FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE
Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

WITH GOD ON MY SIDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #32

For this week’s provocative question, I am going to do something I haven’t before done in my provocative question prompt. I’m going to post something a fellow blogger wrote. In this case, the blogger is Judy Dykstra-Brown, and in one of her recent posts she wrote:



WORDS

Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
Oh, the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh, the country was young
With God on its side
The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side
The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side
The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now, too
Have God on their side
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side
Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

I thought I’d let Bob Dylan answer this one for me. Written in the early 1960s, it hasn’t gotten old. If anything, it’s more relevant now than it was then.

War never gets old and it seems we never tire of it. We never run out of reasons to fight. In every war throughout human history, God is on every side. Everyone claims him and is sure that all the horrors they perpetrate are “in God’s name.”

Since God has never made any comment on this, my best guess — should there be a god:

The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

PEAK PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #31 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #31

Thirty-one is one of my “lucky numbers.” I’ve lived in houses numbered 31 twice, won prizes for number 31 (a TV and a long weekend in New York city including a visit to the (then) brand new Yankee Stadium) and more.

I don’t have a follow-up to this comment. That’s the whole story.

Recently we’ve been watching that 15-year-old tennis whiz kid. I got to thinking: “What if you are the biggest and best at whatever you do when you are 14 or 15? When you are the best tennis player ever especially if you are merely 15, or you are the best baton twirler on earth at 14? Where do you go after that? Is it all downhill?”

This question first occurred to me when I watched the baton twirler on television maybe ten years ago and I was thinking “This is her peak moment and it’s all downhill from here.”

I suspect this may be part of the problem with child stars. They grow up. Their best years are behind them and a lot of them don’t work much after they complete their teen years.

I don’t think I’ve had a peak year yet. Maybe I never will. I’ve had great moments. I’ve had joyful moments, little thrilling times. I’ve had a couple of really great years, breathtaking visual and emotional moments … but nothing I would call “the peak.”

I’m not sure there will be a peak. Good years, bad years, terrific years, historic years … but peak? Life is a series of peaks and valleys, dips and mountains.

That’s fine with me.

FACTS AND TRUTH #FPQ – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #30

From Fandango:

Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” a dozen or so years ago. Truthiness, Colbert explains, is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s similar to when Comedian Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact; I just know it’s true.” These describe a situation when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.

American novelist William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”

So, to today’s question:

First of all both truth and facts matter and if they don’t, then I’m not sure anything matters.

Searching for truth is not identical to searching for facts. Facts are information while Truth is more about “meaning.” Sometimes they are the same and sometimes, they are a bit different. It depends on what you are seeking. But facts are certainly a component of Truth.

I had a brief conversation with a woman with whom I was once friends and she told me that everyone in the media lies. I pointed out that in all my years of living with Garry, never had he leaped out of bed in the middle of the night to stand up in front of a camera and lie to the people.

It doesn’t mean that reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. They are human. Shit happens. But they make (discounting Fox and friends) their best efforts to get it right and apologize and make corrections when they are wrong. People in media TODAY still get fired for lying. Apparently, lying is okay if you are the president, but not if you’re a reporter.

After I said my piece, she paused a while and then she said: “Does it matter?”


If honesty, facts, and truth don’t matter, then what exactly
does matter?

Above and beyond survival, without truth, facts, evidence, and science, then our last few thousands of years of human development are meaningless.

What you want to be true, what you “feel” is true can have great emotional impact to you, personally, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids and think smallpox was a myth, it matters. When thousands of kids get sick because you and others decided what you erroneously believed was more important than the health of the elderly, the “too young to be vaccinated,” and the immunity-compromised, it matters. Especially to those who die by your choice.

I think everyone is obligated to look for facts, evidence, and the truth of things. Finally, I think one’s intentions to be honest matter even though intentions can go awry.

When William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other,” I’m pretty sure he was being ironic.

FAITH, FAITHFUL OR UNCONVINVCED? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #29

For a guy who doesn’t believe in a god or gods, Mr. Fandango seems a bit obsessed with the issue of god or gods.

His weekly question, based on a statement by Thomas Jefferson, is:



I have always thought it doesn’t matter a bit what you believe in as long as you aren’t beating me over the head to believe it too. I resent dedicated atheists exactly as much as I resent dedicated evangelists. I want you — whatever you believe — to leave me out of it. Believe what you want. There is absolutely NO PROOF OF ANY KIND whether there is or is not a god or gods nor any proof of an afterlife.

What you believe is what you believe. What is more, I don’t have to agree with you, no matter what you believe. If I want to believe we are all reborn as fairies living under toadstools, who are you to argue the point? Do you know something I don’t know? If so, please enter your arguments for and against in the comments which follow this piece.

Why should you believe? Why should I? Because we — you or I — like the idea. We (do or do not) have faith in the idea. We (do or don’t) prefer the concept of heaven to the concept of permanent darkness.

Would it interest you to know that Judaism has nothing to say — at all — about the afterlife? There is nothing in the Torah about the afterlife. Nothing good, nothing negative, nothing at all. You can believe in Heaven and Hell, Reincarnation, total blackness until God calls everyone up for an accounting — or nothing. Actually, to be a Jew, you don’t (technically) even need to believe in God. You just need to follow the rules and your belief doesn’t matter.

If you convert to Judaism, no one will ask about your beliefs. They will ask if you agree to follow the laws, but not what or who or even if you believe in God, gods, or not.

Unlike Fandango, I know I am fascinated with the concept of God/no God/many Gods and faith/no faith/leap of faith. I’ve had a variety of very close encounters and if anyone has reason to believe, I should. I absolutely should. A pastor of my acquaintance asked me if I was waiting for a picture ID before I could accept faith and I thought about it for a while.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

Part of it is having been raised by an atheist mother, a father who only believed if he thought he was going to die (soon) … and the rest of the time, it held no interest for him at all. I studied the subject in school, read mountains of books and still concluded that it’s a matter of faith and I seem to be a bit lacking in the faith department. I don’t disallow the possibility of a god or gods, but I am unsure. Unconvinced.

But definitely interested and particularly interested by the ideas of those who do believe. I want to know why they believe, what made them take that “leap” of faith? I get to the edge  — regularly — but I never jump. Or if I do, it’s temporary. I don’t stay jumped. I always go back to the other side.

I guess I need the picture ID.

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #26 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #26

Like many people, I’ve seen stuff in the sky. Sometimes, I’m sure it’s just some new piece of equipment the military is testing … but not always. So this is a really good question:


“Do you believe that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for these sightings, like unannounced or unauthorized drone flights or space junk falling back into the atmosphere, or do you think that the objects these pilots saw were actual UFOs?”


So there I was standing on my back deck looking vaguely upwards and something really HUGE stopped right overhead. Stopped. And didn’t appear to move. It was big, with a lot of lights and I watched it for at least ten minutes before it moved on. It probably was moving, but so was the earth so it appeared to be still in the sky.

I went back inside and called NASA’s  number on which you can ask: “What is that big thing in the sky?”

It was 2009, so it was probably this version of the space lab.

They asked me where I lived. I told them. They said, “It’s the space lab, and it’s directly over Uxbridge. Right over your head.”

“It’s so big!” I commented. I hadn’t realized the lab was so close to the earth. I suppose I had images of it circling nearer the moon. It looked like it might decide to land at Logan Airport.

As seen over Arizona or …
It could have been this one

Then there was a wedge-shaped plane we saw in the sky in Arizona. I was sure it was some kind of military test aircraft. Recently, they unveiled it. By which time everyone in Arizona had a really good look at it.

On the other hand, there were those flying lights in the sky that were not meteors,  helicopters, or airplanes. I saw them. Garry saw them. Several of my friends saw them. No one has given me an explanation that makes sense. Maybe there is an explanation, but I haven’t heard it. (No, they were NOT weather balloons!)

Did they drop out of the sky and kidnap us? Nope. Just a lot of dashing “sky flyers” lit with various colors. Pretty. Odd. What was that? Something military? Entertainment from the heavens?

Do I think there’s intelligent life elsewhere? Probably.

Where? No idea. But we exist, so why should we be the only ones in this gigantic universe? Will we ever meet the “others”? Maybe yes, maybe no. If they aren’t even in this galaxy and are on some planet millions of light-years away, the odds do not favor a close encounter. Not to mention someone (Star Trek?) would have to be out there looking for them … or they would have to be looking for us.

So I’m not expecting to meet any space aliens in this life, but assuming humans continue to survive the garbage pit they are making out of this earth, maybe they will.

Or maybe not.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #25

It’s existential question time for some of us, not so existential for the rest of us. Because the question is:

So today’s provocative question is all about the before and after:

“Where do you believe you were you before you were born and what do you believe will happen to you after you die?”

For me, it’s pretty simple. Before I existed, before I was born, I wasn’t anything. After I die, I’ll be gone. Dust to dust.

What will happen? Damned if I know. Maybe something, probably nothing. Will “my soul” become a new soul in a new body? Karma? Oh please, be kind. This life has been rough enough and I have no urge to do anything like this again.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – As close to heaven as I can imagine.

So the answer is “maybe, or maybe not.” I don’t know. Because there are a million theories around. Some of them are charming, some not so charming — but none of them can be proved. If there is a God, he hasn’t dropped by to discuss the matter with any of his billions of adherents and definitely not with me.

Regardless of dogma, if he or one of the many adherents have conversed with any of us, none of them have dropped by to reopen the conversation. It’s the same mystery it always was.

If there is some kind of heaven, I’d like to assume that all good people will be there, regardless of what (or nothing) that they believed before their passing. If there’s nothing afterward? Then we will all go into that great nothingness. Finally, at long last, there will be full equality for everyone.

Heaven is what you make of it.

I personally would love to believe in a beautiful afterlife, so I leave open the option that there may be one, even if I don’t know anything about it. For the hedge-bettors amongst us, you can always be religious now and if it works out to be true, you’re a winner. If it doesn’t, you’re no worse off than you’d have been anyway. Some would consider that a win-win.

As for me, I will just live as I have lived, deal with life as it comes, hope that whatever happens after we die is at least peaceful — and finally, there won’t be any more bills to pay.

#FPQ