Monday, December 04, 2006

Resignation, Faith, and Freedom

Today an event is unfolding over which neither Za nor I have much power. A decision will be made today, by someone far away from us, who has enormous power to affect the course of our future lives. We are pursuing most cherished human ideals: justice, truth and compassion. Whether or not our hopes will be realized--whether or not we will meet, in the world, our ideals is not for us to know. We have, at the end of the day, no power over a universe that is indifferent to our human ideals.

We are subjecting ourselves to fate and neither of us have the arrogance of our youth to believe that justice will be ours. I learned, all too well last year, how unfit our human made institutions are to restore justice, to promote healing, and to find truth. They are, after all, human made institutions. Those who stand in judgment of other men are humans too, befallen to the same prejudices to which we are all victim. In such moments, all we can do is tell our stories, as truthfully, earnestly, and compassionately as possible. Whether or not others are inclined to believe us is not in our power.

As someone no longer cocky enough to believe I have the power to bring about the world I seek to live in, I now have two choices. I can rebel against the cold and indifferent universe or I can resign myself to it and seek happiness and contentment elsewhere. I must, for the sake of my sanity, choose the latter course. I will be forever miserable if I continue to believe that I have the power to make things right, to see justice be done in the world, and that compassion be rewarded. And yet, courage is found in those who maintain their ideals in a hostile universe.

Serendipitously, I was reading Bertrand Russell's A Free Man's Worship today, in preparation for my final class (who is to be credited with most of the insights in this post). I couldn't have found a better, more soothing piece of writing befitting this day. In his essay, Russell writes:

“But there is in resignation a further good element: even real goods, when they are unattainable, ought not to be fretfully desired. To every many comes, sooner or later, the great renunciation. For the young, there is nothing unattainable; a good thing desired with the whole force of passionate will, and yet impossible, is to them not credible. Yet, by death, by illness, by poverty or by the voice of duty, we must learn, each one of us, that the world was not made for us, and that, however beautiful may be the things we crave, Fate may nevertheless forbid them. It is part of courage, when misfortune comes, to bear without repining the ruin of our hopes, to turn away our thoughts from vain regrets. This degree of submission to Power is not only just and right: it is the very gate of wisdom.”

So, if the decision handed down today only confirms the indifference of the universe to our human ideals, then the only freedom left to seek is found in resigning oneself to this fact. To resign is not, after all, to give up. It is to accept and to seek elsewhere--in Russell's view the imagination--for beauty and truth. To have faith, at this moment, in a process so wholly at odds with goodness is madness.

Za pointed out to me how absurd it is to pray in these circumstances. After all, those who disagree with us are praying that they will prevail. To seek out help from the divine--if there is such a divine entity--is wrongheaded. If God does exist, he does not intervene in the affairs of mortals. And, those who appeal to him and demand that he see them prevail are likely to meet with disappointment, regret and bitterness. Faith will do little for me today. So, give me wisdom . . .