Sunday, May 30, 2010
But assembling all the natural beauty inescapably made me think of God. Whatever God is.
My parents were generic Protestants, who went to whatever church was closest so they could pray without using so much gas. When I was twelve, I cut a deal with my father: I was allowed to skip Sunday school if I would mow the lawn. I leaped at it.
By the age of thirteen or so, I'd considered -- and renounced with all the vehement half-comprehension a thirteen-year-old can muster -- every argument I'd heard for the existence of God. Every one, that is, except for a minor-league subset of the Argument From Design, which is implied in the Book of Romans, and which says, in effect, that the complexity of the world is an undeniable argument for the existence of God.
Complexity doesn't particularly convince me -- in a universe where an infinite number of permutations can take place, I can't think of any good reason why things shouldn't be complex rather than simple. What I can't figure out, if there's no creative power of any kind at work, is why nature almost invariably defaults to beauty. There's a wonderful Elvis Costello song with the refrain, "What shall we do, what shall we do/ With all this useless beauty?"
Because beauty, as far as I can see, is scientifically useless. There's no apparent survival benefit in being beautiful. I can understand that it might be good to blend in, color-wise, or to be bright and conspicuous to advertise that you taste awful or are poisonous. But what use are the markings on that moth up there? And what about the color sense? I don't know about you, but I continually ask my wife, "Does this go with this?" Hard to imagine that question from the -- um -- process that decorated that moth.
Note the dead flower. Why is it still beautiful? Of what possible value could it be, evolutionarily speaking, that it remains ravishing, like an old ball gown that hasn't been brought into the light for decades? After all, its function (as a sex organ) is long gone.
I do not believe in any God that I've ever heard described, but Something has really, really good taste, although I think it's rubbish to personify it. In fact, if there were a God actually picking fabrics and peering at swatches, I'd accuse Him/Her of going over the top occasionally. I mean, irises, to pick just one example, are a bit much.
But the thing I really think needs to be reconsidered from a taste standpoint is the water cycle. We all know that water is indispensable to life, and that means it has to be gotten around from place to place. But is it necessary for every single stage of that transport system to be so unsurpassably beautiful? From streams and rivers and lakes to dew and clouds and rain and rainbows (really gilding the lily) to fogs, to the oceans, to the icy geometry of individual snowflakes?
always most beautiful when we can't see it.
So, as a critique, I think in this post-cool, minimalist age, the water cycle could be toned down a little.
Other arguments for God: music, Shakespeare, humor, the occasional pure human act. In one of my two or three favorite films in the world, Hirokazu Kore-ida's "Afterlife," once people die they're turned over to counselors whose job is to help the newly deceased choose the moment in their lives in which they would like to spend eternity. The poetry of the film -- and it's poetry through and through -- comes from the choices and the way they're arrived at. One teenage girl, killed in an automobile accident, first chooses the night she and her friends went to Tokyo Disneyland, but by the time she makes a final choice, it's a moment when she was four and she put her head in her mother's lap and smelled the freshly laundered apron. Another, a man, chooses the moment when he told the woman he was to marry, and who was the love of his life, that he was releasing her to marry the man she had fallen in love with. He was miserable, but he chose the moment when he made her happy.
As a writer, I have no idea what to do with God, especially since I don't know what God is. But I can try, from time to time, to see that kind of spark in the characters who populate my books, sometimes even the ones the reader isn't supposed to like. I suppose that's a religious act. Sort of. Not in the same league as the dew on the butterfly, but there you are. We do what we can.
Here, as a parting gesture, a uselessly beautiful moment in our world.
Tim -- Sunday
at 1:11 AM