I was still trying to figure out if John Oliver was really going off the air, or it was the end of this season, or we’d just missed the final few minutes of his piece because we have a stupid DVR that clips the final few minutes. Instead, the Sports News Final came on.
It was retribution for Bruins fans. They lost. Bigly. All five games. So I left it on until finally one player admitted that the other team “played better than us,” and no amount of analysis was going to change that. This was the hour that I spend trying to find all the missed typos in new posts and that usually takes me about an hour.
Garry goes off to bed because he has a DVR in there with all his favorite old westerns on it … plus a bunch of 1930s and 1940s black and white movies he loves which I don’t love nearly as much. He watches with the headset on and he is finally happy. No one is going to ask him to do ANYTHING. He has found true peace.
At some undetermined point, the Bruins concluded their apologies to all their fans and it being late Sunday night, a preacher came on television to announce that God has a plan.
For everything. Every single thing.
Everything you think. Every illness, every idea, every mistake. Everything. Effectively humans have no control over their lives because it’s all part of God’s huge, gigantic, amazing plan that covers everything, everywhere forever, amen and probably the Bruins will win next year.
After a while, the harangue got a bit intense and I had to turn it off. I was getting ready to yell back at the television and ask about cancer and pain and death and Donald J. Trump, but I have found that yelling at the TV isn’t nearly as effective as I want it to be.
I gave the dogs their final biscuit and went into the bedroom. I made Garry remove his headphones and told him that God has a plan.
“Okay,” he said. “What brought this on?”
“The Bruins lost five to nothing and then there was a preacher and he was shouting how God knows every idiotic idea in your head, every ridiculous thing that might happen to you or me or anyone, so no matter how painful or scary life is, IT IS ALL PART OF GOD’s PLAN.”
“What were you WATCHING?’ he asked me. He then pointed out that on television they were singing Shall We Gather At The River with the ultimate intention of hanging someone.
I pointed out that this too was part of God’s plan and Garry said I should stop watching that stuff because it was ruining his viewing experience.
So, I wrote this instead. By the way — they hanged the guy. Not to worry because it was all part of God’s plan. I know because they told me. On television. So it must be true.
So there we were in the car driving home. I was mentally shuffling the heap of miscellaneous stuff that passes for my brain and trying to remember all ten of the commandments.
Why? Because I thought I should know them. They are supposedly the basis of all moral law, right? Why don’t I know them? Why aren’t they all on the tip of my tongue?
I found myself at a full stop around seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” section which contains a lot of run-on sentences that could be interpreted as two or sometimes even three commandments but have — I suppose for convenience — been lumped into one.
I asked Garry if he knew the ten commandments. He replied, with some irritation, that he had to pay attention to the traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for one slow driver in front of us. I suppose Garry was trying to not ram him.
Finally, he admitted he didn’t know all of them, at least not in order.
“A sad state of affairs,” I pointed out, “When two educated souls cannot recite the ten commandments.”
“There’s a lot of stuff about not making idols. Not murdering or coveting.”
“Yeah, and taking one day off each week.”
When I got home, I looked them up.
It turns out there quite a few “proper behavior to God” commandments. Not all Christians — much less Jews — divide them the same way. You can count as many as fifteen (à la Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I”) or as few as eight. It depends on how you look at them — and punctuate the sentences.
Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestantsects, plus a second list containing my streamlined, easy-to-remember set.
Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
I’ve always wondered how come we need laws from God to know that murder is not okay. Aren’t we born knowing this? Don’t we know without being told that stealing is bad? That we should take care of our parents and show them respect? Do we really need laws to tell us?
Modernization is all the rage, so here’s my take on them. Not etched in stone. Jealousy is mentioned once in the second commandment where it is good because it’s the Lord’s prerogative.
In the tenth, it’s covetousness, which is not good because jealousy is good for God, but not for us. That is also where your neighbor’s ass comes into the picture, one of the many things you are not supposed to covet.
A Streamlined Top Ten
I’m God. The One and Only. Don’t forget it, not for a moment.
Idols are O-U-T.
Don’t swear using God’s name. Maybe no swearing at all. I’m not sure.
Take a break on the seventh day of your week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants, and animals. No work. Got that?
Respect your parents. Take care of them.
Don’t murder anyone.
Don’t cheat on your spouse.
Don’t steal stuff.
Don’t envy other people’s stuff, especially not your neighbor’s ass.
I have not found a religion to follow and it isn’t because I haven’t tried. I have flirted with many, gave a solid try to at least three (formal) religions, though arguably Buddhism is the most informal of formal religions.
Christianity is great — if you don’t look at it too carefully. At one point, I figured it must work because so many people follow it. But then I tried to figure out what Christian actually meant and I got lost between sects and more or less gave up. A row of people all attending the same church can’t agree on what it is, so how am I supposed to figure it out? Also, Christianity requires you to accept Christ. If you can’t do that, you are not a Christian.
If I had to pick a single God, I’d pick Ganeesh. He’s the writer’s God and I appreciate that. But to get Ganeesh, you have to buy at least a piece of Hinduism … a religion far too complicated for me.
I might as well stick with Judaism. Judaism is the original legal system and everything in it is weirdly logical. Even the illogical has its own logic. I like all the laws and the rulings. I love the courts and how you can take your case to an actual jury. I am glad “repentance” doesn’t fix everything. I’ve always considered that a cheat. Be a really horrible human, but repent and hey, you’re good? Bugger that.
Judaism has laws you need to follow. You can be as repentant as you want and apologize your heart out, but it won’t get you past the guard at the gate. Judaism is about work.
Note that nothing in Judaism indicates if there is a Heaven or a Hell. Whatever good works you do may get you into heaven. But quite possibly, they won’t. The stuff you do is for your own sake, good or bad. There’s no guarantee of a reward to come. You get to choose the kind of person you want to be. There’s something deeply existential about this.
Judaism is about work. If you really get into it, it is work that never ends. From your first breath in the morning to closing your eyes at night, there’s always something you need to do. I admire it greatly, but I don’t live that way. If I were to pick a religion, that’s the one I’d pick, but I’m not picking.
I’m sure I will never take the leap to faith. It isn’t because I don’t believe there is faith-worthy shit happening. I’m sure there is. I’ve had too many experiences I can’t otherwise explain. The problem is I’m not sure what I’m supposed to believe. Is there a god? Many gods? No gods but a giant thought? Is it magic? Who is in charge? What does prayer have to do with any of this? Why do churches exist? What’s with the whole dogma thing? Do gods exist because we worship or do we worship because there is a god or gods?
I’m never going to have answers, so I’m never going to walk a defined path. It isn’t because I haven’t spent most of my life searching for answers. It turns out that you can search from childhood to old age. And still not get the answers.
I have an equal number of religious and non-religious (and non- traditional) 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. 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 categorizes everything, puts it all in boxes.
I don’t want to be in a box.
Since no one can prove the existence or non-existence of god, we’d be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it. If you believe, good for you. Just let everyone believe what he or she wishes. Maybe if we let others do their thing, they will be let us be crazy in our own way.
It has to start somewhere.
I deeply believe in everyone’s right to do their own thing. It’s the last vestige of my optimism, my hope for humanity. The last non-cynical piece of me.
It’s fun to debate big ideas, complicated concepts, but when the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home, each to our own beliefs.
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.
I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.
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 and Proof
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.
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.
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.
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