Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I was reading some of my unread opinion pages from a week ago and I noticed Mike Masterson's Musings in Philosophy column and it dawned on me that everyone shares some of the same musings about the world and our contribution to the species' existence. It's easy to think small as we don't have the greatest perspective ambling about the earth's surface, a speck in the cosmos as Carl Sagan might say if he were alive today. Ah, there's that concept: Coming to be and passing away. We all emerge from a seed, becoming the physical specimen our genes plan with the material at its disposal. Then, the life cycle comes to end and our bodies retreat to dust.

Most people my age know a number of folks who have died. Family are here, then gone in a wisp. I have lost beloved relatives in my short life, though my parents still live, unlike Mike Masterson. We have our memories and we have our being. We certainly don't own our memories or our being. Memories are determined most times by things beyond our control, as is our being. We have, then we don't have. Control is illusory at best. Lacking control, many folks look to their religious faith for a degree of control, but sometimes, that illusory control becomes an endangering influence on how we behave towards other people. The reason our Founding Fathers worked to limit the influence of formal religion in government, based on Europe's struggles among fellow 'Christians', was to prevent bloodshed among Christians. The control aspect of faith is control over one's hereafter based on prescribed behavior and manners of repentance for sins past, present, and future is appealing to we, the condemned. Everyone dies. Everyone, except some mentally challenged folks, know it. So, having discovered a truth about how to achieve eternal life, the instinct to condemn others for not following one's prescription for salvation takes effect. Then, those who don't follow one's prescription should be condemned to promote one's personal prescription granting legitimacy to their faith. These sorts of judgments are certainly counterproductive to the smooth operation of a pluralist society.

I grew up in a small town in E. Arkansas and I remember how my church 'family' condemned other denominations, while other denominations took turns condemning my fellow believers and me. In such a fragile existence, perhaps a dose of courage and belief in human goodness can help overcome these particular condemnations which act to preserve one's own prescribed path to Heaven. We all have our being; we all lose our being (for all we know empirically). Faith is essential in the view of many to the smooth operation of the world because those of faith certainly don't trust those without faith because of a fear of differing assumptions. Some religious people certainly hold some presuppostions which scare the hell out of a rank-and-file believer in America. I've heard a person rationalize a hatred of atheists because he "don't trust a man who don't believe in God." It seems like a really dumb thing to say, but it's an honest assessment of a differing metaphysical view. For that matter, when a person I've just met immediately shares his/her faith, I take that as a disarming mechanism that cues me to beware of this person. This person wants to get me off-guard in order to exploit me.

Life is fragile, yet many act as if you get another one. Life is simple, yet many want to make it a hell of a lot more complex than it should be--perhaps I'm guilty of this, but examining my own views routinely seems like an essential function. I'm not the same person I was 20 years ago; not the same person as ten years ago; and definitely not the same person I was 5 years ago. If I was, I'd be failing myself. No one has all the answers. Everyone has something to learn which would improve one's life if the effort was made. The troubling tone of American politics today is nothing new. Demagoguery is nothing new. Common compassion for others is nothing new either. Read the Gospels of Christ and tell me where hatred has a place in the Christ's conception of correct action. Judgment is not part of his equation either. Listen to the fundamentalist demagoguery of today and I hear nothing of the Christ in their rhetoric. Love gets lip service and not much else. People have forgotten how to love without expectation of returned benefits. The Christ taught to love those who hate you. If we had a degree of love for humankind, these torture incidences wouldn't have occurred. Folks who held these captives under their power treated these people as means to an end and not as fellow mortal human beings. I'm not saying that all torture in the heat of battle is 100% immoral. However, the scope of the behavior is tragic. Shipping folks to countries where torture is acceptable in order to avoid legal prohibitions in nations where it's not is immoral. If we are to break the cycle of violence in Iraq or Afghanistan, contributing to the problem is NO solution.

We all love our families. Most of us miss our relatives who have passed away, largely in the peaceful confines of our borders. Extend the same idea to those whom we are fighting in these wars and perhaps our investment of American lives and resources will not have been for nought. Treat the people of these nations as ends-in-themselves and perhaps our Christian heritage of compassion and love for our fellow mortals will have a positive effect on the world. It sounds naive, but if this indeed a war of faith, then let's show the Islamic world our faith is more suitable for the preservation of civility among we humans. Islam has contributed to the world in peaceful ways--our knowledge of Aristotle's writings, for instance, are due to Islamic scholars translating Greek texts into Arabic and later, Latin translations appeared and allowed scholarship to be revived in Europe after the fall of the Romans. Yes, I know that the hardcore al-Qaeda types are in need of physical coercion to stop murdering fellow humans who don't share their reactionary version of proper Islamic belief and action. There are ways of stemming the tide of converts to Wahhabism and becoming like them won't help this cause. We can't kill every al-Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist; we must begin to persuade those who will to find a political solution eschewing bloodshed. Historically, suppression of these sorts of movements involves an approach that isn't wholly violent. Violence ever leads to further violence; a pragmatic approach is a necessity.

We are all condemned by our very nature and the awareness of the fact leads humanity to all sorts of elixirs for our common fate. The singular human life should be the foundation of an effective universal ethic, not a particular religious dogma because there will always be an apostate around to rise up and say some people's lives are not worth preserving because God or Allah or any other deity has spoken to him/her. Who is to say David Koresh didn't hear God speaking to him or George W. Bush or Pat Robertson or your good friend at church? It's best to take the foundation out the theoretic realm and ground it in the inherent value of the singular human life. Utilitarianism is the valuation of a human life based on the needs of the group. Utilitarianism is repugnant to most fundamentalist Christians I know. Religious nutjobs like Koresh are always going to be among us, so let's take the grounding away from revelation and place it in the individual. Is this an UnAmerican view? I hope not for all our sakes. We all have our being for a short time and should act as if it matters that we don't contribute needlessly to the end of being or the diminution of being, which ,according to doctors of the Church who influence Catholic AND Protestant doctrines, is the nature of evil. Evil doesn't coexist with good; it diminishes being. At least that's how the Church combated the Manachean 'heresy'. That and good old-fashioned physical coercion; the prescription of the 16th and 17th century Christians against other Christians and it was a failed prescription then as it is now.


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