As someone who grew up without it, I’m desperate to figure that out. After months and months of visiting places of worship, I’m beginning to see how everything keeps tying back to two topics so personal and basic: our life and our death. Together, they form the one-two punch of the human condition. Existence, granted and revoked.
At first, it seems strange that we need help accepting having been born, but closer inspection reveals how fundamental this need. Being alive is like winning the cosmic lottery. Think of all the human pairings that had to occur since the dawn of human pairings and then within those couplings all the millions of potential seedling combinations. If just one of those had gone a different way: no you. I think we are fearful, somewhere deep inside, of not being good enough, of being unworthy of this life we’ve been given.
Then the flip side: we start to sense an end point lurking. I remember being 13 when the idea of death wrapped its long ugly fingers around my neck and choked me. It was nighttime, and I was lying in bed when this thought entered my mind: someday I will be gone. I found this preposterous and, then, horrifying. I gathered fistfuls of bedding and kicked wildly at the air.
All of us, to some extent, tussle with these twin realizations again and again throughout our lifetimes, giving rise to bouts of guilt and fear. I think my most personal struggles—the not eating enough, the eating too much, the myriad other compulsive behaviors in which I’ve dabbled—are laced with a self-destructive anxiety rooted in one or both of these realizations.
In some fundamental way that I’m only beginning to sense, religion is meant to help us accept and move past these truths. Because if we don’t find a way to be okay with our human condition, to ditch the guilt and fear, we’ll have a hard time loving—either ourselves or whatever force brought us here and will eventually snatch us away. Isn’t that the essence of why we need religion? To foster that love so we can extend it to others?
- Corinna Nicolaou