07 January 2008


Two carnivals from yesterday:

Carnival of the Godless


Humanist Symposium #13

I found two posts from each that I thought worth sharing and commenting on:

Just a tad late, but this article onthe origins of Christmas traditions is a fascinating read, especially for anyone who doesn't realize how steeped in paganism most of the holiday traditions are.

Going a bit deeper, this article discusses intellectual laziness in regards to religion. I think this quote says it all: "Knowledge is hard work, but belief is easy."

At a different deep end, Subjectivity. This is an interesting read, but I have to admit that I'm missing something in it. It seems to be addressing two different fears. (1) is that pure rationality can/will/should/must destroy compassion. (2) is the ephemeral nature of our own existence. For (1), I would say that rational thought can sometimes put compassion on hold, but never destroy it outright.

For (2)... I remember a time when death terrified me. I was still in elementary school, and I'd heard or been reading about the Challenger explosion. I was trying to fathom what it would be like to have been in the shuttle. I was trying to understand what it was to cease existing. All I could come up with was an empty darkness in my mind. Funny. I can't remember bringing any sort of "heaven" into that mental picture at all. I remember being terrified of that darkness. I remember, but I can't feel that any more. The darkness feels like an old friend, now. I've faced it a few too many times to find any terror in it.

All that lives will die. That is what it means to live. What does fearing that accomplish? What does it change? Nothing. We began as nothing and to nothing we return. That is a profoundly beautiful truth, even if it does cause us much pain when others return to nothing and leave us behind in the empty something. There is nothing permanent in this world. Mountains rise and eventually crumble. Lakes dry up. Deserts move. Even the Self is like shifting sand. I am not the same person I was a year ago, nor two years ago, nor a month ago. Certain traits have persisted over time, and a memory trail exists, but the past is gone, never to be regained. The Self that "I" was then is dead.

On a somewhat related note, this post on Suffering and isms seems to have missed the point of Buddhism entirely: "Basically, if you have low expectations and don't care about anything then you won't be disappointed. Sad way to live if you ask me." Maybe there are some sects of Buddhism that actually teach this, but I doubt it. It's about having no expectations, except, maybe, that there will be a moment beyond this one. As for "not caring," compassion is one of the pre-eminent precepts. It goes back to Western misunderstanding of detachment. Westerners tend to see it as "cutting something off" when really it's about opening something up. It's about seeing and experiencing rather than expecting and wanting.

First, a trivial example. When I drive to work, I know that there is very little chance that I will get a parking space right next to the building where I work unless I get there before 7:30 am or after 4:00 pm. Any other time, there's not much point in trying, so mostly I head directly to an alternate parking area a few blocks away. Occasionally, for whatever reason, I decide to do a drive-by to see if there's any closer parking. I know perfectly well that it's unlikely, but not impossible, and my attitude is "there will be or there won't be." If there is, great. If not, I head to alternate parking. Getting upset serves no purpose. Whether I "want" a close parking space or not is irrelevant to whether one actually is available at that moment.

A less trivial example will have to wait, as my last attempt tried to spiral into an entire post.

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