It sometimes feels like the continual shedding of beliefs is a personal symptom of aging for me, like hair-loss or hair-gain, depending on the part of the body. I wanted to be a Catholic priest from as early as I can remember until driven otherwise by ambition or sex, or maybe both compounded in a desire to be President of the United States. I remained devout until, at 13, I asked a priest if masturbation is a sin. Yes it was, my son. For the Catholic Church, masturbation is a kind of mini-murder; each soiled Kleenex could have been a bouncing new born, a movie star – a louse even, but someone. As I said my four Hail Marys and one Our Father, I recalled that only weeks earlier in health class I had learned that unused sperm gets purged and replaced within 14 days or so. As I wouldn’t be getting married and therefore wouldn’t be having sex within the next two weeks, the little guys were goners anyway. God must have known this, and it didn’t take me long to guess why the Church didn’t. If the rules of the Church weren’t in accord with nature, they weren’t in accord with God. Later I found God to be at odds with nature, so I gave Him up too. Seven years after that, and two semesters away from an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, I’m not so keen on this nature idea either. If God doesn’t exist then, as Descartes was so fond of claiming to lose sleep over, objectivity couldn’t either, along with its off-spring: nature, morality, truth.
It took me several years to understand this. After giving up God, I embraced morality as the one thing worth living and fighting for. Conservative politics, progressive politics, socialism, capitalism, animal rights, women rights, political correctness, equality for all, freedom of speech, and several more of the usual suspects each took their turn captivating and consuming me. I was so astute, so moral, so correct. So correct, yet so modest. Couldn’t everyone see how correct and modest I was?
Predictably maybe, Nietzsche broke the spell. Grounding my identity in a singular idea, any single conviction put a whole lot of pressure on me to act… NOW! I couldn’t appreciate art without a moral message. I couldn’t sit in a park enjoying the sun, the shade, the pollen smells and baseball sounds without needing to feel like I was building my moral character somehow by doing it. Nietzsche too was a moralist, but of a different kind. He had only one rule which, so far, I can’t find the problem with: love your life. Love your life so much that you would live it all again, without a change, with every breath, every sip, every speck of dust in the same place as before. The world throbs with color and meaning and significance this way. Life is worth loving because what is there to do but love it? Everything is legitimate, singing. It’s all, even the violence, in its way, beautiful.
This attitude feels awfully stupid sometimes. When it does, there’s always Chaplin, or Groucho, or Homer Simpson.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.