Years ago, when the Handsome Sidekick and I were still child- and fancy-free, we lived in an inner city rental, where the roof leaked and the garden was in shade for about 7 months of the year. It was a trendy suburb with fairly mimimal rent (which may have had something to do with the leaking roof and the redundant clothesline) and after being there a few weeks, we adopted two cats: Sasha, and Indiana. The townhouse was on quite a busy road, so we were careful about letting the cats out—we waited until they were a few months old, and even then, brought them in before bed and didn’t let them out until morning.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
One evening, as we walked back down our street from the shops, I saw a cat lying on the footpath, not moving. ‘Oh, someone’s cat—how sad!’ I said… and then realised that it was our cat. It was Indy.
We were inconsolable. Our poor little guy, laid out on the footpath. We took him home and managed to dig a little grave, and buried him.
That night, I sat up in bed, thinking about heaven. When my grandmother had died, years before, it was explained that she had gone to heaven. I found it so alien, back then, and I realised that it still was. This, I thought, was one more reason I just couldn’t connect with the religion in which I’d been brought up.
Heaven was too abstract a concept. It’s not that the whole ‘eternal life, eternal happiness’ thing was hard to grasp, although it did seem improbable. I just felt like heaven wasn’t a good enough trade off. If there was even a possibility that Indy had gone to a heaven where I might see him again, what good was that now? I wanted him back NOW. I wanted him to grow old, to sit on my lap and dig his claws into my knee; I wanted him to be alive. The shallow promise that I would meet him one day and be together forever wasn’t enough. Heaven seemed like I was being thrown a bone, when I wanted the full meal.
Since then, we’ve had other cats (two more of whom have died) and we’ve had to put our dog down, and we’ve raised the stakes by also having children about whom to worry. And I still don’t believe in heaven, for the same reasons. The way I get around feeling so desolate when one of them dies, or when I think of that happening, is that the moment is what matters. I’ve written on this before, but then I recently read a quote about life only being meaningful, if there is a deity, and of course, you know I have issues with that. Without a god, life is meaningless? How can that be? I thought. Why does it matter, whether there is a god? Does it really make a difference, as to whether one’s life has meaning? Surely that’s a lot to expect from your god? I would think that it’s up to individuals to find meaning in what they do, whom they love. God shouldn’t be the yardstick by which one measures life’s meaning, LIFE should be.
I understand that the concept of sin and god and karma and a great many other religious tenets are based in much older societies, as a way to explain the status quo, or to give comfort to those whose earthly lot was hard to bear. I get that. So if you live your life on a rubbish dump, or if you live with terrible pain and there are no medicines to relieve it, it might help to think that one day, you will be able to enter an everlasting paradise, and that you’ll be free of this rotten existence.
But for so many of us, life is not that bad. I know, there are times when it can be really bad, but for most of us, it’s not live-on-a-rubbish-dump bad. Surely this world is its own reward? Surely there is no need for anything but this? How is it that we require a supernatural’s existence or blessing to really value what we have, here?
I do understand that the idea of a supernatural being is something which gives people more meaning to this world. But I don’t buy that it necessarily lacks any meaning, should there be no god. This world is so utterly awesome and beautiful and intriguing and fascinating. We have learnt so much and there is still so much left to learn. Are we not just already so lucky to be a part of this world and the universe around it? Isn’t it beguiling and enthralling? Isn’t it beguiling and enthralling in and of itself, regardless of whether you believe in any kind of god?
Of course, I would love for my cat to still be here. I wish he had never been hit by a car, and that he were sitting next to me as I write this, but that is just what it is. He was here, now he’s not, but the world is still beautiful, and I am thankful that we got to spend time together.
Heaven is not enough for me; it’s not good enough. So the alternative is this: the world. The here and now. And it IS enough. It’s so fantastic, despite my cat being hit by a car. Despite death and injury and pain and the fact that people live on rubbish dumps. If I’m taking anything from that, it’s that I would like for there to be a world where there are fewer cats getting hit by cars, and less pain, and fewer people living in squalor. And just as the existence of heaven or god doesn’t make the world less awesome, it also doesn’t make those things less terrible, at least not for me. It is an odd kind of agony and ecstasy which could perhaps be seen as begging for an explanation, but a supernatural explanation doesn’t make it any easier. I would prefer, instead of struggling to see it as part of a plan, to just enjoy the beauty for what it is, and try to mitigate the ugliness… and perhaps even appreciate the ugliness, too. There is a peace in that simplicity. No deeper explanation is required, and certainly, the world is no less complex or meaningful without it.