I don't have any gospel of my own. Postwar, and the early pages of Bloodlands, have revealed a truth to me: I am an atheist. (I have recently realized this.) I don't believe the arc of the universe bends towards justice. I don't even believe in an arc. I believe in chaos. I believe powerful people who think they can make Utopia out of chaos should be watched closely. I don't know that it all ends badly. But I think it probably does.Mr. Coates is neither friend nor acquaintance. For me, he is simply a columnist, although a very good one. Therefore I have no insight into his life before he concluded that the divine was unreal. Part of me hopes that he didn't feel the need to force himself to relinqush a long-cherished faith. Although I have never possessed on of my own, I understand that it can be a traumatic loss, and the world has enough sorrow as it is.
I'm also not a cynic. I think that those of use who reject divinity, who understand that there is no order, there is no arc, that we are night travelers on a great tundra, that stars can't guide us, will understand that the only work that will matter, will be the work done by us. Or perhaps not. Maybe the very myths I decry are necessary for that work. I don't know. But history is a brawny refutation for that religion brings morality. And I now feel myself more historian than journalist.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "The Myth Of Western Civilization"
I am uncertain that, in the grand scheme of things, that any of the work that we do will matter, in any real sense. Its consequences may ripple through the generations that follow us, but what was done may almost always be undone. Still, I do it anyway. I brace myself against the universe and push in the direction that I think it should bend, because I think I know what Justice looks like, even if I doubt that I have any real hope of pushing the whole of existence towards it. Lacking a divine purpose, I create what I think should be from the scattered peices of both what is and what has been imagined; and while I am never quite satisfied with the puzzle that I have assembled, I will defend its versimilitude with the world that I see around me. I do the work, uncertain as I am of both the goal that I work towards and the possibility that I can even reach it, because it strikes me as required. The fact that there isn't an objective rightness that can be created doesn't release me from an interior need to create a world that I think is better than the one I currently perceive.
Before reading Mr. Coates today, I had jokingly decided to resolve to be anxious and easily distracted - to go for the "easy A," as it were. But now, I think that I will resolve to keep my mind on the work that I have set for myself, no matter how impossible it is. And to remember that the world as I understand it to be is not the world as it truly is; I must always be open to new ways of seeing and thinking and experiencing. While I will set my sense of empathy against any revealed standards of justice and good, it is important that I never shirk from doing so - I am not perfect in this regard, and many heads are better than one.
So I note with amusement that from having read an online column I have rededicated myself to a task that I'm fairly certain is manifestly impossible as my resolution for the new year. It's not the dumbest thing I've ever done. And I'm pretty sure that it's not the best. But I see no reason to let that stop me.