This week, I finished reading a novel that depicts serious spiritual ecstasy without any religion whatsoever. Let me set the context first.
You know what bugs me about the “New Atheists” that too many people find impressive? I mean, aside from all their racism. It’s the sheer reductive blandness of their ideas. They commit the juvenile error of believing in a vision of science as a perfect system of knowledge that discovers only absolute and perfect truths about the world, which is bad enough.
But even beyond this, the New Atheist picture of the world is as a place of pure, simple existence. The only events in the world are the trivial and mundane. Scientists tell us how the world works, and it’s the simple collisions of billiard balls. Anything more profound than that is an expression of their hated religion. For Dawkins, Maher, Harris, et al, understanding your identity through any kind of conception of the divine is a sign of idiocy.* They’re the kinds of dunderheaded atheists that unfortunately arise in an era where moronic Biblical literacy is more popular than it’s ever been before.
* Even here, I’m tactfully leaving aside their contention that anyone who steps inside a mosque is a mass-murdering child rapist.
|If you read Lispector's The Passion According to G. H.,|
and I strongly recommend you do, it seriously helps to
imagine the narrator as a Brazilian Lucille Bluth.
Religion is most profoundly about frameworks to develop your identity through dialogue with the divinity of existence. This ethical dynamic accepts (like all sane religious thinking) pluralism of religious tradition and belief. How each person understands divinity in existence is unique to each person. Both oppressive religious institutions and New Atheists understand religion only as a series of doctrines for the masses to swallow whole for the sake of social and political conformity. Understanding the divinity of life is a more mystical path.
I recently finished reading a landmark novel of Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G. H., a short, dense work that consists entirely of an interior monologue of a mystical experience in the most unlikely place. The G. H. of the title is a wealthy woman on the cusp of middle age who lives in Rio de Janeiro. I already felt happy to read an existentialist story whose "generic human" was a different kind of person than an early-middle aged white male. She begins the story in a typical moment of self-absorption, annoyed at having to clean her apartment herself for the first time in a while. Her live-in maid, whose name she has trouble remembering, has left her job and moved out. She’s stuck cleaning her room.
G. H. realized, on discovering a large wall-drawing, that her maid hated her. When she discovers a cockroach crawling out of an armoire and collapses, she spirals into an experience that I can only call a communion with matter itself. The cockroach’s empty black eye reflects its entire species’ history. She understands how disgusting living matter, indeed the very nature of even being alive, is. Squishy, moist, and oozing.
Everything is pardoned because everything is alive, and life requires the consumption of other life to continue. The inevitability of death and grotesque violence is a casual revelation. She crushes the cockroach in the door, and through the long moment of its death, she begins to experience what feels like hours in seconds. Death is inevitable, a fact that deserves neither blame nor punishment. Reality is, in Lispector’s words, neutral, and the universe is a profound indifference to both suffering and joy.
|As a toddler, Clarice Lispector fled|
Ukrainian pogroms with her family
to Brazil, where she grew into one
of her country's greatest writers.
We are interdependent bodies that eat and are eaten, are consumed to be reformed in a new form. This is a world without fear, because nothing is ever truly destroyed. The world is a vast and complicated continuity of change, its renewal a constant now. Humanity is a sad over-complication of reality, creating angst and terror from the egocentric songs of self-consciousness. Even the nature of our existence as individuals separate from the world around us is a mistaken perception, an error in judgment resulting from our over-complicated nervous systems. If there is a hell, says Lispector’s G. H., it’s an all-too-human life of constant worry and fear.
All of us will die eventually, and dying will be a relief from our anxiousness. Existence as dirt and rocks lets us experience slow, calm attitudes, the relaxed existence of simple bodies. Humans have so many ways to be irritated that everything in the world constantly annoys us. Death, simplifying our material, is a welcome calm after the continual busyness of organic living.
“The world interdepended with me – that was the confidence I had reached . . . Life is itself for me . . . And therefore, I adore.”
I don’t really think my spoilers tag was appropriate for that.
Lispector’s Passion should be read if you ever feel yourself agreeing too much with a Richard Dawkins or a Bill Maher. Instead of an atheism that’s moronic and simple, Lispector can give you the foundation of an atheism that delivers all the profundity of religion at its best, even as popular religion falls into the idiocy of literalism. Biblical literalists and New Atheists deserve each other, and in my more resentful moments, I'll be glad to watch them can snipe each other to death for my amusement.
I’ll be with the mystics.