Dear Mr. Spong

I have a feeling I’d like you if we met. Perhaps we’d chat over a cold beverage (something imported, let’s say from Holland). We’d talk about life and death and spirituality and science and man’s search for meaning.

Since that’s a very unlikely proposition, I am instead writing this letter that you’ll never read. Because I can.

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You, sir, I will necessarily concede, are a whole lot smarter than I am. Your level of formal education far exceeds mine, as does your extensive life-experience and study. The accomplishments of your career are significant and impressive. I would have no prayer of winning a philosophical argument with you, and I’d probably hesitate to try if I were in your presence. I’m sure a lengthy talk with you would be fascinating, enlightening, and a pleasure for me.

But, since you aren’t here to gently decimate my arguments, I am going to argue with you. In a friendly, respectful way. I hope you don’t mind.

At the beginning of your book, Eternal Life: a New Vision, you go very much out of your way to convince the reader how plainly obvious it is that we (humans) are a product of many accidental events.

I have to propose that this is not plain at all. I have to suggest that there is an entirely different way to view our arrival on planet Earth … as quite dramatically and irrevocably inevitable.

It’s not that complicated an argument, really. It can’t be. Because, like I said, I’m not that smart.

Let’s start with a simple illustration.

Suppose Billy bats a baseball intended to land somewhere in the vicinity of his friend, Tommy (presumably so that Tommy might catch the ball and throw it back). However, when bat and ball meet, the ball’s trajectory sends it flying into and through Billy’s neighbor’s (Mr. Johnson’s) living room window.

As it turns out, Mr. Johnson is a very reasonable fellow and, when he catches up with Billy and Tommy (who have run off out of sheer terror), he assures them he is not mad and only wants them to talk to their parents and get the window fixed. More interestingly, Mr. Johnson excitedly invites them over to his house to take a look at something he tells them is, “Really quite spectacular.” That something is the hole left in his window by the ball. As they stand before it, the boys’ mouths drop in amazement.

The hole in the shattered glass looks precisely like the profile of Abraham Lincoln’s head and torso. Uncanny. Beyond improbable. A freak accident if there ever was one.

Or is it?

Yes, you might make a lengthy, complicated argument stating that any of countless, tiny adjustments in Tommy’s throw, Billy’s swing, the wind, the ball, the bat, the curvature of the Earth (you get the idea) … and that hole would have looked like any other random hole in a glass window. And you would be right.

However.

Your point is moot. All of the circumstances and nuances of nature and that moment were exactly what they were. And, from the beginning of time, that outcome—the one that left an Abe Lincoln-shaped hole in Mr. Johnson’s living room window—was absolutely unalterable and completely certain. Put another way: because that event did happen, it had to happen.

Now, apply this notion to humanity’s rise from amoeba to ascendance.

All those events, those “accidents” you describe so eloquently? That infinitely dense ball of matter (the “cosmic zygote,” if you will), the arrival of one-celled living things, sea-life making its way to land, the fall of the dinosaur, the evolution of a primate to modern man? Because those things did happen, they had to happen.

Again, yes, I know, if the sun were in another position, if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out …

But this is conjecture on what might have been, nothing more. It’s like arguing that the team that won the Super Bowl would not have won if only Quincy the Quarterback hadn’t thrown that boneheaded interception in the fourth quarter. (He did. It’s done. Get over it.)

The fact is that, hyper-complex cosmic circumstances being what they were, mankind was most assuredly inevitable. You, dear Mr. Spong, were inevitable. Precisely you. Exactly as you are, with your height and eye color and hair color and temperament and potential for intellect. You had to be born. As did I. And my neighbors, and their ill-tempered wiener dog, Puddin’.

This doesn’t necessitate God in any way. Ours may indeed be a purely material world. Blind matter, and a universe without intention, making absolutely sure that you and I (and all our ancestors) came into existence. Conditions being what they were, we couldn’t not happen.

And yet. No. I don’t buy the random non-intention of that scenario. Not really. Maybe that’s the truth of things. But it sounds wrong, doesn’t it? There’s a cause and effect problem of epic proportion there, in my estimation.

And this is where I invoke God. Not because I can prove God. I can’t. No one can. But I would suggest that the idea of God is (at the very least) no more absurd than mindless matter incrementally building the human mind, leading to consciousness and ultimately self-consciousness. The cosmic zygote came from … where again? Exactly. You don’t know. No one does.

You pick your unlikely conclusion. I’ll pick mine.

Religion is a different matter. I’m not talking about religious ideas of God (that would be a separate and more dubious undertaking, though I certainly have my beliefs); I’m talking about God as the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover. The one utterly inexplicable, irrational, incomprehensible thing that explains everything else. Here at least, as crazy as the notion may sound to some, the cause is sufficient to produce the effect. In a purely material creation you have to have a virtually infinite string of inexplicable materials and events where the spinning of spontaneously-appearing inanimate particles leads to living beings who contemplate their mortality, write poetry, compose symphonies, transplant vital organs, and build ships that carry them into outer space; beings who sing and dance, laugh and weep, hope and despair, love and hate, create and destroy. Fascinating accident, indeed.

Or is it?

B.Y.O.G.

It sounds a little crazy, I know: Bring Your Own God to the party.

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But, in fact, we do already.

Even if you go to a church where very specific theology is taught, very specific creeds invoked … I can guarantee you that not every member/attender embraces every word of what comes from on high.

We come into church service with slightly different versions of God informing our faith.

As Rob Bell says, “We shape our God, then our God shapes us.” (Love Wins, p 97)

Exactly right, Mr. Bell.

In my church, the Unitarian Universalist church, that truth is not just acknowledged, it is encouraged and celebrated. The Baptist sits between the Buddhist and the atheist. Each is pleased to let the other believe what they do (or don’t) believe.

When I look back on the evolution of my faith, I can see that I have moved toward a God that continues to become less and less punitive until, finally, “he” (the language of accommodation) isn’t a punisher at all, but full only of compassion and grace, light and love.

Faith is a weird thing. It surely can divide us. The divisions can be lethal, tragically. Or our desire for “higher truth” and “enlightened selves” can lead us to a place of magnificent unity and community. It would be my prayer that this is The Way we choose…

Namaste.

 

The Left and Right Political Divide

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People tend to cling to their little set of closely held beliefs. They want to think they have the superior position, logically, morally.

I’m guilty of this, just as you probably are.

There was a time when my core beliefs and political positions were heavily influenced by thinkers/authors/speakers/entertainers who leaned in a certain political direction.

I can tell you those positions have changed quite a bit for me over the last decade or two. Not from right to left or left to right. But from entrenched to liberated.

Here is something I FIRMLY believe: if you take any issue that is fraught with left-versus-right tension (immigration, education, taxation, abortion, gun control, freedom of religion) and you can see NO MERIT AT ALL in the opposing arguments?

You haven’t thought about it hard enough. You are entrenched, unmovable, and you’ve let your emotions prevent you from independent thinking.

Because, if we’re intellectually honest, BOTH sides make legitimate points on all of these issues. Both sides have a view that should at least be considered thoughtfully, not dismissed out of hand. As soon as we demonize our ideological rivals, everyone has lost. When conservatives are fetus-loving right-wing-nutjobs and liberals are tree-hugging femi-nazis … all hope for meaningful dialogue is lost. All hope for thoughtful compromise … gone.

The further we get to the extreme right or left, the further from reason we get. The folks that are way way out there, to either side, aren’t going to engage in balanced, reasoned dialogue. They’re going to shout slogans and shake fists, they are deaf to any opposition, no matter how nuanced.

But most people don’t fall into these extreme categories; nor do most people embrace every single last idea of the party they identify with. (Those that do, I have to admit, scare me a little.) In most cases, we probably have more in common with “those people” (our political/ideological rivals) than we think.

Yes, at the end of the day you have to come down on a side, make a choice, vote for a person or party that best represents the sort of thinking you believe ought to guide us as a nation. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes.

But if we don’t open our minds up a little and see our neighbor with the opposing viewpoint as a fellow human being of infinite worth, a person whose views should be heard and judged, in their entirety, by their merit … well, we will have what we have. People who don’t hear each other and don’t respect each other; people incapable of working together to accomplish things for the common good. Political gridlock. And that kind of sucks.

My Best Wisdom …

… is useless. Mostly.

Not because I don’t have any (though, like most worthy notions in this world, it is borrowed from elsewhere) … but because I rarely apply it. It exists primarily as “good ideas in my head.”

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But a good idea is good idea. Right?

I have long said that one of the most important things we have to accomplish in life is to “Learn to like living in your head.” If being with yourself sucks you are in trouble because that is where you will be spending your entire corporeal existence.

As French dramatist Jean Anouilh put it, “Our entire life consists ultimately in accepting ourselves as we are.” Or as Buddha said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

It seems so easy to dwell on what we don’t like about ourselves: imperfections of the body, insufficient accomplishments, inadequate wealth, failed relationships, morally ambiguous choices … the list goes on and on. We don’t focus enough on forgiving and accepting ourselves, which is pretty much always the only place from which we may be ready to implement positive change.

Be your own best friend. Remind yourself that you have frequently loved others to the best of your ability. Remind yourself that you are loved, that you possess talents and positive attributes and, most importantly, the capacity to choose to be your “best self” the next time you face a choice. Which is pretty much every second of every day.

What will you tell yourself about yourself today? Will you point out every bad thing, beat yourself into a bloody useless pulp? Or will you spur yourself onward to a better day than you had yesterday? And on into tomorrow and the rest of your life …

The choice is yours. And mine.

As we look toward 2015, I urge you (and myself) to choose the path of inspiration.