Sunday Sundries

day of rest 1I have mentioned before that I like to observe a Sabbath of some kind, a day of rest and difference. Years of religious indoctrination cause me to see Sunday as that day. More than forty years of work life reenforced that view (although I often worked Sundays in my very first job). Ultimately the actual day isn’t important; it’s the idea of taking a weekly break from normal that I think is crucial to mental well-being.

There is also for me, not a religious component, but a moral one nevertheless. I observe certain restrictions on my Sabbath (I don’t watch anything violent, for example), and I try to connect with my gentler side. (I’m actually a gentle soul at heart. The world has had the effect of giving me a crusty, pointy exterior.)

So today, no Python, no POV-Ray, no math (no rants).

At some point I want to return to ideas about Spirituality, but various stresses of the last few years have made that kind of reflection elusive. I have, of late, also found some of the arguments of atheists compelling, which has made faith a challenge. Well, of course it always is if you have a rational mind.

St Thomas of Aquinas

I was recently reading an essay about the “Authority of St. Thomas” (Thomas of Aquinas, a key Christian philosopher from the 13th century).  I found the theological logic empty, as it tends to assume what it seeks to prove, but an interesting aspect of Thomas’ writing involves the denial of rational thought. It’s a telling point, at least in some regards, that Christian faith explicitly requires setting aside rational thought.

But then so does Zen Buddhism. There are aspects of human existence, whether they be spiritual or not, that cannot be accessed through logic and rationality. People who have fasted or used psychedelic drugs have shared experiences that seem to tap into spirituality.

Interestingly, now that the stink Timothy Leary put on psychedelic research has finally worn off, researchers are discovering interesting connections between these — often natural, organic — compounds and human spirituality.  Of course, shamans and others have known this for centuries. Carlos Castaneda may really have been on to something.

Carlos CastanedaI keep coming back to my sense that every explanation of reality I’ve heard sounds preposterous and problematic. There are major conundrums regarding Big Bang theory that confound physicists, and our two greatest scientific theories of reality are in thus-far irreconcilable conflict. (Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Physics.)

So I still see wiggle room. I am dead certain that all the religions of the world have gotten all the details wrong, but the common essence shared among them gives me no little pause. The ideas that there is purpose, that how you live life matters, and maybe that consciousness is special, these things have meat to me.

If the atheists and existentialists are right, these things have to come from us if they are to come at all. If the deists and theists are right, they come from without. Either way, they seem important.  It’s interesting that every flavor of spiritual path seems to embody these principles.  As I’ve said many times before, that represents either an almost universal human hard-wiring or some kind of perception of something real.

Bear with me while I pause for a day of barely working…

I don’t believe anyone knows what that may be, it has to be truly unimaginable, utterly beyond our scope, but pursing whatever connection is possible with it seems like a worthy goal. Or at least trying to understand why we share these perceptions.

I was asked recently how one defines morals in the absence of God. The honest reply is that it’s really tough and moral philosophers struggle with it to this day. Immanuel Kant is a notable name in that area. The problem isn’t satisfactorily solved, but he is acknowledged as having defined the problem very well. Much of moral philosophy seems to be an illumination or refutation of Kant.

The key to morality would seem to lie in identifying what makes us all equal. Religious theory says we’re all equal in the eyes of God. That plus God’s expectations for us form religious moral law.  Social law says we’re all equal in the eyes of the law. Social morals are based on this principle.

The question is how to find us equal in the abstract without appealing to God. Pick a yardstick (height, eye color, life span, favorite ice cream), and you will find a range of humans. Fingerprints and DNA, in fact, mark us each as pretty unique.

consciousnessI suspect the equality lies in the fact that we are all conscious beings. (I use “conscious” in its higher sense, meaning cogent, intelligent, sapient, etc. In other words, quintessentially human!)

It is the one thing that sets us aside from everything else we know.

It absolutely sets us aside from the “mineral or vegetable” classes.  That only leaves “animal,” which we clearly are, but our minds are on a vastly different plane than all other animals.

Most animals are conscious in its lower sense (meaning, basically, “awake and aware”), and many animals are intelligent, able to understand commands and goals. Some few animals are even extremely intelligent.  We humans are something else entirely. Something more.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is due to the little-known W.G. Sebald, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”  I have spent considerable hours watching various dogs wondering, “What is their world like?”

W.G. Sebald

They live in a magical world with clearly present Gods who control their lives. I am the Giver of Food, the Opener of Important Doors. I merely wave my hand at the wall, and light appears. My Ways are mysterious, my Purpose unknowable, my Commands unfathomable (why can’t I eat that squirrel I killed? I really want to!).

Humans have a rich language. We tell stories and record history. We attempt to tame our world (fruitlessly sometimes).  We dream of things, and then we build our dreams. We can be inspired, and we aspire to reach the highest heights, the furthest reaches. We are fish without gills, birds without wings, the fiercest creature without fangs or claws. We inhabit every niche of the world, and we set our sights on the stars!

That is what makes us all the same: our minds, our startling, surprising consciousness.

dino drinkIt is surprising. There’s no clear apparent need for it. The animal kingdom survives just fine without it. Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for many millions of years without it. (They also drank an awful lot of water!)

And this is the reason for my reverence for intellect. It is what sets us apart; it is what makes us human. It defines us as unique in the universe we know, and that is why the disdain today shown for intellect and rational discourse is so tragic to me.

Please, please, please! Use. Your. Minds!  Doing so is what makes you human.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “Sunday Sundries

  • It's only P!

    Wow, that is SOME food for thought!

  • Lady from Manila

    “I am dead certain that all the religions of the world have gotten all the details wrong.” How I completely agree with you on that, Wyrd.

    I just had a conversation with my mom and sister who gasped upon learning I am more of a non-believer than a believer. I don’t force my convictions into any of them yet I find myself secretly rolling my eyes when I hear people put God on their own terms. I can’t deny the inner healing one gets from placing his or her fears and anxieties on some Higher Power, and I confess to suffering a lot inside as a consequence of my atheistic leanings – which are rather straight and simple. I guess I just couldn’t bring myself to adhere to any religion mindlessly, on the whole, I’d prefer agony over blind faith. .

    To set aside rational thoughts, I believe, is not brave of those “religious” ones in facing life’s truths and realities. They couldn’t even accept an absolute end to their existence. How could people have gotten that irrational? (These are plainly my own perspectives I want to write down here, never meant to antagonize your other readers)

    I know you’re tired of hearing it, but I’ve got to say once more: this is another excellent post, my friend.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Obviously I generally agree when it comes to religion. As I age, I find myself increasingly askance at organized religion, increasingly aware of how archaic and superstitious most of them are (Unitarians seem to have their heads on a bit straighter).

      I think many fall into a default zone of following whatever religion they were indoctrinated into in their youth. It’s not so much a matter of belief as tradition, and I don’t think most people give it a great deal of thought. (To some extent, as I mentioned, deep thought and religion are mutually exclusive. Most religions just have too many in-built contradictions.) Very few Christians, for one example, pay any attention to Leviticus.

      But there is a great deal of territory between atheist and theist, especially between the hard-core versions of both: the gnostics (and as I’ve said before, I find both hard to take). You acknowledge the healing power of belief, and you acknowledge the person suffering that comes from its lack. Those things are real. There are aspects of life that do not admit to rational thought. Zen and meditation are not jokes or lies; they are real. It’s possible religion will turn out to be an evolutionary device necessary for civilization It requires a great deal of intellectual sophistication to define morality and meaning in the absence of religious writ.

      There is also that people such as Heisenberg, Turing, Cantor and Godel have demonstrated the limits of logic, math and science. (Even Spock on Star Trek was an illustration of the limits of pure reason.) Human consciousness may (may!) transcend the realm of logic and material processes. If so, then tapping into that may be key to fully realizing what our minds can do.

      So my only point is, while I obviously agree with you, there is a lot of territory not covered by the two end zones. The church is on one side of town, the atheists meeting hall on the other. The whole town lies between. (Personally, I like the casinos, toy shops and bars! :D)

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