I’ve been having a bit of a mental crisis these past weeks as I’ve finally admitted to myself that not only do I not formally practice any religion, but I don’t believe in a God. Many other people in this position have substituted belief in God for a belief in themselves, pursuing a life not committed to divine ideals but to desires of their own creation — money, cash, hoes, etc. Others choose a more selfless cause such as assisting the poor, fighting for the rights of the dispossessed, or being nice to animals.
My problem is that I don’t really fall into any of these categories. While I don’t really have any reason why humankind and the world couldn’t all be the product of a divine creator, I’m just not ready to take the leap of blind faith quite yet. If I find myself in hell one day, I’ll know then that I waited too long. If I do go to hell, somehow I just have this feeling that I’ll be in a sweater.
Just as I do not have faith in any God, neither do I have faith in my own importance. I just don’t have that sort of amour propre necessary to devote my life to my own success. I don’t need to work 80 hours a week to prove to a) myself, b) the kids that made fun of me in junior high, and c) my ex-girlfriends, that I can. In reality, I’m pretty sure that thinking such notions of success were so important is why they made fun of me and broke up with me, respectively, and in some cases, simultaneously. In casting aside these self-important goals, I think I’ve kind of gotten over the desire to prove my worth to myself and the world and, inasmuch, can now wholeheartedly devote my energies to the poor, the dispossessed and the animals. Not to be confused with poor, dispossessed animals, who may deserve my attention most of all.
Here’s where it all falls apart. I look around and I see people who have strong convictions about what they’re doing — be it religious observance, personal achievement, or pitching in with worthy social causes. They really seem to believe in what they’re doing. They all have faith: in God, themselves, or the moral fortitude of their social contribution to society at large.
And me? I’ve got nothing.
I have somehow jumped out of the group of people who strive for abstract “achievement”, but I still haven’t yet landed in a situation where I know what I believe in or how I’m going to work toward it. I’ve tried devoting myself to various causes and groups, but there is an important distinction between belonging to a group because you believe in its mission and believing in a group’s mission because you want to belong. I seem to have fallen into the latter set — the wrong side of the proverbial “fine line” — aimlessly searching for my niche.
As I begin my time at Yale, I’ve decided that I’m ready to find myself as I haven’t been previously able to because I’ve been too busy proving myself. I’m ready to have a set of guiding principles in my life that dictate my personal and professional choices, a faith in something that transcends the selfish concerns of humanhood (consider it coined).
It seems to me that a life without faith — not necessarily religious — is a dangerous one to lead. All you’re left with is that we’re here and deal with it, try to enjoy yourself and not get too hurt on the way. In human history, there have been literally tens of millions of people, and the vast majority of them have believed in a divine creator. Their beliefs explained what they could not. Like them, I’ll never be able to understand or even begin to explain the whole of my existence by reason alone, so I am left with the vacuum of belief I inadvertently created for myself.
It’s time to stop treading epistemological water, worrying which is the correct way to swim. If I don’t swim somewhere — anywhere — I may sink. So off I naively go with random direction, the happier for it.
Nick Caton is a first-year student at Yale Law School.