The interesting thing about skeptics, atheists,
is that we’re always looking for proof, certainty.
The question is, what on earth would we do if we found it?
There are times when I experience a total loss of faith.
Days, months, when I don’t know what I believe in:
God, or the Devil, Santa Claus, or Tinker Bell.
But, I’m just a man. I’m a weak man. I have no power.
Yet, there’s something that keeps digging and scraping away, inside me.
Feels like God’s fingernail.
And finally I can take no more of the pain,
and I get shoved out from the darkness,
back into the light.
The quote above is from the 2011 movie The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins who delivered the haunting line. In the movie he portraits a priest who is especially skilled at everyday exorcism. Although I struggle with the almighty, the idea that something much like God’s fingernail is urging me on stayed with me. Maybe it’s the idea that there is something out there assigning me a purpose. Perhaps I’m only hoping for an explanation – why me?
That question, which has always bothered me, is not something I’m alone and wondering. I believe one of the deepest urges of mankind is finding out the “why” to question. Why we are here, why us, why now. In this short series, I’ll try to explain why we end up who we are in this seemingly effortless holistic manner.
(Disclaimer: this is of course nothing but my own personal view. I do not intend to offend anyone’s personal beliefs or opinions. This is an attempt to comb through my tangled thoughts.)
Our contemporary culture dictates a demand nearing obsession over characters made superhuman through social media, the revolutionary way to communicate. We’re nearing a hieroglyphic language, with emotions and thoughts expressed excessively through images, which might be products of either one’s own imagination or a mass-produced label. But they’re used according to the own, probably subconscious, culturally inherited markers of semiotics.
Why do we find it so easy to adapt to a language based on pictures than words? As a writer, this hurts me a little. But a picture does say more than a thousand words. These standards according to which the younger generations easily accommodate, as well as evolving it further, are by no means a new concept. It’s not even a surprising turn of events.
The idea of immortalizing oneself and one’s beliefs are as old as mankind. The expression of this apparently basic human desire has taken on many different aspects throughout history. It’s no wonder it’s now oozing through social media.
From fumbling cave paintings to antique statues and grand oriental monuments to self-portraits of the wealthy, to photographs, selfies and Snapchat, it seems embedded somewhere in our DNA to document ourselves and our lives.
As well as the clear decline of religion’s popularity in the West, and as the immediate and opposite reaction, the growth of independent movements fighting for an abundance of undeniably good causes is a sign of the establishment of this even newer world. The old, oppressive chains are breaking, and are replaced by nothing but bands of brothers and sisters.
However, despite the bleak outlook on global economics and the decrease of apparent faith, combined with the many dystopian tales that obviously fascinates billions of people, one shouldn’t be too quick to condemn this new world as hopeless, or even faithless.
Besides immortalizing oneself through imagery, man has always hosted an even more innate desire, and that is to take on empowering skills and traits. To be blunt, we’d like to be remembered better than we are. Whether it is strength, endurance, wisdom or any other enticing characteristic, man always tries to take on more abilities than that which was given to him at birth.
Religion offers, among other things, a shortcut to these abilities (i.e. “oh Lord, give me strength”). Now, with the decline of believers, one might think this would mean man has learned to trust his own skills and stopped aiming for goals grander than himself, but that is a clouded observation.
The desire to become more than life still remains, coded into our very genes. But it takes shape in a very different form, as things always does after evolving. The imagery which the contemporary and imagined agnostic dotes on as his dearest idols are not statues or divine semiotics, but other mortal people found scattered across the cyber world that is our social media.
Where man used to look up at the stars and say a prayer for his own fate, he now looks down on his screen and types in a few key words in hope of an answer, a motivation, a sign of hope.
So blind is man that he doesn’t understand the primal instincts behind his behaviour. The past is very much present. We find that the primal behaviour is indeed that – primal, and therefore with us until our race develops into something else entirely. The urge to search and take on desirable traits is as present in our everyday lives as taxes.
Some of the means are as ancient as our race, like the tradition of tattooing and jewelry. Although we no longer kill a wolf for the sole reason of wearing its fur in hope to gain its nature, we do construct our identities after our surroundings. And they, in turn, take the shape of their pilgrims: celebrities, fictional characters and bloggers.
That the self is socially constructed is no news, but each to his own decides what his social life is. And in this abundance of range, how will anyone find something truthful anymore?
The search for truth is running off in countless directions due to the selfless sharing of knowledge, both factual and personal, that is sweeping through the online nations. Every strand of hay contributes to the stack in which there might not be hidden one, but many, needles of truth.
I feel like I’ve been able to pick up one.
I wonder if it’s necessary to cast aside what we are born to be. The world has seen enough heroic, strong men save the day, and to be honest, I’ve had enough of them. Looking at the world today, they may have saved the day, but the years are slipping through the cracks. We’re winning battles and losing wars, and perhaps we could turn it around if we were to understand and accept what we are. That’s what I’m trying to do.
In this short series, I’ll dive into some old essays of mine, trying to mirror and make sense of the world I see and experience. Digging into old books and documents on religion and outdated science, I’ve found interesting viewpoints on matters that may seem dusty, but are current and worth a thought or two.
God’s Fingernail tries to answer why we feel the urge to search for meaning and belonging, and why the past doesn’t seem to let us go. I’ll touch subjects like souls, chaos and creation and faith, share my thoughts around the texts I’ve found, and tie it all together with a nice little bow.
Restless and hopeful many sleepless nights were spent by my kitchen table, headphones on. Absent-minded, trying to ignore the growing sensation that I’m spending extra time like this, and that I’m supposed to, and that the time is not extra at all. It just seems clear to me, writing this on a dry piece of paper with the pen’s raspy noises scarring the page.
There’s something urging me to continue.
The scratching fills the quiet kitchen.
It sounds like God’s fingernail.
What do you think?
Leave a comment below, follow and share on Twitter and Facebook.
And stay tuned for more scribbles from yours truly.
You can find part one of God’s Fingernail here.