shape I find a difficulty in doing so in mood and figure to my satisfaction,) I look out of myself into the world of men, and there I see a sight which fills me with unspeakable distress. The world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth, of which my whole being is so full; and the effect upon me is, in consequence, as a matter of necessity, as confusing as if it denied that I am in existence myself. If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when i look into this living busy world, and see no reflexion of its Creator. This is, to me, one of those great difficulties of this absolute primary truth, to which I referred just now. Were it not for this voice, speaking so clearly in my conscience and my heart, I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world. I am speaking for myself only; and I am far from denying the real force of the arguments in proof of a God, drawn from the general facts of human society and the course of history, but these do not warm and enlighten me; they do not take away the winter of my desolation, or make the buds unfold and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice. The sight of the world is nothing else than the prophet’s scroll, full of “lamenations, and mourning, and woe.”
Newman approaches the issue from a Christian point of view. I initially approached it from a more atheistic perspective. But the basic gist of it is: no matter what our values and beliefs may be, we look out into the world and see it to be meaningless, amoral and indifferent to our existence. Were we more completely children of this world, we would not think so. We would have our pleasures and pains, and would, like the other animals, care about our survival and fear death, but the situation would not provoke the existential rage it does. A man locked in a room for his entire life, and who had no notion of there being anything outside that room, would have no notion that there was any freedom which he was being deprived of.
Buddhism is perhaps the most noble, successful attempt to remove this alienation: renounce the self, renounce desire, and you can be at peace. Our current culture is one of the less noble attempts: eat, get laid, buy our crap and achieve your self-actualization! Now, the agnostic philosopher Walter Kaufmann managed to put the killing blow to Buddhism for me when he mentioned that it would be inconceivable for there to be a Buddhist Shakespeare or a Buddhist Sophocles. Removal of alienation comes at too high a human cost. But this is itself a sort of hideous paradox: our greatness as human beings seems to require us to suffer and feel alienated.
What I think this suggests is that we really aren’t made for this world, and suffer because we are broken off from what we are made for. We have suffered some sort of diminution from what we should be. Now it is here where the doctrine of Original Sin rears its head. The notion is itself a paradox: that our ancestors did indeed enjoy a relationship with God that we do not, and that they deliberately broke it off, and that that brokenness has become a part of humanity. But I claim that it is the paradox that ‘fits’ our paradox.
This has already gone on for too long so, to be continued…