“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him….” wrote Julian Barnes in his book ‘Nothing to be frightened of’.
I heard this quote on the radio this afternoon and it really struck a chord with me. People talk about the ‘God shaped hole’, but this sentence to me perfectly summed up the whole idea. I don’t believe in God, but I still feel the hole sometimes.
In ‘Aubade’ by Philip Larkin, he talks about his terror of death, and the fear of ‘nothingness’:
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Pretty bleak isn’t it? But then he was apparently terrified of dying, of ceasing to exist. Later in the poem he says:
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
It’s that one line that gets me – ‘created to pretend we never die’ – because ultimately isn’t that what religion is? I would quite like to believe that I am never going to really die, however much of a pretence that might be.
I don’t believe in God, yet sometimes I feel the absence of what to me God represents – a faith in something bigger than me, a sense of purpose, a set of ‘rules’ and beliefs to guide me and to inform the decisions I make. Most of all I suppose God, and religion generally, offer reassurance, a comfort that this isn’t it.
I miss having that solid faith in something more. No one wants to believe do they that this is all there is?