Ethics and Philosophy

ON THE ADVICE OF MY SPIRITUAL GUIDE …

Warning: This is a rerun — with editing — but it so precisely fits the requirements of today’s Daily Prompt: Discussion Enders, I could not resists doing a little revision and posting it. I quite like this little post. It makes me laugh every time I read it so maybe you will laugh too. We all need a laugh.


As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like, though occasionally they release something I love (like “Quartet,” a movie Dustin Hoffman directed in 2012). I’ve stopped trying to adopt new music and most new television shows.

I’ve renounced trying to figure out what’s going on with the Red Sox.

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me Other things, I gave up more or less voluntarily. In the end it works out to the same result.

When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was for religious reasons.

UU Steeple 4

No one ever asks me what I mean by that. But just so you know, here’s my secret … obviously a secret no more …

I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for the details of my religious beliefs. Who knows? They might turn out to be embarrassing or merely bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “my spiritual adviser required it.”

What power these words hold. They can make pretty much any conversation vanish without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Because I’m fine. For religious reasons.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS – GENETIC MEDDLING

I while ago, I wrote about how oranges were now larger than grapefruit. The change has occurred rather abruptly. Although the oranges are huge, they aren’t sweeter or juicier. Most of the larger size is an enormously thick skin. And the oranges go bad and rot in record time. Oranges used to keep for weeks when refrigerated. Now, they last a couple of days at best. Many don’t last that long.

They’ve already done in the strawberries. Whatever those huge soggy red things are they are foisting off on us and calling strawberries? They have less taste, aren’t sweet … and become inedible almost immediately. Between buying them and them rotting is no more than a few hours.

The next fruit to get hit were green grapes. They appeared at Hannaford in April. Huge. They are firm when you buy them, but turn mushy in hours. At best, they are peculiarly tasteless. They haven’t ruined the red grapes yet, but I’m sure they’re working on it. I told Garry that the best way to judge whether or not they have messed with the genetics of the fruit or vegetable? if it looks too good to be true, it’s is.

So what’s next? The cattle? Sheep? Bet they are already doing it. How about dogs and cats? Perfect specimens that can win “Best In Show” every time, but are oddly vacant and lacking personality.

How about children? No more problems trying to keep them from misbehaving in school. They’ll be very well-behaved, all the time. Because we’ll engineer the mischief right out of them. What could go wrong with that?

I am convinced that this is the way the world ends. They genetically change our food. Eventually, genetic meddling  with some kind of animal or vegetable produces an unexpected result and people start dying. By the millions. All over for humankind.

And we will have done it to ourselves.

The big fruit is the orange

The big fruit is the orange

The Hollow Men: T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

ON RELIGIOUS GROUNDS

As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place.

I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will produce movies I like, though sometimes, much to my delight and surprise, they release something I like a lot (remind me to tell you about “Quartet,” the movie Dustin Hoffman directed last year). I’ve stopped trying to like new music and most television shows.

Some stuff gave me up. Other things I gave up voluntarily, but in the end it comes out the same.

When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was on religious grounds.

75-Choir_HP-23

No one has yet asked me what I mean by that. But just so you, my faithful readers, know the secret …

I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. Since no one wants to offend me by asking about my religious beliefs, I can make pretty much any conversation go away without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!”

99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

I’m fine. For religious reasons.

HOW ABOUT WILLFUL IGNORANCE? THAT’S A GOOD ONE!

The Eighth Sin – Remember the seven cardinal sins? You’re given the serious task of adding a new one to the list — another trait or behavior you find particularly unacceptable, for whatever reason. What’s sin #8 for you? Why?


I did a little quick, shallow research on those original 7 big ones. They are, for those of you who were not raised as Christians or have totally forgotten whatever you learned:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

I’m not convinced adding another sin matters. Anything I add would no doubt be a subset one of the Cardinal Seven. But hey, I’ll give it a shot.

The original sins are more than words. They are concepts. Starting from the top, we find Lust. It isn’t just having indiscriminate sex or doing it with people to whom you aren’t married. Lust is not just for horny teenagers and men in a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire of money, food, fame, power or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. 

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.

So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a minor detail.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, it hardly matters.

Moving along, we get to a perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on the “most popular sin” list for most people. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins having lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something wonderful to which one ought aspire.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by Greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So not to worry.

Sloth is always charming. It hardly seems worthy of mention in such impressive company.

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. 

We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of wrath in the U.S. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. Scary stuff.

Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire, is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Pride is the downfall of smart people. If there’s a sin to which I am committed, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). It is the sweetest of sins, the most comfortable sin, the most beloved of the educated and smart set. My personal favorite.

If it turns out a Judeo-Christian God is truly in charge, this sin will guarantee I never make it to heaven.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 

So what could I add to this prestigious list?

Allow me to offer Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance comfortably joins with other popular sins to make up “our body politic.”

You’re welcome. I’m glad to be able to contribute to our cultural demise.

I’LL BELIEVE IN YOU IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I noticed I have about an equal number of religious and atheist friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever you choose. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

Steeple and skyI dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma is a way to categorize everything, to put it all in boxes. If it doesn’t fit in a box, a properly dogmatic believer will beat, pummel, pound, and torture a person or concept until it fits.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Atheism is a leap of faith as is every religion. And it is a religion. My mother was an atheist, or so she declared herself. She wasn’t really an atheist, in my opinion. She hated god, felt betrayed by god. She felt that if there was a god, he wasn’t worthy of her faith.

No one can prove the existence or non-existence of god. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it one way or the other. No one is going to be convinced by anyone else’s proof. Why not let everyone be as irrational as he or she wants? Maybe if we let others do their thing, they in turn will be let us be crazy in our own ways.

It has to start somewhere. Why don’t we take the first step?

I’m sure this makes me the ultimate fence sitter. So be it. I actually believe in everyone’s right to freedom. It’s the last vestige of my optimistic hope for humanity, the last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate god, no god, religion, no religion, faith, no faith. Whatever. Big ideas, complicated concepts. It’s particularly fun when you’re stoned. But. No one is going to be converted to your point of view, no matter how well-constructed your arguments may be. It’s intellectual exercise. It makes great after dinner conversation, but that’s all it is.

When the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, then it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home — each to our own beliefs. That’s the way it should be.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I got it! I knew The Truth.

meaning-of-life2

Revelation #1: The bottom line? Shit happens. It doesn’t mean anything.

I felt like I was 12 again. I considered founding a church to spread my word. My church would require no faith in anything. No deity will get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome, however. We all need to pay the rent. It would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Revelation #2: Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Revelation #2: You know nothing. Neither does anyone else.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Becoming a Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it.

Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.


Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.

LOSERS WEEPERS – PARSING RIGHT AND WRONG

Finders, Keepers?

While walking on the beach you stumble on a valuable object buried in the sand — say, a piece of jewelry or an envelope full of cash. What do you do with it? Under what circumstances would you keep it?


What, are we are bunch of third graders here? Finders keepers, losers weepers? Seriously?

96-SunriseWalkNIK-CR-1

It’s not because I’m a goody two-shoes. I’m not. A couple of basics make it inevitable I’d feel obliged to return found valuables to their real owners or at least try.

1. I have lost valuables and sometimes been fortunate in having them returned to me by total strangers who apparently were raised right.

2. I know how painful loss is. How humiliating, saddening, and hurtful. I would not willingly inflict such pain on anyone if there’s a chance of fixing it.

Let me put this in perspective: if you don’t make a good faith effort to return what you found, what does that say about you? For that matter, about your parents, your schooling and anything you identify as your religion?

What does it say about us that this is supposedly a question worthy of consideration?

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