Monday, July 23, 2007

Between desire and fulfillment

There was a time when our ancestors endowed every tree, brook, animal, mountain, Sun and Moon with a humanlike spirit. Slowly, with the advance of empirical knowing, the naiads, dryads, oreads, nereids, limoniads, potamids, fairies, gnomes, leprechauns, elf children, banshees, hobgoblins, incubi, succubi, and gods of heavenly bodies were banished to the realm of superstition. The crowded pantheons of Greeks and Romans were collapsed into one abstract person, the omniscient, all-powerful Father of the monotheistic faiths (albeit with with a retinue of angels and saints).

Religious naturalists and agnostics take things just one step further. We choose to live in this world of unfathomable mystery without the company of even a single humanlike deity.

But we are not without longing. We are not without love. We are humbled by the complexity and beauty of a universe that vastly transcends the human dimension. In Kiran Desai's novel, The Inheritance of Loss, the young girl Sai muses: "Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself."

Lucky is the theist who claims a "personal" relationship with the creator of the universe. Religious naturalists and agnostics content ourselves with the ache, the anticipation, the retreat.