“Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit der Religion?”
By Aurelie Mattmüller
If a few years ago someone had asked me what the most precious thing in life is, my answer would have been quite naïve, but genuine nonetheless. I would have told him that for me, the most precious thing is the hope that there is God; a caring ´almightiness` who knows us, on whom we can rely even in the darkest moments, one who gives a purpose to life, to the happiness as well as to the suffering; The hope in forgiveness and eternity.
But something happened to me, that none of us can escape – I grew older and realized that life is more complex than I expected. Keeping up an unshakable trust in an overarching truth is not as easy anymore as it seemed at the age of fourteen. New books, friendships and experiences alienated me from the moral values I’ve been taught, leading to questions without a certain, rational answer. While trying hard to stick to principles, it is getting harder to make things fit into the ´good` and ´evil` boxes of childhood. Some may argue that education is the path to freedom, but for stubborn people like me it is first and foremost a path of suffering.
Plato uses the parable of the cave. The philosopher tries to rescue people, who are sitting chained in a dark cave. They are watching a shadow play on the wall, which they consider to be real; somewhat comparable to the Matrix. Since these people never saw anything other than the cave wall, they forcefully resist the attempts of the philosopher to leave the place they consider reality. Only very few follow the philosopher and take the struggle of the strenuous path to daylight. Once outside the cave, they are illuminated by the sun and the beauty of the real world.
But let’s face it, most of the time when we get introduced to a new, alien idea that challenges our world view and our belief system, it is not like that. We don’t feel illuminated; we feel betrayed by our narrow-mindedness and evolve strong negative feelings towards both the familiar and the new. In the film Matrix, Neo, the main character is living in an artificial world, the Matrix. What he considers to be reality is only a projection controlled by machines. After a few mysterious incidences, Neo is being offered two pills – a red one, which will make him escape from the Matrix and see the real world, and a blue one which will make him forget the crack in the facade he’s been noticing.
Unlike salvation from illusion in Plato’s Cave Allegory, in Matrix; salvation comes through illusion. If you want to be happy, you have to choose the continuance of the projection. In the Matrix-parable, reality is not a place worth living in. When I started reading works of modern philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Camus’ L’homme révolté, I felt a bit like Neo; cut loose from my comforting faith and thrown into an arbitrary world, unchained from the illusion of God. The Almighty is dead, he has been killed. And it is now, after the awakening, man’s destiny to fight the absurdity of his existence without a divine compass.
Did I unconsciously choose Morpheus’ red pill when enrolling in philosophy class? I found the new ideas disturbing, but at the same time I would not touch my Bible anymore, I felt unworthy and incapable at once.
When stepping out of a belief construction, one stumbles upon an infinite number of independent variables, possibilities and, yes, also moments of intellectual freedom. This freedom made me realize that the bipolarity of both, cave and Matrix parable, fall short of grasping the complexity of our existence. Instead of choosing between the red and blue pill, Peter Sloterdijk, a contemporary German philosopher, finds his salvation in escape from this two-dimensionality. According to him, there are as many realities as there are perceptions.
Talking about the ´Gretchen’s question` in an intellectual environment is hard because of two reasons: It is nearly impossible to make a valid point and there are too many irrational emotions involved, which go beyond words. My journey of doubting faith, then ridiculing and denying it and finally putting it aside is probably shared by quite a few people. Many have a faith struggle, they just feel uncomfortable sitting between two chairs and end up at either the Theist or the Atheist position.
I agree with Rainer Maria Rilke, a German writer and poet, that if you’ve really found something as astonishingly big as God, it is very difficult to lose it. So I guess I didn’t really have him from the very beginning. (Side note to God: If you decide to reveal yourself to me one day; could you please make it rain Strawberry Milkshake? That would be AWESOME.) For now I feel okay being agnostic, not only in questions of faith. Sometimes it is annoying to ‘not know’, because in conversations this position leads to muteness most of the time. There were so many times I would get involved in arguments I could only loose, simply because I refused to approve or disapprove the viewpoint of my counterpart. (This being said I do not mean that Agnostics can’t have legitimate opinions and valid arguments!) But for me it is the better alternative to generalization and recognition of the other possible truths. To quote a friend: “Life is a riddle and there’s no chance of knowing who’s been right or wrong before we’re dead, but until we arrive there, let’s explore as much as possible.”