I had been drifting towards atheism since 2007 after a year in the hospital for cancer treatment. Barbara Ehrenreich explains her similar exasperation with the “have faith and think positive” proponents who would invade my chemotherapy treatment room every Friday for a year dressed as clowns, carrying homemade quilts, or with puppies to pet. In Bright-Sided Ehrenreich explains how experiences while she underwent cancer treatment made her suspicious of the power of positive thinking to the point that she found it quite harmful and began to argue for existentialism. Here is a link
All the uninvited visitors announced something along the lines of “have a positive attitude/faith in the Lord” and you will get better. They meant well but I soon banned them from my room along with any member of the clergy because such messages when one is watching poison stream slowly and painfully into one’s body are aggravating. After being diagnosed yet again in 2010 with cancer I made a serious decision that God and faith in a higher power did not exist for me. God certainly had no belief in me so I was done.
During that time with no conscious effort on my part most new friends I made were either not Christian or not mainstream Christian. A group of people including a Catholic Cajun who practiced voodoo, a Muslim who prayed five times a day, a former Amish fireplace builder who became a hedonist in later life, a Buddhist, an atheist, and many Jewish people became my close friends. So it is fine for others to have faith I just don’t want them to be evangelical and judgmental about it. I try not to be evangelical and judgmental in my atheism. Evangelism in general is an emotionally aggressive power play and exceedingly offensive stating “be like me and you will be better.” No thank you.
Removing Christ from one’s life did not in my case change it much. Back in 2009 I saw an exhibition recreating the Rothko Chapel commissioned by Fort Worth meditation practitioners in 1971. Rothko produced several almost all black squares for a spare room with only two slim black couches. The exhibition was in the tower of the National Gallery’s modern wing and there was only one way out of it. The first time I saw the exhibition I quickly found that exit because I thought the paintings were the most stupid paintings I had ever seen.
Description of the exhibition.
. . . eighteen monumental dark canvases that Rothko painted for a non-denominational chapel in Houston. To recall that connection, this exhibition includes music composed for it by Morton Feldman (Rothko Chapel, 1971). The result is an experiment, or at least a set of questions. Do the paintings fulfill Rothko's ideal of an abstract art that reflects the range of human passions? Does the music deepen or dilute their effect? Is their blackness brooding? Or are they euphoric in their passage from black to light?
In order to leave the exhibition I had to take an escalator downstairs that forced me to walk through an exhibition of religious masterpieces almost pornographic at times in their representation of the pain of Christ.
The paintings certainly seemed out of place in the modern wing of the National Gallery. All that was needed to highlight the homoeroticism was a blacklight.
This is that exhibition.
The Sacred Made Real
Review in the Washington Post
A blacklight works on paintings with a primarily black background.
Then it hit me and I ran back upstairs to see Rothko’s squares again. There were deliberate variations in shades of black and gray. Rothko had kept the meditative power but removed Christ and religion from his paintings.
Sheer friggin’ genius.
Existentialism is essential to understanding literary criticism of the 20th century and one that I have taught in various literature classes for 20 years. I usually introduce it with Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go which is read for you by John Lithgow at this link.
What Stanford says about existentialism
Ehrenreich is onto something when calling for a movement towards existentialism and away from positive thinking. I interpret existentialism as one even precedes another and how we handle one event will affect the qualities of the next. The only difference between existentialism and Christian existentialism is a Christian would consider WWJD? or What would Jesus do?
As Dr. Seuss wisely notes:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And then things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.
THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!
You'll be on y our way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes, you won't.
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch.
You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.
And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...
...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That's not for you!
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You'll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don't
Because, sometimes they won't.
I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.
And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never foget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
You're off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
Thanks Dr. Seuss.
I like to go places and now do so all the time.
That is where I place my faith.