Posted by Mike
June 7, 2009: So this doctor I work with asked me if I am an agnostic or an atheist. Obviously the question didn’t just come up out of the blue; I set it up by what I had said before – but as this conversation occurred several days ago, it so happens that I have completely forgotten how I had done so. You’ve noticed that I’ve referred to her as “this doctor.” Of course that’s not by accident either. That’s right. I’m trying to impress you. Like I know a doctor sort of thing. Yes remarkably I’m a doctor too – but not a real doctor. A PhD who doesn’t teach or do research – what kind of doctor is that? In any case I hesitated before responding – finally said something like You know I don’t like labels – and told her basically that I wasn’t sure what I was – but didn’t think that the labels helped or tell the whole story. After all, when you start categorizing things, you begin to leave a lot of things out. Abstractions are always like that; once you start doing that a lot of important things are left on the cutting room floor that are forever after ignored – to our peril, I say. Not that we don’t have to do it at times. When we talk or write or think we just can’t always deal with the objective and concrete and all the details – or the subjective for that matter – we have to summarize and categorize. But sometimes – especially with important matters – we need to step back and look at where we’re coming from – maybe go back to the cutting room and take a careful look at what we’ve left out and what’s lying around on the floor that might be important!
I hope you know a little what I’m talking about because clarity obviously isn’t my first priority right now – although to tell the truth, I’m not sure what is. There I go – lying again; but I shouldn’t feel bad about it; we all do it; whether or not it’s part of human nature I don’t know – but we do it. It’s like we’re all sculptors – and in a conversation – if it’s really serious – we cut and chip and sand and smooth – until we get what we want. What we end up with may reflect what we think is really real – or it we may end up with what we think we want the other person to hear. It sounds narcissistic and manipulative and dishonest, doesn’t it? You tell me; aren’t we like that – at least some of the time – maybe a lot of the time. Deep down people are really so vulnerable; we want to be right; we want to be liked. These are really very big orders – and we can’t get either one cheaply, though one of our major problems – as individuals and in society in general – is that we generally try to.
So I told her that I think people have a strong need for the religious – I guess I was just vamping to give myself time; if you’re really thoughtful you don’t generally want to talk about these kinds of issues right away with just anyone – unless of course you’re sure about it. My son is sure – or at least he seems sure. I see a lot of people who talk and act like they’re sure – but you know I just don’t trust them. Most of them are like the categorizers that I was talking about earlier. They’ve got it all figured out; actually what’s happened is that someone else has told them what to believe and they have bought it – hook, line, and sinker. It’s really much easier that way – you don’t have to sort out the difficult issues; you don’t have to live with uncertainty – or tentativeness; you don’t really have to think about it anymore; you can relax – because you know. You however probably know by now that I think that’s a lot of bunk. But despite all of that, I do understand it. Being human ain’t easy – so to speak. Let me correct that somewhat; actually, behaving or doing is fairly easy; it’s the meaning that’s the problem – the big picture: what’s it all about; is it okay to waterboard people who get in our way? is it all right to inject bad guys in prison with poison to kill them? is it right to have our young men halfway around the world who are killing and getting killed by people who don’t want us in their country – young men who are going to return home and have lots and lots of problems because they will begin to question why they went there in the first place – what were they doing? And why were they so naïve to believe everything they were told by their elders, whom they were taught and believed at the time that they could trust?
I’ve done it again – and I’d like to apologize; I’ve made this political – and I really didn’t intend to – but things happen sometimes – sort of like they’re out of our control. But then what I’m saying is that I’m out of my control; so that doesn’t sound so good does it? And then again maybe that’s just the way we humans are – at least that’s my take on it right now. And the truth is that my intention wasn’t to make a political statement, but my intention WAS to make a religious statement. So okay – maybe the young man needs to either put up or shut up! When I said that I think that people have a strong need for the religious maybe I meant a strong need for the spiritual. We’re using abstractions again – and clearly we’re in troubled waters; but I’ll try to explain what I’m trying to talk about. I mean that we humans – as I said before – are deep down really very vulnerable and insecure and fragile. Some of you may say that that’s just not true about you. I admire your confidence, but nevertheless tend to think that it is true. Those people who don’t see it that way just take a little longer to reach that conclusion. That’s a belief, not a fact; I haven’t done any research on it, and obviously can’t say for sure. It’s just one of those things that we all think we “know” for sure – based on our own experience. For some such matters, we can really be dead wrong – and our thinking never gets corrected. People just tolerate our aberrant notions, never really confront us – and we end up always being in lala land about whatever the issue is. Likely happens to most of us about some things. Most of us have generous friends who allow us our eccentricities in thinking. That’s nice, but perhaps more reality checks would help us all to be more in better touch with what’s really out there and what’s really happening.
But yes, I do think that we humans have a strong need for the spiritual. Most of us, if we were fortunate, grew up with somebody or somebodies who served as parents for us. Whatever their failings they provided some nurturance and protection when we were young. We felt relatively safe and secure. As grown-ups, we don’t have them any more. It’s up to us alone – and it’s pretty scary being out here by ourselves. We need security. Obviously we get security in lots of ways – some of which aren’t conducive to health and long life – but several important ones are through community, through our beliefs, and especially through our religious beliefs – and from the “spiritual” aspects of our personal or corporate behavior or practice.
I’m just saying….
“To believe in something is a necessary psychological function. Ignorance is intolerable. There are many theories, but it still remains to be seen what the facts are.”
“What you believe and what you know are different things, and it’s important to keep them separated.”
“The only happiness and security there is, is facing life as it comes and dealing with the realities.”
– Elvin Semrad