That’s Men: What does it matter if we don’t matter?

‘I believe in the world around me: that will have to be enough’

 

What’s the point of it all and does it really matter?

When I was in school Br O’Grady raised this issue when warning us against the attractions of atheism. If you were an atheist, you didn’t have to worry about obeying the rules of the Catholic Church or, indeed, of any other religion, he pointed out.

On the surface, you could have a good time for yourself, doing whatever you liked. But, he warned, if you were an atheist, life would be meaningless. What would be the point in living if there was no God?

It struck me at the time as a very good point. To have a set of beliefs that were less restrictive than those of the Church seemed a very fine thing. But I couldn’t answer his contention that to stop believing in God is to declare existence pointless.

Then I went and stopped believing in God. Br O’Grady, unwittingly, had a hand in this. He delighted in explaining to us how the Church was right on all possible issues. A few of us would conspire to ask questions that would set him off on one of his explanations when we wanted to divert him from the fact that we hadn’t done our homework. So we got many expositions of the absolute rightness of the Church.

One day, when I was about 18, I suddenly said to myself: nothing can be that perfect and if it pretends to be perfect, then it must be completely untrue.

And with that illogical thought, my faith went out the window. It hasn’t come back and, for most of my life, I haven’t really bothered about the meaning of it all.

More recently, pondering the question of pointlessness – which somehow sneaked up on me – and reading the work of people such as the psychologist Dr Susan Blackmore, it struck me that the meaninglessness of existence is actually liberating.

It leaves us free to appreciate what the philanthropist Thomas Horsfall called the “great many little happinesses” of life without having to demand that they be linked in some way with a noble purpose.

I also find it reassuring that it doesn’t matter that we don’t matter. I like the fact that my ancestors are not looking down at me with disappointment, because they’re not looking down at me at all.

My behaviour is still bounded by values derived from family, childhood community and society.

It amuses me that Buddhism, now increasingly popular, which I see as a psychological system, is viewed by many as a spiritual movement or even as a religion. Yet most Buddhists are atheists or see the question of the existence of God as irrelevant. But their values are seen as good and even praiseworthy by many Christians.

I have no doubt that Br O’Grady would see my “little happinesses” as a poor substitute for a life informed by faith. And he would, I think, be unimpressed by systems of values that are divorced from a belief in God.

But I believe in the world around me, and that will have to be enough.

Teenage births

The reason? Good-quality relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in schools and in youth groups, according to Helen Deely, head of the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

The idea that today’s young people are somehow less moral and responsible than their predecessors has persisted not only for generations but for centuries. More than 2,000 years ago, this was a common complaint among the Romans.

These figures show, yet again, that assumptions about the behaviour of young people are very often wrong regardless of the degree of confidence with which they are trumpeted.

pomorain @yahoo.com

Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

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