Before you have the chance to say “I don’t care much for religion” or “I don’t care much for science”, let us broaden the discussion. I propose that religion has its roots not in preachers, books or institutions, but in our hearts, yours and mine: part yearning, part awed recognition of something that plucks at the heartstrings. And let us think of engineering, say, not as the sum of what thinkers and craftsmen have produced, but some practical know-how that you and I have gathered, of how things can be made to work in this world.
Let us then, you and I, touch the limits of our own worlds, live in our own spaces, and not be intimidated by the hugeness of what we have not lived, the vastness of “out there”. What we have lived plus what lies beneath our immediate gaze is big enough, contains more than enough for a lifetime. Let us not feel ashamed of our ignorance. The gods are probably kinder than we are to our own selves.
So as usual in this place I shall talk about my own life. It’s all I know. I’ve been beating myself up—nothing new there—for having to redo things I did before, which fell apart. Why do I get things so wrong? Why do I have to try, try and try again? Why can’t I get it right first time?
I have a hardwood garden seat, originally installed on the patio of another house. Where I live now, the backyard’s so small that this great heavy thing gets in the way, wherever you put it, unless you can move it around easily. Wheels are the obvious answer but how to attach them? Bolts aren’t feasible: flanges too big for the chairlegs. I tried wire but after several complicated attempts they still came loose. My latest idea is to lash them with string strengthened with fencing staples. It doesn’t look strong, but time will tell. I’ve had better luck with other ideas. The outdoor sink (K’s brilliant suggestion, to keep my messy jobs out of the kitchen) is a boon, and remains solid, though the bricklaying isn’t pretty. My first go at building a bench, in the front yard, lasted two years. Rain got under the varnish and mortar broke loose under the columns of bricks. The design itself was good, so I’ve refurbished it with new timber, and remortared the bricks.
I curse my trials and errors, but how else can I move forward? I am a child of Nature, a product of Evolution which is Nature’s experimental testbed. The fit survive, the others have their fifteen minutes then disappear from sight. Ceaselessly, Nature produces new designs and lets them go. Such is life and death. Why do we beat ourselves up about it? What is it in us which seeks perfection in this world, when it develops, apparently, by throwing up random mutations, which may or may not survive?
Perfection belongs in a different realm, existing in the eye of the beholder, which throws up myriad ideas just like Nature’s process of evolution. I don’t know if you accept my first proposition above, that religion is about our longing for perfection. Or this, my second proposition: that there are more religions than people, for surely we all worship different gods, differently. But if I had to classify forms of religion, I’d distinguish seekers from finders. Seekers pursue various “shoulds”, beating themselves up as if pain leads to gain. Finders feel it’s enough to give thanks and pray for help as the need arises. To reach this conclusion, I haven’t done a theological survey, of course. I consider other people’s religion as their own sacred territory. I wouldn’t want to stray there. What I speak is merely what I find from asking my own self.
So I say this sphere we call “the world” is built from trial and error: as in Nature, so in Mankind. Only by getting it wrong can we have a hope of getting it right. In any case Mankind is part of Nature. But there is also the sphere of perfection, the Divine. It comes from the same place as unicorns: our fertile imagination. That doesn’t make it any less real, any less true, any less divine, so long as you understand that different spheres have different rules for truth. In the outside world, reliable truth is underpinned by evidence. In the sphere of perfection, “Every thing possible to be believed is an image of truth”; “Everything you can imagine is real”.
Combine the two spheres—they have never been separate, except in our minds—and you have everything.
Quotations above from (1) William Blake. (2) Pablo Picasso.
Serendipitously, soon after posting the above, I caught a snatch of something on the radio, about the World Cup, and specifically England’s chances against Germany tomorrow.
Thanks to the invention of WWW and search engines, I was able to track it down as a misquote of something from a play by Samuel Beckett, which should read:
“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Which summarises part of my “Everything” in 18 words.
Only part though. The other part is perfection, which exists in the eye of the beholder but is real and true all the same; even when the eye sees a perfect soul in everyone and everything.