Arthur Koestler’s 1951 novel, Age of Longing, takes place in an intellectually desolate post-war Europe trying to come to terms with the loss of faith. Not only is Nietzsche’s God dead, but so are the great utopian ersatz religions of the 20th century, Communism and Nazism. Koestler had experienced this loss of faith twice over. As an idealistic Hungarian Jew he became a Zionist and moved to Palestine, but within a short period of time he was disillusioned and lost his faith in the experiment. At the same time a revolution broke out in St. Petersburg, and out of its Tsarist ashes a new god was born. Koestler saw the new star rising in the east and he lost little time in following the shining light to its ideological shrine.
Koestler became an intellectual road warrior for Communism across Europe. He was a true believer who risked his life in its service until one day, many years later, he came to realize that he was worshiping a false god. There may be no fury like that of the proverbial woman spurned, but there is a second that is like unto it: the rage of a disillusioned believer. Koestler turned his guns on his erstwhile faith and pinned it to an anti-creedal book title that would resonate for years after: The God That Failed.
Three years later he wrote Age of Longing more in grief than in anger. Koestler was still hungry for faith—eventually he would embrace ESP and anti-evolutionary thinking—but in 1951 he was all about the loss of faith. The world was nostalgic for a faith that reason refused to let it return to, was his diagnosis. One of his many wooden characters, a French military man, tells his American interlocutor not to send more tanks. Instead he wants a new revelation, something to believe in.
And that brings me to the Spectrum blog. This is also a world with more than its share of both anger and nostalgia for a bygone faith. To the true believers it’s the devil’s playground—and if God means orthodoxy, it is—but I suspect that many here are also nostalgic for faith or seeking a faith that reason might not object to. A reasonable faith may be an oxymoron, but we’re homo sapiens, and the name obligates.
A fair number of those of us who disturb the peace on the Spectrum blog firmly reject fundamentalism. We recoil at the thought of an Ark with millions of defecating animals sailing for a whole year the mud-churned seas of a cataclysm without harm to either man or beast. We shake our heads in disbelief at the idea that all life on earth, with the exception of eight people and a wooden crate full of animals, was wiped out about 2400 BCE, only to explode back into vibrant life, in the millions, within little time—and leave no verifiable trace behind of the cataclysm that had just destroyed the world. To many of us such literalism simply discredits faith as an option for thinking people. To us the road back to fundamentalism is blocked. Our question is whether it’s only the road.
Is it possible for faith to survive the destruction of the old religious worldview? Believing against established, falsifiable facts is not an option for people such as myself, but is it possible to access a reality that goes beyond the facts? I’m thinking about Tillich’s view of a spiritual reality behind the mask of the Bible’s God. I’m thinking about Carl Sagan’s quest in Contact in which Jodie Foster’s character reaches out for the secrets of the universe. I’m frankly not sure where I’m at with respect to this quest, but I’m open to a faith that can soar in the century in which we live.
I appreciate the fact that Spectrum has provided a forum in which these questions can be raised and talked about. The adherents of the 19th century tend to see our quest in terms of their own static beliefs. To them we’re commissioned agents of you-know-who. I have written the above in the hope that our presence here might be seen in slightly more positive terms—and to encourage other to join us in exploring the issues.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5050