Friday, February 16, 2018

Humanize Me

Two former pastors talk about how to reach understandings with people who are different from us.

If you are unfamiliar with Bart or uninterested in his whole story, you can skip to about minute 15 for the part I’m highlighting here. The movie he is talking about is about him and his dad and their religious differences. Bart left his dad’s ministry work and became an atheist. He was a Humanist Chaplain at USC up until recently and is interviewing Ryan Bell who just took over that job. Ryan is also a former pastor. 

The story Bart wants to tell is how people seeing the movie were not so interested in the reasons for choosing or not choosing religion, rather they enjoyed how a father and son worked to understand each other and discussed their shared values. He maps this on to the work they both do with young people.

In the secular groups they work with, people with different foundations come together and they aren’t interested in taking away their foundations, instead they want to know how that foundation generates their values. He lists three layers; the values, then the worldviews that generates them, then the reasons you adopt that worldview. The lowest of these is the reasons. It’s the least interesting and we often aren’t aware of why we believe what we believe, yet we spend a lot of time there.

Ryan points out it’s interesting to explore the reasons if you have the time and interest in philosophy and psychology, but that’s not essential to living a good a life. “You don’t need a master’s degree in philosophy to be a good person, thankfully, otherwise we’d all be a bunch of jerks.”

For many people, beliefs and identity are wrapped up, hard to separate.If you question why they believe something, they react as if you are attacking them, as if you are attacking who they see themselves as. This comes up when a value comes up, like how we treat children or should teens have sex or who should own what kind of gun.If instead of asking how they came to hold that opinion or why they hold it, ask, “how does your belief generate your value?” Like, what does Christianity make you want to do? Or, how does belief in some principle inform your political decisions? People can talk about that. They want to say how their beliefs function, not their validity or some logical explanation for them.
As Ryan says, we want people to explain their reasons when we are critical of their beliefs or actions. But when someone criticizes us, we find it hard to separate the reasons from our identity.
It may not be satisfying to hear their story, and by definition, not logical, but it’s more likely you will find common ground with the values. When we meet someone we don’t know much about we find more success if we don’t go looking for foundational differences. We talk about kids and grand-kids and how we want to see them grow up healthy with an honest view of the world and to be able to explore choices and to apply their talents to maintaining and improving an open society so they can pass it along to another generation. You will eventually bump into those differences and some people can’t get past them, but this approach Bart and Ryan discussed seems more likely to lead to continued relationships with a wider range of people.

Ryan sums it up by thinking about his goal for life, how he will look back and judge himself. His goal isn’t to get people to have his same philosophical underpinnings. He’s not going to judge his accomplishments based on getting 87 people to adopt his beliefs. But he will think about the lives he’s touched and how that expanded into the world. He hopes his being alive will make some small improvement on the overall well-being of others.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

My not religious journey

I haven’t done a “spiritual journey” post in a long time, not since I was a church-goer, so it’s about time.

My early years are not that significant, other than to point out that I was not indoctrinated into any particular tradition. My mother left a very religious family when she married my father and my father’s family was more about business than church. My Dad’s brother did get involved with church after he had kids, so most of my church going and church family experiences happened when we visited relatives. I grew up in Mid-West America, so obviously I know about church, but more as an observer.

It was when I was 33 and bought a house that I really started to think about community and church was a natural extension of that. I had some Unitarian and Buddhist friends and a nice young pastor knocked on my door one day and gave me a video tape about the book of Luke. I eventually found a liberal United Methodist church populated by people who had grown up in the 60’s and who were now involved in their inner city neighborhood. We talked about and acted on the social justice aspects of the New Testament.

That was great, until I moved to a small town and found it a lot harder to find that type of community. There were a few people like that but you have to mix with a lot of other personalities if you want to have any kind of social life when there are so few people. This is really more typical of how churches work. Sermons have to appeal to range of politics and personalities. It was happening in my church in the city, but I just didn’t notice it as much since I was in the majority. Now it was very clear, they preach to what the people want to hear.

The church I found was so small, there was no children’s program, until one day a couple kids showed up, and something came over me and I volunteered to be the Sunday School teacher. It turned out to be quite a challenge to find a curriculum that wasn’t all about preparing little souls for the afterlife. 10 year old boys are also the best for asking the tough questions of why they need to go to church. This led me to the internet where I thought I might find some good arguments for the existence of God but instead I found these YouTubes of what began as a cable call-in TV show in Austin TX, The Austin Atheist experience. In my attempt to formulate an argument to call in, I talked myself out of belief.

There were other things going on. I was considering becoming a lay speaker and I found that the education they wanted me to have for that was very different than what those old hippies at the inner city church were talking about. I was also discovering liberal former Bishops like John Shebly Spong and reading their books. And there was this movie Zeitgeist. It had a strange logic against religion that I couldn’t quite refute, so I had to develop my own ability to research and think critically to decide if it was valid or not. In that process, I realized that movie was wrong, but the Christian narrative was also seriously flawed. All my bad reasoning dominoes fell.

So now I found myself in an almost alien world. I needed to figure out how it got that way and where I fit in. I had always lived a little less than a straight and narrow existence, but now I’d let go of the moral system I’d been living with for 17 years. I knew science and the philosophical enlightenment had led to the democratic system I lived in but I knew that system had some major problems. Studying the history of how those things came about has turned out to be much more valuable than reading the Bible and listening to sermons.

Also interesting though is how the two worlds of science and religion have evolved together. I never had the simple anti-evolution thinking of the fundamentalist, but when I started hanging out with atheists, I wasn’t too comfortable with the simplistic notions that Christianity was a barrier to science either. Questions like, why do people still believe in supernatural powers, are much more interesting than simple answers like, religion is all about power. Narrow minded thinking does not require religion. I felt that instead of shutting ourselves off from each other, we need to be asking how to promote open dialog and encourage the generation of new ideas.

So that brings me up to where we are now. I’ve learned from people like Bart Ehrmann that the seminaries are teaching the accurate history of the Bible; that it was written by men, often for political reasons, and it was compiled by fairly random decisions made by just a few people. Also, it is full of misinterpretations, some by accident and some deliberately inserted centuries after the original texts; in other words outright forgeries. Meanwhile, at those seminaries, they are teaching how to preach as if the ancient narratives are still true. There are some updated variations, but basically the same ideas.

You can find some of this out you go to the mid-week adult Bible studies but most of it I’ve learned from non-believers or Jewish if scholars or retired theologians. The sad thing, and believers and non-believers are both missing out on this; the real stories are much more interesting. The Bible is a rare collection of historical documents written by the slaves instead of the masters. How they dealt with being conquered and oppressed as well as their own internal struggles provides us with insight into us.

That pastors aren’t preaching this is all pretty well known if you just pull the curtain back slightly. Pastors I’ve known have tried to keep me at their church by agreeing with me and handing me books but then telling me that the rest of the church was not ready for it. What the rest of the church thinks is a lot harder to tell. They can’t have an opinion on what they don’t know, and I can’t make them read and listen to everything I do. It’s hard enough to get them to read along with the Lectionary on Sunday morning. You can find people who left their parent’s church for a more modern alternative, but they still enjoy the same hymns about the blood of Christ.

Still, I believe a lot of people sitting in pews are closer to what you would call a humanist than they are to being a Christian. They are there because they want to spend at least a couple hours a week talking about something that matters, something that might contribute to a better world. Most of them aren’t keeping track of the questions they have like I did and pursuing them when they can, rather they are having their doubts then just letting them go. Some will probably have the experience that Ryan Bell describes, of trying to fit his modern view of the world into the box he had created for God, until the box had expanded so much that he realized it was his whole view of the world and he didn’t need to call it God anymore.

Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for ways to bring the history and insights to light and hopefully keep some of them moving in that direction.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Discipleship plan

I recently happened upon a plan for discipleship from the United Methodist church in the US. It perfectly demonstrates a big problem with church in the US today. I’m not talking about the bad arguments for god or fundamentalist handbooks telling you to watch out for your children turning gay. I’m talking about churches that want to be active in their communities, working for peace and justice and helping people who need food, shelter and clothing. The kind of things we want non-profit community organizations to be doing. The kind of things that reflect universal human values.

You may already know where things like this go. You could skip to the end. I try to bridge the gap between humanist values and expressions of faith like this. But if you’re not familiar with what goes on in church planning meetings, read on.

The workbook attempted to help leaders find new members and new ways to motivate the congregation to do good things. Like most workbooks of this nature, it wasted a lot of words, but that’s not what was really wrong with it. The problem was, when it finally got to saying what the underlying motivation should be, it didn’t say anything. It addressed this as a potential problem then solved it with Bible verses. It said you can’t just tell people “because god said so”, then it said, “because god said so”. Like this:

 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28 NIV)

This is known as The Great Commission. Not really a difficult choice for a passage in a pamphlet about mission statements. And, just to be sure you know the leadership is on board, he cuts and pastes from the 2016 Book of Discipline (the book the Methodists vote on to restate their theology in modern terms) "The mission of the UMC is: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

He focuses here was on the word “go”, saying “Methodists are a going church”. There is some tradition to that, some historical evidence. There are Methodist hospitals. There are community support groups. Their international aid arm functions more like a non-profit than a missionary group. They do actually help people build infrastructure and become self-supported. They were chosen by the Gates Foundation for one of the largest secular/church collaborations ever.So, I’m not saying they don’t do things, but I think it has more to do with them having the resources, not some magic that has roots in the 1st century.

He suggests the “Why, How, What” approach. I was first introduced to this by my sales training from Apple computers. You’re supposed to start with the “why”, but he goes straight to “what”. A couple pages later, he shows the outward growing circle from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why”. You would be better off just reading that book.

I can see why he thought this workbook needed to be made. He sees the problem. He shows the numbers. 80% of the people who are Methodists were born into a family of Methodists and raised in the church. It’s hard to get members any other way. The early church offered something new and once it had established a base it helped that a person could travel from Jerusalem to Rome and find that community. But what the church offers can be found in so many other ways now, that is no longer an advantage.

He continues with quotes, this time from the founder of the denomination, John Wesley. It is from his sermon “The Scripture Way of Salvation” that is just as vacuous, but it is responded to by the pamphlet writer as if it is the way the truth the light. I’ll spare you that one.

I can see how he gets the problem he is up against. After a half page about children asking “why” and parent’s responding “because”, he says, “So why is it that when we ask, Why do we make disciples? we often respond, Because Jesus said so? … ultimately it is not a good “why.” But this is exactly what he has been doing, giving you “not good whys”. When he gets to suggestions for how to write your own mission statement, he comes up with an example like this, “A disciple is one who knows Christ, is growing in Christ, serving Christ, and sharing Christ.”

What I can’t tell by reading it is; what did the author of this think? As he was compiling it, I can see how he was motivated. He knows what experiences he has had, but it can be a challenge to translate that motivation into a workbook. At some point, he needed to find Bible verses that describe the feelings of joy in fellowship that he experienced and express them in a way that inspires others. I can relate, because I tried to do that.

When I did, I found there just wasn’t anything there, unless I believed it was there. The feelings I had of community were more due to the people I was in relationship with than my relationship with a text or a worldwide organization or with a holy spirit. This is why you will often hear people talk of their local church when they are defending the idea of church. You might begin by asking them what motivates them, and asking if they believe in what the Pope says or whomever their leaders are. When they realize they are not completely in line with their own denomination’s theology, they will switch to saying that you need to come to their church and experience their community, and then you will see. That’s fine. I understand the sentiment, but it’s true of any organization that is accomplishing anything worthwhile. You don’t need a god to get that.

When I look at things like this, I often wonder what doubts are arising in the people writing it. Are they, as I once did, realizing that it is a struggle to find just what Jesus was talking about? Are they even further along, seeing that he was talking about blood sacrifices and ultimate battles of good vs evil that have not survived modern rational thought and scientific inquiry? Or, do they believe that if 3 wise men followed a star to a virgin birth, then there must be something to all this and it’s not for them to question?

Do they at least believe that a man who spoke of peace, and then acted peacefully, even when given the death penalty, actually caused a significant shift in the history of the world? Do they believe the thoughts of this one man are more important than the few people who wrote them down as well as the thoughts of everyone who has read them and thought about them and built on them and expanded on them and interpreted them? Do they believe that the changes in theology over the ages are explained by God slowly revealing his truth, or is it us discovering the truths of nature and adjusting theology to fit them?

In a sense, the answers to these questions don’t matter, because we can arrive at the same place without answering them. We can all agree that we should educate our children in the history of thought and culture as well as the amazing details of how things work. We all need food and air and water and there is just this one planet where we can get those. We can be in constant battle over those resources or figure out how to cooperate and make them available to more of us. You can address all those questions with universal ideas like “love your neighbor” and a maybe a few more technical details.

In another sense, the answer to whether or not Jesus caused anything matters very much. It changes our focus. If Jesus can affect our lives directly, we should know that. If the fate of our eternal soul is in jeopardy, we should know that. If not, it’s a distraction. It might be a good inspiring story that helps us remember to reach out and touch the sick and bring them into the community, but reading those same stories over and over again takes time away from doing the work.

If, to get people motivated to work with us, we need to frighten them with hell or convince them there is something unseen that has consequences, or promise there are supernatural forces available to them, then maybe the problem is with the work we are asking them to do, not the motivation for doing it. If the work is good, but they are not inspired by the child who’s teeth are straightened or eyes are corrected or who learns a trade and goes on to help another village somewhere, then maybe we need to help them understand how helping others helps all of us.

After 30 pages, he finally gets to a list of actual things to do. Most of them are lifted straight from Matthew 25; feed the hungry, visit the sick. He also lists “works of Piety”, like public worship and fasting and reading God’s word. Brief phrases like this are all the Bible has to offer as far as I can tell.

There isn’t a passage that spells it out in simple terms, but I think the message from the early gospels is that we only have each other. It is a story of people who want to get rid of the temple culture that required constant sacrifices. They were written at a time when leadership was partnering with the ones who had conquered them and were oppressing them. In Mark 2:23-28 Jesus says the Sabbath is made for man, and in Romans 13:8-10 Paul says the new law is the law of love. That’s inspiration enough for me.

New Year 2018

I know some of you might find this surprising coming from me, but looking back over this last year, the world is actually pretty awesome. I know about the bad things, you know I do. I argue for change all the time. I want things to be better. That’s why I speak up. I considered moving to a cabin in the woods a long time ago, but I decided it’s better to stay engaged with the world.

I fight because I can. I have accumulated advantages from previous generations and I paid my dues to show that I return value for what I have. Life isn’t fair so that formula doesn’t work for everyone. As we found out this year, a lot of women didn’t have that choice. If they had spoken up, their careers would have been over and we would have never heard of them. Some of them lived long enough to see justice. They are preceded by many who did not.

I know the word “divided” has come up a lot this year. As if generations were always on the same page before, or North/South and East/West are some never before known demographics that have been discovered. But we don’t fight the same kind of wars over these like we use to. We respect boundaries and cultures. We don’t pillage. We vote. We don’t conquer. Not everywhere in the world of course, but a least in the US that means no matter where you are, you’re going to bump into someone who didn’t vote the way you did. You can argue with them if you want, or you could celebrate that our children are healthy and are getting an education despite those differences. Maybe we should make sure that happens first, then get back to arguing about a policy that only affects people who have more than 10 million dollars in the bank.

This idea that people with slightly different values than us are tearing apart the fabric of society is very old. It used to be that you were sacrificing the wrong things on the wrong altar. More recently it’s about how wealth is distributed and how ownership is claimed. It has become less of an academic exercise and more of a spectacle. As it becomes more of a farce, the easier it is easier for the looters to walk off with whatever they want. It’s not a secret conspiracy, they do it right out in the open.

Meanwhile, we keep making progress. We see farther into space which means seeing back in time. We understand our bodies and minds better. We can read things from thousands of years ago that very few people, even those from the time they were written, have ever read. We see connections between keeping our hair in place and ripping a hole in the protective layer on the edge of space. We take corrective actions before we kill ourselves. Hopefully.

In case you didn’t get the reference:https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/antarctic-ozone-hole-healing-fingerprints/

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy

We all know the verse that Linus recites at the climax of Peanuts Christmas. Charlie Brown is questioning what Christmas is all about. Linus ends his reading with “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” That’s great, and by 1965 when that was made, most Christians throughout the world agreed this is the meaning of Christmas. Trouble is, this was written before there was the modern version of Christmas and it originally said, "Peace on earth for those whom God likes." You need to understand a bunch of Greek and Latin to understand that, but simply, you drop one Greek letter and you have to also change the whole subject/object stuff of the sentence and that’s what you get.

I heard this a few times, and it just sort of passed by me. It’s an interesting artifact of history from a time when there were no copy machines. A simple mistake. No real harm done. Except, when you start digging through the various copies throughout history, it was not a mistake at all, it was quite deliberate. This didn’t just happen in the third century and now, with better tools of historiography, we are discovering it. This has been known throughout the history of Christianity by the few people who had control of these books. Just like now, where we have neighbors who are happy to break bread at their ecumenical gatherings and multi-denominational dinners and also fundamentalists who want holy war, there were people who said they wanted peace in the world and others who knew their scripture said only some of them should see that peace. Sometimes it was the same people, saying one thing while knowing the other.
http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/manuscript-workspace?docID=20022

The difference between now and then is the balance of power. For the most part, those who truly believe in tolerance and peace are in power. But every day we see signs that it is still a struggle. Mainstream religion may appear to hold these values, but the facts of these discrepancies in our manuscripts raises some questions. If you accept the expert opinion on this, if you accept that people who spend their days pouring over these fragments of paper and studying the ancient languages actually got it right, then why don’t we change the Bibles? That is, correct them to what they originally were. Even if we don’t change the Bibles, why don’t preachers tell us this is only what modern people believe, not the people who first wrote the words. Those were the people who were closest to the events that inspired the words. If we are saying that we should listen to what they say, that their ancient wisdom has value, why shouldn’t we be listening to what they really said?

There are a few ways to go from here. We could believe that peace should be for only a select group. We can believe that something from outside of the physical universe somehow guided these hands and created these words on paper once, then had another hand erase it or misspell it and somehow that series of changes was slowly revealing this truth to us. We can believe that the original authors had some special vision, maybe divinely inspired or maybe just some special set of circumstances that they observed that helped them tap into this wisdom. Or, we can believe we are creatures with the ability to reflect on the past and future, trying to figure out what to make of our existence on this lonely planet. There may be millions of other planets like ours, but the universe is rather large, and we can calculate the odds of contacting one of those other planets, and they aren’t good. We might want to figure out how to get along with just each other for the time being.

To put it simply, we need to say that whoever wrote the gospel according Luke, was wrong. And when I say “we”, I mean it needs to come from the people who make a living interpreting this book. Those authors were wrong on this account, and they were wrong about some of the other things they said. We have fought wars based on religion. That includes Christians fighting over the meaning of words like these. We have had Kings anointed by gods and we have died for them. We have believed that the world could unite under one set of laws, inspired by some spirit, and experience a thousand years of joy. We were wrong.

We have found that allowing for borders and respecting the sovereignty of others is a way to deal with our differences. We found we have universal values despite theological differences and tried to create international laws, and sometimes we even got it right. Sometimes, nations put aside their differences to keep one nation from getting out of control and imposing its will on weaker people. It’s rarely pretty, but we muddle towards a world where we talk more than fight.

Instead of looking to something that was said hundreds or thousands of years ago, we look to what can be demonstrated by our senses. We extend our senses with tools created by an understanding of basic principles that have been tested over and over again. We know the sun has come up every day regardless of what sacrifices were made, so we don’t make ritual sacrifices anymore. We know the earth compressed the organic material from millions of years ago to give us fuel to light our universities so people can work late into the night curing what was once called a curse. To make that happen, we also know that we need to have some degree of peace with the people who are sitting on a lot of that organic material. The same goes for copper and materials needed to create more sustainable energy infrastructure. What is important is, so far, we just have this one planet.

You can accept what I’m saying or not. You also have the tools to research this yourself. The manuscripts with these words on them have been cataloged, numbered, digitized and are available to you free right now. The 1% of today only have power over us because we don’t do this work. The 1% in the time of Luke had a much easier time of it because they were the only ones who could read at all. The fact that I learned these things is the result of the accumulated knowledge I mentioned above and the cooperation of people across borders. The internet began as a way for scholars to share their work. It has become a way to avoid the lines during the Christmas rush. How it will be used tomorrow is our choice.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

People Suck

I came across this meme the other day while looking for something else. It's from a local Lutheran church. It's a nice church. I have friends there. They do good things. I don't know who put this up or how many of them would just agree to it without thinking. Hopefully not too many.

I couldn't confirm the exact quote, but it does paraphrase a work by Augustine, The Confessions. Augustine was born after Christianity was made legal by Constantine and contributed greatly to the work of trying to figure out what St. Paul meant and what the gospels were trying to say. Things like the Trinity were still being hotly debated at the time. Unfortunately, the people who won the debates were from some of the worst, most extreme forms of Christianity. The ones we would today call The Fundamentalists.

They wouldn't have called themselves fundamentalists, because they had not yet decided on what the fundamentals were. Today we define fundamentalists by those who call the Bible the literal word of God and consider Jesus to have been a real person, the son of God, who actually died and bodily resurrected . Back then, they were still debating which writings belonged in the Bible and if Jesus was a man, fully human and fully God, a spirit, a man who was born then possessed by the holy spirit, or what. The difference then was, people on all sides of those debates had some degree of power and influence. Today, suggesting that Jesus was not a physical human, walking around and talking to people, will get you laughed at in most circles, even outside of church.

So, why am I bringing this up? Sure, it's from 16 centuries ago. But here it is on a modern "wall". It's posted by a church that was founded by a guy who protested against a church that was corrupt. The Catholic Church claims to have it's roots in communities founded by all those writers from the first few centuries that Augustine was debating about. Those communities were protesting the corruption in the Roman Jewish community in their time. Churches today will often claim that they are challenging the world order, that they are uncovering the corruption of power, that they are symbolically turning over the tables of the money lenders in the Temple. And sometimes they do. But they also will tell you that you are not good.

Whatever other traditions churches might have, the legacy of them telling you that you are not good enough for God has endured throughout all of them. When you do that, when you convince people that there is something they don't know, and they need to keep coming back to you to figure out what it is, you can get them to do anything. In the case of the late 4th century Christians, they got people to burn the scripture they didn't like, tear down the churches that didn't teach the right brand of Jesus, and to do the same to people who sat in the wrong place and read the wrong books or said the wrong things.

This is not some alternate history. It is well known. It is the beginning of what came to be known as "The Dark Ages". I'm not blaming the Christians for this. The Romans started their own downfall when they kicked out Aristotle and gave power back to corrupt rulers instead of promoting democracy. Something would have replaced that, and we could have done worse, but we could have done a lot better.

After about a thousand years, we did start doing better. Instead of reading interpretations to people, we taught them to read. We didn't treat people like slaves, we encouraged each other to work for each other. We found out genius and inspiration was everywhere if you just gave it room to grow. Seems pretty obvious now, but it was a struggle to get where we are. People like Susan B Anthohy, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali continue that struggle today.

All of them fought using reason. They read, understood and developed philosophy that valued human dignity and human feelings. They didn't try to figure out some logic that explained why a God who claimed to be ultimately good could allow for evil in the world. They acknowledged that there is good and evil and they tried to find ways to deal with it. They didn't provide simple answers. They asked for the right to ask the question. They claimed the right to participate. If someone claimed authority by referring to someone from the 4th century who said they weren't good enough, that they could never measure up to some ultimate authority, they questioned that authority. It's the basis for the world of freedom we have today.

Keep what's good from religion if you can find it, but get rid of stuff like this.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Troubled Times


I found out about this the other day while listening to Laura Erickson’s “For the Birds” on the radio. It has nothing to do with birds, but Laura ventures into philosophy now and again. This is what the internet and modern communication is supposed to do. It connects us to the wisdom from 600 years ago and reminds us of what is important to all human life.

Actually, the fear is not of tomorrow but of the day after, and that is its danger — for the fear of death can keep us from living.
The essay was written in 1951 and begins with a reference to a book written as people were awakening from the nightmare of the Black Death and beginning to experience the Renaissance. It talks about what to do in the face of such destruction and relates it to the fear of the time when it was written, nuclear annihilation. In the 14th century, people hid out in abandoned mines. In the 20th century, they cached weapons and fuel and built compounds in the wilderness in Oregon. For some today, they just stay home and don’t engage with the rest of the world. All of these are choosing death while they are still alive.

If you knew you were to die day after tomorrow, what would you do tomorrow? Only one answer has ever been sensible: Just what I would do if I did not know — go to the office, take the children to the park, go on with the job, get married, buy the house, have a baby.

People still respond by hiding and isolating themselves. If anything, we’ve just expanded what we fear. We fear the modern medicine and modern farming that was supposed to fix the problems of disease and starvation. We fear the government that was created in response to unchecked monarchies. We fear we are being lied to by the institutions that are supposed to offer us access to information so we stop trying to figure what is true. We build virtual walls by shutting out the voices of people not like us and by ignoring our neighbors.

This may all seem like a downer, but DeVoto offers an answer, perhaps “the answer”, an answer that is repeated throughout history in stories and poetry.



The link is to Laura’s blog. It expands on the quotes I’ve put here. It further links to the complete article by Bernard DeVoto.