When I was 15, my 10th grade English teacher, Gil Hernandez, lent me his copy of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I read it, but its influence didn’t really start to sink in until college, when, as so many of us do at age 19, I began to cobble together a philosophy. As I recall, we half-kiddingly named our philosophy Omnitheistic Relativism.
I spotted my hardback copy of that Illusions on my bookshelf recently, and since it is a very quick read, I decided to reread it.
My judgement of Richard Bach overall has changed in recent years. He wrote two subsequent books about meeting and falling in love with a supposed “soulmate,” an actress he then married named Leslie Parrish. After 20 years of marriage, they divorced, and the preachy, teachy tone of his writing was then tainted by this contradictory action, particularly the notion of an eternal partner connected by the soul. In my eyes, it definitely damaged his credibility.
I like his early books, the ones you probably haven’t read, best. My very favorite is Stranger to the Ground. A Gift of Wings, a collection of short stories, is nice, too. I like them because they are about flying.
Back to Illusions. In 1981, my friends and I talked and talked about the meaning of life. I had pretty much dispensed with God by then, but there was still, at the time, a desire to have a spiritual element in my thinking. Bach’s book seemed to provide some of that. Instead of God, it pointed to the Universe and the Self (the “Is”) as the source of the spiritual aspects of existence. He painted a relatively plausible picture of how the Universe could be based in science, yet have elements that were mystical.
Then I reread it last week. With the passage of years I had come to think less of Bach’s whimsical ideas about the true nature of life. A combination of things I read about him, and more recently, videos of interviews with him, revealed to me suddenly that he was, for lack of a less bigoted term, kinda faggy. His writing took too liberal a use of words like “soft” and “gentle,” and as a result, it lost any masculine appeal.
The philosophy itself is essentially empty-headed quasi-Zen 70s-esque silliness. But when I was 19, it made sense, at least as some kind of a philosophical framework. Part of that was observation, and part of it was the appealing fantasy that through forces unseen, we were more powerful and more significant than mere nature. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if it all really was illusions.”
“Wouldn’t it be neat” of course isn’t any kind of legitimate basis for a philosophy, but I think as anyone goes through the process of thinking about the nature of reality, there are elements of both wishful optimism and self-depricating pessimism.
Also, for anyone who didn’t know (I didn’t know), Richard Bach was seriously injured in a crash of his light seaplane in September.
If you read Illusions and have an opinion of the work, please comment.