I think of Allen's experiences that might have led him to becoming a born-again Christian. He had, of course, been well exposed to Christianity, as well as a bit of Judaism. His childhood also contained the usual myths:Santa Claus, Elves, Fairies, the Easter Bunny, Hobbits and Jesus. Sure, I tried to keep his mind open, but I was only one of many people who impinged upon that mind. And nature abhors a vacuum. Trying to keep a mind "open" is like trying to stay dry in a rain storm.
Why should I expect him to listen to me? -Because I'm right! Hah! Being right has never cut much ice as far as people's acceptance of ideas goes. Even in science, it takes a hellofalot more than just being right to have an idea adopted by the scientific community. I think of Copernicus, who proved that the planets revolve around the sun; Mendel, who discovered the laws of inheritance; Meischer, who discovered that DNA was the genetic material; and others too numerous to mention, whose important and valid work was not accepted in their lifetime.
I guess that I should be thankful -but to whom?- that Allen only went bananas in one small area. He could have gone completely mad as had so many in his generation. There were so many crazies, in fact, that a sane person was looked upon with suspicion by his fellows.
I remember a young man at the Berkeley Free Clinic, who was a certified crazy, having done time at the Napa State Hospital. What had he been taught? His mother told him not to be like his father, that work is for suckers, begging is demeaning and stealing is immoral. In order to keep from starving to death he went crazy and the State of California fed him.
I guess Allen isn't in too bad a shape.
Damn! I'm starting to think like Laura, whose favorite expression
is "Well, at least he's above average."
Truth has been my god, the light which I have followed all my life. I found out early in life that the word truth has different meanings to different people. The expression "and the truth shall make you free" refers to the Christian dogma. I now wonder how many people have taken that literally and been led away from, instead of toward, the religion of their childhood. Obviously, most of the advances in our world have been made by people who were brought up believing the dogmas of their time.
For me , finding the truth was a quest to find out what is real and what is not: what actually exists versus what we believe exists. It was, and still is, a painful quest in which I dissect my old beliefs, one at a time, and test them against what I know about nature. It is a task that never ends. My kinship with the past is with those who did the same; and in the future with those who will do the same. I would have a kinship with my children if they also sought after truth. Unless it is forcibly suppressed, as it has been and will be, it may ultimately prevail. Not many people still believe that the sun goes round the earth or that the earth is flat.
Yet, for most, truth is embodied in the written word: the Old Testament, the New Testament, The Koran, The Bagvad Gita. There are even people to whom the scientific literature has the force of scripture. I have heard people say "science has proved" just as people say "the bible says." These people do not understand that science is not a body of immutable fact, but an ever-changing structure that grows as our knowledge and understanding grows; that it makes no claim to perfection or permanence. To the creative scientist, life is full of unanswered questions, and he sometimes considers himself privileged to be allowed to search for an answer.
Unless a scientist associates only with
other scientists, it is a lonely quest in this priest-ridden world.
Since many view science as an assault on their cherished beliefs,
the scientist becomes the enemy who is assaulted physically and
verbally or, at best, ignored. How do I keep the faith against
this massive opposition? I don't know. Perhaps it is part of my
read only memory, which cannot be erased, along with the
will to breathe. There are people who have managed to live in
both worlds: Gregor Mendel was a superb scientist and a competent
priest. Galileo was a practising Catholic at the same time that
he was a scientist. Darwin started out headed for the ministry,
but toward the end of his life considered himself an agnostic.
I've always had trouble looking at things from someone else's point of view. I remember, many years ago, I was chairing a public meeting in Salt Lake City. I did a fine job: being fair to all concerned and injecting none of my biases or opinions into the debate. At the end of the meeting a man came up to me and said "You did a fine job of chairing the meeting."
"Thank you," I replied.
"What church do you belong to?" he asked. It was obvious from his tone that he expected me to say that I was a member of his church -probably Mormon.
"None," I replied, "I'm an Atheist."
The man turned pale and , for a moment, I thought that he was going to faint. Then, without a further word, he turned and walked away.
I realized, for the first time, what a shock it must be for a believer to come face to face with the Devil incarnate. At that moment, I resolved never to reveal my beliefs to a stranger again. Instead I would tell Mormons that I was a Jack Unitarian or, as an acquaintance of mine used to say, a non-attending, unwashed Unitarian.
As a child, I had a hard time defending my beliefs; or lack of them. Being an Atheist is a very positive position; hardly, as some people think, a lack of belief. An Atheist believes that God doesn't exist just as the Christian believes in Christ. Of course, these weren't really my beliefs, but my father's; since I had neither originated or tested them myself. When I was in the eighth grade, I was fond of my science teacher, and she liked me as well. There weren't many kids in the dead-end part of The Bronx who liked science.
I don't remember how it came up, but I said that I didn't believe in God.
She commented "With all of the wonders in the world, I can't understand how someone could not believe in God."
I should have told her that it wasn't hard.
At least it wouldn't have been hard if the believers left you
alone. Believers want everyone to believe as they do -their insecurity
is phenomenal. Getting others to join you seems to reinforce your
own beliefs, and it's hard to stand alone. I know that feeling
of isolation well. Coventry or shunning is not foreign to me.
It is added to my normal cultural xenophobia. Everyone seems to
be looking for converts -even the junkies- and if you want to
be a member of a group, you have to at least pretend to believe.
I am now fairly immune to the supernatural beliefs of most people. I have almost grown to accept them. Yet, my children are privy to my insides and can assault me at will. The only protection that I have is distance, so I live in fear of the encounters which Allen and I have. Perhaps some day I will have the courage to discard my pride and say to him, "Allen, you're beating the shit out of me! Are you aware of how much pain and anguish you are causing me now?" -But that would be the stereotyped Jewish guilt trip, so I won't do it.
I say to myself, "Come on Howard, you know how the world is. It's not Allen who's out of step -it's you! Just because you know that you are right and that history might vindicate your point of view isn't any more comfort to you than it was to the heretics in the Dark Ages when they were burned at the stake. Look around you: superstition is more common than the absence of it. The newspaper has its daily horoscope. People who are looking for water hire water witches and people who are incurably ill go to one kind or another of faith healer, with or without medical degrees.
So Allen has rejoined his ancestors: his maternal grandparents are fundamentalists and even my grandfather, whom I never knew, was a Hassidic Rabbi.
No, I am the one who is out of step. I know a shrink who saw sanity as conforming to whatever culture one is in. He figures that a kamikaze pilot is sane. He would declare Allen sane, and me mad.
It's a damn disconcerting thought that if
Allen and I went before some court or other, that he would probably
be judged sane, and I would be considered, if not overtly insane,
at least as eccentric.
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