Found on Facebook.
From The New Yorker, a cartoon from this week’s issue. By Liana Finck.
For more humor from the magazine: http://nyr.kr/1qLpw98
From The New Yorker, a cartoon from this week’s issue. By Liana Finck.
For more humor from the magazine: http://nyr.kr/1qLpw98
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.
I 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.
We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. 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. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.
Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.
I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and realized I knew the Truth. All had been revealed.
Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).
Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?
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 believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof.
If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. 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.
Accepting that one knows nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance?
No one will be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.
Big words (4 or more syllables) when used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration.
Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position.
You can write important books.Have a blog 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.
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 appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)
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.
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.
There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making 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.
Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.
But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.
In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.
Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.
In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!
My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad — it really truly was Zeus.
Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.
Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.
Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.
Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!
There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?
Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?
Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?
I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?
“Good morning,” I said. It was going to be a hot, sticky day. I noticed the top of the Dutch door was open. I closed it.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
“Okay.” He doesn’t sound okay. He sounds angry. I sigh. Our emotional landscape is strewn with land mines.
“Got anything planned today?” I phrase my question carefully, presenting it in my most dulcet tones … almost flutey.
He continues to putter at the sink. The anger seems to come from nowhere, settling solidly between us, heavy and sodden.
“I hate to bother you, but could you keep the doors closed when the air conditioning is on? You know, electric bill and stuff.”
Our electric bill the previous month had exceeded our car payment. I didn’t say it, but I must have thought it too loudly. And stepped right on that land mine. Boom. Blew my foot right off.
“All you ever do is criticize me. You don’t appreciate the stuff I do!”
Whatever I might say would just make it worse. He isn’t angry with me. He’s angry with an irrational universe which has saddled him with me. He’s poorly equipped to play the supporting role in a medical melodrama. No natural aptitude for care-giving. Unhappy playing sensitive helpmate to a sickly wife. Nor am I good at being a sickly wife. It’s a boring role.
We wind up locked together in the angry dance. We don’t know the steps and are forever treading on each others’ toes. We don’t care for the melody either, but we have to keep dancing. Tough assignment.
This must be why they put that insidious “for better and worse, in sickness and in health” clause in marriage vows. The “better and health” parts are easy, but the “worse and sickness” section can prove a serious test of a relationship. Life plays cruel jokes.
Pity we never get to see our future until it’s too late to do anything about it. If ever there was such a time.
Fall will come. And cooler weather.
My favorite cartoon – by George Booth — was originally published in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting in front of a typewriter. Dogs are everywhere A woman, presumably his wife, watches from the doorway. The caption reads “Write about dogs.”
My home is full of dogs. Anyone who comes to visit must compete with the dogs for the comfortable chairs and the best spots on the sofa. (Come to think of it, we have to fight them for the best seats too.) That’s the way it is. The dogs are family.
If we have guests who are old, frail or allergic, we do our best to accommodate their needs. We put the most rambunctious, smelly, and hairy dogs out of the way if we can, but that depends on the weather. Basically, if you don’t like dogs, you’ve come to the wrong house. People who don’t like dogs are not frequent visitors.
That’s fine with me. I prefer the company of most dogs to most people. There are lots of reasons to prefer dogs. But the two big ones are love and honesty.
Dogs love you completely, totally, and without reservation. They don’t care about your social status or education, whether you are young or old, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor. They love you completely.
Your dog will never betray or abandon you.
Dogs are terrible liars. Not that they don’t try. Every dog will do his or her best to convince each human to give them treats. Your dog will tell you she needs a biscuit now or will collapse from hunger. This is not particularly convincing when the canine in question is a beefy pooch who has obviously never missed a meal. Eternally optimistic, all dogs figure it’s worth a shot. It’s a dog thing. You never know when a biscuit might fall your way.
When the performance our furry kids put on in hopes of getting a tasteless dry biscuit is especially hilarious, we relax the rules and give them a little something. After all, they don’t have hands and can’t grab one for themselves. Now and again, they need to get lucky because they’re cute and we love them.
Dogs lie, but their lies are simple and transparent. There’s no malice in them. They just want a biscuit. If they don’t get one, they love you anyway.
When it comes to love, dogs are the best. They “get” love and think you are wonderful. They think you are wonderful every day of their lives. When they are dying, the last thing they will do is look at you with love in their eyes, wag their tail one final time and try to give you a kiss.
I have spent my life lurching between my quest for God and an equally ardent quest for the best dog food at the most reasonable price. When times have been hard and we’ve had to choose between food for us and food for our furry children, the fur kids always win.
Our dogs do not suffer from angst. They don’t worry unless supper runs late or biscuits are forgotten in the bustle of a day’s activities. If such a catastrophe should occur, they know exactly where to present their grievances and apply for redress.
Dogs live close to their deities. They hang out with their gods on the sofa. They get biscuits from them in the morning and evening. If life is circumscribed and a bit confined, it is nonetheless good.
Sometimes one of their gods gets angry and yells at them. That might make them unhappy for a few minutes, but the gods of their world don’t stay angry. Our dogs have kindly and loving gods who are inclined to scratch them behind the ears and talk to them in soft voices.
We are gods to our dogs and as such, we set laws for them to live by. Don’t poop or pee in the house.
Do not chew things not given to you for chewing, especially not anything containing batteries. Don’t jump on old people or babies. Don’t growl at delivery people. Don’t stay up late barking. Abide by the law and all will be well.
When rules are clear and understood by all, life runs smoothly.
The human side of the contract is more complicated. It’s harder being god than dog.
We pledge to care for them all the days of their lives. We keep them healthy. We love and nurture them. We feed them properly, make sure they get exercise – though they don’t get enough of it and neither do we. We keep them warm and dry in winter, cool and dry in summer.
If we force them to go outside to do their business, it is because they are, after all, dogs.
Every evening, for at least a little while, their gods climb down from heaven to play on the floor.
Our dogs don’t fret about the future. They live in a joyful present. When their time comes, we will make sure they pass gently out of this world. We promise to keep them as free from suffering as is within our power.
That is our solemn contract. We live up to that pledge because we really are gods to our fur children and must never let them down. Pets teach you a lot about the divine contract.
I can’t help it. I’m not. Sweet, I mean. Stuff about angels and how every cloud has a silver lining makes me ill. I want to scream and throw things. It makes me very angry.
I think it’s a big fat pack of lies. My life has not been sweet. I’ve had fun. I’ve had some wonderful times, great moments and I expect there will yet be some more. I’ve got a wonderful husband. Some fabulous friends. But overall, life has been hard. Angels have been noticeable only by their absence. Rain clouds have contained rain and lots of it. Usually lightning, too.
The up side of all of this is I have learned to go on with life, even in the rain and discovered that remarkably, I can survive even when I’m wet. I can cope with problems without an angel to lend a magical hand.
The thing about all of this stuff about super sweet angels watching over me is … it makes me feel bad. It doesn’t give me hope. I figure there must be something wrong with me because apparently everyone else sees angels and silver linings where I see obstacles to overcome and storms coming.
I’m not an atheist, but I don’t believe God spends much time watching over me. I figure He? She? They? are pretty busy. I was given brains and the ability to work through difficulties, to survive. I use my intelligence to come up with creative solutions to problems. I look inward to find strength and I don’t expect a supernatural rescue squad.
Does this mean I’m cynical? Maybe. Probably. I think it makes me down-to-earth. Realistic. I’m not constantly looking for help. I’m not expecting the cavalry to come charging over the hill to save me. I don’t expect bail outs. I hold myself responsible for myself, my mistakes, my life.
Would I appreciate unexpected assistance from a divine source? A few big cash windfalls? Yes, of course I would.
I just don’t plan on it.
There’s no viable alternative to laughter. Drugs, booze, even chocolate … all are nothing in the face of the black comedy of our lives. True there is something to be said for laughing while drinking and eating chocolate, but not all of us can treat our bodies that way and live to tell the tale, so we have to settle for humor.
When our lives are in shambles, when all around us is falling apart, the brave tell jokes. When the laughter dies down, we take a deep breath, tell another one … and laugh some more. The more horrific the situation, the more devastating the problems, the more catastrophic the impending calamity, the funnier it is. We do not laugh at tragedy. We laugh at life. We laugh at ourselves.
Laughter is not about happy times. Jokes are full of pain and sorrow. They are the defense we’ve been given to push back the darkness and despair. Use it freely. It’s the best medication on earth.
The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the universal cure for the griefs of life.
What can you do? If the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed the headlight of an oncoming train? Heard any good ones lately?
Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor and I’m a goner.
I hope I’ve left you laughing!
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