For someone who no longer believes in god, I’ve been spending time in many places of worship. You have to know that for the great portion of my life, I wanted so desperately to believe that a god was real, omnipotent, that I would be among the flock that will inevitable be warmed by his presence in the afterlife. I wanted to be believe in an afterlife, because the idea that our bodies would be cindered and ashed, or withered to bone felt unbearable, lonely. That first punch of air, that great push out in eighty, ninety years time (if we’re one of the lucky ones) becomes a crawl, an acquiesce, a slumbering home to the darkness from which we’d come. And to think that the bookend of this one life is only black felt wrong.
For seventeen years I sold myself on a god even when logic (and my heart) was telling me otherwise. When I think about it now, it makes sense why I cleaved so much to a figure that was a blanket, an embrace, a warmth I desperately needed after losing my mother. Having just graduated college, I was on the precipice of a new life but when I turned around there was no one really behind me. There was only me. So maybe I needed that blanket, that cold comfort that carries you through the night because I wanted to feel loved, protected, and cared for in the larger sense of the word care.
I often think of the body of a house and our world as the country to which it belongs. I spent the greater part of my life rebuilding my house, which had fallen to blight, disrepair, ruined by drink, grief, and fear of being truly vulnerable. I did this privately, slowly, laying down brick by brick, and over time, as I outfitted my house with furniture and shutters, I saw houses sprout up around me. I saw hands waving out of open windows. I felt the tickle and warm embrace of the gardens. Blooms that broke ground and started to grow. I no longer cared about having volume, rather I thought about personal velocity. A party was no longer a failure if sixty people didn’t show up. A short story wasn’t a mess because the “right” people didn’t talk about it. And being with people just to have someone to sleep next to in your bed, no longer sated me. I said to myself that I would rather be alone for the right reasons then with someone for the wrong ones. I became confident, quiet, pensive, and present for myself and relationships with people. I traveled more, read more, became more curious, and started to question everything I thought I knew.
And I started to see the world unravel around me, and the magnitude of hate and inequality, and for me, all signs pointed back to religion–how man had managed to pervert and interpret the teachings of god as justification for segregation (gays are suddenly an other, rather as human beings who deserved to be treated with dignity). How women were second rate because of the fact that they were born women and the word said it so. How simple, fallible creatures think they know the whole of the world, regardless of whether a god has a hand in controlling it. Suddenly, there are groups of people who feel chosen while others are considered other, and death, that once great equalizer, suddenly becomes this frightening place where people are banished to burn and suffer because they chose not to believe.
All of this is a very abbreviated summary of what I’ve been thinking about privately over the past two years. While I believe in a spiritual life, while I can marvel at wonder and man’s propensity to create great art, I no longer believe in a single man (or being) who will usher me into the afterlife.
So you’d think that I wouldn’t spend the great deal of my holiday in churches and mosques, however, as an artist, I was rendered speechless over their magnitude of devotion, and how it can drive greatness in man. Yesterday, someone told me that in Islam man cannot create perfection because the only perfection is god. There is always a flaw in a painting, or a millimeter misstep in a mosaic, and I didn’t interpret this line as something limiting, rather I thought it a celebration of being flawed. We live in a society that has morphed into something strange in its obsession for curation, order and perfection. Everyone is desperate to architect the idea of a perfect life–that image of sunglasses perched on a gleaming silver laptop. The body, and all exteriors, preened to perfection. The bruise of a lip on a coffee cup. How we relentlessly edit, delete, refine, re-edit, publish, course-correct–and I want so much for imperfection, for fuck-ups, for people wearing their flaws on their skin as a badge of honor. I don’t want all this whitewashing because suddenly you become the pure definition of the color white, which is the absolute absence of all color. I rather you be like Anthony Bourdain, flawed, raw, strange, bringing all of his passions into one place and redefining his art by not succumbing to being what a food writer should be.
Today I stood in The Cordoba Cathedral centered in a mosque (Madinat al-Zahra), the creation of which found its origins in a King’s ego, how the reconquesting of the city should reflect the Cross. But in this flaw (and all the ones that have come before), as you see in the pictures, comes great artistic juxtaposition and awe-inspiring beauty.
I don’t believe in perfect. I believe in the remarkable nature of our flaws and people who love and respect beyond borders and books. Visiting places of worship didn’t feel odd as someone who doesn’t believe, rather it gave me faith in man and his ability to perpetually ferret out the light even in the midst of darkness.
I haven’t fully reconciled my feelings toward faith, but I’m open and eager to learn and love.