- Religion and Philosophy
Divine Blowback: What Would Happen if the Other Side Answered us Directly?
I went to see the movie, Collateral Beauty, and it was pretty good. The plot revolved around a man who had lost his daughter to an incurable brain disease. It sends him into a deep depression where he isolates himself from everyone in his personal life and at work. He develops seemingly nonsensical rituals, one of which being he writes letters to time, love, and death. In the letters he vents his frustrations and rage at the non-corporeal elements but expects no response. However he is unpleasantly surprised.
What I found intriguing about this plot device was how the protagonist interacts with time, death, and love. When he first meets them, he thinks they’re just crazy people. And when he starts to treat them as real beings, he not only releases his pent up anger, but also gets a reply back to his anger from the divine elements: some of them more benign than others.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Not everyone believes in god, fate, karma, or any other force outside of science or what they know. And this article isn’t about trying to prove or disprove that. So humor me for a bit here and read this out.
Humans have two general responses to the supernatural: reverence or revulsion. They are two opposite effects, but with deeply personal reactions. Many times we will not invoke their existence or the need for their existence except perhaps in times of absolute need, stress, or loss. Some people beg for mercy at this lowest point while others vent their anger and resistance to some formless being they never believed in but bitch out anyway. However, they don’t get a response, or if you are one of those with a strong belief in the supernatural, not often that is verbal and physical.
If there is one, it’s either done in private or is expressed as an impression or feeling. Nothing conclusively, like an arch angel appearing before a prophet, or God appearing on a fiery mountaintop for all to see. It’s a kind of grace and expectation then that it’s not a common occurrence, but that silence implies a question of what happens if we ever do get a response from beyond.
It’s been my experience that when the topic of belief systems is brought up, whether it’s with atheist or non-atheist, there is an instinctive, sphincter-tightening reaction. There is something is invasive about religion and a proactive, independent supernatural realm that applies to all people.
For religious believers, there is an expectation that the supernatural will behave according to their teachings. There is no thought about that force doing something independent of what they believe and that what makes a direct response scary for them. Their teachings, their roadmaps, have no routes for off road travel. To even consider such a thing is unthinkable. This deliberate blindness is displayed from many religious families, to extremist and fundamentalist groups.
People that claim to be ‘spiritual’ such as myself, generally claim no allegiance to traditional institutions. We often think that this frees us from being controlled by other people while still acknowledging the otherness of the universe. While this can be true, it is also true that it can subconsciously create the same mentality that religious followers have. The supernatural is controllable and will not do anything unexpected or judge us. A response from that realm can put that belief to the test, and see how well we truly appreciate an uncontrollable force that may or may not be on our side.
Lastly are atheists, people who generally choose not to deal with the supernatural. Though otherworldly belief doesn’t play a part in their lives like the other two groups, they do share similarities. The aspect of non-belief inadvertently creates a type structure in which they build their worlds according to their own devices and desires.
Success and a comfortable way of life can provide high and effective walls in which we can control and justify our life choices. No divine overseers to answer to. No dogma to feel guilty about. That said, as legitimate and beneficial as science is, there are always questions and there is an always a margin of error when it comes how humans interpret that data and the lack there of.
It would be easy to say that there would be no response from something they don’t believe in. And this is where it can fall into the same rut as the religious and the spiritual person. What happens if the supernatural, or at least that one area that science has yet to explain, decides to invade those walls anyway?
Tiger Tiger by the Tail
The common theme that runs in all these groups and that some movies use is the human need to control our world and our fear of losing that independence. I think what is so fundamentally disturbing about religion, gods, and afterworlds is that they can force us to acknowledge the limits of our control and being accountable to a force we have no power over. We don’t like being held accountable if it can be avoided and that dislike is shared across the board and not exclusive to one group.
It is like going to the zoo to see tigers. Behind its cage, a tiger is still beautiful, still graceful, but also still caged. If you put it in a larger safari, there is more room for it to roam and prowl. We can appreciate how magnificent it moves, sounds, and stalks prey, but we are still a safe distance from it. It is still under control. Put the tiger in the same space as you however, in the same room or elevator (if you can fit it in), and you’re face to face with that primal fear of absolute loss of control. Naked before its superior strength, its sharp teeth, and its unpredictable and untamed killer instinct. Even if the tiger doesn’t kill you and leaves you alone, you are still made more than aware of if its power to do the opposite if it chose to.
A reply from the supernatural is the same scenario, but on a larger yet more intimate scale. The margin of error can be anything that is taboo: the actual existence or non-existence of god, that one religion that proves to be correct over the others, or that our life choices are being called into account against our will. I am not trying to convert you to believe or disbelieve, but life is full of surprises and many times those surprises are not always to our liking.
Whatever we decide and however we decide to deal with it, it is something we all confront alone. Our beliefs will face their final test and at a time when there is nothing else to fallback on.