I’ve been reading about climate change lately. I’ve been trying to make sense of the number discrepancies and the diametrically opposing views about a subject that seems as if it should be pretty straight forward.
Some people are convinced the carbon dioxide emissions being spewed from autos and power plants worldwide is collecting in the atmosphere and causing, among other things, the ice caps to melt. Others are convinced global temperature fluctuations are just a normal cyclical occurrence.
Both sides site their opposing statistics and their scientific experts but, it seems to me, for a lot of people the issue boils down to an emotional, us versus them scenario with an almost religious fervor. Sometimes the issue seems reduced to name calling and ad hominem attacks just like it used to be on the playground in elementary school.
Skeptics think of proponents as tree-hugging alarmists just looking for another world threatening crisis; proponents think of skeptics as anti-intellectual luddites with their heads buried in the sand.
Well, whether or not human-caused global warming is as dire as some claim it seems to me we could all do a little more to reduce our carbon footprints and ease the pressure on Mother Earth.
Pearl and Imacgirl got into a discussion the other day about whether one was better off and would be happier establishing firm beliefs or maintaining a healthy skepticism, you know, as a basic philosophy of life.
Imacgirl, the more pragmatic of the two, inclined as she is toward science, maintained greater understanding and happiness would be achieved by building on the core of established empirical truths methodically, the walls of which providing safety and security for the believer.
Pearl on the other hand, has a skeptical nature and is inclined toward unconventional explanations for what most would consider conventional wisdom. She said doubting razes pre-established thought structures presenting unlimited opportunities. Truth becomes an open question. Walls disappear leaving one awestruck by the vastness of possibility and here, she said, is where true happiness lies.
My two friends were clearly at a stalemate so they asked me what I thought. I guess it all came down to whether I would prefer the predictability of a life within the confines of common understanding or if I would throw caution to the wind, go where no doll has gone before and take my chances in the ethereal realm of the unknown.
Well, I told them that as much as I enjoyed abstract philosophical thinking what I really wanted to do was go for a walk in the woods, feel the breeze and listen to the birds. They decided to go along and eventually we all agreed that the experience we were having fit well with both philosophical positions.
I was reading recently about how the idea of Satan came about.
In the early middle ages St. Augustine determined that, as a result of Adam’s original sin and seeing as how we’re all descendants of Adam, evil exists in everyone. This meant that when bad things happened everyone had only themselves to blame since they all had a bit of badness in them. People bought into this pretty well because finding a scapegoat when badness happened wasn’t difficult.
Then, after a while, people began to take exception to St. Augustine’s concept thinking they really weren’t all that bad; actually they felt pretty good about themselves. So they got to thinking it wasn’t them but something or someone outside themselves that made them be bad. They anthropomorphized badness into a somewhat ambiguous horned satyr that they saw as perpetrating evil just because he wasn’t a very nice creature. He was an idea most everyone could fear and dislike.
Later, in modern times, now that people don’t so much believe in supernatural entities anymore, Satan has begun to fade away. So now, when bad things happen some people have gone back to finding a scapegoat, others have looked to St. Augustine and blame our inherent sinfulness and still others have dismissed the concept of evil altogether and rationalize badness as being relative to peoples and times.
When I think about how I stand on this I guess I lean towards relativism, but it takes some pretty hefty rationalization to accommodate some of the atrocities one hears about these days.
Friends and I were sitting around the other day chatting over afternoon tea. Sister Chloe got into talking about the providential nature of her life: How God had seen fit to bless her with strong, supportive parents who had taught her right from wrong, follow the Golden Rule, do no harm and help others when possible and to follow the path that God had laid out for her. She acknowledged God’s ways were sometimes mysterious and were not always easy to understand, like when her brother was left on the driveway behind the family car and subsequently ended up looking like Flat Stanley. She questioned how God could let that happen but said she believes he must have had his reasons as he does for everything.
Well, Lala then proceeded to offer that she saw her life in quite different terms. Fortune, she said, had been kind to her. Following a particularly potent incantation her father had won the favors of a Toys-R-Us manager and ended up being featured in a toy exhibit which enabled him to secure a fine home for the family. Even though the family had had their share of bad occurrences, mother having been purchased by a quite rowdy child and very likely ended up moldering in a damp basement her stuffing infested with centipedes and spiders, cosmic justice had, for the most part, shined upon her and she hoped the stars would continue to do so. She showed us an amulet she was wearing that came from her ancient ancestors. She felt sure this would continue to protect her through the travails of life.
Then it was my turn. I told them that my father was fond of telling us when difficulties arose that there was no reason to fear unpleasantness or worry about things because what would be would be and we had the freedom to make choices in our lives that would lead us, in all probability, provided they were wise choices, to a content and happy life. I told them this advice had worked out pretty well, that I’ve always done well in school, able to overlook the prejudices of my human classmates and even the potentially devastating event of my aunt being lost in a family move (I think the dog carried her off and buried her somewhere) was met by us all with stoic acceptance. I said that I was content in my ability to choose and felt comfortable letting each day unfold as it will.
Sister Chloe asked me how I can go about without faith in the existence of a benevolent overseer. Lala asked Chloe how she could possibly believe her ‘Superman in the sky’ could care about the events in her life. I asked how either of them could attribute future occurrences to the Supernatural.
As I poured our second cup of tea we all agreed it was time to change the subject. We decided to talk about the weather.
Hindu believers see existence as never ending; people are born into being, live their lives and die only to be reborn, hopefully into a better situation than they left. Although, if they aren’t lucky or haven’t accumulated enough good karma they might end up as a lesser animal or even inanimate like a rock (or a doll).
The skeptic in me thinks they might very well have gotten this idea by watching plant and animal life cycle through the seasons year after year but who am I to question an age-old belief embraced by so many people.
So, when I look at some of the Hindu gods I have to wonder what kind of karma they accrued in their previous lives. Take Ganesha: human body, elephant head and lots of arms. The story goes he was born of Shiva and Parvati both of whom had lots of arms so that attribute may have been hereditary, but it certainly doesn’t explain the elephant head.
If we assume Ganesha accumulated, in previous lives, sufficient good karma to become a god then maybe an elephant head is superior to a human head; maybe Ganesha is further along the karmic path than anyone else.
I’m not sure how to think about my own karmic destiny. Considering the present quality of my construction my previous life must not have been all that wonderful. Maybe if I’m exceptional this life I’ll come back as …………….a Barbie?
My friend Astrid and I were planning to get together recently when she called to say she couldn’t leave the house.
Astrid is a strong believer in the efficacy of the Astral Plane as an indicator of future events. She had just found out Saturn was entering her seventh house signaling Saturday, our planned meeting day, an inauspicious time to socialize. Better, she said, not to tempt fate.
I thought about this for a while. It all sounded pretty new-agie to me, but I decided to give Astrid the benefit of the doubt and found my birth chart on-line.
As you might imagine determining the exact time and date of my extrusion wasn’t easy. The year was printed on the bottom of my left shoe; I consulted my keeper as to purchase date, estimated delivery time and took into account the slight flaw on my shoulder as an indicator of a rush job probably done shortly before the end of workday.
Anyway, my chart indicated among other things the moon was in Aquarius just passing into my eighth house. What this suggested was my head was full of original ideas but that I would have the tendency to be selfish and blunt.
Being the skeptic I am I called Pearl. We went out and had quite a good time. I thought I was quite a pleasant companion until Pearl told me she hadn’t noticed the smear on my shoulder before. I responded by telling her she wasn’t exactly Miss America herself.
Pearl just shrugged off the comment but it definitely got me thinking: I wonder what will happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars? Will peace guide the planets and love steer the stars?
I was reading a while ago about the Ban-Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage which is performed in the Braj region of northern India. Unlike many pilgrimages the ban-Yatra isn’t focused on reaching a sacred locale or the place of Holy Relics but rather is about uncovering the sacred in the profane as the pilgrimage progresses.
Braj is believed to be the birthplace and playground of Krishna. Many of the stories of Hindu literature mention places and land forms here as sites where Krishna performed his miracles, cavorted with his cowherd friends and engaged in love-play with the Gopi’s and his beloved Radha. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating Braj, visiting shrines and temples and partaking in various rituals.
Unlike some eastern religious philosophies the worship of Krishna isn’t about renunciation of this world-denial of desire, but quite the opposite: realizing desire in the beauty of nature and celebrating the love of Krishna as being non-different from it. In order to do this the pilgrim cultivates bhava, an emotional and imaginative energy that allows him or her to see beyond the mere commonplace and experience the presence of Krishna in the natural surroundings.
One scholar suggests that in achieving bhava the pilgrim becomes like a poet creating meaning in the landscape as he or she passes through it.
Wow! What a great observation. The artist certainly creates alternative worlds through imaginative emotive means; a significant parallel to the creative religious practice of the Ban-Yatra pilgrim. Maybe the difference between the two lies in just how literally one believes in the existence of this other world and its inhabitants. The artist, I suspect, is less likely than the pilgrim to embrace his/her imaginings as factually existent.
It seems to me religious practice in general could profit from a bit more creative play and a bit less dogmatic belief.
I had a visit from Pastor Ted recently. We have quite a congenial relationship so long as we avoid speaking of religion or politics, which is why my ire was elevated a bit when he mentioned he read in one of my posts, that I referred to myself as a skeptical seeker. That must mean, he surmised, that I was open and susceptible to salvation; a viable candidate for recruitment to his army of the saved.
I truly hate to be drawn into a discussion of this sort since it’s become clear that neither of us has any idea what the other understands to be true in the realm of the spiritual. I tried to explain once again that for me doubt is the most uplifting of intellectual positions I can imagine; that doubt is the only philosophical option that allows complete freedom of investigation; that doubt is a most joyous state.
Alas, I fear Pastor Ted is so convinced his beliefs are the absolute truth and that anyone who is willing can commit to his beliefs, that he is unable to accept any alternative.
Pastor Ted is an honestly good person and a good friend but I guess, as Dorothy Parker so aptly put it, you can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.