Restlessness and Religion and Such

Long for me as I for you, forgetting, what will be inevitable, the long black aftermath of pain.

~ Malcolm Lowry ~


The demons remain. Perhaps they always will. There is considerable literature out in the world that counsels people to forgive themselves for whatever “sins” they think they have committed. Absent that self-forgiveness, the self-help gurus assert, one can never be truly happy with oneself. But what if true happiness is undeserved because the sins we committed are too grave to be subject to self-forgiveness?  How do we know? If we permit ourselves forgiveness, despite believing forgiveness is undeserved, will true happiness follow? Or will that ill-gained peace of mind one day dissolve into a rank, sticky muck, leaving us with what amounts to eternal damnation for as long as we live? These are rhetorical questions that will never yield satisfactory answers in response because there are no answers; certainly no satisfactory answers. But if I could take a pill that would deliver permanent answers and self-forgiveness, I would take it.


Imagine a single moment—a second or ten seconds, no more than a minute—when every human on Earth is honest. During that brief instance, no lies would cross the lips of any human on the planet. No corrupt deals would be sealed. No cheating. No screaming in anger at another person; because anger erupts, either directly or indirectly, from some form of dishonesty. Just a tiny snippet of time in which decency prevailed. And decency would prevail during that moment because a moment in which everyone is honest about everything cause decency to spreads like a wildfire fueled by gasoline sprayed from high-power nozzles.

Hell, it’s hard to imagine this scenario because it’s such on obviously unreachable, utterly impossible fantasy.  It’s a fairytale told by a skeptic who is in no mood to tell fairytales. So the story flexes and bends and crawls under a few poorly-lit bridges until it comes to a squadron of beavers busily building a brightly-lit bridge over Río Decencia. And that’s where the story falls to pieces. There is no Río Decencia. It’s a lie, told by un engañador profesional. A professional deceiver. A liar by trade. The squadron of beavers will not permit the spread of such deceitful, hateful, decidedly unhelpful stories. Those are the kinds of stories that could cause the beavers’ bridges to weaken during the rainy season, subjecting them to hydraulic forces so massive that even the best beaver bridge could not hold back the flood. So, the beavers un-tell the story, alphabetical character by alphabetical character. Words dissolve into piles of letters. Sentences collapse into chaotic strings of what once were words but, now, are nothing more than collections of symbols representing noises. Paragraphs disintegrate, the fictional stream that fills the non-existent channel of Río Decencia full of the shredded dreams and visions of  imaginary beings.

It’s all vapor. Or vapour, if you prefer. It depends, I suppose, on your passion for things Canadian. Or British. Or related items. But the emptiness of what could have been a package unrelentingly stuffed with  deep meaning lingers beyond it natural dissipation. That emptiness withstands the passage of time and the dissolution of meaning; when everything becomes pointless. When the continuing existence of the planet no longer matters. In the least. A dystopian forecast, to be sure. There’s quite a measure of certainty hidden under that unlikely optimism. Facetious; that’s the word you’re looking for.


The world inside my head, sometimes, is more livable than the one I see outside myself. That world can be unpleasant and unforgiving. That world can lack empathy or compassion or common decency. It can be brutal and unmoved by the pain sprawled in and around it. But, protected inside my skull, after I shut my eyes and ears and disable the interpretive engine that forces me to contend with the external world, I can live out moments, at least, in peace so gentle and soothing they make me forget the ugliness on the other side of my eyelids, the hideousness staring back at me from the computer screen. Or is that the mirror?


The hypocrisy of some of the followers of religions is beyond difficult to believe. It is astounding. How a person can assert his or her devotion to God or Allah or whoever/ whatever while simultaneously engaging in behavior that is so utterly at odds with the teaching of the religion? I suppose it’s easy; as easy as lying about anything or excusing anything or otherwise defending anything that crosses the line between moral and immoral. And, of course, the simplicity of crossing that line becomes even less difficult when one can move the line at will, defining what is moral (or immoral) as whatever serves one’s purposes at the moment.

One need not claim devotion to a religion or a deity (or a collection of deities) to be hypocritical. One need not assert a belief system of any kind. If one lives in a society—which is tantamount to accepting the rules for living in that society—and breaks that society’s rules, one is a hypocrite. And, therefore, one cannot be trusted; not just in areas of life with which the infraction is involved, but in all aspects of one’s life. One is not “somewhat hypocritical.” One either is or is not a hypocrite. And who among us is not. If that is the case, though, how do we judge a person? Judgement must rely on some measure or degree of “badness.” So, then, is hypocrisy measured on a scale of “not hypocritical in the least” to “hypocritical at all times in every facet of life?” I don’t know. But I suspect hypocrisy is measured on a scale of severity, coupled with a mitigating scale of some more positive trait: Philanthropy. Generosity. Compassion. Though how those are compatible, to any degree, with Hypocrisy, I do not quite understand. I suppose it’s just more evidence (if any more were necessary) of the complexity of humanity or humankind. Or both. Because, who can satisfactorily define the difference between the two? Or their precise similarities?


There’s always at least a fragment of me that wants to stay where I am. It’s the piece of me that demands consistency and familiarity with my surroundings. Most of the time, it’s a fairly big piece of me. But when it shrinks to the point of being almost microscopic, I grow restless and impatient and ready to explore. And that can be a difficult position. Because few of us can just drop everything and examine new possibilities. New places, new roles to play, new opportunities. New risks. Yet when I feel the wind at my back, pushing me toward the door, I have to put my foot down and refuse to move. Because it’s not the place I want to leave. I want to leave myself behind, but that cannot happen because no matter where you go, you carry  yourself with you. And even if you rebuild yourself from the ground up, you’re still there; just a new look make from the same parts.


Off I go to face the day, regardless of the weather.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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