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The Testimony of a Failure

By Carl S. ~

Everyone is familiar with the formula movie in which a bunch of losers, against the most difficult odds, go on to win the championship. Or the ordinary horse wins the derby. The paralyzed walks again. Everyone loves a winner. Nobody loves a loser, a quitter. Or so they say. Sometimes, the best decision is “I quit.”

I must confess that I'm a failure. I failed the eighth grade in parochial school and went into a monastery (at that time the Marine Corps of religious institutions), which I also failed. And then, I was referred to another monastery, which, after three plus years, I also failed. I failed celibacy. And for all these failures, I'm most grateful. I have two fine children to be proud of, and a wonderful wife; all of which would not have happened if I had not failed.

Now, I've been put down, humiliated as a 'failure,” because I didn't meet the criteria of others. (For example, once, when applying for unemployment benefits, my previous employer claimed that I was not entitled to them because I “did not live up to his expectations,” to which the unemployment comp agent said, “What does that mean?” as he rubber-stamped my claim.) Failing and succeeding are not only both necessary to find one's strengths and limitations, but also to find those impossible-to-achieve demands made on you by others. You have to have the confidence to sort it out. Or, as Douglas Adams said, “A learning experience means: don’t do that again.”

Now, to fail does not make one a failure, so I’m not a failure after all, any more than Edison or any other inventor, researcher, or technician was a failure for many experiments that just didn't work out. Nor was NASA a failure because in its initial experiments so many rockets just blew up or veered off from the launch pad. In fact, there wouldn’t be any progress if not for “failures.” Evolution is a continuing progression of trial and error: what works, what doesn’t (and with a 99% failure rate, at that).

Failure has taught me, us, what works, helping us to not make the same mistakes again. Those who keep making the same mistakes are the ones who continually fail through not learning. So it's no shame to admit when something just doesn't work out or make sense to you, or is incompatible with your mind and nature. And it's no shame to be a sane person who asks (“Oh, God'll get you, you selfish, arrogant pig for suggesting this!”), “What's in it for me?”

Why then should you feel bad because you have “failed” God or a faith, all faiths? This is stupid. If you've learned (and I give you a lot of credit for “failing” to live up to unreasonable, illogical expectations) that what you have been told makes no sense, then why expend so much of your time and energy in trying to please, to be “successful” with those who insist you must keep struggling?

Honestly, sometimes I think that believers are like mice running a maze, expecting that the fantasy cheese reward is itself a motivation to keep repeating the same maze over and over, or hamsters in their wheels going nowhere. They do get lots of exercise and struggle, though.

Take it from a failure, someone who's a loser as far as living up to the expectations of those still in the faiths: it's like failing to twist your mind to accommodate pretzel logic, contortions of morality, irrational fears, and the denial of reality. It isn't anything at all like the final failure of a parachute not opening, as the believer threatens, if you leave the faith behind for good. Congratulations to us.