Midway through life’s journey I found myself in dark woods, the right path lost. To tell of it is a terror, to think of it an agony; my mind was entrapped by moral conundrums, metaphysical paradoxes, spiritual longings. I refused to stop saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed and I was tangled in a thorny briar of medieval superstition. A leopard confronted me in a dark valley, then a starving wolf, and then like the sun rising over a hill, a shape appeared to me, a lumpy shape.
It was Christopher Hitchens.
“Shade or man?” I asked.
“Neither,” he corrected me, “a biologically conditioned delusion.”
“Oh, please,” I begged, “save me from this dark place.”
He answered at length, “Follow me and you will see imaginary ghosts of those who are reduced to their final material substratum, for the truth lays not in God but in Stuff, the leavening yeast only an accident of the en-loaf-ed dough, the miracle is not the Word becoming Flesh but the Flesh becoming Wordy. Religion is poison. Reason alone guides us. We cannot pretend to believe what we do not see—unless it is really really tiny, like a quark.”
I was thereupon confronted with a doleful, chthonic portal so grim and rhadamanthine, so unrelentingly oppressive and unnecessarily maudlin, that I wondered if I were at the 9/11 memorial.
“No, it’s just the gates to Hell,” said The Hitch, “or, rather, a descending path to the universe’s material hypostasis whence all possible phenomena arise. Come now and I will lead you through the K, L, and M electron shells ruled by the fearful demons Protonus and Neutrino. Then onwards to the circuit of Gluon and Muon, where Epicurus will twist and swerve to the ‘Blatt!’ of Democritus’ green trumpet. The Doge of Venice will also make a brief appearance.“
“Lastly, we will travel through the nine orders of epiphenomenal souls where you will hear the Prayer to the Blessed Mary Ever-Vacuum recited by Richard Dawkins as he passes by on the back of a Higgs-Boson particle. ‘All questions answered, All questions answered!’ he will squeak, ‘Nothing further to wonder! A universe from nothing, agentless creation ex nihilo!’And then the ten strings of the primordial universe will sound like a pentatonic scale played twice and the chorus will raise a tiny ‘Wah?’ to Chaos. It does not so much resound as echo, not so much make a harmony as a collection of sounds assigned by subatomic randomness. And thereupon you will have a vision of True Void purged of even the potential for existence, Chaos, the Abyss, the Arch Quantum Fiend whose thrice-terrible jaws chew upon the remains of Virgil, Beatrice and St. Bernard of Clairveaux.”
“And then we purge human frailty and rise through the Garden of Eden to a divine vision of perfection in the celestial spheres?” I asked.
“No,“ he said sheepishly, “I’m afraid that’s it; the trip stops there.”
“You’re telling me.”
“But hasn’t the field of philosophy largely dispensed with the idea that science can explain reality?” I asked. “I mean, what about Husserl?”
“Husserl, Schmusserl. Listen, nothing draws a crowd like claiming to have disproved the existence of God; it is almost as big a crowd pleaser as a naked woman or a car crash—people can’t stop looking. Find somebody to say it in a British accent and your Nielsen ratings go up by half. The God-is-Dead-Effect sells newspapers and—let’s be honest, mate—that’s our business. How many people are you going to pack in with a headline like Philosopher Admits He’s not really Sure About A Lot of Things?”
As he spoke the peppery miasma of all humanity tormented by the encircling Styx of non-being rose before my face and tickled my nose.
“Achoo!” I sneezed.
“God bless you,” said Mr. Hitchens.
“Aha! I caught you!”
“Aaarrrrgghhh!” he howled as he faded from view. “I’m melting!”
Whereupon I arrived at the conclusion that being lost midway through life’s journey wasn’t such a bad thing. It could be worse. And when the real estate market recovers I might make some money on the dark wood; it’s a nice place for a summer home or a hunting lodge…