Over the years I have had to unlearn a lot of things I had learnt and relearn ways of making my life meaningful in this godless universe. From being a theist to becoming an atheist and morphing into a secular humanist, I gained a lot of self-reliance and self-confidence, but there is that lurking feeling of missing something that was once so satisfying.
1. I MISS BELIEVING THAT SOMEONE IS ALWAYS THERE
Loneliness is probably the most central struggle of human consciousness. Humans are nothing if not egocentric, but being the center of your own universe can be a pretty solitary experience. No one knows you or your story quite like you yourself do, but religion offers a story that there is ‘Someone Else’ who knows everything that you do about you, and actually a little bit more.
We all need people to come alongside us to help us store the museum of memories that make up our own life’s narrative, but unfortunately over time people will come and go. They don’t always stay forever. Friends disappear, and sometimes even spouses do, too. Parents and friends pass away, and eventually you get to the point where you and you alone know enough of your own story to retell it. But religion provides you with Person(s) who are there from the first of your days until the last, provided you continue to believe in them. That can be incredibly painful to part with.
If you’ve never entrusted your every thought, hope, and dream to a confidant, who you believed was always there for you, I don’t suppose you will appreciate how hard it is to lose that. But for some of us, it’s like losing our very best friend.
2. I MISS BELIEVING IN MAGIC
Real life can be pretty disappointing. When you’re a kid, you dream of things that are larger than life, and it turns out religion allows you to hang on to that for as long as you live.
With faith, things don’t have to add up. In fact, it’s actually better if they don’t. Things not making sense only proves that they are of supernatural origin, like the Hindu concept of a Being with a monkey face who could lift a mountain on one finger and fly over an ocean, a man with an elephant head transplant who rides on a little mouse or the demon Ravana who had 10 heads !
Oddly enough, this creates an expandable space for hope in your thinking. If things don’t have to make sense, you can always hold on to hope that things will work out through an act of a ‘dues ex machina’- a providential intervention. While going to the examination hall as a youth, I hoped against hope that the examiner would ask only those questions for which I had prepared an answer.
Losing a belief in miracles can really take a toll on your psyche. It was really, really nice to believe that problems could sometimes be solved just by wishing they would be, maybe even crying out loud to an invisible entity, a Jesus or an Allah or a Ganesha or Rama or Krishna or Maheshwara or their spouses.
Over here in the real world, real problems unfortunately require real solutions, and that is way more complicated. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the time when I naively thought things were simpler and problems are amenable to magic.
3. I MISS BELIEVING THAT LIFE GOES ON AFTER YOU DIE
Consciousness has this funny way of making us think we should always exist…forever. Never mind the fact that we didn’t exist before our parents bumped their unmentionables and created us, and never mind the fact that it didn’t bother us at all when we didn’t yet exist. For some reason we can’t shake the idea that it will be unpleasant for us to stop existing, even though we won’t be around to feel bad about it.
But it was also lovely to believe that we would one day be reunited with the people we love. I wish I could still believe this. It would have been a deep comfort upon the loss of those who matter to me. It brings great comfort in death. It’s no wonder people cling to this so adamantly, but strong feelings don’t make things true.
I then console myself with the platitude “You can’t eat the cake and have it too”. I have taken a non-returnable one-way ticket to a place which might not be the utopia assured by most religions for its followers. I am travelling to a state of oblivion after death and that is fine with me.
However before that eventuality, I see the preciousness of this transient life which can be so unpredictable yet so magnificent and would like to savor its pleasures & accept its pains with dispassionate equanimity. That’s my intention anyway.