Joni Mitchell, Karl Marx, and Me

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.
– Joni Mitchell

I’ve been thinking about becoming senile.

It’s not just that I have been pondering the issue of possible senility in my future years, but I have actually been thinking that I might like to be moderately senile at some point in my life. A niece of mine once worked with Alzheimer’s patients, and cared for a lovely lady who, while in very advanced years, thought she was 16. Personally, I think this might be the way to go, feeling young and spry instead of 90 and incontinent.

I was thinking about this on my way to work today, and as my brain sometimes works like a curvy path of dominos, I began to think about the varying shades of reality, and just how real do we want to get, anyway?

Some of the happiest years of my life were spent imaging things were a lot better than they were. Eventually the years of ignoring debt and turning a blind eye to marital indiscretions caught up with me, and when they did, it was ugly. But would it have made a difference if I had admitted, earlier than I did, that my life and my marriage were bad? (Said the born procrastinator.) Which is worse – stress all at once, or spread out over years? I am actually glad that the years I spent raising two very young children were years that I was naively happy. If I had known the truth about things, they might have had a mom who was depressed and didn’t feel like playing in the hose.

Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the people,” in his work A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. He stated, “[t]he abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” This certainly was true of my first marriage. In order for me to give up the grandiose illusions about my marriage, I had to give up the marriage that required me to pretend that he wasn’t sleeping with a 23 year old.

Perhaps Marx was right about my ex; however, I disagree with the idea that we must give up our faith in God (no matter what name He assumes in any religious belief) in order to live a happy life. One might see having faith in God as a varying shade of reality. It is a stretch of the mind to accept the stories of divinity and miracles. We question and search and will never find physical, concrete evidence of God. It requires a leap of faith. So why leap?

The “illusion” (or at least my “illusion”) of Christianity is that there is a creator who loves each of us. There was a fully-human yet fully-divine messenger who taught humanity love and compassion. Beyond death, there is something else, and that something else is dependent on how decent of a person you are. I leap into this faith because I have hope. I hope that we all have souls that can connect through universal love. I have hope that the answers to the questions we have in life might be answered after death, in another realm of existence.

So what happens if I do as Marx says and give up my faith? If I am a good person, then with or without my Christianity, I would give love and show compassion to all others. I suppose I just would be a good Atheist. And what if there is nothing after death? Well, if I were an Atheist, I could gloat that I was right. Oh, wait. No, I couldn’t.

Most religions become dangerous (and non-believers become more convinced) when they are misinterpreted. All of the world’s major religions are based upon love and compassion. When they are used in direct opposition of love and compassion, when they are used to promote greed and power, this leads to hate and violence. Misunderstood or misapplied religion is worse than having no faith in God at all. Perhaps it isn’t the illusion of religion that is dangerous, but the perversion of it.

In defense of my dreams of an illusory end, I have seen a lot of people who live without hope or faith. They have become hardened from their experiences and live their final days with a complete understanding of how hard life can be. They look only backward, with anger at those who wronged them, and with sadness to be leaving those who did not. I would rather live with hope, even maybe an unrealistic faith, than to die without expectations of more.

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