Do you believe in love? Do you believe in romance? And now, out of left field, do you – like so many of my friends – believe in Soul Mates? Do you feel, deep in your heart, that there is someone out there for you that is your best match? So many of my friends believe this that I think it’s nearly a part of our common assumptions of life. Some of us get this worked out of our brains by our life, by abuse, by whatever comes along; but most of us seem to start, at least, someplace in early puberty, with the idea that “somewhere out there” there is someone “thinking of me and loving me tonight”. This is actually a thing in Judaism: they will speak of “Bashert” or Destiny. “You are my destiny” is Paul Anka riffing on this bit of Yiddishkeit.
I think we all have this inside of us: I certainly had the idea that there was someone I should be loving. Movies, music, books (even those that are not “romance” related) are filled with this idea. Lord of the Rings which is not at all a romance (in book form – the movies be damned) is replete with the idea of fated romance and even fated friendships and political alliances. Not only lovers but nations have bashert.
Is this romance? Is this a silly dream? Or is this something else?
Do you believe in astrology? I’m surprised at how many folks find a bit of validation in the claim that “many customer service agents are Virgos”. What about Meyers-Briggs typology? Does the Enneagram speak to you better? Are you more inclined to binary terms? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How many times does the sentence “there are two types of people in the world…” resonate with you? Have you tried to find out which Muppet movie you are?
While some of these are humorous and others are more involved, what they and the idea of “bashert” all betray is a quest for order. Humanity has tried to find order in the universe for pretty much all of our history. That’s what the constellations are: a projection of order. Astrology is only more of the same – the idea that these patterns must mean something and we should be able to discern the meanings. The quests of science to locate and understand the “laws” of things is exactly the same drive. Order does not have to indicate design. Saying we think there has to be a logical outlay here does not mean we’re looking for “intelligent design” or a designer. It does indicate a sense that the dance is not pure chaos: something is going on here that we can suss out if only we work hard enough at it.
So there are three options here:
- There is no order at all – you’re making all this up in your mind.
- There is order, and when you find more about it, you’ll discover it has no meaning or drive at all. It is self-organizing at best.
- There is order, it has meaning and a driver, a volitional cause behind it.
Honestly, I tried 1 and 2 for most of my life. Both of them made room for parts of life that I enjoyed: namely sex, drugs, rock and roll, and suchlike.
After so long as vaguely religious I joined a spiritual community that insisted there were no rules. A member once asked, “That’s ok for people who believe in Jesus, but what about the rest of us?” We were led by one man who passionately did not believe in any deity and one who, just as passionately, seemed to me to believe in every deity. It was here I learned the meaning of “‘the Godly man annoys us, for his ways are strange to us”. No rules are good: because you can do whatever. It’s the ecclesial version of Burning Man. The art was better and there were fewer drugs, but the idea was the same. And I tried for a long while. The idea, taught here, that all of religion was a looking-back at things and adding meaning was attractive. I could look back and find meaning as well. No, no, no: we don’t find meaning we add it. Get it right. Religion is like an undergraduate seminar in post-modern textual criticism. We add whatever we want. We don’t need to worry about the author’s intentions (which we may not be able to recover anyway).
This was also common in the Newage movements: the whole universe exists to satisfy your manifestations of desire. There is order when you add it! This sounds like some scientists now who can’t tell if what they see is really there or if in the act of seeing it they are creating the order. As attractive as this was, from Richard Bach to the Celestine Prophecies it still seemed like sophomoric solipsism disguised as wisdom. It made perfect sense at a certain stage of puberty, but it was totally silly once you wanted to fall in love. When I danced around a Maypole, there was emergent order: the ribbons wove together into a pattern that was unbelievably beautiful. But that didn’t just happen: it was a logical result of our dancing, which was a logical result of our music, which was a logical result of thousands of years of tradition which intended to weave ribbons in exactly this way.
Or it was meaningless shenanigans.
The implication of both option 1 and option 2 is that it just doesn’t matter. There is no reason to value your life or mine, there is no reason to value anyone’s life at all. It doesn’t matter if Trump or Obama is president, if Bill Clinton or Trump have spent their lives molesting women or just lying to voters. It doesn’t matter if Fidel Castro imprisoned his political enemies or if Abraham Lincoln did. There is no reason to imagine its “good” to protect the ocean, or bad to vote fascist. There is no reason to imagine that any human action is better (or worse) than any other human action. If option 1 or 2 is the way the universe works, tell me why anything matters. I did not want to live in that world. The sense of “this is not fair” was too real. If I wanted to ask for “just wages” or “equality” or “better environmental choices” then I was appealing to something external, something that should – in theory – be the same for anyone who thought about it for a while. Else the only thing that the 20th Century dictators did wrong is run afoul of American Cultural Imperialism. Yes, the Golden Road is against the dictator, but unless the Golden Road is of intrinsic value, it’s only one other human idea. Why is my human reason any better or more valid than Stalin’s? Any logical appeal against the dictators of the 20th Century was an appeal to option three.
I mentioned in the last essay this is where I was in 2000. If you have that desire to find the order in all the background noise, the Christian tradition says you should follow that quest. Anyone who follows that quest with an open mind, with an open heart, and no preconceived notions will arrive at the Truth. It cannot be otherwise. The Church affirms that sense, yes, there is order, but you have to discern. So you have a decision at this point: do you go with your gut that there is order, or do you back out and say there is no order at all?
Trying and discarding one and two left me with only option three: there’s order and a volition behind that order. There might even be rules. There – alone and afraid of the implications – I stumbled, sat down, and wept thinking; for a good long while. This had become my Bashert.