MY PERSONAL COSMOLOGY
did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
This writing is largely a trivial reiteration of insights articulated
over the millennia by many more elegant thinkers and eloquent writers than I, but for the record, here's my worldview.
with Descartes. "Cogito, ergo sum." "I think, therefore I am." I have no way of knowing where or what I "really" am, but the
fact I can contemplate "I am" satisfies me that somewhere, in some form or another, there is a consciousness that is, for
the moment, "I."
Where did I come from? I don't know, but I'm very doubtful I'm the handiwork of some sui generis,
incorporeal, cognizant, sentient, intentional, judgmental, puissant intelligence "out there."
In the beginning, whenever
that was - in this universe or somewhere else - it seems to me there must have been nothing-ness, not just ordinary, everyday,
plain-vanilla "nothing." That concept is hard for me to grasp, but "always was" is even harder.
As a non-intended and
non-intentional happenstance, I believe the cosmos, itself, whatever it may "really" be, must be without purpose. Whether
substance or fantasy, it probably just "is."
Absent cosmic purpose, absolute value concepts like "good" and "evil"
would be meaningless. Only in relativistic terms - related to individuals and groups - might such terms have "meaning."
my point of view, that which is "good" is whatever makes my endorphins flow or gives me comfort. And that may well be the
only universal test of "goodness" for any aware creature, even if awareness itself is - as I am beginning seriously to suspect
- only an illusion.
A person who was perhaps wiser than she realized at the time once said to me, "We aren't here for
a long time, so it had better be a good time." Words as profound as seemingly banal.
Faith, Hope, and Charity - and
the greatest of these is Comfort.
I characterize myself as a "Born-Again heathen," not to be confused with Pagans who
believe in various creative pantheons of supernatural "gods" or with neo-Pagans who believe in such concepts as God, Jehovah,
Allah, Satan, angels, devils, saints, original sin, redemption, resurrection, hell, heaven, miracles, and all the rest of
such fantastical stuff without a shred of credible evidence.
Was Christ the child of God? Was Christ God? Was God?
Not very likely, as I see it.
Whoever Christ was, whether real person or mythical construct (and the doctrine of the
Trinity to the contrary notwithstanding), he surely was not "God" in any sense of the term. By the same token, the Bible is
not the word of "God," nor was Mary a virgin. It's all either a wonderful fairy story or a compelling work of historical fiction,
but virtually none of it is literally true.
Like all the other "stuff" in the cosmos, I see Christ as a product of
a sui generis, incorporeal, non-cognizant, non-judgmental, non-intentional, non-intelligent puissant impetus "out there" which
I think of as "cosmic nature" and which many people refer to as "God," perhaps as much for the sake of convenience as anything
In my view, such "God" could have no resemblance to Jehovah or Allah or any other sort of purported consciousness
that deals in such stuff as original sin, judgment, redemption, resurrection, life hereafter, or reincarnation. As another
thoughtful friend recently said to me, "I finally realized that when it's finally over, it's all over."
history - both recorded and unrecorded - people created anthropomorphic "Gods" in their own image for their own convenience,
not vice versa. All such "Gods" seem undoubtedly mythological, without any "real" existence except in the minds of the blindly
"faithful" from time to time and place to place.
Did "God" "choose" the Jews? Hardly. Pretty clearly the Jews chose
"God" or, rather, invented "God" as a mechanism for rationalizing, justifying and ostensibly legitimizing, among many other
things, their original conquest of Canaan and for arrogantly holding themselves out as the "persecuted preferred" throughout
As there was no "chosen" to begin with, Christians did not inherit "choseness" from the Jews. Beyond
that, the disconnect between Judaism and Christianity, between the "God" of the Torah and "God of" the New Testament, and
their divergent ethical and cultural precepts is actually huge. The modern empathy of fundamentalist Christians with Zionism
flows from "non-connection" misperceived.
Because of my deep and abiding skepticism, I believe all our social conventions
are suspect inasmuch as they proceed from mythological rather than "real" premises. For specific example, I believe we probably
live in a deterministic world and that "free will" is actually an illusion.
I am far from having figured out what the
profound implications of such realizations may be, but it seems clear a system of belief that does not contemplate eternal
reward or punishment "hereafter" based on "works" or "faith" here and now might well give rise to a code of behaviors quite
different from any code "faith-based" persons might advocate for self or only for others.
As I continue here and make
some comparative judgments, please understand my use of the term "better" implies nothing cosmic but only "tending to maximize
endorphin flow and/or comfort" and where groups are involved "tending to maximize endorphin flow and/or comfort" for a maximum
In a reality-based paradigm, the "Golden Rule" - do unto others as you would have them do unto you - works
only if everyone involved has been brainwashed, inculcated, or programmed so that their endorphin flows are stimulated by
"giving" rather than "receiving," a precept not merely counterintuitive but also dubious. "Do unto others as they have done
unto you" is probably more realistic. Tit for tit and tat for tat, as it were, perhaps modified with the opening gambit "do
unto others as they would be done by."
"God" is invoked routinely to bolster human predilections. "God" lends validity
and authority to the pronouncements of those who would manipulate the naive. "God with us!" is the universal battle cry from
time immemorial. But "God" does not determine outcomes. They are determined by who is willing and able to waste the most,
and by the vicissitudes of fortune.
Perversely, in a world suffused with religions, those of "faith" tend to be prey,
while predators tend to be the greedy, cheating, corrupt, mendacious, conniving "non-faithful" who deal in connections, influence,
privilege, ill-gotten or otherwise unmerited wealth, and naked power.
Lamentably, our system of jurisprudence, focused
as it is on a priori statute and common law rather than a posteriori justice is utterly incompetent to deal with the ever
evasive mutations of such artfully dodging transgressors.
As long as human behaviors are colored by considerations
of "hereafter-ness," they are unlikely to result in genuine "better-ness" here and now. We need only look at Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam as manifested in America, Israel, and the Arab world for confirmation.
Can the curse inflicted on
humanity by religiosity ever be dispelled? Probably not ever, I believe, and certainly not in the brief remaining span of
my own lifetime. Religion is everywhere fostered by ignorance, inculcation, anxiety, terror, hope, ego, and willing suspension
of disbelief. Sadly, in disservice to themselves as well as the rest of humankind, the "willing" are all too numerous.
FREE WILL TO DETERMINISM
Now 73 years old, I grew up during the 1930s and 40s. We had idealism and patriotism in those
days, too. Even folks in the Midwest where isolationism was rampant supported our involvement in World War II, not anticipating
the cold war and its other lamentable ramifications.
For many years, right and wrong, good and evil, seemed obvious
and unambiguous. Then, starting somewhere along the line, uncertainties began to emerge. There was no lightning flash epiphany,
but I gradually came to see that many bright things had darker sides, that desirable things often had undesirable ramifications,
and that right was sometimes imbedded in, but obscured by, wrong. And, of course, vice versa.
What reshaped my thinking
and brought me to a more relativistic view was experience with my wife of 22 years (who died in 2003 at age 57). A bipolar
manic depressive, she was both suicidal and homicidal, and it took many years for me to grasp that what seemed evil in her
was actually illness that needed to be addressed, albeit imperfectly, with treatment, not punishment.
That was the
genesis of "The View Less Seen," and I began to re-examine long cherished certainties. In the process, I found that good and
evil are always defined by the divergent value systems of the beholders and are not cosmic absolutes. As I learned to empathize
with the points of view of others, I began to find that simplistic truths I had held dear were actually complex, ambivalent,
multi-faceted, and by no means shared by everyone.
In the crusades, Christians purportedly set out to redeem Jerusalem
from the infidel Muslims and such elements as rape, plunder, and pillage were dismissed as fringe "benefits." But the Muslim
world didn't see what, to it, were depredations of the infidel Christians in quite the same way.
That bit of history
doesn't justify Islamic fanaticism today any more than the genocide practiced on Native Americans by our European forebears
legitimizes jihad, but it's useful to consider the dynamics of such situations from the viewpoint of the losers as well as
of the winners.
Morally, I deplore those kinds of things, and I especially deplore the inhumane stupidity with which
so many goals, right as well as wrong, are often pursued that leaves a legacy of enmity and need for revenge that lasts, as
in the case of the Hatfields and McCoys, for generations.
I don't like terrorism any more than anyone else does, but
I believe we need to find ways of dealing with it that will quell rather than exacerbate hatred. I don't yet know what measures
we ought to take for our own longer range best interest, but I'm quite certain the measures we are currently taking will ultimately
make matters far worse, not better.
Terrorism itself isn't the real problem, only a symptom. If we want the symptom
to go away permanently, we need to identify and address the underlying causes and not be lulled into a false sense of security
by temporary abatement of the symptoms.
Band-Aids can make cancer look okay for while, but only for awhile, and it
seems clear to me we are currently in the Band-Aid business big time.
In my experience, there are at least three levels
of wisdom. One I started out with (seemed wise at the time), a second I evolved to (seemed much wiser at the time), and a
third I arrived at more recently. At the moment, it seems the wisest, but I can no longer be certain about that because I
now realize there may be a fourth level which, as twice before, I cannot as yet even imagine.
According to Mahatma Ghandi, eight sins are largely responsible for the ills of the world. They merit
some reflection. They are:
Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Science without Humanity
Politics without Principles
Rights without Responsibilities
SHOULD WE LEARN TO LIVE AS JESUS TAUGHT?
teaching? If one believes in Jesus, then one presumably believes he taught us to live by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you." But this really works out to "do unto others as they would be done by," and that is enormously
It does not mean that if I would like to receive vanilla I should give vanilla to everyone else including
those who prefer chocolate, or strawberry, or tutti fruiti. It means, if I am a true Christian, to give each of them what
they would like to receive regardless of my own preference.
All too often in homilies, I seem to hear between the lines
"I know the way and the truth and the life, and you all need to understand that it's really pistachio nut."
the right questions is the indispensable prerequisite to finding the right answers, but who is to say - for each individual
- what the "right" questions are?
Precept: Why do children of light so easily become conspirators with the darkness?
Perhaps because their identity, their sense of self, is at stake. Secularity may be a way of being dependent on the responses
of those around us.
Observation: But what light? what darkness? what dependency? For some, at least, Secularity proceeds
from the necessity of preserving the intellectual integrity of one's self concept by acknowledging cosmological reality in
the face of conventional, wishful-hoping fantasy.
Precept: Thomas Merton says the secular self is fabricated and false,
driven by social compulsions.
Observation: Merton is wrong. There is no false self nor any true self. There is no
self but self and, at the end of the day, self, itself, provides its only fully satisfying affirmation.
makes up the essential of who I really am?
Observation: I am who am. Who else can rightly say what I should regard
as "essential" to me? I see existence one way. You see it another. Which of us is right? Which wrong? Arguably, we both are
both right and wrong. I am right for me and wrong for you. You are right for you and wrong for me.
Precept: It's very
easy to spend one's life pre-occupied with urgencies and never really live.
Observation: "Really live" by whose definition?
There is no grand cosmic purpose, so what does it matter, except to me, how I spend my time. And, in the end, it doesn't matter
Precept: What question is in your heart?
Observation: How can I find the time and energy to do all of
the many things I want to do simply because I want to do them for my own, internal self-satisfaction?
keeps you from living life more fully this very minute?
Observation: Only the unhappy reality that each minute comprises
only 60 seconds.
Precept: Seek to discover the one truly necessary thing.
Observation: An epiphany for those
with knee-jerk cerebral reflexes: Nothing is "necessary."