Essays About


Theologically, outer space presents a riddle. Why did God leave creation so uncreated? The vast empty regions separating the faint stars suggests not so much creation from nothing, but creation of nothing—the calling into being of nonbeing. God is said to have made the world through his word's omnipotence, but I have never heard explained why the great phrase of Genesis, "Let there be light!" should have come to so little fruition.

Many past philosophers taught that the cosmos is a thought in the mind of God. If so, how strangely blank is the all-encompassing brain! Is the divine mind still in infancy, formed but not yet filled? Conversely, has some tremendous disease eaten away the aging network of neurons until we alone are left, a last synapse firing off in the dying omniscience?

Europe's cathedrals sublimely evoke the absence of God. They are temples that have decayed into museums. Tourists, not worshippers, fill their naves, driven by curiosity, not faith. One does not pay alms anymore but admission fees. The altar is roped off, not because it is sacred, but fragile. The silence of emptiness has replaced the silence of holiness.

Wandering past vacant pews and pulpits among guidebook-toting spectators, I become briefly nostalgic for the cathedrals' sacred past, until, opening my guidebook, I study that past and find nothing sacred. The glittering walls and shrines are decorated with ill-gotten gold, stolen relics, and war booty. The soaring domes and spires were raised to heaven not from piety but ambition, to outdo nearby cathedrals and show that Florence was better than Pisa, as modern Malaysian and Shanghai architects compete to build the tallest skyscraper. The niches are filled with the tombs of the rich, not because rich men were holy then but because they wanted to buy the best salvation for themselves, as today's rich use their millions to nuzzle up to power and buy the best laws and policies for themselves. In the cathedrals' history as opposed to their aura, I recognize the same political machinations, class inequality, greed, and immorality that rule the world today—the trademark signs of man curiously grafted onto religion. Life has left Europe's cathedrals, but God was never there.

A secular and a religious society are equally profane, for a secular society banishes the sacred, while a religious society defiles it with the human.

My religion cannot decide whether paradise is a party or a nap. In the New Testament, Jesus compares heaven to a marriage feast, while St. Paul refers to the dead having fallen asleep. The Requiem Mass begins with the paradoxical lines:

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Are we to rest forever, or be shined on forever? Surely we are not to sleep with the lights on—God's glory as the lamp with no off-switch? Perhaps these conflicting metaphors are proper, for on earth we crave both waking and sleeping in turn, adventure and unconsciousness; why not in heaven? An infinity of repose would bore us for half of infinity. Likewise, an everlasting banquet would weary us with very bliss and make us wish our souls were in the coffin with our bodies. Eternal life needs respites of death to be a heaven.

Though I hope all humanity will get to paradise, I wonder what single place could be paradise for us all. The peace, light, and love that would please some would make others miserable. Could a fallen Special Forces Marine be happy to wake in a heaven of harps? If he could, then death is life's lobotomy, and what survives after death is not the Marine. He would be happier in hell where he could wage eternal combat against the devil his master. For all to be blessed, some must be damned.

If, as missionaries believe, people must hear the true religion or be damned, it is poorly planned that God sets tribes in the middle of jungles where they will certainly never hear it, and then, as if scrambling to correct this oversight, commissions the chosen to search through the vines and provide them the code to heaven God forgot to. Missionaries are like God's software patch to fix a faulty program.

The first time I visited Yosemite Valley, I did not expect to be very impressed, not because I thought the scenery would be shabby, but because I thought the crowds would spoil it. Plus, Yosemite has been so praised by so many people that it seemed to me too clichéd to be impressed by it, and with a certain pride I hoped I would not be.