Is Religion A Crutch?

How often I have boasted, and listened to others boast, of an ability to see the world for what it is. But I am convinced I was never that strong — and, in all my life, I have met no person strong enough to look, unflinching, upon the full scope of horrors in this world for the space of a single, ghastly hour.

We all take refuge in distractions. If not religion, then politics, alcohol, entertainment, shopping, sugar, sex, etc. We’re all desperate to dull our consciences, and our consciousness of people like us in crisis; people we could help, if we were not such shamelessly self-serving beasts. The fact is, we accessorize with the flesh of the poor; what would put meat on their bones, puts rings on our fingers and ribbons in our hair.

If anything, religion, Christ, the saints, and other archetypes of sacrificial love, play the greatest role in bringing reality to mind. Perhaps that’s the true reason so many people despise them. After all, there are no atheist soup kitchens. I’m agnostic, but, I must confess, it seems to me that no alliance has done more charitable work in the world than the one we know as Christianity.


Belief In God

You ask if I believe in God. My friend, I do not even believe a soul on earth has power to believe in such a one. It seems to me, belief in God is something more mysterious, and more miraculous, than anyone has guessed. Supposing we could see The Face of God, we would only doubt our eyes; for there are smaller things by far than This — and, still, too great to be believed.

I thought I believed in miracles, but when at last I saw them, I disbelieved my eyes.

Anyone who says he believes in God, and does not fall into paroxysms of love at the mention of this name, lies.

The Eagle, The Crow, and The Buffalo

Once upon a time there was this buffalo, see, and he was really confused. Like, reeeeaally confused. A crow was perched nearby and saw him looking so confused.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked the crow.
“I’m so confused,” the buffalo replied, “I feel pulled in different directions and I don’t know what to do.”
“Listen to your gut!” the crow squawked.
The buffalo looked uneasy.
“But,” he said, “I have four of them.”
“Listen to them all!”
The buffalo walked in circles for the rest of the day.
The next morning, he was more confused than ever. This time, an eagle came down and perched on a branch beside him.
“You have four stomachs,” the eagle told him.
“Yes! and they spin me in all directions!”
“Don’t listen to any of them,” said the eagle, and he flew away.
The buffalo sat down for a moment, but then one of his stomachs started grumbling, so he got up, forgetting what the eagle had told him. An instant later, he remembered and sat down once more. He tried to ignore his stomach, but then another one began to chime in. Then another. And another! All of them, grumbling, grumbling, grumbling, grumbling…
This was too much. Finally, he got up.
Again, he began to walk in circles.
“You know,” he said to himself, “this isn’t so bad.”
At some point, he died.

The Dead

We are haunted by the ghosts of idle hours passed, and guided by the spirits of hours well spent. Those of us who are strongest cannot rest without expending considerable labor; for the phantoms of the dead, whom we have set in motion and invited by our tendencies, abuse us always with petitions. Our souls are related by affinities, and our relatives have always some claim upon our time. I know, for instance, that the late authors whom I love are also my ancestors, and visit me often — particularly, the more obscure among them — if only to entreat me to make their names, their loves, and lessons known.

The Vision

A high wall had been erected around the Garden of Truth. It was agreed that, if each man supported another on his shoulders, then, the last man, who alone supported no one, would be in a position to see over the edge of the wall and, so, to share his vision with the rest. But when the highest man looked over, he was struck speechless by what he saw. Presently, he refused the honor to one more eloquent than himself, retreating to the bottom of the “ladder”, that another might look in his place. Yet, mysteriously, each man, in turn, became mute, and not one could be found with enough nerve to describe what he had seen. But, then, who would have understood him, anyway, apart from the men who had seen it themselves? Only when the last man peered over the wall was there no more need to impart the vision.

The True Eye

We’ve all seen with that true eye. For a moment, somewhere, we looked on things in a spirit of poverty; simply. Saw how only nature is perfect and pure, and all the works of men, even those we most admire, bear the stamp of something at once silly and scary, childish and exaggerated. We stood in the silence, and were a part of the silence; humble, and without knowing ourselves to be profound. We had to become self-conscious, – distanced in an instant from “that hollow note”; dragged, as if by some great and implacable whirlwind, back into the roar of the familiar, – before we could know just what had happened. What had we touched? What had we lost, in that instant, and maybe forever?

Walking amidst the bookshelves, you know the poetry speaks of moments like these, but the books are tombs; enshrined facades. Somehow, there is no taking them down, no opening, no entering into the life of them, for us. We might thumb at them, trying to recapture that devout and elusive magic, which springs unsummoned, and only at some unforeseen time, when person and book are perfectly matched by providence; for neither is capable of holding in itself that ineffable nature, that true splendor which shines through only of its own accord, and in its own patient hour.

Or when you stepped over branches, shielded heavy leaves from your path to get somewhere through the woods, and — catching scent of something unmistakable, something real, — stopped dead in your tracks, to notice it gone. Now the path is familiar. You brush those leaves away with annoyance, and hardly remember, or remember with annoyance, having been there once, and felt, for a precious instant, the presence of grace; the breath of God on your nape. Now sadness that is a deadening of soul drags you down and down, and forgetfulness, like a curtain, closes off to you the life that was once so real and true, if only for an instant.

And you think that it is gone forever. But that thought is both the seal of your tomb, and the emptiness from which all new things are born, and receive their spark of life.

Vicarious Salvation

What am I, in all of this? What difference — I? God is still good. Whether I stand or fall, God has the victory, and I, by my faith, have a measure in it. For, though I would grieve for my sin, and wrestle for my salvation, yet am I not aggrieved to see the eternal glory of God manifest in so many saints and goodly, simple folk. Why, then, should I be more afflicted by my own wretchedness than I am joyous for the sake of others, whom he has blessed? O, be not envious of those whom God has chosen, but rejoice to see them raised, — and so shall you be raised in a measure with them! Why concern yourself more with yourself, than with them? Truly, I see a righteous law at work in all things; so that, if I should stand, it is to his glory that I shall stand; or if to fall, again, shall he be glorified. Herein I find my peace; that good has triumphed, and must triumph for all time, simply by virtue of being good, and for no lesser reason. A Son of God crucified, reviled, and denied is still a Son of God, and Love, whether it be requited or scorned, is no less than it was. By this, we know the devil to be a liar; for evil can never win; lest it be confessed, and converted to good.