Sick Day
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04-01-2011, 04:13 PM
Sick Day
Let’s talk religion. We had more on our minds than ‘date patches’ to all of our infrastructure-computer-coding just before the new millennium. We also had some end-of-days prophecies coming due and a great deal of stupidity in the understanding of the numbering system. The stupidity can be pardoned due to a lack of education in the dog-eat-dog, money-and-guns civilization we lived in (and continue to live in.) Still, it’s embarrassing to me that so many adults (many with important responsibilities like legislation, media content, law enforcement, etc.) could not grasp the concept.

We can all agree there was no ‘Year 0’—the beginning of anything is always called ‘the first’ and I see no reason to make ‘Years’ an exception. That is the only reasonable excuse for so many to miss the point of our annual numbering:
The first one hundred years (years 1 to 100) was the first century. Note that the last year of that century is year 100. The following year, year 101, was the first year of the second century and that century ends in the year 200.

So we see the incrementing of the highest order digit in the year is it’s last year in the century of whatever increment we’re talking about. It follows that the year 2000 is the last year of the twentieth century and the year 2001 is the first year of the twenty first century.

However, most people assume that the changing of the high order digit is the beginning of something new, instead of seeing it for the end of what it’s been reaching towards for the previous 99 years.

This is the sort of thing that happens when Reasoning gets confused with Horse Sense. Reasoning has a valued place in our lives. Horse Sense is also valuable in its time and place. There are many times in life when I need to feel my way towards something I’m not quite sure of; to go with a hunch; to trust in luck or to simply keep up my morale.

But I draw the line at being all loosey-goosey with the Horse Sense. If your gut tells you to be a Jehovah’s Witness, say, then fine—go ahead and believe in the end of creation on a specific date. But if your faith also tells you not to bother sending any of your offspring to college due to the belief that the world will have ended before your children can use degrees of higher learning to do something more for themselves than a lifetime at minimum-wage labor, then you should perhaps ask yourself: “Am I being faithful or just lazy?”

Anyone who lives in the USA can tell you that they can have any religion they want—as long as it doesn’t infringe on the freedom of their neighbors and their neighbors’ religions. We live in a centuries-old experiment of plurality and, so far, so good. No one group’s ‘God’ has smiteth-ed down all the other groups’ religions. No one faith has inveigled its way into our national culture (though some Protestants will talk to you for hours about the reverse side of that statement).

We live surrounded by different faiths. A quote favored among Atheists states that a true believer is only one step away from Atheism—while the believer disbelieves in all the other religions except his or her own, the Atheist merely adds one more religion to the same list and finds him or herself without any faith at all. This observation acquires more potency from the long, long list of recognized Faiths in the United States.

But, as in the case of a JW’s refusal to pay tuition for his children’s colleges, we do not actively protect the rights of minors to choose their own faith. This results in a situation where many children are forced to participate in religions chosen for them by their parents and guardians.

On one hand (say a devout Catholic’s) such a statement is lunacy—who would dare to question the right of a Catholic couple to have their own baby baptized? On the other hand (say a convinced atheist) it would be sensible to have Child Services monitor religious rituals imposed on minors.

If we really wanted plurality in our national culture, we would add Religions to the public school curricula—and please notice my use of the letter ‘s’ at the end of ‘Religions’—educating children about the history, diversity, and humanity of the world’s faiths from prehistory to the present. This would allow children to see their faith as it is seen by outsiders; to see other faiths as something as real to their fellow students as their own faith is to them. They would also learn of the great impact the United States has had on religious freedom throughout the world.

But we don’t do that—we have religious freedom of a very narrow and specialized kind. It is more akin to a De-Militarized Zone of religion.

None of the ‘big’ religions wants to curtail the activity of their fellow faiths for fear of the slippery-slope factor. Once laws start infringing on any rituals or traditions of one religion, it’s only a matter of time for the rest. And the Atheists are still a decided minority, so their clout is held in abeyance for reasons similar to the above. If one faith starts getting tough on Atheism, there’s little doubt that inertia would drag the others along.

Some modern faiths have changed their orthodoxy to allow children to mature before they are asked to join the faith—but since the faith of their community is one they’ve been taking part in for the last eighteen years, there is seldom any clear knowledge of what the alternatives might be.

But, to return to the dawning of the millennium, we had some very disappointed Jehovah’s Witnesses and some really pissed-off Muslims, some really embarrassed Catholic priests and some totally kooky Scientologists. The egg on the face of religion was thick enough for a tempera painting.

But my heart really goes out to the JWs most of all. Not only did the end of the world come and go without incident, but the Faith’s leaders themselves were divided on the issue of exactly which year constituted the end of the millennium. In the end, they paid the price for confusing reason and horse sense—a behavior so whacky that they left their congregations with little reason to continue attending church. A JW acquaintance of mine told me that they eventually figured their own Y2K patch allowing them to reposition their EOW for the third millennium, thereby gaining another thousand years to work out the kinks. But she also told me she doesn’t go to church anymore.

This thing called Religion, it obsesses me, you know? It becomes more and more worn and thin and dusty with every generation—Atheism is on the rise, at least in the USA. We don’t want to see our ‘ethical glue’ dry up and float away. We want, no, need, we need to have some sense of order in the universe, some reason to value life and to create new life, some rubric to ward off the shadow of life without afterlife.

And if it can have an old man up in the sky, that would be perfect, thank you.

Regardless, the real problem of religions is that they define our personalities to some extent. Catholics are very comfortable with seeing bread and wine as the transubstantiated flesh and blood of their savior, which they then proceed to eat and drink. (What, you thought the ‘Twilight’ franchise was the first fad to hit that? Please—the world is a lot older than you imagine.)

The Muslims apparently have some portions of the Koran that advocate military means of spreading the good word. (I think, however, that the majority of the world’s Muslims are sick and tired of being linked to a small group of international, bloodthirsty sociopaths and that majority maybe think it’s time to start looking at more productive verses in their holy book!)

The Mormons aren’t really bad (if you ignore the bigotry and miscegenation) just weird—and I think it’s hard on a kid being raised by parents who teach their kid to be weird.
Plus, I think Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was upstate in New York digging up magic gold tablets at nearly the same time Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was (independently of Michael Faraday) discovering the principle of electromagnetic inductance in his Albany laboratory. This is the crux of the matter: When science shines its light into all the darkest corners of our primitive selves, we see a natural phenomenon where once we required hocus-pocus to settle the questions and fears in our hearts.

The nearly magical powers of technology to make living easier, faster or safer (or all three) are impossible to resist. Well, I mean, the Amish resist—but they’re a fringe group, unrepresentative of the USA in general—not that we don’t love their cultural contributions to the national tapestry.

But, we regular folk will not be denied our tech-fix. Moreover, whenever some particularly new and exciting gadgets come along, we line up to consume them as if they were porterhouse steaks. But, when it’s time to pay the piper for all the science we gladly paid good money for, suddenly, we think, “Hey, I believe in this Bible more than I believe in the science that allows me to proselytize over the Internet. I think I can use religion to control my society in spite of all the nit-picking details of our Constitution, a document that includes other people’s religion in the Bill of Rights that protects my own!”

I define the word ‘plurality’ as a perspective that allows me to agree with my Christian friends, my Jewish friends, and my Muslim friends—even when they contradict each other or believe in things that seem silly to me. In fact, the cultural diversity of the various faiths is, to me, one of the most revealing things about them. A ‘God’ entity would have no use for different faiths—only people need that. Their faiths are, for the most part, clearly evolved as part of their experience living in different places, different climates, and at different eras in history—if it were found that there was only one religion in the world, that would be a very much more difficult faith to turn one’s back on.

Additionally, faiths change in response to science itself. Heaven used to be overhead, now it’s somewhere else. Hell used to be below the Earth, now we’re more inclined to visualize Hell as inside the Earth—or, like Heaven, somewhere else.

Advances in Astronomy have proven the vastness of the Universe, vaster than anything mentioned in any sacred scripture. We know now that the Earth is the third of eight planets circling our Sun, that our Sun is just one more star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy, and that our Galaxy is just one of billions. Probability suggests that that many stars are bound to include a few more planets with who knows what kind of life on them—and, for all we know, their own kind of religions.

And No, Smarty Pants, I didn’t suggest that they’re coming to visit us soon, or have visited us, or any other UFO-type craziness. I’m just saying that we are almost certainly one of trillions of planets in the universe to spawn intelligent life—and even if we can’t know that for sure, we can know that no sacred scripture ever mentions this circumstance, that the Catholic Church was responsible for resisting these basic facts and persecuting the scientists who originally observed these facts. It seems to me that a religion should be invulnerable to the truth, else how can we have faith in what we don’t see?

But the worst thing about religion is it clouds the issue—Karl Marx was a firm believer in the danger of religion—he had no idea that Communists acting supposedly in his name would create a state religion (What else can you call it when all religions are illegal?) that smote down more infidels than any actual religion ever did. It is quite plainly true that to ban religion is a stupid thing to do—religions are more often strengthened than stopped by having been outlawed.

So, no, I do not advocate a ban on religion. Some things are better left to their own devices. But religion does cloud the issue. What issue? The issue of human civilization, of course. If people don’t stop their patriotism, their piety, and their material ambitions, people will have no effective means of controlling their inertia towards global destruction.

The year is 2011. When will we mature to the point where military confrontation is no longer the best way to decide who’s right and who’s wrong? When will we gain the perspective that allows us to bond globally, regardless of old religions and old grudges? And when will we finally see quality-of-life as a function of our cooperation, rather than as a function of capitalism, country or faith?

Governments, even the USA’s ‘O-so-perfect’ government, are self-preserving entities. This is clearly visible in the case of, say, Eminent Domain, which allows the government to take whatever person’s real estate the government decides it needs. Another glaring example is the IRS—our original Constitution expressly forbid taxing citizens’ revenue, yet President Lincoln and the Congress enacted a bill that was passed as an emergency and temporary war-time tax. After the Civil War, the act was allowed to expire—but the door had been opened and, on February 1913, Congress ratified the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, allowing Taxation on Revenue permanently, and now we have been deprived of the original Constitution’s protection against taxation for so long, we forget that we ever had a government that only taxed trade and property, not a citizen’s hard-earned paycheck.

Governments also perpetuate armed conflict. They settle for an end to each war and promptly forget all the behavior that first lead to that war—if our government was as concerned for the citizenry as they were with their own survival, they would see that the end of a war is only the beginning of the end of the job.

Look at Japan—the one time we Americans truly completed a war—the day after Japan’s surrender, we began working towards a civil relationship which benefitted both the USA and Japan and created bonds of mutual cooperation that make the thought of another war with Japan the wildest of hyperbole. But do the governments of the world look at this wonderful turn-around as a model for future military clashes? No, they don’t.

Why do I obsess over this junk?

Sick today--I keep being drawn to the keyboard to make a note of some idea, and the idea never sticks around long enough for me to get it down on paper. It's times like this that make me realize the futility of trying to leave something valuable behind--the things I write down are rarely of interest in general, they're rarely helpful to a would-be reader, they're mostly just the inside of my head and mostly about the things that catch my eye: religion, literature, music, outer space, human rights, education, and politics.

My poetry is more often than not a piece of prose that I chop into fragments or phrases, and feel like capitalizing each line's first word! When I do rhyme, I do a sloppy job--and most of the best parts are lucky accidents, not any clever vision of some great poet.

And the music, my god, who'd've thought I'd have so much trouble playing a piano improv that doesn't sound exactly like the thousands of previous improvs? The solution is simple of course: I should have long ago buckled down to write a piece on paper, where my sense of time and the dexterity of my fingers wouldn't be the overriding limits of the day's creation.

But that just goes in the dustbin with my 'plans' to paint murals instead of sketches, to write a book instead of a few paragraphs on whatever comes to mind, to get into as good a shape as someone with my medical history can, to go back to the Somes Mano Senior Care Center once a week to brighten up the days of the dying with piano songs, well--there's more--I won't impose on your patience any further.

The point being--I have no self-control. Also, such musings remind me of a Sci-Fi Channel TV movie about a Super-Drill that the heroes ride into the earth's core (with nuclear bombs) to re-start the spin of Earth's molten core--don't ask me, it's Sci-Fi, the whole point is to be outside the box.

Anyhow, Claire having been a classmate of Stanley Tucci's at JJHS, we are always brightened by his appearance in whatever movies he appears in (He's so great!) In this movie, he played a skeptical, obnoxious 'popular science' icon who is ceaselessly speaking his 'narrations' into his recorder while the rest are trying to get the job done.

But the part I identify with is the scene where Stanley has redeemed himself by sacrificing his life to jettison one of the nuclear bombs while he's still in the pod. The last shot we see of him shows him talking into his recorder, he stops, realizes that he (and his recorder) are both seconds from destruction--his recorder is useless and he throws it against the wall.

To me it's a very powerful image--a creative person who continues working by habit, even when no audience could ever possibly hear his notes. And he dies, not when the bomb goes off, but when he throws the recorder away.

And Shakespeare, what's his deal--the only guy in history to write poems about his poems living forever, and his poems do live forever--what is that? Karma, supernatural, who knows?

-XperDunn January 3rd, 2011
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