Desperate questions

Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?

. . .

What exactly does “faith” mean? As in “religious faith,” “faith in God,” etc. Isn’t it basically crazy to believe in something that there’s no proof of? Is there really any difference between what we call faith and some primitive tribe’s sacrificing virgins to volcanoes because they believe it’ll produce good weather? How can somebody have faith before he’s presented with sufficient reason to have faith? Or is somehow needing to have faith a sufficient reason for having faith? But then what kind of need are we talking about?

. . .

Is the real point of my life simply to undergo as little pain and as much pleasure as possible? My behavior sure seems to indicate that this is what I believe, at least a lot of the time. But isn’t this kind of a selfish way to live? Forget selfish — isn’t it awfully lonely?

. . .

But if I decide to decide there’s a different, less selfish, less lonely point to my life, won’t the reason for this decision be my desire to be less lonely, meaning to suffer less overall pain? Can the decision to be less selfish ever be anything other than a selfish decision?

. . .

Is it possible really to love other people? If I’m lonely and in pain, everyone outside me is potential relief — I need them. But can you really love what you need so badly? Isn’t a big part of love caring more about what the other person needs? How am I supposed to subordinate my own overwhelming need to somebody else’s needs that I can’t even feel directly? And yet if I can’t do this, I’m damned to loneliness, which I definitely don’t want . . . so I’m back at trying to overcome my selfishness for self-interested reasons. Is there any way out of this bind?

. . .

What is “an American”? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries and so have to obey the same laws? How exactly is America different from other countries? Is there really something unique about it? What does that uniqueness entail? We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?

. . .

Does this guy Jesus Christ’s life have something to teach me even if I don’t, or can’t, believe he was divine? What am I supposed to make of the claim that someone who was God’s relative, and so could have turned the cross into a planter or something with just a word, still voluntarily let them nail him up there, and died? Even if we suppose he was divine — did he know? Did he know he could have broken the cross with just a word? Did he know in advance that death would just be temporary (because I bet I could climb up there, too, if I knew that an eternity of right-hand bliss lay on the other side of six hours of pain)? But does any of that even really matter? Can I still believe in JC or Mohammed or Whoever even if I don’t believe they were actual relatives of God? Except what would that mean: “believing in”?

. . .

— David Foster Wallace, “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky

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