Incredible Realization Late in Life

I am old. I do not feel old because I am (knock on wood) healthy. What has gotten me here healthy? Study skill in habit formation. Reading skill and breadth. Listening skill of selective attention. Avoidance. Determination rather than going with the social flow and recognizing bad influences and urgings. Owning and creating my self concept. Prudence. Cerebral control. I could go on. I will get to the point.

I always felt smart, in a quiet way. I was not conscious that I had a good brain. But I felt that I should always be in charge of it, and it, I know now, was prudent because I seemed always to be self-directed. I had some sense of right and wrong, for me, what I could do. What I might do. What I must not do. I believe a permissive mother allowed me to be on my own some or much of the time. Early experience going to church, begun by my very devout mother, inculcated in me a fact that there is a very distinct difference between what you do is right or wrong, what you do is bad and what is good, moral or immoral, in general. So there was good and there was bad. I had to judge, with a big nudge from fundamentalist religion.

I have since realized that that religious nudge was too overpowering, not allowing me to think and judge for myself what would condemn me to eternal hell-fire and damnation. Church people were not real, too “other-worldly”, rather than “this-worldly”. They used extreme, scarifying tactics on the mind that I could examine and question, and examine and question I DID, eventually. Especially in the realm of “sex”.  Sex and sin. Sex as sin. Sex is sin. Wrongo dongo! Sex education there was none. There was never a Sunday school lesson referencing sex. Taboo subject matter, only for sniggering. Religion let me down in several areas, but especially that. Science is a better, more reliable guide. I like its “this-worldliness”.

Subsequent study and exposure to literature contributed that “humanism” that I, and all people, need. They meant well, but they went too far. And that may have been the good they ultimately did for me, in their being too threatening and unreal. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God!” fundamentalism. They are always there to spread their flame.

The goblins ‘l getcha if ya don’t watch out!

Too much gluten is the principle of my new religion, the diet. Do-it-yourself health study. You are your own devil and deity. Nutrition, diet. Exercise. A good marriage. Study. Degrees. Good employment. Friends who are models of intellect and health and habit.

But here is my point, at last. All that above is prologue. I have made much of my life. I have written my history in brief form, and it looks loaded with accomplishment. I am now a widower. Alone. After more than a half century of a partnership with a good woman. “Ve get too soon old und too late schmart.” The silence now is deafening. We had a gluten-free marriage. And in that state of being I can think more clearly, if too late.

I look at a knife on the table for my lonely breakfast of tea and toast. It is our stainless steel. Then I look at a knife from her side of the family, silver, with a fancy carved “J” on the handle. From her family’s Victorian mansion, where we lived the first six years with only her aged mother the survivor, who died after several years. All that family history and well-being has come down to me alone. There was more to it than I now realize. And I let it go, unexamined. My wife the daughter, her mother, and me, living in that great, four-storied house. My mother and father long gone. I missed it, with my own family in Indiana, and with what remained of her’s, her mother. Why was I so dense? Now I live with all the leavings of that home in a state far away from it in distance and time. I look at the silver and the pieces of furniture that have come down to me, at this too-late stage, and crave what I cannot have. What is my regret? Oh, I know it well. It haunts me. There is no remedy. If I only knew then what I know now! This is when silence is deafening.

But I will tell you this. These are my wishes that would have filled a void I feel in my history. My old mother. My old dad. Her old mother. (Her dad died at the conclusion of the war. The town druggist. Worked hard during the war. Smoked.) What I should have done. What I omitted in my life story as I put it together. Now realized, too late as I sit here recalling what I could, should have done. A very important communication act. I am bitter that I did not do it, as I sit in that old chair in my living room where she sat in it daily in her waning years, quietly, watching her daughter and me go about our business as usual.

Go to her. Sit beside her, or across from her. For a visit. Ask her. Take from what she says, and make a comment, and a question. Learn from her, what she has to teach. She was a principal. What was her view of education, my game? Listen to the anecdotes. What was her view of learning? Who was her best student? And why? How did she raise her daughter, my wife? On what principle, or principles? Was she a good student? And so on with all the how’s and why’s. I am sorry that did not happen.

Just the act of engaging her was what was important. It may have dignified her opinion of me and may have done her some good. And that principle, to me, is important to operate in all my interactions with whomever I have conversations. In each interaction, try to raise the level of it to some general level of principle. That person may give you some important insight. We learn by insight. A chimp will see outside his cage a banana the fell too far to reach. So he sees a stick as a tool to pull the banana within his reach and a banana feast. Human insight in far more complicated matters is important everyday. There are so many insights that we lack. We must always be looking for insight. Everywhere. Do not discount old people. And thus I shake my didactic finger. Mostly at myself.

What Is God? And God’s Successor?

God is the central, highest authority in the universe, as pronounced by religious, self-styled “authorities”. Human beings needed that authority, it was felt,
for appeals from savage ways of dealing with one another. Just up from apery, the need was felt for a very long time. And LONG time was really long, while the mind was developing ways of coping with a cantankerous environment where there was no general, discernible order. Day after day after day after after after —- just the whimsy of the capricious cloud and wind and water falling and piling up in spots. So “we” (as we were then) had to have some sense, some order made up, some authority to manage the chaos. Habits of dealing with it. Repetitious work at control, at routinizing responses that made sense because what worked before continues to work and deliver safety and in time, long time, unmarked time except seasons unnumbered, imagined by sun and moon movements by exceptional persons.

No measure by month, year, decade, century, just time as the nickname grunts for some oppressive force, some entity of authority who subjects others to undue pressures and comes down hard on the one who has not coped well or knew what to do in an exigency from wind and water and fire and beast and rising and falling earth and rock. All that muck grows a personification in the primitive brain, packaging the good and packaging the tumult in one grunt. Uh-huh. Yeah. Ole ” ” (with a grunt). Over decades, centuries, over longer spans of time. Pre-God Time. With “god-like” entities.

Then God grew, because there was a need for some grand authority of control. We now must remember how long the time was for our primitive ancestors to cope with the whip and lash of climate and shifting earth. And very probably the very, very strong and overriding and desperate and even insane desire for some miraculous assistance in designing defenses against the whiplashes of nature and other enemies to appease or praise nature’s bribery.

Even today, that praying for some God-like intervention is sought.

Finally, the ultimate arose, with a place of solitude for a home. We see portraits of nature, landscapes of heaven. And dwell on that solitude. Unlike the cave paintings with stick figures of primitive life. There is that one central authority managing the whole of the universe. With different forms here and there, and doctrines, and rituals, and other accoutrements. For some. For many. For the majority. But what is there for those not in the majority?

“God” was in the uncontrollable force and mysterious appearance of willy-nilly wind, not understood, whence, why, how. No science yet. Allegory. Tales told. A force hitting the blank slate of murky mind. Then “personification”. There was that one God-like figure that came along with his sacred name, and He had the opportunity, presented by a follower of His, to recognize science as the art of demonstrated proof, in pointing to “evidence” as the proof. But He rejected the opportunity to produce proof and ridiculed the one who stood in need of that proof to prove his fidelity. The disciple was put down and ridiculed for what ought to have been a very early demonstration of the scientific impulse.

Eventually, the discipline of science demanded that impulse for proof, from evidence.

THIS POSTSCRIPT ADDED ON OCTOBER 20, 2014

It is apparent that people still need God. But, in a way, government has become the growth form that is taking over the tasks of religion, gradually, as it encases in laws what was formerly the function of religion. Man-made Order and Virtue and Morality are now governing society very effectively. Those functions of religion were, from ancient times until recent times, paired with totalitarian forms of governance, were the usual social controls. Those two needed each other to maintain order. Thank you, Religion, you have done well, but better forms of government, especially the democratic form, can now take over from here on, and what government does not do can still be reinforced by your preachings for the “goodness of self control”. When it comes to social virtue, there cannot be too many influences. Looking back, it appears that religion paired with the lesser forms of non-democratic government did not do as well together before democracy was invented.

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 3:25 pm  Comments (4)  

The Inter-Faith Service for the Boston Bombing: One Thing Missing

Recently, the “Boston Marathon Bombing” catastrophe occasioned an inter-faith service. The meeting was appropriate and beautifully spoken by all the presenters. Impressive. But I must demur. In each of the last two services, A PRESUMPTION HAS BEEN MADE that ought to be corrected, forever! One segment of the population was omitted. What is that presumption?

It is consistently and continually presumed that humanists or agnostics have no faith. That is a prejudgment. WE DO! Therefore, they had no presence in YOUR inter-faith services. YOUR blind thinking wants only organized religious denominations to be represented. Agnostics do have a belief system, called a philosophy, and a faith even though they may not have an organization with a power in organized numbers behind it to compel attention.

It is a faith “at large” with the method of reason promoting human welfare and humanitarianism. Yes, it may be secular, a cultural movement, and highly individual, but we would recognize and identify with some one speaking about that school of thought that puts the individual human being gazing squarely into the face of evil, and mayhem, and unreason, and speaking for the force that buoys up a large segment of human life on this globe.

There are many great humanists who should be asked to speak and represent us humanists.

People of religious faiths have failed to include, twice now, a humanist or agnostic or atheist to represent a growing segment of the population of the United States. Your premise that overlooks some great members of this society is fatally flawed with what? prejudice? ignorance? denominationalism? supernaturalism? narrow-mindedness?

Please, in the future, show some of the competence of reasonable adults! Do not be afraid of independent thinkers who may use different pathways toward the same end as the doctrinaire. Believe it, there are some great thinkers in our society who share my view. You show yourselves fearful, of what? That service about the bombing of the marathon was good. But there was some representation missing. I felt it. I resented it. I wanted to hear my point of view applied to that moment. There may have been a humanist among those attacked and hurt or killed.

I hope we do not have to have another such memorial rite. Without that sort of wickedness we can do. But —

Newtown, Connecticut: Memorial Program for the Mass Murder of Children and Teachers

The Sunday evening of the memorial service for the children and teachers who were massacred by a lone gunman killer (Sunday, December 16, 2012) was a very moving tribute by nearly every major religious denomination. The presentations were as varied as the expressions of grief characteristic of each different faith. Side by side, they gave a nation, which has the freedom of religious worship, a program of contrasting religious styles but with the same intent, to comfort the parents and the community. In this program nationally televised was an opportunity for millions of people to see different modes to the same end. It was an interesting exposure to different religious rituals and a very good “educative” experience, one very seldom experienced.

Nearly every belief but one was programmed. That one, not represented, has a point of view that ought not to be ignored, having an approach not irrelevant to the subjects that the final speaker, the President of the United States, included in his memorial speech. In the President’s remarks were the stuff of the view Humanists would put first because Humanists begin their thinking confronting such an atrocity with the process close to the nature of being human, the feelings and functioning of a humane citizenry. Humanists advocate the principles of humanism, concerned with the interests and welfare of human beings. Humanists, in this present event are equally equipped to comment on what the “why” question seeks for an answer.

That is where I begin my thoughts about the horrible acts of a lone gunman.

I was reminded of my humanist view at the very outset when I heard a man with a special white collar say on a recent news program, “That is not in God’s plan!” So quick to absolve God! I think he meant to say, that was not God’s fault. So I thought, hmmmm! So! There are people claiming to know God’s plan, eh? I have heard them often explicitly characterize the U.S. society as a wicked one. That basic evil nature of all of our society was, obviously, axiomatic with “fundamentalists”. Well then, they should tell us how God’s plan accounts for such acts, besides the blanket accusation.

The journalist half-dozen guidelines for any good news report on such an event as the mass killing of little ones is, five “w’s” and an “h”, who, what, when, where, how and why. The “why” in this story is the big stumbling block for journalistic coverge, and the toughest info to get, but more crucial than who, what, when, where, and how. The “WHY” confounds all the clergymen and humanists as well.

But I, as a humanist, would be set on a different path toward comforting words, the ultimate comforting knowledge, making our culture feel general comfort from living in it securely. We cannot be comforted until —

Humanists usually have a strong literary educational background, and in this instance they would not use the word “tragedy” so freely as all the journalists have used it. “Tragedy” has a long history of literary meaning, and people use it so freely, and wrongly, as a synonym of “catastrophe”. That literary sensitivity is lacking. As part of that “why did he do it?” question, they may think of the atrocity as a tragedy, but would ask explicitly, why did that person do that? Therein is the real story, the key to people’s questions. The journalists had an answer but it was not probed, the tyranny of the deadline, I suppose.

They would see that the tragedy is to be located in the killer’s choice of acts: why did he act that way? What was the nature of the killer’s acts? Wrongdoing by ignorance, mistaken or accidental error, or was it deliberate iniquity or error? They would uncover the fact that the killer went to that same school when he was a child, that he had certain behavioral difficulties as a child himself, behaving in very different ways from the other children there, and that the school could not accomodate him and his personal problems. The school did not have or seek the resources that such a “different” child should have had. That’s as I heard it. Ultimately, the fault was the school’s, and thus society’s, that built into that child the character that could kill, by ignoring behavior that required changing, teaching and learning. I ask, is there a humanitarian deficit there, marked by a lack of humanistic values and a devotion to human welfare? How much should society feel the pain of its failure to identify his problems and to re-educate him in behavioral reponses that might possibly have prevented this atrocity? The humanist answer to “why” may be the best guide to future acts of society. That comes from a better, more useful analysis of using the word “tragedy”, leading to the basis of a possible, preventive solution.

That is the missing “w” in the jounalists’ questions.

I am always at the ready to “educate” the journalists and all people in this society to be more sensitive to the meanings of such words. I want here to make people change their useage of that word “tragedy’. It is not appropriate for many accidents, car crashes that are truly accidents, not vehicular homicides, which may take on the meaning of tragedy if the driver has a certain flaw of character within his or her power to control.

I think the President, in his remarks, hinted at acts of government in the schools that would confront the true tragedy having such a tremendously hurtful outcome in the deaths of those little people, which have been taken to the heart of people everywhere around the world. All over the world, the feeling about the mass killing of little ones can be empathized. And this event did go around the world without regard to religion, but received in all cultures as a universally condemned atrocity. A humanist view would naturally lead to the conclusion that the real problem leading to a human tragedy is the choice of violent solutions to problems. Violence is too prevalent as a reflex act to resolve a problem. Simple as that. But where and when was that reflex ingrained? That question is always relevant to the humanists. Humanists have a high regard for finding answers to the “why” question.

I was emotionally affected by the various religious treatments juxtaposed for the occasion of the memorial program. But I did not hear that different treatment that would have come from a humanist view, to probe the real nature and implications of designating the killings as a “tragedy” leading to the cause for this memorial program.

I missed the secular voice, as an alternative viewpoint to the religious ones. There are probably more people claiming other identities than those which were represented. Can that omission be corrected? Nah! The religious voice is too loud for such occasions. The President’s voice came closest to the humanistic voice, I believe. And that is only right, because he is the President of all the people and must strike that chord familiar to all.