Saturday, February 16, 2013

Life behind the glass partition

Richard Dawkins
I feel sorry for the Pope and all old Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex.

Of course, I’m no fan of the papacy or the Roman priesthood. That said:

i) Some priests lead double lives. And you doubless have some priests who were sexually active as teenagers, before they took their vows. In addition, some Catholic widowers enter the priesthood.

ii) Within the framework of atheism, what does it mean to waste your life? What’s the standard of comparison? “Wasted” in contrast to what?

I suppose Dawkins is suggesting that since we only get one shot at life, we should make the most of our brief, unrepeatable opportunity. And a priest is missing out on the best this life has to offer.

But atheists keep assuring us that even though human existence has no objective purpose or value, yet as long as we take satisfaction in whatever we’re doing, our life is meaningful to us. Well, then, if a man finds personal fulfillment in the priesthood, how is that a wasted life?

Maybe Dawkins would say he’s devoting his life to an illusion. So what? Many people love fantasy. They love opera, novels, movies, music videos, and other fictitious entertainment. They prefer fantasy to reality. They immerse themselves in science fiction. They find real life banal.

Does Dawkins think they are wasting their life? If so, who is he to judge?

iii) There’s something ironically Christian about Dawkins’ indictment. From a Christian standpoint, it is possible to squander the gift of life. To blow your opportunities. To fall short of the goal. To drop out of the race before you cross the finish line. To lead a misdirected life. An aimless life or a life with the wrong aims. That’s the tragedy of a godless lifestyle.

iv) Suppose you had a happy life, as Dawkins defines it. What’s so wonderful about looking back on life if you have nothing to look forward to in life? If your best days are behind you, how does looking back on life give you a sense of satisfaction? Wouldn’t your memories be a curse?

Consider life from a godless vantage point. Life is like a room with a bulletproof glass partition. We are born into a big spacious room. We have all that space ahead of us. That’s our future. Wide open with boundless opportunities and awaiting discoveries.

Behind us lies the glass partition. That’s our past. When we’re born, the space behind the glass partition is just a sliver.

But as we pass through the lifecycle, the past and future distribution steadily shifts. What lies ahead contracts in proportion to what lies behind. Ever more of our life lies behind the glass partition. Through the window of memory we can see our past, but the partition blocks us from reexperiencing the past. That’s unrepeatable. Irrevocable. Out of reach.

Sometimes we wish we could go back for a visit. Repeat our favorite days. Or take the other fork in the road we passed by the first time around. But it’s too late. No encores. No second chances.

As we age, the partition advances. The partition is pushing us towards the wall. Pushing us ever closer to the other side of the room. The room becomes increasingly cramped. When we look ahead, we see the encroaching wall. When we look around, we see tantalizing glimpses of our long lost past, stretching back into the receding distance, behind the impenetrable glass partition. If we had a happy life, we’re taunted by what we see. By what we miss. Futile yearnings.

Near the end of life our remaining days become claustrophobic. We’re trapped in the crawl space between the present and a few feet or inches of the future. The partition is pressing against us. Crushing us. Squeezing the life out of us. We take shallow breaths. Gasp for air. Our face is smack against the wall. And then we’re gone. 


  1. Also, there are former Episcopal or Anglican priests who jumped ship to Rome. They were married as Anglicans, prior to joining Rome, then ordained again by Rome (e.g. see here and here).

  2. "Does Dawkins think they are wasting their life? If so, who is he to judge? "

    I still wonder why Dawkins is worried about it at all. Why does he care? If he thinks having sex is the key to having a happy and fulfilling life, why should he be concerned if anyone besides himself isn't getting any? Why would he be out spending so much time heckling Christians while he could be having all the sex he could afford? What does he want to see on the other side of the glass: a lifetime of promiscuity or ideological combat? We know there's far better than either, as well as an endless room on the other side of the wall, but he doesn't believe it.