A few thoughts from Will Conway of the Baggage Claim podcast: travel stories no one tells. Keep in touch with Will and Baggage Claim. If you're in the United States or Canada, text POD to (332) 877-9540 to be our friend. If not, click here.
Last week, I spoke with the incredible Bridget Phetasy (full interview here). At one point, she said the following:
“Being a human is a very confusing thing. There are examples of order all around us, and then there’s so much chaos within that. We think, “why do I feel so confused?” We look for order to make sense of it.”
In context, Bridget was talking about the lost souls she met in her time at an Osho ashram (which turned out to be a sex cult). But, on a deeper level, she was talking about herself. She suffered through addiction - alcoholism and other addictions far more sinister. She lost control of herself and she was looking for a way out through a sequence of misguided commitments: men, travel and spirituality. She tried to apply order to the chaos of her life.
Last night, I had a conversation with Ali A. Rizvi. That interview won’t be published for a little while so hang tight, but it has me excited. He’s brilliant and wonderful.
He spent his formative years in the Middle East. He grew up in a combination of Americanized bubbles in Libya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. At one moment early in our conversation, he described the difference between two of his cousins. One cousin seems to care about seeking the truth. He’s a scientist at heart: a curious mind who seeks answers through math and reason and logic. The other is a devout Muslim who seeks order through the narrative storytelling of organized religion.
Ali was quick to point out that both men are admirably intelligent, though their intelligence manifests differently. But he aligned himself firmly in the camp of his first cousin. Logic and reason is Ali’s calling card. Makes sense for a guy who wrote a book titled The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason.
In that moment in our conversation, I recalled something else Bridget said (here's an abbreviated clip):
“Even atheists become kind of religious about atheism.”
Both of Ali’s cousins are - in their own ways - seeking to apply order to this world. They’re answering questions differently, but they tacitly agree that the questions must be answered.
The great irony of this life we live is that the questions we ask are rarely ever answered. When they are answered through scientific inquiry, those answers are generally unsatisfying in quenching the thirst of the mystery. They tend to open up a whole world of new questions that leave us more confused than when we began.
But, still, we seek answers. This world is deeply chaotic, and humans don’t do so well with chaos. We like order. We like neat and tidy answers. And so we tell ourselves stories to patch over the holes in our understanding. And so that's religion - it’s a coping mechanism.
But what happens when we learn enough to notice that religion doesn't have the answers, but we haven't learned enough to figure out where the answers are? What happens when we realize how much we don't know?
Well, on a human level, that’s when we end up in sex cults in the Australian bush.
On a societal level, we end up in sex cults in the Australian bush too. Right now? This moment in our collective history? This is the sex cult in the Australian bush. Metaphorically, anyway.
We’re confused. We’re disoriented because we’ve learned enough to know that we have no idea what the hell is going on, but we’re far enough from the serious answers that we think will bring us comfort. We’re flying blind and without the comforting embrace of religion to console us.
We embrace all these new religions, nominally rooted in what we think we do know. We embrace new orthodoxies that walk like religion and talk like religion, but they're really just tribalism rooted in faith in small ideas. We anoint this person or this person or this person or this person as our new Pope.
We believe it in our bones. Because we need to believe it. We crave believing it. We yearn for resolution.
How could we not? After all, if we get no answers, then…
Well, that's funny.
Nothing really happens if we don't find the answers. There are no consequences to not figuring out what this world is all about, though we think there must be. It turns out the universe just doesn't care if we understand it.
There are only consequences to acting on the wrong answers.
We must learn to live in comfort in the unknown. We must learn to become comfortable in our own smallness, in the inconsequential nature of the questions we choose to ask and the answers that present themselves, true or otherwise.
And, then, yes. We can seek answers. But we can seek answers not from a place of desperation, but a place of curiosity. And this whole thing can be a fun project of learning, improving and learning some more.
Anyway, just a few thoughts from my chats with Bridget and Ali. If you’re curious about the podcast, take a listen here.
Keep in touch with Will and the Baggage Claim podcast! If you're in the United States or Canada, text POD to (332) 877-9540 to be our friend. If not, all good! Click here.
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