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Getting Real : Faith No More

The Melancholy Burden Of Sanity

from steam - Friday, July 06, 2007
accessed 1107 times

This is a reflection that I penned when trying to sort out my general unease with strongly worded atheist works like the excerpt of Christopher Hitchin’s book “God Is not Great”, recently posted on this site. Even though I am an atheist and agree in theory with much of what Mr Hitchins has to say.

There is a scene at the end of Miguel De Cervantes’s “Man Of La Mancha”, when a broken old man named Alonso Quijana lies fading on his deathbed. No longer is he fueled by insane delusions. His past life as “Don Quixote” in which he fancied himself a great knight errant, and spent his days tilting his crooked lance at windmills, so sure he was slaying giants and saving the world, is a forgotten shadow.

Once there had been a quest, with, what he told himself were noble ideals, and lofty goals. The truth behind his madness included a boredom with the melancholy burden of sanity, some youthful zeal and beautiful ideals, and plenty of vainglorious desire for an immortality through his renown to render the motives murky. A man of science had, by approaching as “The Knight of The Mirrors”, forced this “Don Quixote” to look long and hard at the truth. In so doing he shattered the lies. But in losing them, the old man had lost all that had held him together. One cannot help but wonder when watching the scene, whether the world is really better off with this old man finally sane and cured.

A woman approaches. Al Donsa, a prostitute, who has come to see herself in a different light through the eyes of “Don Quixote”. She pleads for him to remember and finally sings to him: “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, won’t you please bring back the dream of Dulcinea? Won’t you bring me back the bright and shining glory, of Dulcinea?…..Dulcinea”. Roused at last. The “Impossible Dream” is recovered and the persona of “Don Quixote” floods full force back into the final dying moments of this old man. Delusion? -Unquestionably! Even intentionally so. But in that delusion capturing something powerful, human, and uplifting. That once smothered by a jaded reality becomes elusive.
I can relate to this longing for a lost innocence, which I despair of regaining. Having lost the ability to “lay down the melancholy burden of sanity” and simply believe the most convenient “truth” has left a sort of "rupture in my soul”. It is for this reason that I am at times conflicted when debating with someone who has no grasp on reality, and cannot follow a logical reasoning to it’s conclusion. If I “win” in the sense of the person “waking up” from the bubble fantasy they have created. I can be left to feel like the intelligent but coldhearted “Knight of the Mirrors”. At times it seems you can almost feel the transformation as someone gains a grasp on reality, there can sometimes be a loss of “humanity”. Many atheists place reason on the ultimate pedestal, so certain are they that the world would take a vast leap towards Shangri-La if all people would only be able to unleash themselves from the myths and falsehoods of the past. They see the vast capacity for evil that the lies contain, the havoc they have wreaked in countless lives, and the bondage. But they cannot see that something in the experience of religion in the lives of many, allows them to tap a depth of experience they cannot reach without their “God”. I am not saying in any way that no atheist is able to have just as deep and rich experiences, only that many people would not be able to do so as atheists. I at the present moment count myself as one of them (although I am an atheist). This may in fact be one more case of the deleterious effects of religion, in that my upbringing has “ruined me” for atheism. Perhaps certain experiences are now “hardwired” to the religious and cannot be uncoupled. I feel the stirrings in my soul when looking at fantastic scenes from the natural world, and then I want to burst out singing “How Great Thou Art” (and sometimes I have).
Certainly in reading some of Richard Dawkins books, I find an awe and appreciation for nature that makes me feel he can tap the emotional and transcendent reservoirs that I no longer have access to without any need for a mythical “God” in the picture. Personally I would like to see more talented individuals produce works of “worship” that are not strictly defined religious. Meditations that capture the vast “bright and shining glory” of the universe that we inhabit. Michelangelo’s creation of Adam is a fantastic work of art capturing the divine life force, I need a comparable “beginning of life” with the first spark entering an amoeba in a primordial sea. Or better yet, a whole Sistine Chapel’s worth of evolutionary milestones. Maybe there is hope for me yet to someday bring back the dream without bringing back the nightmare

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from rainy
Friday, August 03, 2007 - 17:29

Finally getting around to reading The God Delusion, and I'm finding Dawkin's attitude comforting. He does feel a near-religious awe for nature, just as I feel for humanity. It's nice to know that those feelings are an integral part of us as humans, and we don't have to throw our entire emotional chip away just because we're athiests.
(reply to this comment)
From thatata
Saturday, August 04, 2007, 09:35

Are we athiests?(reply to this comment
From smashingrrl
Saturday, August 04, 2007, 09:39

For the most part, yes.(reply to this comment
From thatata
Saturday, August 04, 2007, 09:54

true(reply to this comment
From thatata
Saturday, August 04, 2007, 10:15


But in a certain sense as long as we belive in the idea of any kind of supremacy we belong still in the world of Godliness.Like the belief in man,the belief in logic,the belief even perhaps in love(I might get shit for this one).All this putting some fixed idea above ,is a type of Godliness,in a way of thinking.Max Stirner would say"Are atheists are infact pious people.

It seems for me the only really safe way out of this Godliness,is to percive man as artistic.There may be high and low in it but no such thing as real supremacy.I know a man thinks,but instead of percieving him as a thinker I percieve him more as being an artist.

And then theres Zen.But thats difficult,Im more into interesting abstractions.Lunacy with method,you might say.I see man in varying degrees as being artistic.

Excuse the bad puncutation,or mabye better dont.shit!

(reply to this comment

from conan
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 14:35

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Ok, I’ve been thinking about I can possibly go about saying what I feel like without coming across as the sanctimonious prick I’m sure I will sound like, and then I figured ‘what the fuck do I care what anyone thinks about what I think?’ so here I go.

I’ve been more than slightly befuddled by the recent longing for the ‘good old days’ filled with the happy, ignorant bliss of delusion on this site by an apparently significant number of former members. Personally, when I lost my faith, I was angry with myself for not ‘giving in’ to my doubts about religion and TF earlier. I had constantly questioned for as long as I could remember, but always dismissed my ‘doubts’ as the devil’s influence or my not being ‘in the spirit’ enough, etc. I’m sure that I’m hardly alone in that regard, but for me I was so relieved to have come to the conclusion that the beliefs with which I had been raised to hold as the unalterable, unquestionable truth, was in fact a fictitious collection of blown up interpretations of an incendiary book with no historical validation and so many contradictions, versions, interpretations, omissions, controversies, cover-ups, legends, et al., that it was astounding to me that I had allowed myself to be suckered into going along with it as long as I had. And for the record, I lost my faith entirely at the age of 15 after debating myself about my beliefs for several years prior.

I’m sure that like myself, none of you believed in Santa Claus. In fact, we were all informed of his ‘existence’ in the offhanded debunking of an ‘evil myth’. I was thinking about this phenomenon several years ago after I had started to sort my life out after leaving, wondering what it would have been like to have had the innocent belief that a fat man in a red suit brought me presents at Christmas. It struck me though eventually, that I had been raised to believe in a much more dangerous fairy tale than the otherwise innocent tale of Father Christmas. So I tried to imagine how a kid would feel when he or she discovers his parents stuffing his stockings late at night on Christmas Eve as opposed to there being a ‘great clatter’ prior to a chimney invading vermin. I wondered, would the child be angry with his parents for being lied to, or angry at the audacity of the lie (depending on precociousness, age…) or just disappointed that they hadn’t figured it out on their own, sooner?

After deciding that there would be no definitive answer to that particular query, I came to the personal conclusion that most kids were/are probably briefly disappointed that mom and pops lied, then would get over it the entire issue and eventually dismiss it as ridiculous that it ever bothered them, before growing up to teach the same preposterous fantasy to their own innocent children. Now, before you go and argue that religion is much more significant than Santa Claus, it’s not the magnitude of the issue as much as the essential discovery that you believed in a farcical character who held some significance in your life and definitely in what you looked forward to, even if in the case of St. Nick it’s only once a year.

I know that for myself that was certainly the sort of temperament I found myself in. Disappointed in my parents, angry at them for indoctrinating me, angry at myself for not seeing through the bullshit, and relief that I had ‘seen the light’ in discovering that I no longer ‘had to’ believe in what is essentially a theory, and a faulty one at that. What bothers me with this article and many of the subsequent comments is the nostalgia and longing for an apparent blissfully ignorant existence. One where you didn’t question but just followed blindly what you were told wasn’t just the truth, but the only truth and the only truth worth knowing and the truth that was so true you had to do your damnedest to indoctrinate everyone around you, and compete to be a better adherer of said truth while still ratting out your peers who weren’t quite as true to this truth as you truly were.

Maybe I’m over thinking, over interpreting, and over analyzing these sweeping statements, but it does irk me that one would choose ignorance over the awareness of reality, despite the possibly perturbing revelations about both human nature and subsequent futility of existence without some ‘cause’ to follow blindly along behind. I mean, if you were to rationally approach religion without having had the privilege of being raised with a dogma, would you willingly choose to believe in a messiah, creator, god, and all the other baggage that comes with your ‘ignorance’, or would you choose to know that life is ‘tending toward disorder’ but you are free of a moral obligation to serve the purpose of a ‘higher power’?

Clearly I am in the latter category, but more importantly, I have no desire to return to the days of my ‘innocence’ and belief and only wish wistfully that I could have been allowed the privilege of choosing to not believe on my own terms from an earlier age. Perhaps my parents could handled religion the way many others do for Santa: “Honey, Santa doesn’t really exist, but he’s such a loveable character that there is no real harm in adhering to the fantasy of his existence. Plus, look at all the entertaining movies, poems, stories, and decorations that wouldn’t exist without his loveable, albeit fictional existence.”

(reply to this comment)
From steam
Thursday, July 19, 2007, 14:05

O.K I left this as the top comment on my article with no reply for long enough. I totally get much of what you said. However, I think you read far more into my article than was there. And you ignored (possibly because you did not see) much of what was there. First I made it clear I am an Atheist and I do not think that my article was really about "nostalgia and longing for an apparent blissfully ignorant existence" as you put it. It did carry a longing for a spirituality yes. It did bemoan the fact that due to my experiences growing up, certain transcendent states seem somehow inextricably linked to religious channels. I went so far as to postulate that I was "ruined" by religion in not being able to experience some "spiritual" things in the way someone who has not created those links (i.e. Richard Dawkins) can. We went through Pavlovian training and when the bell rings I unfortunately salivate. One thing I have come to accept is that when it comes to spirituality there are people who never seem to have the slightest longing to "touch" something beyond the everyday inputs of our five senses. Good for them. There are others (in my experience the majority) who are hardwired for "something more". I used to hear adults saying "only a fool can say in his heart there is no God". They meant it because they just couldn't imagine anyone with a different psychological makeup then themselves or other Family members. For me, although I can't see any reason to believe in a "God". I am fairly certain that far more exists, some sort of "energy waves" or other phenomenon that we do not currently have a handle on. I think the way to explore it is scientifically. And if one gets fulfillment exploring such things metaphysically, it would be hubris to think they can draw definite conclusions as to the nature of what they "access" based on their subjective experiences. One last point on what you said about people wishing they could "blindly follow". Well that isn't me, but I would say that for those who do believe blindly they do get some extra power out of their absolute belief. A new craze out right now is called "The Secret" and basically although I didn't look much into it, it is basically that people who believe strongly in good things coming there way get it, with a lot of window dressing thrown in. Well many people will follow that and get hit by a bus anyway, but many people who believe deeply enough in it will achieve things they would not have been able to without the boost of belief because it allows them to access reserves they didn't know they had. So belief for beliefs sake actually does have some positive benefits to people alongside the many detriments. Caveat emptor. Someone in comments below mentioned that we see to many side to everything and it just gets to be annoying at times. After typing this out I have to say I can relate to that!(reply to this comment
From conan
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 14:39

Excuse the grammatical and clerical errors above...I didn't proof read and it's not worth my trying to correct them. If you can't figure out what I meant to say, it's over your head anyways and so you shouldn't be worried about it!(reply to this comment
From useful_garbage
Monday, July 07, 2008, 05:00

thats nice and academic! For a self professed atheist, who relies soley on the weapons of logic and reason to express himself. (reply to this comment
from live_fast-die_young
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 02:57

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Although my heavy work schedule doesn't allow for much heavy foraging on this site, or even a regular scan of recent articles, it seems that every time I'm here, a new article has been put up touching on a subject very much along my current thought paths. This one for example. It's just plain silly that I'm dealing with dozens of people daily in many capacities, business or personal, and I have to struggle to make people much older or in higher positions than me understand what to me seems like such a palpably simple concept, then I come here and find perfect strangers voicing these same concepts or frames of mind so freely.

It's beyond generation gap. And I believe it's not solely due to our unique childhood experiences that we have this dual focus, this greater understanding of both possible worlds (the rational and the spiritual), which can in of itself be confusing. We question our own moral strength when we cannot firmly (or blindly) stand by one Truth. We see too many angles from which to approach a subject and know the folly of all. Looking at "us" as ex-members: all of us at one time believed (or were taught to believe) that we would witness the end of the world; that we would be part of something horrendous, or beautiful, but at least it would be SOMETHING. Looking at "us" as part of a larger social phenomenon, I found a huge similarity among certain culturally misplaced, called Third Culture Kids, or TCKs, and those born between two stronger generations. (Another factor fact I long overlooked is that the generation just before mine grew up with the threat of the Bomb which might end the world at any moment, and many did not believe they would live to see the 21st Century.) The similarity of viewpoint may have to do with the loss of a strong parent culture or nationalism, that sense of "outsideness", a stepping out of the frame which allows a person to see the greater picture. And then a vague sense of having missed out on something great. As if our awareness was poisoned, like a certain famous apple, and we can never go back to that peaceful ignorance.

One of my favorite quotes is the one by Newton: "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." I warn you that I am going to take this out of context now. If, thanks to these giant experiences, we can see further, surely now we ourselves are the giants. Me, I am feeling very tall these days. :-D
(reply to this comment)
From vix
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 06:43


It's nice to see you back. You've hit straight to the core of my greatest difficulty, the effects of which reach into all areas of my life - 'We question our own moral strength when we cannot firmly (or blindly) stand by one Truth. We see too many angles from which to approach a subject and know the folly of all.' It can sometimes drive me almost to distraction. Much of the time I am all but fully accepting of this tension and turmoil, because certainly I know that I would rather have the capability of intellectual honesty than almost anything else. I count myself lucky for having been afforded the rights to concepts that might elude others. I do. But I admit that there are times when I crave so strongly the bliss of ignorance, that blessed balm of delusion. I know also that I could never deny what I have come to see as reality without wholly surrendering myself to madness. That, of course, is not an option. I am learning, time upon time, to revel in the freedom that is my blessing and my curse.

(reply to this comment

From vix
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 07:35


For clarity's sake I might just add that rather than moral strength, perhaps it is more accurately my integrity or strength of character that I question.

(reply to this comment

From live_fast-die_young
Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 06:46

Tx vix. That's what I meant.
I dunno conan. Some people will always look back in nostalgia to the days when they believed Peter Pan, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy were real people. They will admit they are better off knowing the truth, still: the dream was so damn good. I personally think that's called growing up, apparently not everyone agrees, otherwise by now the old churches and temples would have been turned into massive nightclubs and discos. Oh wait, they already have.

(reply to this comment
From vix
Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 09:47


For me it's no longer about wanting the illusion of a creator and a divine plan. That, predictably, faded when I gained control of my self and my life and was able to dispense with the crippling anxiety that regularly tormentented me. It's no longer about having someone there to relieve me of my crushing responsibility as an adult and a mother, which was the underlying issue before. I've found the resources within myself, I have made peace with my self and with my life.

My craving is for some certainty once in a while, a bit of 'solid ground'. Just some welcome relief from the constant awareness that no, there are no absolutes. This is not a constant craving. Most of the time i am far happier with this state of uncertainty and higher thought, and comfortable with the freedom of it. But there is a certain aspect of me that is greatly inclined to seeking a certain fundamentalism within myself (wonder where that came from...) and I think that my problem now is that it's unlikely that I will ever be able to expunge that underlying desire for black and white, absolute truth. I feel as if I should be able to carry myself and my views through to an end, that when I commit myself to something, whether it be political ideology, stance on environmental issues, what to 'do with my life', and myriad other day-to-day things, that I should then find a way to hold to those principles without reservation, and most importantly, to act on them and live by them, daily, rigidly. That of course is not possible, because I am perfectly aware that for me there are no absolutes, it's all in how I choose to frame it on the day.

(reply to this comment

from madly
Monday, July 09, 2007 - 01:03

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Damn… I didn’t want to write this, because I know I can’t say this in a few words and I don’t even know what I want to say. I guess I will find out along with you. ;)

I can relate to what you said. I don’t ever find myself wanting to break out into “How Great Thou Art”, but I can identify with the feeling behind your words. I have always been a very conflicted person. I have always sensed, within myself, a very strong presence of opposite sides fighting to dominate. A part of me has always been very logical and the other part a complete idealistic dreamer. Part of me wants to save the world, while the other part wants to tell the world it is going to hell. My biggest feat in life is trying to live in peace within myself.

Somehow being raised to believe in something bigger than this life, something that seemed to give meaning to a world where meaning is difficult to come by gave me a sense of being and allowed me to escape my fears. Faith allowed me a refuge from my thoughts and inner workings. Even though a part of me always knew it was a fantasy, and that one day I would have to stare reality in the face, I held on for dear life until I couldn’t find it anymore. I searched for it, but it had vanished and left me with nothing but myself and a brain running wild. I found out that I was scared of myself, because I didn’t know who I was.

It is easy to believe when you have nothing in this life but the belief to hold onto. My life was a nightmare and I held on tightly to the fact that there was more than this and that there was indeed a reason for my suffering. I dreamed that one day, if not in this life, I would be happy and live for myself. I had lived for everyone else, but never me. If I had forced myself to see the truth, I would have to face the reality that my life, so far, had been a waste with no future rewards promised and nothing but an unknown future. I couldn’t bear the thought.

When you have someone looking out for you, the world seems a little safer, a little brighter and a lot less scary. I see now that I never really believed, I only wanted to and desperately thought that I needed to. I would pray and I would cry for my faith to be real and for something or someone to prove it to me, so that I could go on believing. I would look for signs and hope to hear God’s voice, but he never did answer which forced me to start listening to my own. A part of me laughed when I prayed and another part of me died when I stopped.

I have accepted my reality now and I have slowly learned to understand that coming to terms with the realization that I don’t believe in something allows me the opportunity to find what it is that I do believe. It made me face myself and learn who I was or at least start to. I tend to think that there are mysteries to be solved in this life and the biggest mystery that we can uncover is ourselves. When you stop looking for someone else to save you, it forces you to save yourself and in order to do this, you have to find yourself and discover the ends and outs of who you are.

Living for someone else and being told that this life is not about you, is like being born in another persons body, walking, talking and breathing for them. This life is about me… it is all about me and I will be the center of my life. My life was not given to me to give to you, but given to me to live and to die and to find out who I am in-between. I think life is, and should be, selfish in every sense of the word. Don’t get me wrong, I love to help people, but it is because I love to help people and not because I was told to help people. There is a huge difference between living your life according to the beliefs you were raised on and living your life according to the truth you find for yourself, within yourself.

I looked in the mirror and saw the reality of who I am and I am stuck here now. The saddest part being that reality isn’t always pretty and waking from a beautiful dream into a dark reality can leave you scared and cold, but I want it this way. I will find meaning to my life and I am not afraid anymore. I have a whole life to find out who I am and what my life should be used for. I am learning to believe in my self and I am beginning to understand that in so doing is the only way to live a life that I can believe in.

Do I wish to be the man with the mirrors for others? Hell no. If they are happy believing in such a thing, if they can be fulfilled and remain content, then who am I to burst their bubble and take away their truth. It isn’t for me to tell others what they should believe or not believe. I can only find my truth and hope that others will find theirs. Who is to say there is only one truth in this world? In the same way that I will not allow and cannot stand someone preaching religion to me, I would never preach my views against religion to someone else. I will live my life and leave everyone else to live theirs. Believe in what you will and if it makes you happy, then I am happy for you.
(reply to this comment)
From mad dreamer
Monday, July 09, 2007, 23:40

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
I really like what you said: "Living for someone else and being told that this life is not about you, is like being born in another persons body, walking, talking and breathing for them." I think that might be part of my problem. I often feel like I'm in someone else's body and don't even really know who or what I am, and that may be because I haven't fully discovered myself yet. I spent so much of my life living for other people...doing what others told me to do, doing things I didn't want to do but did anyway because I felt I had no choice. I think all of that killed or suppressed the real me and I never really had the chance to be myself or live out my own dreams.

I developed an almost fatalistic perspective on life, and learned to accept the things I wasn't happy with simply because I never realized that I actually had a choice in the matter and could do something about it. For as long as I can remember, I've always just let myself roll with the punches, not realizing that I could punch back, too. (reply to this comment
from madly
Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 19:41

Happy Anniversary, steam. Wow… 4 years, today, on MO. :) Let me know if I should feel happy for you or feel sorry for you. :P
(reply to this comment)
From steam
Sunday, July 08, 2007, 20:42

Actually I have been around since 2002 but changed my sign in name awhile back because I forgot my password and lost my e-mail address.(reply to this comment
from Kelly
Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 11:44


"Maybe there is hope for me yet to someday bring back the dream without bringing back the nightmare" ...maybe... yes.

Steem, for months now, i have been thinking of this picture but i didn't know the name:

(reply to this comment)

From conan
Saturday, July 07, 2007, 21:06

That is part of the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel, duh!(reply to this comment
from vix
Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 06:19


I like this very much.

(reply to this comment)

from rainy
Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 06:01

Was just on my way to bed and cannot say more right now other than: Thank you, Steam. How great thou art.
(reply to this comment)
From steam
Saturday, July 07, 2007, 06:25

Maybe you can write me a note and I can mark it up with a red pen, you know hearts around the name etc. You can keep it in your treasured possessions for all time.(reply to this comment
From rainy
Saturday, July 07, 2007, 15:31

OMG, I did write Grandpa a letter for school time once. After I finished my teacher made me take out all the full words and replace them with abbreviations and alphabet soup, and replace their names with "Mo Maria and All" for security (I'd addressed it to all the names in the LWG books) Yep. I got it back with all the red pen all over it, Mum was nearly wetting herself with excitement, and told me to keep it forever.(reply to this comment
From steam
Sunday, July 08, 2007, 20:44

A lot of people had those including my ex-wife who honored it as though she held the ten commandments written by the very hand of God. (reply to this comment

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