A thinker is now that being in whom the impulse for truth and those life-preserving errors clash for their first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to be also a life-preserving power. Compared to the significance of this fight, everything else is a matter of indifference: the ultimate question about the conditions of life has been posed here, and we confront the first attempt to answer this question by experiment. To what extent can truth endure incorporation? That is the question, that is the experiment.
For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us? The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones. Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.
Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism. We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt.
Nones don’t get hung up on whether a religion is “true” or not, and instead subscribe to William James’s maxim that “truth is what works.” If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.” (We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”)
It’s like a cat managing to always land on its feet. You just have to marvel at how fatuous twits, upon being dropped into a crucible of doubt, reflection, and despair, will always manage to make everything about them, to convince themselves that their every banality is profound, and that whatever holds true for them during this particular snapshot of their life must be synonymous with timeless verities. Maybe it just needs to be pitched to him on the sort of mushy self-help level that appeals to so many like him: dude, you seem to have some serious issues with commitment and decisiveness.
I like the Nietzsche excerpt because it’s such a sharp riposte to the typical apologists who claim that the sugar-coated errors and self-centered illusions of religion are necessary to preserve people’s ability to function at all. The impulse for truth has proved to be also a life-preserving power.