‘Oh Life…’

I’ve written about loss before.  The sudden death of a loved one, and the slow, painful withdrawal of the personality that was the beloved long before the inevitable loss of life.

You’d think it would get easier with years and experience.  It doesn’t.  Losing someone rips a hole in the fabric of the universe that never completely closes.

The clichés and platitudes notwithstanding (man, am I ever against the platitudes this week), it doesn’t always get easier, and letting go can feel like betrayal and lead to guilt that is even harder to shake.

Loss. Decisions.  The human condition.  These are the foundations of all the religions of the world.  Once upon a long ago time, with the development of self-awareness, and given our nature as social animals, when those we love left us, we humans created hope that we will meet them again- or that they are, at least, in place where the suffering has ceased and there is peace and happiness.

People often make the hard decisions- CAN make the hard decisions- with this as an underlying hope or belief.

But what happens when one of the things that gets lost is the religion that we create in an effort to moderate our sadness and help justify the pain and its eventual lessening?  And lessoning?

The song is 22 years old. Where has the time gone?

(More losses- of both the time that has passed and the place with which I most associate the tune)

Losing my Religion’ is really a Southern US colloquialism for losing one’s temper, flying off the handle, behaving in a manner that is less than civilized (gotta love the Southern equation of ‘religion’ and ‘civilized behaviour’.  Ack!).

Subject-wise, the song is more about unrequited love and obsession (Michael Stipe has actually compared its theme to Every Breath You Take– that exemplar of obsessive songs about stalking restraining orders love from the Police’s 1983 wonder of an album, Synchronicity) than about the loss of religious faith.

But it’s a good song.  And it fits my mood and the paths down which my slightly disordered and sleep-deprived mind is traveling right now, faced as I am with another potential loss.

I was, nominally, raised in a religious tradition.  Attended services, participated in the community, was taught the mythology.

Frustration with the blatant abuse of power in the Institution and, especially, my absolute lack of comprehension about how, in any way, the theodicy behind the myth system can be justified, marked the finality of the decision to ‘lose’ it.

Millennia ago a man wrote a treatise that encompassed all kinds of aspects of the realities of life.  It became part of the collected wisdom tradition of the people behind one of the most influential mythological systems in history and spoke to the realities of life and the nature of the godhead.  The questions he expressed- alongside a recounting of his own experiences- were answered by the theodicy of the day- ‘because the god wants it that way.’

It could have been written yesterday.  Plus ça change

Abuse of power: Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.  Look, the tears of the oppressed- with no one to comfort them!  On the side of their oppressors there was power- with no one to comfort them.  And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive, but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (4.1-3).

The ever-repetitious cycle of life: “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns. (1.4-6)

Death: ‘For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals, for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (3.19-20).  (N.B. the lack of anything approaching the idea of heaven/hell in that little statement.  He finished that thought: ‘Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of of animals goes downward to the earth?’ 3.21)

That Qohelet guy found the faith in the plan of his deity to make the terror, the repetition, the inequity, the futility and the rest of the realities of morality manageable.  He, like Job and the Prophets and the authors of the Psalms, trusted the justice of the god in spite of infinite examples of injustice and pain in the world.

Me?  Can’t do it.

My faith is based in this world and in my fellow humans.  Which means that I have to do my best to act against those inequities that can be changed and roll with the punches dealt by those that can’t.  Including the deaths of cherished loved ones.

It’s a different kind of faith, and one that offers no easy answers or comforting visions of angelic choirs and waiting La-Z-Boys at the right hand of an Elder of Days.  It requires reliance on others who share our lot in this here world, and the strength to endure and to ask for help from those others when our own reserves run low.  The cultural and social realities of today, combined with our collective experiential learning, have rendered the created, absent, inscrutable, unjust godhead obsolete.

My religion may be long lost, but my civility is intact and as ready as it can be to face coming inevitabilities.

But I can still find comfort in Qohelet’s musings +/- 2500 years after they were first written down.  Not for his conviction about his god, but because of the beauty and humanity of his questioning and honest examination of the world as it was still is.

‘For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.’  (1.18)

Truer words…

10 comments on “‘Oh Life…’

  1. Ste J says:

    Apparently a part of our brain makes us predisposed to believe in a higher power. One of my mates told me that so I can’t be more specific but that seems interesting, all very existential. The problem with religion is that once it is institutionalised then it used for a few people’s own ends. I think that puts more people off believing today than anything else.

  2. colemining says:

    Ste J-
    I’m certainly not a science-y type of person, and know next to nothing about brain chemistry and physiology, so your friend could very well be right. We are certainly predisposed to look for answers to our questions- and in times when we couldn’t (or can’t) find evidential answers we create(d) metaphysical responses to help us cope with the lousy realities of life.
    As we continue to evolve and discover more and more about our world and our universe, the need to believe in an external power can be lessened somewhat. For some people anyway.
    Institutions are all about power- and once belief is institutionalized it can be used as a pretty effective means of control. And the abuse of that power and control is certainly one of the main factors driving people away from religion(s) these days.
    Thanks for reading and for the insightful response!

  3. […] really, which one I love best.  Except… He adapted and then arranged words from one of my fave books from the OT, written by one of my fave characters from the OT.  So, even if the tune itself […]

  4. […] Just like that dude, Jesus. He wasn’t ‘new’, either. Nor was Moses. Nor Muhammad. There is nothing new under the sun, to paraphrase my buddy Qoheleth. […]

  5. Love REM! And, you’re right, where does the time go? I remember Frank and I watching this in our first house. Then saw an interview with Michael Stipe, him being asked what was his favourite bit about all the travelling involved in gigging. He collects boarding passes, if I recollect correctly. Loves the place where, in flying, you’re in no man’s land. You don’t belong to one land or another, neutral, unowned territory. I understood that. Could get why he liked to feel outwith the world. Maybe religion’s a bit like that. A sort of no man’s land with a boarding pass to somewhere else. Got to wonder what goes on in a writer’s mind! Brilliant song and had no idea of its connotations re civility or obsession. I bought a dvd of theirs years later where every song had its accompanying video. I played it on repeat till the blood ran out of it (think someone must have hidden it from me – I don’t know where it is now!) Time to go ahunting, I think, and rediscover the magic below water. Out of our natural element always seems to hold attraction. 🙂 x

    • colemining says:

      Lol. I have dvds like that (a certain INXS collection comes to mind…) This song in particular was so huge at the ‘clubs’ in Hull (the Quebec side of the river) when I was an undergrad. I’d seen REM live a number of times at that point (So. Central Rain remains one of my fave songs), and something about this tune really made me think- as much as it made me dance. I love it when that happens.

      Happy New Year, A-M! xo

  6. […] literature goes, the response is a little thin IMHO (not unlike the edited version of that book by Qoheleth). “Because I said so” tends to be something resorted to when real justification […]

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