Strangely, this is not a directive I learned from Mom or Dad. The first time I heard it was fourth grade when we had a substitute teacher for math class. I even remember her face. She had just shared a nugget of math wisdom with the class. She said, “The highest number in the universe is a decillion.” (It’s one followed by 60 zeros.) There was a long moment of silence and then some smart ass (guess who) said, “But, what about 450 decillion?” That’s where her face comes to crystal clarity in my memory. She looked like an extremely angry chicken wearing black horn-rimmed glasses. She glared for a long moment …and then I sheepishly continued, “But isn’t 450 decillion bigger than one decillion?” “NO!!!” I shrunk back a bit. “…..why?” “BECAUSE…I SAID SO!!!!”
I remember that even at the tender and impressionable age of nine years old, that seemed like a stupid answer. Deep inside my head, I was pretty sure two decillion (or two of just about anything) is probably more than one of the same thing. Yeah….I’m making a point, but in a paragraph or so, I’m going to suggest to you that this one sentence, more importantly, this mindset, could possibly be the epitaph for planet Earth, ex-number of years in the future.
Scroll ahead a handful of years; I was selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I was actually pretty good! But when I demo-ed the little beauty and vacuumed their entire downstairs, someone would invariably ask, “Exactly WHY should I buy your vacuum?” I assure you that I never once replied, “Because I said so.” Instead, I would show them how I could actually pick up a bowling ball with the machine (It’s true!… It has to do with the nature of directed air pressure.) Then, I’d show them the Electrolux guarantee, the Consumer Reports articles, the testimonials from happy customers, and in those days, the shtick Electrolux suggested was that you explain to them that a new vacuum costs just the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day… 35 cents at the time. (This equation wouldn’t work today for what should be obvious reasons.)
The point here, and I’m laying my base thick and carefully because it’s important…is this: As we grow up, we put away childish things, like accepting “Because I said so” as a viable explanation. It becomes increasingly obvious that before we buy a new car, fridge, house, TV, computer...anything...we want, we need, and we deserve to know WHY it’s better, faster, colder, smarter, anything-er than the competition.
As the creatures at the tippy-top of Earth’s precarious eco-chain, it behooves us, as well as it defines us. We are human organisms who need to know WHY.
I suspect that if any of you reading this had been hanging around when ole Ben, Adams, and Jefferson were hammering things out in the Declaration of Independence, you might have been making this very case back then. And so I ask you:
Does it seem an equitable proposition that you and I have a right to Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness...and the Pursuit of Truth? Way down in my common-sense GUT, I feel like I deserve to know WHY…not just hear the words, “Because I said so.”
“Uhhhm, Henry, are we sort of coming close to the same general hemisphere as where the point of this argument lies?” Yes. Just one more step. This one’s more important, for me, for vous, and for the rest of planet Earth.
Even after 14 years, the image you see above is as close I can come to returning to that day. Monsters perpetrated this tragedy against thousands of innocent American civilians. Monsters… And yet, they were also deeply religious people doing what they believed was right…according to their religion. It’s a chilling, frightening concept and one in which the corollary is equally chilling. What percentage of America would LOVE to repay this atrocity precisely in kind, only perhaps 100 times over? Yeah I get it. But this is the most probable path for how mankind will ultimately destroy itself…righteously. This has to stop…on all sides. The chain of hatred has to stop.
Sophomore year, Franklin and Marshall College, 202 Atlee Hall, and I’m a bustling pink-cheeked, eager-minded hippy-dippy philo major…with the room next door occupied by not one but two seminary students from Lancaster, PA. Sounds like a set-up worthy of a Neil Simon play. I remember the guys were both blond, personable, funny, (gay as it turns out) and utterly juiced-up at the prospect of arguing religion, philosophy, and ethics. As I remember they also played a lethal game of 7-Card Stud. These were good guys and man, they could argue!
I wandered into 204 Atlee one afternoon, and Roy graciously put his book away when I plopped down in a chair before him. He said, “What’s up?” I said, “I’m working on a paper…7-10 pgs.” I got right to it. “Let me set the premise and you shoot it down. First Question: Is God omniscient?” “Yes, Henry. You’re pretty safe so far.” Second Question: Is He omnipotent? Yup. “How ’bout timeless? Is God timeless or did He come into existence say so many thousand years ago?” (Sigh…) Yes, God is timeless as well. He exists in the past, present, and the future. Where we going with this???”
The Puppet Maker: I answered: “God created the Earth, the heavens, the light, the stars…everything…as well as us. He is our creator. We are His design. I know for a fact that I did not design myself.” (I remember Roy chuckling at this, but not disagreeing.) “The only problem is, unlike the trees and stars, God created mankind broken, flawed, and highly imperfect. Yet, once we’re born, He then commanded us to fix ourselves. Moreover, failing to do so results in His creations (us) His little people sentenced to an eternity of Hell.” “Ah, yes, but you forgot one thing, Henry.” “Freedom of Choice?” “Well, okay, you didn’t forget it but…” “Let’s go back to the scope of what God is. My Creator, my God, my Puppet master is timeless. As such, even endowing me with freedom of choice, He still KNEW...even as He was creating me flawed and imperfect… He KNEW beforehand that I wouldn’t succeed. He knew this even as He created me. He literally made me whom or whatever I am. And then sentenced me to death and eternal Hell if I couldn’t come up with a fix. He already knew the outcome, yet He still created me flawed.”
Roy wisely suggested that the two of us probably wouldn’t untie the riddle while sitting in 204 Atlee. He was right and yet, 40 years later, despite monstrous strides in technology, computers, communication, we haven’t budged a thousandth of an inch as to what what place religion should or should not occupy on this tiny, ultra-vulnerable planet. I probably won’t make a lot of headway in this tiny essay. But collectively we still must continue to chip away.
I imagine, the very religious readers who sometimes wander into this weird tiny site, have fingers poised upon the “Go fuck yourself” button. It’s predictable and in a way, it might be appropriate……emphasis on the might. Here is how I see it, however, then decide for yourself whether to hit the GFY button. In every single thing you do upon this planet, in every single serious decision you make, you rely on that inner gyroscope inside your body or in my case, my gut.
Lately, when I get an e-mail that sounds too good to be true, or it just sounds wrong, I must, in a common sense way, question its veracity. The world is now full of millions upon millions of people who have a vested interest in…….feeding you something that may or may not be true. I present to you the prospect that this is not just a recent occurrence. The world has always had that caveat. We have a long history of creating literally thousands of gods. All those ones that came before, have been dismissed as coming from myth and ignorance. Mere longevity, mere history does not guarantee veracity…truth. Ultimately, you have to judge for yourselves. What things make sense, ethically, morally way down in your gut?
The A-Word: To offer up an olive branch for those who have been taught from a really early age, three, four, five, six, that you have only one set of truths, I submit to you, many of the people you find offensive, strident, not sufficiently respectful, arrogant, (feel free to add your own qualifiers)… We are, of course, speaking of Atheists now. I suspect that, highly imperfect human beings that they are, their zeal for a quick win, their blood lust, frustration just as they have experienced for decades, is ill-conceived. They make mistakes, too. It’s the nature of humanity.
The very term Atheist, if I can become pseudo-psychologist for a moment, just sounds a whole lot like ANTI theist. It sounds like these folks are out to destroy your God…and in doing so, every other God as well. I don’t think that’s really the case. And if you listen carefully, you might hear the clarification. I…am an a-Zeus-ist…as I imagine you are as well. I don’t believe in Zeus. Do you? And you can easily ramble through several hundred gods who no longer make much sense in today’s world. We are all the A-word with regard to literally hundreds of gods.
The world just kinda…grew up, and grew past Zeus, and Thor and Rah, and three or four thousand other gods. We outgrew them. The Atheists, as the somewhat snotty colloquialism goes today, just went one god more than you did.
And yet, if you scroll back up to that eerie New York skyline, in this age, 2000+ years after what Christianity proposes, and more years still after what the other religions have proposed, we stand now on the brink of a nuclear annihilation, because we can’t get it straight who the hell God is…or if He even exists. We are willing to blow up babies, children, women, men, entire countries to prove that our God is the only one and their god is myth. This is the closest I can come to the definition of insanity.
For me, today, in this world as it confronts us, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of TRUTH seems more pressing than the pursuit of happiness. Do you want to know the truth???
…..And as we each retire to our corners, battered, bloody, and probably a bit pissed-off, I still return to The Golden Rule…..which pre-dates and is also in common with the “Top Three”. This works for me. Don’t really care very much who was the first to say it.
P.S. I truly apologize to you for what is a sloppy segue at the end of this essay. Unfortunately, there was no way around it. It just won’t wait till next week. Please take a look at the below paragraph, but more importantly the link at the bottom. I don’t do this capriciously.
We’ve all been inundated with Donald Trump’s latest antics this week. Usually, I laugh, shake my head, and take solace in the fact that in America, you can still say any idiotic thing you like and get away with it. Usually I can do that… but this kinda falls in the category of you’re trying to quietly exit a restaurant because there’s a loud-mouth ass who’s mouthing off to everybody. As you attempt to pass by, however, he looks at your wife, and makes a comment which can’t go unnoticed. You stop, look at him, and give him one last chance. “Would you like to apologize right now…while you’re still ambulatory? That’s about how I feel with Trump going after the veterans and trying to put his own definition as to who is…and who isn’t a hero. There is a name for such a person. Well, there’s actually a whole bunch of names, but Chicken Hawk is what is most accurate. People who have never served in the military, yet feel free to draw all kinds of conclusions about what it’s like to serve and what it’s like to get shot at, lose an arm, a leg, a buddy and pissiest of all, what it’s like to be a hero. A word of advice: Don’t do that.
You have a right to march against a war. You have a right to carry placards…even burn a flag, though I would strongly advise against it. Your rights are your rights. That is what America is, was, and hopefully will always be about. Just don’t tell veterans what it’s like to be a veteran. And don’t tell us your definition of a hero. We really couldn’t care less about your opinion.
I’ll keep this mercifully short. I received a calendar in my e-mail yesterday. I could barely get through it. It’s handsome, beautiful, brave, and they are also some of the saddest images I’ve seen. Brace yourself and look upon the beauty of men and women who did, indeed, serve….suffer…and survive. Donald….shut the fuck up.
You got me thinking, Henry. That, after all, was the idea. But you REALLY got me thinking. I didn’t even read the stuff after your signature, because I didn’t want to walk away from what you said before signing. I hear so much in your essay, of what has occurred to the very back of my mind, and I wonder why I have not brought it to the fore before now. Hmmmmm…
Keep thinking, Henry.
Glad you enjoyed the article. When I was in an ivory tower many years , studying philo and the problems plaguing mankind, I never seriously thought the questions would be so weighty and so important to our future survival. But they are. Maybe it’s time to address them, with gloves off.
You are so on target.
Having lost my niece’s husband to a Cobra
know how very hard it is to be speechless
for fear of saying the wrong thing.
Yes, I lost
my dad at age 10 and my mom, just 10 yrs ago,
but I am blessed to still have my husband.
Losing a spouse, a 37 yr young one at that, is
different. Now, compound that with it being the loss
of a Marine on the way up, that loved what he did,
and wow you can’t say the right thing.
No, you don’t know their loss or their pain.
I think I just hugged her and said you’re family
is here for you. Maybe lame, but heartfelt.
She has since found a family with Cross Fit
folks in CA where she lives. That’s a whole other something
Anyway, thanks once again for giving me an interlude
to my day and a chance to use my hidden brain cells.
Always enjoy them,
Thanks for your very moving reply. Life is rough, and seems to be getting exponentially rougher with each year.
So as I was reading my first thought for a reply was, “Will my very old Electrolux still pick up a bowling ball?”.
But as I read on I have to agree with you on most of this.
I want to know why we can’t all play nice, fair, & lovely on this wonderful planet? It always has been my thought EXCEPT (isn’t there always an except) if anyone tried to harm my aging parents, kids, grandkids or for that matter a lot of people in my life. I have turned into a protective she bear when guarding over family members in the hospital & laid out doctors for their inattentiveness, faced of bullies who where much bigger & stronger than me & they backed down. I would have to say in real danger I would seriously hurt & possibly kill to protect my loved one. But in my heart I want to understand how you think, believe that you can be loving and caring no matter how you were raised.
Of course a quote from “Paper Moon” a TV show, “The only thing man has learned from studying man is man has never learned from studying man.” is really right.
Yeah, you might be able to pick it up…if you first bolt on a big ole Vise Grips to the nozzle.
Yup, you voice what most of us think: Don’t mess with my family. Don’t mess with my loved ones. When idiots can take a bus into your city with a suitcase bomb, it might be time to try to sort things out, rather than just bombing them back to the stone age.
Interesting take on the pursuit of truth or that all people are atheists when it comes to other peoples’ religious beliefs. In the history of the earth, there is not a religion, tribe, culture, group, or locale that didn’t want to perform ethnic cleansing of non members. Luckily, many of us are civilized under the right circumstances. Survival might change the equation.
His experiment (us) is incredibly flawed…so much for perfection or truth. He supposedly tried to end his experiment with floods and fire and brimstone. Those two quotes about morality and religion and the atheists standards say it all. And I HATE that the answer is he gave us choice. Cut me a break!
As nasty as a Bengal Tiger is, or a grizzly bear, great white shark, king cobra… I can’t recollect a time when any of them wanted to wipe out an entire species. That seems to come down to us, homo sapiens . Why? Money, Power, and most of all Religion. And if you think about it, if you’re talking about organized religion, all of those three are very closely intertwined.
“…Donald….shut the fuck up”
AMEN! (That’s God speaking.
Hey Mary Lou,
How can you tell the two of you apart?
It means a lot.
You can put it down to obtuseness, but I didn’t connect all the dots in your latest essay. It’s not clear, for instance, why Trump the Chump got into the act other than as a metaphor for what matters in running for president, namely a showbiz persona. Other requirements include vast wealth, or the ability to siphon it off from the even-more-wealthy (thank you, Supremes), arrogance (show the peasants who’s who), and – in his particular case – a capacity for mindless bloviation. Not a word in the dictionary, but it should be – there’s a lot of it about.
But here’s the thing: “Because I said so” is just one variant of the all-purpose epitaph “Because I could”. Back to The Donald again, I’m referring to: 1. Greed, and; 2. Selfishness, our capacity to consume “non-renewable resources” to the detriment of others and, in a few more years, ourselves. I don’t just mean fossil fuels, precious metals, any metals, any stuff. How about those fresh water aquifers? Keep pumping, guys, just deeper every year. We all know about the CA problem, but we don’t hear much about the “High Plains” where a single aquifer supplies about 30% of all irrigated land in the USA. Depletion is accelerating (no, how can that be?) because usage trumps, excuse me, replenishment by hundreds to one. It’s not just us. Beijing is critically short of water, too.
Hmm … the one thing we’re not short of is people. There are nasty folk around saying that population growth (could it be exponential?) does to the planet what cancer does to the body. How un-Christian is that? Speaking of Christianity, Catholics in the late 90s theorized that Earth could sustain 11, 15, or maybe even 20 billion “souls”. I didn’t hear one Catholic asking why we would want such a thing, what would it be “for”? Self-replacement is one thing, but industrial-scale proliferation is something else. Homo so-called sapiens is gobbling up the globe, a more polite term for polluting it. Yes, Pollution is Us.
And then you mentioned the Golden Rule. I guess you were thinking of the “do unto others” thing, which to my mind is just a component of “do unto the planet”, see above. But then I realized why the Comb-over got a mention. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “He who has the gold, rules”.
Well…you’ve certainly covered a whole lot of territory! I was tempted to say, “Tell me what you REALLY think.”….but I believe you just did. At some point, you have to decide whether to laugh or cry. Today, laughing is more fun. I’m trying to imagine, Donald Trump, with his fingers on the triggers of 3-4 hundred nuclear warheads. I think I’d rather have almost anyone in that chair. I think they need to establish a basic reality check for every and anyone presuming to lead the United States of America.