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The Word of Godot

by John Dillon

Across the world, faiths galore depend upon the word of some ancient holy book or other. As discussed in a previous post, these tomes are behaviourally prescriptive and offer reward or retribution for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour. Alternatively, some secular, political or philosophical screeds fulfil the same role. I won’t bother to name any of these texts. Take your pick. Zealots in all of these camps advocate their chosen ideology to extremes, sometimes fighting wars over them. They all have three things in common: total commitment to a belief system, a closed mind-set, and a sense of righteousness. Such utopians are a major inconvenience to the rest of us.  What they cannot grasp is that we are merely organisms surviving in an entirely indifferent universe. There is no supernatural being or great thinker who is going to help us to survive; there is no single ideology that will provide a formula for doing so; and it’s pointless trying to convert others into believing there is.

Drifting Through: Why not?

You’ll not be surprised to hear that as an atheist I don’t have a ‘good book’ that will provide an answer, and I won’t be personally advocating a solution. There isn’t one. We’re temporarily alive on a one way ride to nowhere and I’m lucky enough to be on the trip. Sooner or later, I’ll reach the terminus but in the meantime, Geronimo! This is not a hubristic approach to life; I’m very aware that it can be, as Thomas Hobbes put it, life is  ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Even more reason to grasp what we’ve got while we can, I say, and not to wait around for someone or something to offer deliverance. If I don’t have a formulaic instruction manual for leading my life, then, what do I do? Unashamedly, I drift through it pretty aimlessly. Why not? Not being answerable to a set of divinely ordained rules is liberating and extremely enjoyable. The moral precepts I have do not originate from a god but from an evolved sense of responsibility to others and to the environment we share.

Waiting for Godot?

So, you ask, what’s this thing I have with Waiting for Godot? My answer is this, it’s a drama of profound wisdom. Yes, even I admit to being influenced by literature, but not because it tells me what to do or prescribes a way of life, but because it does exactly the opposite. Samuel Beckett doesn’t present an ideology or provide a supreme being who can guide us through the darkness. No, he depicts human beings struggling to survive by clinging onto each other because there is no alternative. In the words of Henry James, ‘all human life is there’. Yes, Beckett’s characters are variously imperfect, ridiculous, devious, cruel, exploitative, suicidal or oppressed, but most of all, they are deluded. They wait endlessly for Godot to arrive. There is not a glimmer of hope that Lucky will be liberated, that Pozzo will gain a conscience, that Estragon will escape his beatings or that Vladimir will be reconciled with life. And what of Godot, who apparently gives such purpose to his devotees? According to his messenger-boy, he’s a nasty piece of work who manages his flocks of sheep and goats by dishing out punishment or favour on a whim and who constantly promises his arrival but never does. I wonder if this sounds familiar to anyone? Yes, of course it does, and that’s why the play means so much to me. Becket is showing us that it is futile to depend upon the arrival of a saviour, that the only solace is to be obtained from other human beings and that what we have is all we have. Ultimately, Vladimir and Estragon might separate or stay together, commit suicide or continue to live, go away or wait for Godot. We shall never know. It’s a conundrum we all share, but no good book will provide THE answer. We have to find that for ourselves.

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