My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
– the last words of Jesus on the cross according to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (taken from Psalm 22:1).
In these words Jesus came to face the absence of God. He felt the loss, feeling of separation from the world, and the emptiness human beings seem to have as a core part of their being. Many of us do not need religion to cope with a world with no inherent meaning and that ‘god-shaped hole’, the religious inform us we have, does not disturb us. It is a world many of us rejoice in.
Is it too much to expect everyone to leave the comfort we are told religion gives? I would argue the excitement of the journey, the discovery of meaning through immersing ourselves in life, is not as scary as we are led to believe. For many people their life is not comfortable with Christianity but is beset with guilt, and the uncertainty of what God has in store for them in this life and the next. They make take refuge in the idea that someone else is steering through their problems, but it is also disempowering to not feel in control.
When we realise we can steer our own way through the challenges and the opportunities that confront us it is an exhilarating and liberating experience.
When we focus on the absence of meaning and the feeling of separation from the world we look for things to fill that void. These things can be sex, relationships, cars, alcohol, drugs and, yes, God. All these things take on a fetish quality as we cling to them in the hope they will be the complete solution to all our problems. The more we cling the emptier they seem. The emptier they seem the more desperately we cling hoping that if only we consume more of the product its magical powers will work. The results are usually self-delusion or denial.
The alternative to the Fetish is a cheerful realism where we embrace life and stand in awe at its mysteries. In the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.
This understanding is able to negate the feeling of separation we have, showing us as intricately connected to everything at a fundamental level and being a tiny part of something bigger than ourselves. It is something those who define themselves as ‘spiritual not religious’ search for but this is real and provable with evidence whilst still being almost unfathomable enough to the individual mind to create wonder and awe. It is therefore more powerful than the mythology of religion or the attempt to feel spiritual by a pick-and-mix from world religions.
Jesus lived his entire life believing in an overseeing Father figure. It took his humiliation on the cross to shatter that illusion. His example can be a guide to us, not to wait till death for that realisation, but to celebrate the reality of a Godless world right now by fully engaging with life. And by doing so, embarking on a wondrous journey – a journey that, in itself, reveals its meaning to us.