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.

EVERYTHING. NOTHING. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this out of my archives and dust it off. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college, several obscure philosophy courses and at least one 40-page research paper.

How bizarre that now, at long last, I live in a world where everything means nothing. This used to be humor, of a sort. These days, it’s not quite as funny as it used to be but to be fair, nothing is as funny as it used to be. The world is a lot more bizarre without being truly funny. As a result, we laugh as much as we can, but it’s not nearly enough.

Who knows when they will take that away, too?

Personally, I think we spend far much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did, should have done, meant to do but forgot. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-of-normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of folks who are (apparently) running the world.

As far as I can figure it, they are the way they are because (a) they know they are going to hell, but a deal is a deal, or (b) they’ve never wasted a brain cell on thought.

Regardless, brooding about eternity is a huge waste of time and energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all — right here. You will never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life


RANDOMNESS

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want organization and order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful. We need to learn from them because someone told us that God gives us hard times so we will grow and learn from it.

Are we learning? Is the world teaching everybody something?

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has fallen apart so many times over the years. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the greater scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments, I doubt I’m bad enough for The Big Guy to have it in for me.

Then I had an epiphany.

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 only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

Personally, I don’t know. But not knowing might make me smarter than most people because I know I don’t know.


I KNOW NOTHING. NEITHER DO YOU.

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 unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?


IT’S ALL ABOUT 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 laughter which isn’t usually the outcome you were looking for.


EPISTEMOLOGY – IT’S All ABOUT KNOWING

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, software, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.


PHENOMENOLOGY IS THE NEW FAITH

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. The same reasoning also proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of it.

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.

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that almost everything our current administration has said fits neatly into phenomenology. Since the only thing that matters in phenomenology is someones’ experience, you don’t need facts. Figures. Statistics. You don’t need anything but “I believe it, so it must be true.” Or, conversely, “I don’t believe it, so it can’t be true.”

Fortunately, I don’t believe it. Any of it.


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. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she 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. For that matter, we could believe Star Trek is real and any day now, the ship will beam us up.

HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the earth who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. Republicans. People who believe Fox News is the only real news. Unlike me, they know something. Ask them. They will be delighted to tell you.

Me? I know nothing and these days, it seems like the perfect thing in which to believe. It is my mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.

NO SPORTS, POLITICS, OR RELIGION – Rich Paschall

Some Old World Wisdom, by Rich Paschall

When thinking of blog topics, there is no shortage of subject matter. Some general areas offer a lot of topics.  With a bit of extra thought, there’s an endless supply. Consider well how many areas you can pursue if you are willing to delve into sports, politics, or religion. Each is bound to set some readers ablaze.  They would surely bring lots of comments. You do want lively discussion, don’t you?

How lively do you want it?

conversation1

Venture into a sports bar well into the evening and you are likely to find plenty of spirited discussions regarding sports.  These ideas should help you out:  Will the Cubs win another pennant?  Will the White Sox ever get the love the Cubs get?  Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?  Will the Bears get back to the Super Bowl?  Will the Bulls beat the hated ____________ (fill in New York team here)?  There is little reason get into crosstown rivalries. Dissing out-of-town teams works, but only locally.

DeflatedBallsThumb2

We could always take off after the Bronx Bombers, the Patriots and _______ (name your alleged scandal here), or Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. But why alienate readers in New York, Boston or Dallas? Perhaps we should just write about the ridiculous BCS Bowl series or the commissioner of _________ (name your least favorite here).

A good informational, yet rather neutral article might find favor. Others might conclude that you are trying to make a point, like promoting someone’s stats for the hall of fame.

A discussion of gays in sports or an Olympic diver coming out of the closet might get you into politics so we may have to think carefully about those.  Yes, we will leave the political area of sports alone.

politics-1800s

Speaking of your politics (or mine), perhaps we can find common ground. I could write short stories with a political theme, or write about a run for office that brings victory, but no win for the candidate. Too improbable?

How about the death of democracy through campaign spending?

Imagine buying an election. Maybe this hits too close to home … or do you think it merely fiction or satire?

Political satire is sure to get people discussing or fighting, especially if you throw in climate change as the kicker. Then again, maybe no one will bother to read this stuff. Maybe not such a great idea after all?

How about hitting the topics head-on in a nice well-researched article? We can talk about Democrats, Republicans, capitalists, or socialists. On second thought, that could split the audience from the get-go. Better to look at the subjects of the debates and write a well-reasoned essay.

women's suffrage-2

Where to begin?

Abortion? Immigration? Gay Rights? Civil Rights? Gun Control? Campaign reform? Welfare Reform?  Any reform?

National defense?

Can we all consider any of that without alienating people? There’s always alienating the aliens. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe not.

If politics is too risky, how about the world’s great religions? They’re all rooted in love, are they not? We could discuss the philosophies that ignite the passions behind our beliefs and thus find common ground. Peace and harmony at last.

Except that so many people believe their god is the only one. Some believe their god is telling them to kill others — which sets religion against religion. Alas, there’s nothing new about that. Belief is supposed to bring hope and joy, not war. Yet religion has been the cause of many wars. They are all about religion or land. Check it out.

God is on every side of every war, or so they say. Who goes into battle without the blessing of their particular deity? How can I expect to have a civil discussion in such an emotionally-charged arena?  I have innocently had to extract my foot from my mouth before. Maybe I should let the Dalai Lama write on this topic.

Soon, there won’t be a Dalai Lama because the Chinese won’t allow one. Oops.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.
The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, and Neal Brown.

Years ago, when one of my favorite innkeepers was alive, we used to drop by his establishment.  It was a great place for lively discussions. If anyone got a little over-heated, the owner walked over with a wink to say, “No sports, no politics, no religion!”

Seemingly a strange thing to say when a sports channel was almost always playing nearby, but he meant “No arguments, no heated discussions.” If arguments got out of hand, he’d say “No sports, no politics, no religion — or you’re out of here!”

That seemed a good approach to barroom politics because these were the areas of discussion that often ended with unpleasantness. Especially when dialogue was fueled by alcohol. Maybe his attitude probably short-circuited a few lively discussions, but he definitely cut off some brawls, too.

Let’s avoid them in the blog-o-sphere and cyberspace too. If Facebook is any indicator, that sounds like a plan!

MOSES FOR WHOM THE GPS WAS INVENTED – Marilyn Armstrong

So, THE WAY THEY TELL IT, God wanted to get rid of all those who had experienced slavery. To accomplish this task, he made the twelve tribes walk around the Sinai wilderness for forty years.


Forty years? Seriously?

That area isn’t all that big. To keep walking for that many years, they had to have crossed their own paths repeatedly. Didn’t anyone shout out: “Hey, Moses. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before. Levi, haven’t we already been here? Look, here’s where we put the tents. I think there are a few poles lying around  …”

By: Rick Baldwin

If the idea was to get rid of the “slave mentality,” why couldn’t they just make a nice camp and hang out until the time was up? Stop walking. Play guitars. Sing some songs. Play cards.

Why did they have to keep walking?

Was there a fitness or exercise requirement? Was it like a jail where you have this hour or two a day during which you have to keep moving? Why 40 years? That’s a pretty long time.

Garry says we have this same conversation every year, usually immediately following our ritual viewing of “The Ten Commandments.” But we didn’t watch it this year. It was the first time I can remember NOT watching it, but I think it’s possible I’m one viewing over the line, even for a Cecile B. DeMille classic.

This never stops making me laugh, please enjoy this short video of “Life with the Twelve Tribes.” I’m sorry I can’t embed the video, but it’s worth a few minutes of your time to give this a look. Not only is it funny, but it is oddly timely in this strange period in which we are living.


http://videocloud.aish.com/movies/Google%20Exodus.mp4

I know the holidays are over, but not by much, so forgive my tardiness. Whatever you celebrate, something or nothing, I hope the food was good and the company even better.

PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In a Jewish family, religion comes through mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

EASTER AND PASSOVER: JOINED AT THE HIP – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Saturday: EGG

Last night, I made French toast — pain perdu — for dinner. I don’t know how they serve it in France, but here, it gets served with bacon on the side and real, Vermont maple syrup on top.

It is delicious and more like dessert than dinner.

Dinner or breakfast, it’s delicious

Over the years, eggs have been good for you, bad for you, terrible for you, good for you, excellent for you … and here in New England, brown ones are supposed to be healthier than white ones. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that because I always buy the cheapest eggs I can, but always large ones because one day I came home with medium-sized eggs and my granddaughter refused to even speak to me.

My Easter eggs never looked this good!

She really loved eggs and she though buying small eggs was cruel and unusual breakfast.

A very modern Seder plate
It can also be pretty funny

This week is Passover and Easter. They always come at the same time because “The Last Supper” was a Seder during Passover, so this is one of those times when Christians have to examine (if they think about it and I’m pretty sure most of them don’t) their Jewish roots. There are hard-boiled eggs on the Passover table too, by the way. Just so you know, this is a very eggy week.

A Seder table – More work than you ever imagined for a single meal!

Personally, I ignore warnings about eggs. I don’t eat them every day and never did. Also, I figure a house that has eggs and bread will never be hungry.

The eggs of the bunny?

Happy whatever you celebrate and happy whatever you do not celebrate. And enjoy your eggs. I add a hint of vanilla extract to the beaten eggs and it definitely adds a certain “Je ne sais quoi” to the French toast.

Oh, almost forgot: I shake a LOT of cinnamon on the bread as it is frying. How wrong can you go with vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup?