Then Beggars Would Ride

If wishes were horses, if pigs had wings. The world is one way, our desires are another. Hence the joy of fantasy, daydreaming, fairy tales – magic. The book I want is upstairs – how I wish it were here in my hand. The food is in the refrigerator, uncooked – how I wish it were cooked, on plates, on the table. The dishes are dirty, I wish they were clean. X, Y and Z are dead, how I wish they were alive. A and B are ill, I wish they were well. The world is full of suffering, I wish it were not. The suffering is useless, I wish it were useful. Bad things happen, I wish they didn’t.

We want to believe the universe encodes our idea of meaning. But it doesn’t. We have to content ourselves with self-created meaning – projected meaning. Invented, assumed, dreamed up. Applied, pasted on, added, painted, stage-set meaning. Upper floor meaning – pretend, make believe. Applicable only to us. Contingent, subjective, made.

And made by us. Not by a deity, not by chemical processes, but by us. Shabby shambling little primates on a smallish insignificant planet. One animal species among the millions that live and have lived on this planet – how could its notions of meaning be inscribed in the cosmos? But we so want to think they are – so we pretend that religion somehow underwrites our claims.

We don’t want our meaning to have been made, and especially not by us. We know we’re not good enough. So we assert that it’s been done by someone much grander – and yet like us – only more so. Like us only perfect – the way we would be if we were perfect. Which seems like a contradiction in terms – if we were perfect we wouldn’t be like us. Being imperfect is the very essence of being like us. It’s hard to know what we would be like, really – as soon as you start to think about it it makes no sense. What would perfect arms be like, for example. Longer? Shorter? Extendable? Retractable? Equipped with blades? Infinitely long?

That’s the great thing about religion. It doesn’t need to bother with such things (unless it’s Aquinas, but it’s common or garden religion I’m talking about here, the religion of the newspapers and The New Republic and the pundits), it just asserts, and ignores contradictions and impossibilities. That’s the whole point. It’s a mechanism for making wishes into horses. A wish-to-horse conversion device.

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