Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: religion

Cut!

Movie Board

Action!

“Captain,” said the Chief Engineer in the third bulkhead of Titanic, standing in eighteen inches of north Atlantic ice water, a mere ten minutes after her hull was shredded by the unseen iceberg, “we’re taking on water! What do you want us to do?”

“Take on more water!” replied Captain Smith.

CUT! Wait.  That’s not what happened. That would be stupid.

And…ACTION!

“Stand back you people,” said the Second Officer, pointing his revolver at the crowd surging toward the remaining life boats, “I will shoot the next man to rush forward.”

“No you won’t,” bellowed John Jacob Astor IV, pushing his way toward the front of the crowd. All at once, every member of the crowd cocked back the hammers of their pistols.  Suddenly, the ship righted itself, the gash in her side healed and she maintained her top speed through iceberg-pocked waters toward New York.

CUT! That’s even dumber than before.  That didn’t happen.

Take it from the top. And… ACTION!

“Iceberg, straight ahead!” the hypothermic lookout cried, perched in the crow’s nest high above the gleaming wooden deck below.

“Be calm, my son,” said Jesus, who was standing next to him. And with a wave of his hand, the iceberg melted away and no harm ever befell any of the passengers. They all lived happily ever after and God called them home after a long life and with no pain or suffering.

CUT!  What’s going on here? None of that happened! The ship hit the iceberg, panic ensued, the ship sank and 1,514 people died horrifically painful deaths.

Ah, but there’s the problem.  We’ve all become victims of subscribing to a Hollywood script.  We all believe that we’re at various stages on our own hero’s journey and that everything will end with a storybook ending amidst a symphonic crescendo playing in the background. We die, roll credits.

Reality knows no script.  Reality kicks you in the teeth, waits for you to shake it off, then kicks you in the nuts when your head clears, then hands you a bouquet of roses.  No rhyme, no reason. That’s life! And to presume that there is some cosmic game plan in which you feature in a starring role is both delusional and dangerous. My son’s philosophy professor, Galen Strawson wrote Against Narrativity in 2004. To read it is to appreciate the danger our civilization faces living in this miasma.

2012 in America has been ruled by the gun.  We’ve seen 13 mass shootings this year alone. If we were “stunned” on February 21st at the shooting in Norcross, GA, where four people were killed, plus the shooter, we looked away. If we were “aghast” on February 27th at the shooting in Chardon, OH where three were killed and another two injured, we barely stirred. If we were “upset” on March 8th at the shooting in Pittsburgh, PA where one was killed, plus the shooter and seven were injured, we looked down. If we were “angry” on April 2 at the shooting in Oakland, CA where seven were killed and three injured, we mumbled. If we were “disappointed” on April 6th at the shooting in Tulsa, OK where three were killed and two were injured, we barely noticed. If we were “caught off-guard” on May 30th at the shooting in Seattle, WA, where five were killed, plus the shooter and one more was injured, we changed the channel.  If we were “outraged” on July 20th at the shooting in Aurora, CO, where twelve were killed and fifty-eight were injured, we clicked “Like” on Facebook to send a prayer. If we were “distressed” on August 5th at the shooting in Oak Creek, WI, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we asked “why?” If we were “troubled” on August 13th at the shooting in College Station, TX, where two were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we shook our heads.  If we were “disgusted” on September 27th at the shooting in Minneapolis, MN, where six were killed, plus the shooter and three more were injured, we turned the page. If we were “concerned” on October 21st at the shooting in Brookfield, WI, where three were killed, plus the shooter and four more were injured, we barely blinked. If we even noticed on December 11th the shooting in Happy Valley, OR, where two were killed, plus the shooter and another was injured, we kept quiet. But, if we were not apoplectically pissed-off and sick to our stomachs on December 14th at the shooting in Newtown, CT, where twenty-seven were killed, plus the shooter and an unknown number were injured, we deserve nothing better.

Ours is a society of instant gratification married to an inexplicable faith that when times get tough we can just throw our hands up in the air and assure ourselves that our future is in God’s hands. God will protect me.  This pursuit of gratification and surrendering to faith leads to a society that abdicates personal responsibility and any uncomfortable consequences of our actions.

The gun enthusiast espouses that if everybody had a gun, we would all be safe. If every moviegoer in Aurora had brought their popcorn butter glazed Glock with them, the shooter would have paid the price for threatening “civilized” society. In fact, almost every expert agrees that if there were more guns at the scene it would have erupted into a muzzle flash blinding shooting gallery of bullets exploding everywhere and more injuries and deaths. By this same logic, why don’t we pass out nuclear weapons to every country? Don’t I feel safe now!

Texas has proposed that allowing teachers to carry concealed guns will reduce the number of school shootings. Wrong! Also in Texas (surprise), a gun dealer is offering discounts for teachers! Our knee-jerk reaction to gun horror is always the same.  After Aurora, gun sales went up in Colorado.  Gun sales in Connecticut are up now, too.  “Take on more water,” said the Captain.

Our ship will not right itself, the gash in her side will not heal itself and God will not materialize and melt the iceberg.  We are responsible for our own actions and a required participant in the construction of society. To pass off responsibility to God or to a 200 year old, purposely vague document and its second amendment is to sail with our hands off the ship’s wheel and our eyes closed while we accelerate through the dangerous iceberg-laden waters of life. Who wants to sign up for that cruise? I’m tired of watching rational people rearrange the deckchairs while the ship goes down.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for lucid voices to be heard. Damn the testosterone addled, myopically stunted gun zealots and the impotent, self-serving government representatives. Raise your voice, drown out the din of gunfire and demand civilization be civilized. If not us, who? If not now, when?

And… Action!

Advertisements

It’s a Girl!

In honor of Christmas, let’s play a holiday game.  Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to get up and go outside.  There will be no caroling.  In fact, this game is easier than Nintendo Wii.  You can just sit there.  This is a mental game.

As with all games, there are rules.  These are the assumptions of our game:

  1. God exists
  2. God is the god of Christian faiths.
  3. Jesus was the son of God

Now, here’s the wrinkle and basis of our game: Let’s pretend that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a girl instead of a boy.

It's a girl!

It’s a girl!

Aside from the jokes of the manger having been decorated or Joseph and Mary demanding that baby girl Jesus be taken inside to a Hilton rather than remain in the manger, what would have happened during this girl’s life and what would her legacy be 2,000 years later?

At first blush, this twist raises more questions than assurances.  For example, would a female Jesus have commanded the same respect that the male Jesus did?  Would the disciples have even followed a woman allowing that the same divine claims and actions took place? Would the Jews or the Romans have taken her protestations and actions seriously and seen her as a threat to the established paradigm? Would she have been crucified or would another punishment have been meted out, say stoning? And if so, what would everybody wear around their neck and pray to at church if not a tortured man nailed to a wooden cross and left to die? Would she have even been taken seriously or would she have been the first victim of a time and date removed Salem witch hunt?  Would the disciples have followed up her death with the establishment of the Christian faith?  Would it have spread throughout the world and been the basis for the Roman Catholic Church in Rome? Would Popes be women, would there have been female priests? Would her teachings of peace and deference prevented the Crusades? Would females have become the leaders of the world and males simply the brute tools to their vision? If so, would the world have seen the development of societies and civilizations as they have occurred or would some other world evolved? Might this have prevented all of the wars the world has seen? Might maternal guidance have eclipsed testosterone driven bravado and intransigence leading to cordial debate and discourse rather than gunfire and bombs?

Once you ponder the possibilities and changes the world may have known, then consider if Mohammad had been born a woman, that  Buddha was a woman (that all the deities revered in the world had been women) and that God was personified as a woman rather than a male. What might have happened?

Just something to think about.

In Praise of a Dog

Delbow Ploppers

The soul, that ephemeral wellspring of morality and ledger upon which eternal judgment is based, or so it is believed in Christianity, is, according to the Bible, a wholly human characteristic. “Dominion over the animals is the right of man.” Might we not take this with a grain of salt if we step back and acknowledge that we read this from a text written by, whom else, humans? What else would we write? And it is not limited to Christianity. Islam believes dogs to be unclean, and few Sunni or Shi’a own dogs, but are taught in the Quran to treat dogs well. Hindus believe that dogs guard the gates to both Heaven and Hell, not unlike Cerberus, the three headed dog employed by Hades to guard the underworld in Greek mythology. But do dogs have souls?

Theologians argue that animals have no souls and therefore are not candidates for the eternal paradise of Heaven. However, this is not a universally accepted position. Abraham Lincoln said, “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” Not surprisingly, Will Rogers said it more plainly, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Lord Byron in his poem Epitaph to a Dog, written in 1808 as a eulogy to his Newfoundland dog Boatswain writes, in part:

But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,

The first to welcome, foremost to defend,

Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,

Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,

Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,

Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth –

While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,

And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven

James Thurber said, “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.”  I would go a step further and suggest that, if Heaven exists and is the paradise promised by the prophets, perhaps man’s care of pets constitutes one of the thresholds for admission.  Perhaps we meet Saint Rocco and our pets at the gates of Heaven, not Saint Peter, our pets providing an incontrovertible assessment of our character.  If this is true, then all dogs do indeed go to Heaven, patiently awaiting our arrival, ball in mouth, ready to play.

“A dog is a man’s best friend.” We have all heard this phrase, but as is the case with so many other colloquialisms, we retrieve it from the card catalog of quips we hold in our heads whenever we deem it appropriate, but few of us know its origin. In fact, the phrase comes from a trial in Warrensburg, Missouri that took place in 1870. George Graham Vest, a lawyer and future senator for the United States (as well as in the Confederate States) represented a man whom had sued his neighbor for shooting his dog, Old Drum. The statutory limitation on damages was limited to $50. In his closing argument, Vest said:

Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.

Not only did Vest win the case, his client was awarded an unheard of $500!  Why is man “blessed” with the promise of eternal salvation, even on his death bed following a lifetime of moral depravity, if he opens his heart to God? Why do we posit an omnipotent overlord capable of superhuman forgiveness of evil, crime and sin while at the same time turning His back on the dog? Is it because humans have the gift of verbal expression and emotion? I would offer as a counterargument that my dog, with his expressive eyes, ears and tail combines these three attributes into more expressions than the English language has words to express emotion. “Man himself cannot express love and humility by external signs, so plainly as does a dog, when with drooping ears, hanging lips, flexuous body, and wagging tail, he meets his beloved master,” wrote Charles Darwin.

Is it because man reasons, where dogs do not? Consider this quote from Stanley Coren, “The greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.” Or consider this passage from Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings:

Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal… In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.

Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh–not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.

I offer these thoughts as I sit in the waiting room craning my neck in hopes of seeing my dog’s surgeon approach. I take umbrage with the term dog “owner.” I do not “own” my dog as much as share a portion of our short lives together. My small dog, the youngest member of what must seem to him like a Brobdingnagian family, is worthy of every consideration I would offer to my children. Having survived cancer in his neck earlier this year and emergency eye surgery three years ago, this is the second surgery he has had on his back legs. He tore the cranial cruciate ligament in his left leg in 2009 and tore the same ligament in the other leg this past week. In spite of this, he, our little bionic dog, never complains and seeks only to love us and have us play with him. Mordecai Siegal summed it up well when he said, “Acquiring a dog may be the only opportunity a human ever has to choose a relative.” My position may differ slightly in that I consider it more likely that our dog chose us. And how fortunate we are to have in our lives this gentle soul.