The Contingent Life


A reader writes:

Everything you say about being "contingent" rings true in my heart. We are born in a tiny neighborhood of earth, in a brief moment of time. The extent of all that we may become, derives from this origin, over which we have no choice, and from which we cannot escape.

It is the nature of the human psyche to see God behind the workings of the world.  Maybe in the far distant past, people thought God was a wise old man with a long beard, sitting on a Heavenly thrown  in the sky. Gradually, we all came  to realize, this could not be true. But does this mean that God does not exist? Not necessarily. Was this belief in God just a childish wish and imagining? Or might God be a little more complex and subtle? No matter what, my view on God does not come from my free choice, but is colored by all the human interpretations of God that I have encountered, together with my own conscious thinking and wondering, and then analyzed by some mysteriously autonomic analyzing process that operates in my head.

I am aware, where others may not be (perhaps most others) that my total being, personality, and beliefs are merely contingent on virtual "accidents" of the flow of events; and where I may have been on any certain day; and who may have spoken to me; whom I may have listened to; what book, movie, or television show I might have read or watched; if I glanced into the sky and saw a shape in the clouds that cheered me up or made me think of some specific thing...that the world impresses itself upon me, and forms me into all that I become, with only a very little bit of my own destiny and outcome, that I can determine by my own free will or choice.

I do not know much, but I know all of this. It may not be much, in the way of religious belief, but it is a foundation on which all else must rest. To be so sure and satisfied on this modest foundation, after all these years of extreme doubt on everything, is a relief and more than a relief, but satisfying, that I know and believe some things that make sense, and that I can put into words.

The origin of the word "contingent" comes from tangere, Latin, meaning "to touch."

(Photo: A believer reaches out to touch an apparition of the Virgin Mary located on a wall of an underpass April 18, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. By Scott Olson/Getty Images.)