WARNING: Contains Angst!

heads up, dear reader. this post contains pathos, angst, and a little bit of god talk. consider this before proceeding.

i’m almost embarrassed to say that my angst got inflamed during and after watching the most recent episode of the tv show “glee.” i’m not embarrassed that i watch it, but this episode was uncharacteristically dark and angst-ridden. and it really hit me hard.

kurt, one of the kids, finds his father stricken with a heart attack, which leaves dad in a coma. as the other kids tried to comfort kurt by offering various prayer- and god-based thoughts, kurt (who is gay) announced that he didn’t believe in god, asking why would god have made him gay, and then told all of his/her other children to persecute him? why would god tell everyone that kurt was gay because he chose to be? why, kurt asks, would anyone choose a life that includes the kind of abuse gay people, and perhaps especially gay kids, must endure? the show was built around other characters exploring their own spirituality and a few discovering their own doubts about god along the way.

kurt’s questioning brought up those same questions to me. why would god have done this to me (given me ms) along with (personal revelations here) taking my mother when i was so young (9 years old), and giving my daughter a heart so faulty that it had to be replaced when she was only 8. (which brings up the question, why did god do that to her?) one character in the show sings the REM song, “losing my religion,” as he sorts through his own doubts – a powerful moment in a usually pretty fluffy tv show.

in a sort of side story, one of the adult characters, sue, tells her  older sister, who has down’s syndrome, that as a child she prayed that her big sister would get better, so other kids wouldn’t be so cruel to her. but sue says nothing changed, so she therefore refuses to believe in god. the older sister smiles and tells her that “god doesn’t make mistakes.” ( i have also heard the sentiment that all prayers are answered; sometimes the answer is “no.”)

anyway, i have been chewing over all of this. sure, “glee” is a silly tv sit-com, but this episode has been making me think about the issues raised by these pretend high-school kids. if god (assuming god is the driving force) did all of this to me, (and so, too, to all the people around me) why? is there a positive lesson for me here? i got the learning to accept humility, and learning to accept help from other people. but surely that can’t be all there is to it. or maybe it is. therein lies the angst. why has all of this been put on my plate? is there a larger, cosmic lesson here? or is it all just a random spin of the wheel?

i’ll probably never know, unless there is some sort of afterlife when all is revealed, like having a magician, after the show, reveal how the trick was done. perhaps i will have to wait until then, and accept that there may not, in the end, really be a reason beyond simply my having been dealt the cards i was dealt. i don’t mean to suggest that there are not others – as there certainly are – who find themselves holding far worse hands than i. i don’t doubt that they too have faced these same questions, and maybe it is the facing of the questions themselves that is in some way the reason for the particular cards i have been dealt. maybe that is the cosmic lesson.

i don’t know. and that is the hardest question of all to grapple with.


Author: stephen

stephen harris is a writer, painter and a photographer who lives with his family in maine.

One thought on “WARNING: Contains Angst!”

  1. Glee hit me hard too. I always get in a weird mood when serious talk of religion comes up. I have had many relationships with God in my short life: I have been a student in Sunday School, I have been a full-time defender and apologist for him, I have felt hurt and betrayed by him and, like any wounded animal, withdrawn my affection. Currently, God and I are kind of like estranged friends, who simply drifted apart. If he is there, I hold no animosity toward him. I can see that most bad things in my life have been my own doing, while most good things are thanks to the influence of other people in my life. That’s no ratio to complain about.
    And, like reading about a long-lost friend in the paper, it makes me sad whenever God is misrepresented by people who should be a lot better-informed (not you, Steve, but people who are supposedly God’s devout). I want to defend him, this God who is too busy with more important things than to worry about his PR. But I usually stop myself. Because people will believe what they need to believe. It all comes down to that.

    The short answer is “your questions do have answers.” And not even An Answer, but different answers of different levels of satisfaction from lots of different belief systems. There are many answers to the ‘Problem of Suffering,’ all of which are intellectually satisfying; they are as logically valid as a belief that the sun will rise tomorrow.
    But questions such as yours are rarely about What Makes Sense. They’re about What Feels Right, what resonates. They’re about what you’re looking for, what you need. The only person that determines which answer is most comforting is the person being comforted.
    And here’s something that should be kept in mind: some people want comfort, and some only think that they do. What they really need is to hold onto their angst; to them, it is what lets them know that they are alive.
    We are not all made of the same stuff. The life-long salesman would despair at the stability of the 9 to 5 cubicle life, just as the computer programmer cannot imagine living the unpredictable life on the NYSE. None of these individuals is better than another. Everyone’s just looking for that other half that will fit his unique makeup and make them him complete.

    Paul said
    “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
    Or, if you prefer the more recent International Standard Version:
    “Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
    The first bit of that verse is some of the most profound commentary on earthly religion that I’ve ever encountered. Right now, our experience with God is like looking into a funhouse mirror. We think we’re looking God in the face when, really, we’re just seeing distortions of our own reflection. (And each person, seeing something different, can’t understand why nobody else agrees with his misty impressions. Misunderstandings lead to hurt feelings (e.g. – poor Kurt’s problems with religion), pain leads to resentment, which leads to feuds, which lead to wars, ad infinitum.)
    This “foggy mirror effect” should come as no surprise; what you believe about politics, art, or human interaction has always been more of a reflection of yourself than of the objective Real World. Why would religion be any different? The reason that the mandate “know thyself” has survived for 3000 years is because it’s an outward expression of our most human drive.

    So there are answers to your questions. Maybe you’ve already heard some, but they didn’t speak to you. Maybe none of them will resonate with you simply because of the way you’re built. That’s ok; some of the greatest religious reformers have become immortalized through their quest to find new answers, ones that made sense to them. Or maybe you’re a lucky one who, when he hears an answer, feels every bit of his makeup sing along with the hum of that particular tuning fork.

    You say “I don’t know. And that is the hardest question of all to grapple with.”
    It’s the hardest because, once it has been grokked (or, at least, once progress has been made), all other questions become easier. Not necessarily easier to answer, but easier to ask. Socrates may have been a snark who had tongue-in-cheek when he said “all I know is that I know nothing,” but that doesn’t make him wrong. The beginning of wisdom is in accepting my own ignorance. That’s what stops the cycle of misunderstanding at its root. Once we all start admitting our own ignorance, we tend to spend more time listening and less time defensive. That’s when we can actually begin healing one another. I think that this idea was the ultimate message of the episode.
    As Sue embraced uncertainty, she became more open to her sister’s (and, later, the gleeks’) expressions of faith. As soon as Kurt felt like the others had finally heard his expression of faith (because Tina was right – everyone does have faith in something), he was able to accept their prayers in turn. And Will and Emma (who the writers left non-spiritual throughout the episode) preached only a gospel of “listen to each other.” Uncertainty (cousin to Humility) leads to understanding, which leads to compassion.

    And, apropos of nothing:
    Can I just say how much I love it when Sue is being a jerk because of some higher moral principle? There aren’t many, but I effing love those episodes!

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