It seems that the most exercise many people get these days is jumping to conclusions. While there may be a wholegrain of truth in that aphorism, I don’t jump much anymore. Jumping is for the next generation. I do recall jumping in puddles, or jumping off diving boards, even jumpstarting my first car, but all that was a long time ago. Now, I’m content to sit and watch the grandkids do all the jumping—or in this case, the leaping.
A few days ago, it was the 110th anniversary of the birth of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who is widely considered to be the father of existentialism. His work encompassed not only philosophy, but also theology, psychology, literary criticism, and fiction. He also introduced us to two concepts that are commonplace today: one is “subjectivity,” the idea that we all perceive the world — and “truth” — differently; and the other is the “leap of faith,” the concept that faith is not possible without doubt. One must doubt the existence of God in order to have faith in the existence of God. Belief without doubt is just credulity, the impulse to be overly naive or prone to believe that something we’ve just read or heard is true, whether it is or not. Sound familiar?
These days, we’re living in the age of misinformation, a world in which artificial intelligence, and its poster child, ChatGPT, have an almost instantaneous ability to make a convincing case for almost any point of view, “shade,” deceit or even outright lies. That makes me wonder what Hr. Kierkegaard might conclude about the existence of God today. Would he counsel a more cautious leap, or might he now conclude that the risk is no longer worth the reward? Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware!
I have a friend—a man I admire without reservation—who is a devout atheist. (Is that an oxymoron?) My friend has come to the thoughtful conclusion that Karl Marx was right: God, and religion in general, is indeed the opiate of the masses. On this point, my friend and I have agreed to disagree.
Many years ago, for reasons I cannot remember, I came to a different conclusion: specifically, that the arc of the universe is good, and that there is a divine hand on the wheel. I acknowledge that there is a lot of evidence to the contrary: yet another mass shooting, two horrific wars that drag on interminably, all kinds of ugly bias, homelessness, despair and a political chasm right here at home wider than the Grand Canyon. But something once propelled me to make my own leap of faith, and while I’m no longer a church-goer, I still believe, perhaps irrationally, in the existence of God. This is not a particular faith-based issue for me; I’ve lived among other people with different beliefs long enough to conclude that none of us really know what God looks like, or what specific doctrines or creeds are “true.” For me, it’s enough to feel a divine presence, and, to be honest, to not feel such a presence would make this life a bitter pill to swallow.
So now I sit on the beach and watch the grandchildren play. I watch them run and turn cartwheels and leap. I remember that their joy was once mine. And still is.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.