Red hands and holy cards

Photo by Zoran Kokanovic

Rational arguments against faith make… Sense.

As Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” (Though, if taken in the context of his words surrounding it, his statement takes on a whole new meaning — but that’s not for this post.)

I get it. When I was agnostic, I vibed with this. A part of me looked at religious people with pity thinking they were wasting valuable brain space on belief in a ‘God’ that may not even exist (though I could never quite go all the way in NOT believing).

I conjure up an image of an elderly widow, sitting in her basement apartment after her shift at the grocery store lighting candles, saying prayers, and sorting through her holy cards. A younger more secular me would scoff at her…

Why is she doing this? All that praying and worshipping has gotten her… here? In this basement apartment with an underpaid job grasping to the fraying thread of organized religion? Maybe if she’d have saved her money rather than giving it to the church on Sunday, she’d be able to live on the 1st or even 2nd floor at this point.

Now, it’s so clear to me. Today I see her (nameless in my mind, but I can see her as clear as day), not as some lost soul grasping to existential opiates, but as someone who hasn’t lost her purpose.

Because this woman, unlike so many of us today, has something to live and die with. Who cares if her ‘God’ might not be objectively ‘real’. It’s been real to her and has provided an anchor for her life.

How amazing is that?

I have a new favorite thing on the internet. It’s called the Red Hand Files and it’s the personal newsletter of Nick Cave, the brilliant Australian singer, songwriter, and frontman of the band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds...


The newsletter is a direct Q&A between Cave and his fans. I particularly enjoyed reading Issue 11 where he’s asked if/why he believes in God…

I think we get what we are willing to believe, and that our experience of the world extends exactly to the limits of our interest and credence. I am interested in the idea of possibility and uncertainty. Possibility, by its very nature, extends beyond provable facts, and uncertainty propels us forward. I try to meet the world with an open and curious mind, insisting on nothing other than the freedom to look beyond what we think we know.

He goes on to say…

I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry.

When Cave gets into talking about his creative process as a songwriter, he says…

I have, for better or for worse, a predisposition toward perverse and contradictory thinking. Perhaps this is something of a curse, but the idea of uncertainty, of not knowing, is the creative engine that drives everything I do. I may well be living a delusion, I don’t know, but it is a serviceable one that greatly improves my life, both creatively and otherwise.

Cave closes his letter with the following…

So, do I believe in God? Well, I act like I do, for my own greater good. Does God exist? Maybe, I don’t know. Right now, God is a work in progress.

Maybe Cave and the hypothetical woman above have something that a lot of us don’t. The capacity to believe without knowing. And the ability to value a relationship with the divine rather than answers from it.