Prior to ‘How to be Catholic during your rebellious years,’ in 2019, I published a book which I have since removed from Amazon upon realizing that I could no longer uphold most of its pagan content. As much as I disavow it, there are flashes of what I would recognize as the faith I was to return to, and I thought it’d be interesting to review them.
The essay was called ‘Making a philosophical problem out of depression,’ in which I relate the prevalence of depression to an increasingly materialistic view of the world, and thus suggest the solution to be a change in life philosophy. Neat.
Christ, the handy analogy
There are some condescending references to Christ in which I basically treat him as an illustration of a psychological principle. Kinda Jordan Petersonian. I segregate a chapter of such pedantry here for curiosity’s sake, but could say that such an approach actually kept me away from Christ, rendering Him a mere instructive archetype. I have since found that what counts is seeing Jesus not as a great man, but as God and truth.
Grace through others
Looking back, it seems like my journey to Christ was a mere intellectual exercise. But my discoveries as they came only resonated to the degree that I grew in love of real people, experiencing how the meaning of life wasn’t in me. Initially, I interpreted glimpses of eternal and necessary truth from my limited perspective of Kantianism, where I boldly proclaimed Christ to be the a priori, not realizing how this demeaned His revelation. Thankfully, I would later shed off such contrary paradigms.
Stoicism all the rage
I now realize it to be a grace that during a time about five years ago that I was immersed in a lot of stoicism talk from podcasts and books by Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday, among others, I saw Christianity as a superior philosophy (I still only understood it to be a philosophy or system, rather than the recognition of a historical truth being key to our happiness). I had read Alastair Hannay’s collected papers and journals of Søren Kierkegaard years prior, and Kierkegaard’s conviction of embracing suffering rather than stoically numbing oneself to it stuck with me, even when Jesus as flesh and blood meant nothing. Self-proclaimed antichrist Friedrich Nietzsche was an influence as well. His ‘amor fati’ is pseudo-Christian, in that fate is construed as self-assertion, rather than known to be a merciful God’s will.
Of stoic Seneca’s technique of visualizing a worst-case scenario so as to deal better with an actual outcome, I had this to say, with Christianity in mind:
“This still falls short of an ideal of loving each moment, of appreciating simple existence for its sake. Anticipating the uncommon seeks an escape from life’s torments by a fatiguing from circumstance, and should be considered a stage yet to be overcome.”
“Pity isn’t just the avenue of the weak to feel strong. In this imperfect world, where we all experience weakness in some way, pity is also that by which we bond, and grow in love.”
Suffering of love
“I wonder what I would be willing to suffer for someone or something I love. Say, eternal, constant suffering.
“This is all hypothetical. For one thing, none of us live specifically to suffer for the benefit of another. Also, eternity isn’t something we could conceive in any scientific sense.
“The question of ‘how much’ seems to miss the point, when suffering itself is what one is willing to pay. It’s either one loves, in which suffering and the giving up of the prospect of comfort is precisely what is chosen and embraced, or one doesn’t love. Suffering as a gift wouldn’t be what it is if one remains open to lessening of it in any way.”
“… I’m finding that of all the major Western philosophers, Kierkegaard was with it the most.”
Summing up religion
Here’s an understanding of a divine sorting out of things, but with the baggage of Zen:
“The main attribute of religion is its faith in an ultimate reckoning. A long run, not necessarily temporal, though scientific principles, such as systems’ tendency to equilibrium, serve as illustrations. The religious as ultimate reckoning involves a lifetime of discovering this nontemporal truth, of this.
“Such a reckoning could not preclude bad things happening to good people, or vice versa. At least, in the conventional way we take ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to mean. The medium term that is the world we live in has things happening in a way beyond our ability to categorize as ‘ideal’ or completely bad either.
“To believe that whatever happens, happens randomly, is no less a matter of faith, in the negative materialistic sense meant, than welcoming a wider perspective where a ‘reason’ exists for every element, every aspect in existence.
“This ultimate reckoning, where even the most petty conflicts are settled, requires no effort from any of the parties concerned. It is the forgiveness of sins as found in the Creed. I get, or rather I’m more accepting, of the New Testament with its impossible demands to love. As long as we’re on Earth, our original sin manifests, whatever lusts we cater to. Yet perfection remains something to strive for, and one has faith in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead.
“Proof of God’s existence or attempts rooted in scientific discovery miss the whole concept of faith. If it isn’t a part of your immediate experience, it’s not faith. Faith is all or nothing, regardless of what could be imparted through history or experiment.”
I almost had it then, but was still dismissive of a God who showed up in Earth history. And when I later did accept that Jesus did rise from the dead, and was God, I was still under the impression that this was a human ‘achievement unlocked,’ a Buddhistic attaining of the divine state of mind.
I don’t feel like adding anything more, but have to wrap up
So it’s been quite the process, to adjust to the knowledge of a personal God and His grace none of us deserve. More is demanded of me, and the stakes are higher, but offsetting all that is the utter meaningfulness Jesus brings.