The Blog of Jack Holloway

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scary Truth: The Important Difference Between Despair & Disorientation

From the film The Abyss (1989)
I'm a skeptic. For me, it's hard not to deconstruct, doubt, and criticize. So when it comes to my spiritual life, I have a pretty hard time with what Lesslie Newbigin calls "proper confidence."

I just wrote in a poem/song, "Everybody thinks their god is really cool / He kinda looks like them and tells'em what's true / So if someone asks if I'm confident in what I've got / Lean your face against your hand and tell'em I'm not." That's my way of saying we can never be certain of our construal of reality, and our individual versions of the truth tend to resemble our selves. Because of this, it seems imprudent to me be certain of what we believe is true.

Our finitude always limits what we can say with sure knowledge, and so I think it's important to be self-aware and self-critical, calling into question our presuppositions and assumptions.

However, when this attitude crosses over into the spiritual realm, I personally am left with an agnostic "faith." There is a constant warring within myself between belief and unbelief. To a certain extent, that's fine with me, but at times this battle makes genuinely calling myself a Christian problematic, as I don't always feel like one, nor do I always want to be one.

Seeking to be self-critical, I acknowledge how convenient Christianity is for me. I grew up with it. I've been passionate about it my whole life. Plus, I have a terrible fear of death that is alleviated by belief in an afterlife, particularly one in which everything wrong with the world is made right and we all live in a peaceful, love-centered community. Indeed, Christianity often seems too good to be true. But recently I've been learning the difference between despair and disorientation.

Let me explain what I mean.

As someone who is eager to progress toward the truth, I often find myself disoriented. If you're open-minded and you seek to learn a lot, from time to time you have your whole world shaken by something you read or think. This experience is daunting and, at first, maybe a little terrifying.

I call it 'disorientation'. You were settled on a particular idea (orientation) and that idea was compromised or even shattered (disorientation). I have come to love this experience, as it has always proved to be liberating and has always led me one step closer to the truth.

But there's also despair. Despair does not lead one closer to the truth. Despair halts progress. It is debilitating and life-sucking. Despair in truth-seeking happens when one cannot see any way but hopelessness and nihilism.

I know despair as well as I know disorientation. I experience it if I think about death and the possibility of nonexistence long enough--and that's why I'm beginning to think my convenient belief in Christianity is not really so bad.

Uncertainty, though unavoidable, often brings me before nihilism, as the inability to be assured of whatever version of the truth I happen to espouse makes me wonder if I can justifiably believe anything at all. It is a real struggle, but I'm beginning to see the weakness of sustaining the on-the-fence life I've been living.

I know I'm too afraid to let go of Christianity. I know at the end of the day that letting go of my faith altogether would cost too much for me. If I were to stop being a Christian--and I've tried several times--I would drift into despair, and my fear of death would take its tole on my mind.

Once, I was watching a movie and started to imagine myself on my death bed, about to say goodbye to the life I've always known. I had to stop the movie because I couldn't keep myself from crying.

Death anxiety is legitimately unhealthy. The stress it causes does damage to the brain and raises one's risk of cardiovascular disease. If Christianity isn't true and believing it is ends up meaning I lived in an ignorant bliss, so be it. I would rather die believing a lie than live in anxiety.

Learn the difference between despair and disorientation. The latter is often vital for one's truth walk; it enhances life. The former is debilitating and life-sucking.

Whatever conclusions you come to, choose life.

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