Somewhere deep in the human psyche is the ability to care, and whether it’s for oneself, one’s work or others, this spark has driven people to achieve and achieve greatly. A big part of the process is determining what went wrong when things go wrong, and some people are better at this than others. God bless the fault-finders.
Engineers are great fault-finders, for example. We’d have never made it to the moon without them, but their fault-finding is deeply ingrained in scientific study of things we know or learn through experimentation. I say “things we know,” for what drives experimentation is a curiosity about things we know. What happens when I do this to that? Why did that happen?
My friend Jeff Jarvis barely escaped from a European business trip this week by catching one of the last flights out of Germany. He’s laid it all out in a wonderful blog entry, in which he uses the term “zen” to describe the events of his escape from the dust cloud of Eyjafjallajökull. The circumstances that led to his catching that flight are remarkable, and when we humans encounter the remarkable, we’re often left grasping for meaning. “Zen” was Jeff’s way of describing the remarkable. After all, when volcanic dust is the enemy, who you gonna call?
In the same human psyche that produces achievement lives the “idea” of God, regardless of how that is represented. Despite all of our scientific efforts, most of us still conclude that Life is bigger than we are. The problem comes in our response to that, and this is where I find confusion in abundance. Human beings want to understand everything about this “thing” that we don’t understand, and that’s a doorway for the corrupting influence of religion.
My definition of religion is very broad and includes any organized form of that higher power concept. In my view, for example, environmentalism is every bit a religion as any other philosophy, the key being the open or closely-held worship of a power greater than oneself. By worship, I don’t mean standing in a crowd waving hands either; it’s much more about how you live your life, and if some greater good grabs your being, then chances are you’re participating in a religion. The key, of course, is that it must be organized.
Science is a form of religion, although its members would certainly disagree. I think, however, it takes considerable faith to believe that squirrels “evolved” wings to get from branch to branch in trees. The evidence is theory, and that’s religion in my book.
Many social movements are religions, or they function as religions do. If it provides meaning for the unexplainable, then I think it’s fair to say that the zeal associated with that is religious in nature. You are free to disagree.
In following up his adventure, Jeff engaged in a wonderful conversation via Twitter (still ongoing via #ashtag) with anybody who was interested, and he included this Tweet:
The article in reference is a piece by Dr. Andrew Hooper of Delft University published in the TimesOnline. The headline reads: “Why the Icelandic volcano eruption could herald more disruption.”
The fault-finders mind says, “There must be a cause,” and the expert of the TimesOnline offers up global warming. Here’s Dr. Hooper:
At the end of the last ice age, the rate of eruption in Iceland was some 30 times higher than historic rates. This is because the reduction in the ice load reduced the pressure in the mantle, leading to decompression melting there. Since the late 19th Century the ice caps in Iceland have been shrinking yet further, due to changing climate. This will lead to additional magma generation, so we should expect more frequent and/or more voluminous eruptions in the future.
Gosh, that sounds just so darned plausible, right? The statement assumes much, including that we humans are the ultimate architect of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. Of course, blaming the consequences of disasters on human selfishness isn’t reserved for the environmentalists; it’s been around for a long, long time. It’s that evil in human beings that the religions of the Bible have used for centuries to control members and, by extension, culture.
Disasters, it seems, make for strange bedfellows.
The New Testament refers to natural disasters as signs of the apocalypse, and this has spawned subcultures galore. There are lots of warnings out there today coming from the right, who blame everyone but themselves for the earthquake in Haiti. According to the USGS, we’ve had quakes of greater than 6.0 on the Richter scale in Spain, China and New Guinea in just the last week alone. Oh my! The USGS reports we’re within normal range for a year, but that doesn’t stop those who use natural disasters to profit themselves or their cause from saying otherwise.
Still, I look at all of this after 63 years on the planet and sense that something just isn’t right. I’m no prophet, but I certainly believe — as religions of both the left and right are preaching — that we’re somehow paying for our deeds, and I have a certain thought stream that doesn’t bode well for the future. I just think there’s a darkness on the horizon that most of us refuse to see.
Is our planet trying to tell us something? To warn us? Something inside me resonates with that thought. Of course, maybe we’ll all have some great awakening and realize that we’ve just got to treat each other better and, in so doing, treat our precious planet better, too. Hallelujah, we’ll all will live happily ever after!
Religion provided an internal cultural governor for us that is long gone now, a check on our behavior. If you truly believe you’ll go to hell for cursing, for example, then you won’t curse. You know the drill. It makes for good citizens, but Sunday morning gettogethers don’t produce any better human beings than an environmental rally in Seattle, and I wish we could all see that. The Bible says God’s judgement (I prefer the consequences of our behavior before a Life that provides all) begins at His own house, but that is not a message that brings the worshippers in. Now I’m preaching, and I didn’t want to do that.
Let me close by saying that those who know me know I’ve fought big demons in my life, although I’m nobody unique in that regard. Where I have found peace — and this became real after Allie’s death — is with a profound understanding that I am a spiritual being on a human journey, not the other way around. What that means is that my behavior today doesn’t contribute whatsoever to my being more spiritual tomorrow. I can’t be more spiritual than I am; it’s impossible, because I am fully spiritual to begin with. The challenge is to become more human, and I find that easier than pursuing the other.
We are like amphibians, C.S. Lewis wrote, capable of living in two worlds. In the one, I am perfect. In the other, I can only pursue the goal of getting better. I have replaced the internal governor of religion with one that is less susceptible to mischief and manipulation, because my future isn’t determined by my behavior today. If I believe in heaven, then I should live as if I’m in heaven today, because the abstract nature of heaven and hell are alive and well in the streets that we walk each day. Heaven and hell aren’t so much places you “go” to, therefore, as where you exist in the here and now.
Is Life tapping us on the shoulder with events like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes? Possibly. Why? Because all of Life does what it is supposed to do except humankind. We alone can say “no,” and that’s why we find ourselves in such a jam on so many levels today. Look around. Are we causing the polar ice cap to melt? Did we cause the collapse of our financial institutions? Do we continue to prop up what Umair Haque calls our “zombie economy?” Is the gap between the haves and have-nots widening, and which side of that do you think Life wants to defend? What’s happened to self respect in the age of anything goes? Why is sexual addiction suddenly so rampant? There are so many “disorders” today that one wonders what represents “order.”
The questions aren’t as important as our response. What will we do about it? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with that human capacity to care. Can we shift it just a bit from ourselves to others?
Finally, is Life capable of guiding you around these things if you’re sensitive? Is Jeff’s zen moment an affirmation that he’s “listening?” I think absolutely, but here’s the catch. Time and chance occur to everyone, or as we said in the 60s, “shit happens.” Life isn’t fair, because It doesn’t have to be fair. Life is hard, but it’s hard for everybody. There are no truly “privileged” people, because we all are.