Thursday, January 29, 2009

No Choice

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that people are very disinclined to be objective, and are driven or motivated by appetites that are never satiated.
Truthfully, I wonder how it can be said that anyone is objective about anything. Every decision made is influenced by something other than the cold, hard facts.
This is not to say that we all decide in accordance with our desires. Sometimes the evidence to the contrary or extenuating circumstances supply our better judgment with sufficient reason to withstand our predisposition.
But, our predisposed tastes and wants are considered and, upon a matter that leaves any room open for debate we will hold tenaciously to our bias despite any amount of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Which leads me to wonder about claims of objectivity from everybody from news reporters to historians to atheists to apologists.
Personally, I want everything I believe to be true. I am not disinterested when I weigh the evidence.
Disregarding the recent theatrics of Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, and disregarding the admittedly more reasoned, but still biased replies of Zacharias, McDowell and Johnson, the question of God remains a strict choice, if you maintain objectivity.
Either you must accept the concept of God that consistently defeats any attempts to explain it entirely, or you must accept the concept of materialism that has no answer to the ultimate question of origin.
(Now, I do say that materialism is defeated by its own premise. It will not brook the possibility of the unexplainable, yet they have still to offer a scientific explanation for the beginning, and furthermore are mystified that you would ask such a question.)
But the choice of the matter remains, that you must accept the concept of God that you cannot explain or that you must accept that there is a beginning hopelessly shrouded in riddle but free from intelligent design.
I have considered what it would be like to be a materialistic atheist after the manner of Nietzsche.
I should be completely cut off from all moorings, without the slightest taint of prejudice in any matter, should have no bent for good or evil. They should have no standard to which to appeal. They should have no more sympathy for the hunted Jew than for the cockroach cringing in the shadow of a raised shoe.
But, (and this is telling) with the exception of clinical sociopathy, modern materialists all appeal to an idea, however nebulous, of good and bad.
Genocide, bad.
Strictly materialistically and mathematically speaking, I don't believe it can be proven that the death of a few hundred thousand people, even a few million in the over-crowded regions of India or Haiti would be detrimental to the larger population.
The dilemma presented them is an agonizing one, and does not contribute to overall mental peace and sanity. They are torn between an inherent recognition that there are taboos and their creed which demands that there are none.
They maintain they hold a higher standard of morality than believers in any god or God because they are truly altruistic and not doing good out of fear of judgment, but they cannot logically do this because there is no standard of morality.
Evil men are happier than the atheist. They have made a choice and are not nagged by the impossible effort of trying to pretend that there is none.
Atheists would tell you that there is no choice. This is the reason they refuse to engage with ID advocates, because ID advocates propose a weighing of the evidence.
Illogical, they say, because the supernatural has no weight. There is nothing to be weighed. Acknowledging the existence of a possible different option pulls the cornerstone from their entire philosophical structure.
The debate cannot be entered into.
In their self-imposed vacuum, their opposition to ID in schools and universities is not based on preference for one view above the other. They don't believe that there is another view.
But why the rhetoric? Why the anger at a God who does not exist?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Just a quick question: What is this absurd notion that we should wish President Obama success and not failure?
He has told us what he intends to accomplish. Given that his ideas are diametrically opposed to practically everything I believe in, why am I obliged to bid him godspeed?
If a man comes swaggering into your home pledging murder and mayhem, you don't wish him success, you work to bring about frustration of his goals.
It is, in my mind, more disavowing of absolutes. I.E., so, he wants something different than you want. Are you suggesting that what you want for the country is right and he is wrong? How dare you!
If he were to discover the truth, and about face on almost everything he proposes, I would wish him all the success in the world.
But given his current stated objectives, you had better believe I hope he fails!
Man up, GOP. Gridlock is the only thing that can save us now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Future or Fantasy

There is a line in a children's movie that is devastating, almost brutal.
A father is attempting to explain his perpetually unemployed status to his son. The father has visions and dreams of inventing and creating, but lacks the business sense and more importantly, the discipline to see any of his many projects through to the finish. However, he is confident, he tells his son, that the big break is just around the corner.
"What if you're wrong?" asks the son, "-and you're just an ordinary guy who should get a job?"
Mercifully, the movie was not based on a true story. I shouldn't wish to speculate on how painful a blow such as this would be to a real father's pride.
But the question is a good one.
It can be applied in another sense to myself.
(I'm afraid I won't be dealing with the question of whether the man was irresponsible or not. In fact, it may seem to you that I have taken my text and departed from it, but it is in the following bed that my thoughts flowed.)
Is it normal for a man to feel stifled by the confines of an every-day job, normal to be shamed when the knowledge of his name and accomplishments are limited to a small circle of family and friends?
(If only there were not that odd moment singing in the shower when one feels his voice to be quite on par with any number of celebrated vocal artists, or that singular instant of brilliance that leads a man to privately place his intelligence on a level with, if not the President, then at very least his second-in-command. And having opened that can of worms, I shall leave it for another time.)
I suspect it is fairly universal, that feeling that if one had the proper venue in which to display his talent, if the talent scout were in the right place at the right time, that the world would be advised of his, or, to some lesser extent, her, greatness.
(Maybe I should expand on that previous statement. I meant that women tend to be less distracted with delusions of grandeur, and, on the whole, perhaps less insecure than the average male.)
I'm not arguing for a lowering of the bar. I am not even suggesting a healthy dose of reality. For reality is as real for those in high places as those in low.
I am suggesting that those daydreams have the potential to distract us from actually doing anything, even the smallest thing, with the talents or gifts we have been given.
To speculate on this level, I must make an assumption. I must assume that most men are as stricken with delusions of grandeur as I am. What is so disagreeable about being one of the unnumbered masses who turn the cogs of the country. What is so horrible about being unknown? (On an ill-advised venture I Googled my name. . . .discovered I share it with a feminist leaning country singer, a late pop artist, and a horror movie director.)
I cannot accept such a purgatory. Never mind that I am doing little to escape it, it is the sentence of perpetuity I can't bear. A man might find himself staring into open space with little or no prospect or motivation for anything else, but he will surely start into activity and come into energy if he is told he may not do anything else.
You'll find the dream of greatness in every pocket of the world. Whether it be those moved to action; reality show contestants, open audition participants or garage bands, or the larger population of those merely leaving open the possibility; online gamers, bloggers, or shower performers. There are Montanas on every field, Sosas on every diamond, Gretskys on every ice, Jordans on every court, and even Fast Eddies in every vanishing pool hall across the country. A man may be and undoubtedly is, somewhere, as proud of his precision in chopping wood as is many a fine celebrated wordsmith of his literary exaction. I once knew a man as immensely proud of his ability to make masonry cuts with a hammer as Bell, Perlman or Ma might be of their prowess with a bow.
I became concerned with this alternate reality when it occurred to me, as intimated in the movie, that this could be as much a sign of immaturity as any portent of greatness. After all, what little boy has not rode with the Lone Ranger or fought alongside Daniel Boone? So is it that our fantasies simply age with us? Coming into manhood, are we not to put away childish things?
Is it a vestige of a peculiar pride, a private egomaniacal hold-over from boyhood, or, is it the whisper of potential, the instinct of purpose and meaning?
The answer to this all-important question may be found in a closer examination of the dream that grips you. Is it that you envy the position of those distinguished in your area of interest, or is your propensity a true fascination, or even involuntary?
I think it simplistic to prophesy the failure of mere ambition and the success of altruistic servitude, unless you are weighing the eternal implications. I have known those who have excelled in their chosen field even to positions of distinction, (some that particularly stand out to me in the pursuit of theology) that I have privately suspected of having gratuitous, if unconscious, designs. And it may well be that a true gift of God would then be corrupted by self-serving goals, but if you question whether your idle visions have a genuine purpose, it is well to consider whether it is something you wish to do or wish to have done.
I can tell you this honestly. It is not delusions of grandeur that prompts me to write, and transcribes odd occurrences or scenes I observe into paradoxical metaphors or descriptive sentences. It may or may not be a simple outgrowth of a love of reading and an admiration for certain writers, but it is absolutely compulsory.
Is it a simple human frailty especially peculiar to men, or the unheeded quiet call of purpose from a Creator?
The answer is anything but universally applicable, and is answered only individually.

Now about that can of worms . . .

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Way of Grief (and the end to all this Buddhism pontification)

Zeno was the founder of Stoicism, yet another philosophy mining for precious virtue in earthy environs. The secret to contentment is your state of mind. Accept life for what it is, don't expect too much, and be satisfied with only the bare necessities. The problem with this philosophical tenet that runs through the ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, Antisthenes, Diogenes, and of course, Buddha, aside from the viral pride that conceives, nurtures and slaughters, is one of definition. It is all relative. While gazing at a lotus blossom may be considered a simple pleasure, it may also be considered a luxury. If it engenders positive emotion, it could be construed as downright hedonistic. If vitamins and water can sustain, wouldn't a dry crust of bread or a cup of tea be extravagant. Somebody can always out-do you. I know it is simply the idea but the doctrine must have some real world discipline.
Screwtape portrays gluttony in this unusual light: An elderly woman subsists on very small portions and in so doing, views herself as anything but a glutton. But, Screwtape reveals, she is only falling prey to a new strain of gluttony, referred to as gluttony of delicacy, in place of the old standby, gluttony of excess. "She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile 'Oh, please, please . . . all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.' In a crowded restaurant, she gives a little scream at the plate which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, 'Oh, that's far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it.' "
In so doing, she exercises the pride that enslaves her. She is being temperate, she tells herself, wonderfully, virtuously so. Oh Lord, I thank thee that I am not as that glutton at adjacent table, fisting in handfuls of french fries and sucking up refills of carbonation.
All this focus on modified asceticism, beginning with Buddhism, has been to reiterate to myself the humiliation and the contrition of Christianity.
Nobody likes feeling guilty, not really. I know guilt is at a premium right now. Whether you're a parent, a consumer, a motorist, an American, above the poverty level, or a meat-eater, guilt is dumped on us by the truckload. Yes, and ohhh, how good it feels! Feeling guilty has become its own salvation. Which of course isn't really guilt at all.
Because being really guilty is a horrible feeling. Which is why we are so quick to expedite it. Have you ever known anyone who was perpetually apologetic? Beware that individual. They have a fanatical aversion to guilt, and think that by forever acknowledging their faults they build up a positive balance in the ledger, (bringing some of the more extremely sociopathic ones to the point where they could conscientiously apologize for killing you in cold blood.)
It is not because they are forever suffering under feelings of guilt. Guilt is a horrific reality, and human nature will be violently repulsed by it, and the person who portrays constant "humility" of this sort is effectively lying, whether they are aware of it or not. It is its own form of created virtue, which is nothing but a vice of the most abhorrent order.
If you have been saved, you will remember at some point preceding the cleansing blood a dirty bile rising in your soul. No one can exist under this trauma for any extended period of time. You will either disavow it and swallow it down again or, you will vomit it out.
Buddhism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Cynicism, and the composite of these and many more, humanism, disavows it. They treat the symptoms, the feeling of guilt, and leave the fetid gall bubbling and effervescing in your mind.
The death blow to our pride is the realization that to ever be rid of our guilt, we must surrender it to God rather than deal with it ourselves. It is the ultimate act of contrition. I have the most horrible disease, I contracted it deliberately, and I must have it out, but I cannot. You must.
This is why God's gift is so vehemently spurned. There is a reason why it is called a death.
I believe we fear this slaughter of our pride more than we fear physical death.
Which is why man will search for any other avenue than the Via Dolorosa.
Such as the path to enlightenment.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Riddle Me This

Something occurred to me while writing the last post. I exercised enormous discipline and stayed on topic, more or less. But the thought intrigued me, so . . .
In Job 37, Elihu makes the assertion that God is indeed in control of earthly circumstances, even in charge of storm and wind. Especially pithy are verses 11 and 12, He disperses the cloud of His lightning. It changes direction, turning around by His guidance. Judging God liable for the wind would have been especially meaningful for Job, and quite possibly a very painful consideration.
If God micromanages the clouds with the wind, then He also would have been responsible for the mysterious tornado that struck the house that held Job's children.
It would have been painful enough to acknowledge God's passivity in this event. In other words, had Job gotten to the point where he was attempting to excuse God's culpability by reason of He giveth and taketh away, this startling declaration of Elihu's must have been excruciating.
It is easy enough to anesthetize your raw feelings with any number of variations on "Bad stuff happens" and say "Well, He really didn't mean it", or, "Think how much worse it could be."
(Two men were walking single-file through a thick wood. Brushing past a particularly thick, low-hanging branch, the front man held on to the branch as he kept moving and held on and held on until he let it go at precisely the point the second man was moving into line with the branch's original position. The branch swept back and flattened the second man, rendering him unconscious. When at last he came to, his words were, "Man, I'm glad you held that branch as long as you did, or it would've killed me.")
But Elihu was presenting a different proposition altogether. In effect, he was placing the blame for the death of Job's children squarely on God.
Now, we can forgive a slight if we feel it was basically an omission and we can excuse someone of guilt if it appears that intervention was beyond their control, but how do we cope when it comes to light that the incident was intentional?
You may say God was only allowing Satan the handicap in their wager, but you'll notice in Job 1:8 that God initiated the conversation about Job and in His omniscience foresaw the destruction of Job's family, livelihood and happiness.
Elihu was asking Job to consider this as a true "act of God" when it might have been much easier to shuffle the blame off as just one of those things.
James Dobson relates a story in When God Doesn't Make Sense about his son, Ryan. Suffering from a painful ear infection, Ryan was taken to the pediatrician. The doctor sadistically enlisted Dr. Dobson's assistance in holding the petrified child while the doctor performed a vary painful procedure. Dobson recalls the frightened, accusatory look in his small son's eyes. Why are you doing this to me? To Ryan, his father was participating in the attack and may as well have been the actual perp.
So the anguished question "Why did You let this happen?" might well be shifted from the passive to the active "Why did You do this?"
When you are under God's hammer, little relief may be gained from envisioning what fine instrument He is shaping. The quicker you become malleable the quicker the fire will cool, but who is to know what God is about. As a lump of formless steel, you may be content, desperate in fact, to be nothing more than a horseshoe, but God may be fashioning an exquisitely wrought spur or sword hilt. Unfortunately, it won't do any good to accept the pain in order to simply expedite the process, you must embrace it, forswearing any desire to be out from under the hammer and cooling in the sand box, unless it be His will. Incredibly, you must prefer to be on the anvil or in the furnace if that be His plan.
This is all well and good if we are operating under the premise that our existence is fundamentally a good thing or even inevitable, but what happens when that assumption is lifted? What lies beneath?
Yes, the lump of metal protests, but I did not ask to become a work of art. For that matter, I didn't ask to be mined and smelted. I was perfectly content as ore living in the dirt.
Or, in human terms, I didn't ask to exist.
Or, as Job asked, why was I not miscarried?
I hate to put this so presumptuously, but apparently God deemed the risk of pain and hell preferable to non-existence.
But this is the question I want answered.
If we did not yet exist, how could our welfare have been a consideration?
Any ideas? Or am I looking for an answer that lies beyond the grasp of mortal comprehension?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Comforting or Unsettling?

An affection for enigmas is not to be confused with an ability to solve them. I've been accused (by my mother) of being a deep thinker but I never seem to recall having been called a deep problem-solver.
But, I like enigmas.
Thinking has always been a risky proposition for me. The conclusion is always pretty much foregone and usually determined by what mindset I was in when I undertook such ill-advised activity.
With this past history, it is perhaps difficult to understand why, when, just a few miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, a certain innocuous thought channeled me down a detour that looked a little forbidding, I wouldn't have just remained on the freeway, shunning back roads and rabbit trails.
Well, I'm forever taking the scenic route.
It was a positive thought, the one that started it all.
Isn't it comforting, I reflected, to know that, despite not knowing myself all that well, there is One who knows simply everything about me, and I can present Him with problems that I have not yet been able to form into words, and He understands.
What a privilege to carry . . .
What a privilege to descend into myself and talk to God.
Trouble is, objected my suddenly fearless analytical mind, am I really talking to God?
Am I simply reasoning with myself?
At ground zero, is it just me and God, or, just me?
When I stop long enough to become completely silent and consider what has been nagging at me, are the forthcoming answers to my questions from God, or are they only the natural result of reasoning with myself?
I asked God one time what He was about ( it seemed He was engaging in a little unnecessary roughness) and the answer came, swiftly and clearly.
But, was the answer His, or my own conclusion; only the effect of finally knowing how to phrase the question?
Understand, this mental reroute was not leading me toward doubt. I simply believe we do not benefit from attributing everything to God or Satan, at least, not in the sense of direct divine or diabolical intervention or decree. I.E., did God really turn all the traffic lights green on your hasty way to work, or did Satan really turn them all red?
I've always felt it was gratuitous and even irreverent to attribute such trifles to God. Irreverent because the party in question may have been transgressing the speed limit by an irresponsible margin while catching said green lights. Gratuitous because had you left in time you wouldn't have required all green lights.
During my abbreviated college experience, I was discussing this general subject, concerning what is or is not entirely secular in our lives, with a friend and he related a discussion he'd had with another classmate.
Everything we do, proposed this third party, is either in the service of God or Satan. Everything.
To illustrate his point, he reached out to a desk chair and spun it around. "I just spun that chair for God."
My friend and I judged this just plain stupid.
Looking back on it, whether he did or did not spin that chair for God, whether he was simply illustrating a point, or whether he was just being flippant, his basis for making that declaration is one I think I only now see.
Answer this for me: If the wind moves a blade of grass, is that occurrence completely devoid of meaning? I am not asking you to find some cosmic significance in this, (mostly because I believe that the meaning of it is beyond us) I am only asking the question in the negative. Not, what does it mean, but, is it meaningless? Does anything happen in a vacuum?
If our idea of God is accurate, then He saw the grass bowing before the wind, because He is omniscient. If He saw it, then He permitted it. If He permitted it, He did so for a reason.
It seems to me that if you can accept one second of your life, one pass of your wiper blades, one fallen hair of your head, or one bending blade of bluegrass as quintessentially meaningless, then you have just imploded a distant star, and created a nihilistic black hole into which all meaning and all purpose will eventually disappear.
If anything is futile, if one minuscule happening is not under His supervision and therefore under His control, then He is not God and becomes definitively I AM NOT instead of I AM.
So, accepting that nothing falls under the category of meaningless, what then do I make of my original question? While I am praying, if the answer that occurs to me is little more than common sense, is the entire exercise secular?
This echoes a debate as old as Plato. Are some things spiritual, and some things secular?
Let's get simplistic here. Reading the Bible is undoubtedly spiritual. So, is the act of turning the page from Acts 2 to Acts 3 also spiritual? Or do we have a purely secular, physical act facilitating the spiritual? And does that not automatically sanctify the act of turning the page? This all works out to an unsettling conclusion. Pumping gas in your car is as spiritual as taking communion.
If all is done to the glory of God.
If the young collegian was sincere, I suppose that the chair was spun for God.
And, if I am sincere, then the answer I received was God's common sense.
Of course, if nothing we do is meaningless, does that comfort you, or make you really nervous?