Ursula K. LeGuin wrote the above in Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which I am rereading for the first time in about 20 (possibly 30) years.
This is good stuff, so let me quote more of the passage here:
To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free.
To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.
To break the circle and go free – that’s Nirvana, is it not?
I’m excited to explore these ideas in greater depth as I study Buddhism more. But as I’m just beginning that journey, I’ll save writing about it for a later date.
Speaking of writing…
I’ve always adored LeGuin’s writing. Her language sparkles with shiny turns of phrases, and rumbles with deep emotion. On my re-read, though, I find that I have become, somewhat sadly, a much more efficient reader than I had been in my past. I blame grad school, where I trained myself to read tons of (frequently poorly crafted/written) articles and extract facts. The articles and books and chapters held much useful information, but presented in language that was so stripped of beauty, wit, or even conciseness, that I learned to stop bothering about the words and just suck out the facts. I’m not saying that I was expecting scientific articles and site reports to be literary gems or anything, but good lord, the writing could be so dire that it would impede understanding. I was utterly surprised at how scientists, professionals in their field, authors of papers and books, (and native English speakers to boot!) could write with so little care for conciseness and control of narrative.
So I have become a very efficient reader, a reader of plot and character. The structure beneath the words on the page. This is good in some respects, as my age and experience allow me to touch the depths of books, their connections with other stories, their roots in culture. But on the other hand, I am prone to missing some beautiful words arranged in beautiful ways.
Time to slow down and enjoy the journey more, I think!