Man, apparently alone of life on
planet, has used his mind and reason and knowledge to dominate
world. Less obvious is how he has suffered and failed due
same talent....for it founded on imperfection: imperfect
reason: thus the minds slays life and the soul
Being the animal that thinks and reasons and figures things out,
it happens that:
- He builds systems of knowledge: engineering, medicine,
systems of knowledge concerning the unknowable: religion,
- Having spent great energy and time building these
- having taken that great effort and
years/centuries/millenia on them, why then:
- he wants to see them as universally true and
applicable (how could it be a lie or less than perfect?)
- and he wants to share them with his fellow man
- He feels his fellow men must certainly acknowledge the
primacy of those systems, must certainly desire to
- If they should fail in desiring the light of that
why then his erring fellow man must be brought into the
in all of this is a central reality: our knowledge and
reason are, from
the first, imperfect and our viewpoint, finite.
- We act as if we were gods or the infallibly righteous
representative of a a truth, or God or the gods.
- The more we righteously "know", the less we are capable
of honest doubt and the inspection of our knowledge and
- And so it is that:
- imperfect knowledge and reason becomes
unassailable, unquestionable, righteous belief.
- and we seek to confirm (rather than challenge) our
knowledge and belief base
- And that knowledge becomes citadels, prisons, torture
chambers, wars....and their essence: self-righteousness.
As should be clear, this is not limited to religion. It happens
science (witness Semmelweiss) and engineering (phlogiston,
ether). And as anyone who has honestly raised children
introspection must admit, the parent communicates belief and
systems....and wishes to pass the joys/loves of our existence to
kids: sports, cooking, arts, machinery (how often is that sort
shared?) et al., Looked at one way, parenting represents a
of an attempt at immortality: passing along what we think is
wonderful, lovely, honorable. But in honest open
parent learns as much from the child as the child from the
And so in growing, we pattern from our lives, our
experience...and, God help us, we come to see The Right Way, the
desired way, and we come to expect
that certain things should be so
relationships, obligations and on and on. We are also
creatures and socially, we join and believe...in a Master Race,
segregation, the New York Yankees, Flat Earth, balanced budgets,
Pope, the Marine Corps, liberalism, conservatism, patriotism,
Destiny, Pax Romana/Brittanica/Americana, the gold standard,
Israel, the Lesser
Jihad (forgetting the Greater).
...and, of course,
the Other (the person, the ethnicity, the skin color, the
whatever who is other than "us" and must needs be shown the
error of his ways and/or expunged).
Our limited knowledge and reason comes between us and the world.
"Oh, Lord, forgive me three
sins that are due to my human limitations:
art everywhere, but I worship you here;
art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and
forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations."
For reason is but a gloss, a window dressing for the hidden
and mindless will of the emotions and feelings, that incarnate
belief. I have come to understand and think that
trumps reason in almost every circumstance, that the human
cannot deny his or her beliefs short of being in a life or death
confrontation with reality...that reason trails far behind as a
of examining, evaluating and perhaps changing what one believes
If "the answers are the questions", the questions might
- Can we be humble?
- Can we truly listen?
- Can we set aside so much of what defines us and hear life
talking to us?
I have come to consider that it may be that God is humble.
If all things are seen, are known, are understood, are forgiven,
can be no righteousness, for all things exist in God's
Imperfection *is* perfection.
I have long thought that while angels may be perfect, if they
the normal sense), they must then be deprived of free will,
the glory and the education of all of us here below. We do
angels cannot; we reach our highest calling in tolerance, love,
compassion and humility.
Self-Righteousness: Hatred, Violence and Silencing the Quiet Inner Voice.
There is nothing worse, nothing more catalytic poisonous than when
righteousness becomes self-righteousness and then justifies its hate,
fear, bigotry and evil as holy and just. America's Indians and
their extermination, the slaves and their subjugation, the Master Race,
the Chosen of Israel subjugating and brutalizing the
Palestinians. All one.
And just as a thief/mugger first steals from you, then, seemingly
pointlessly, beats you up, so too can a nation or a people first
subjugate, than brutalize and exterminate the Other. Somehow the
human creature finds justification and the silencing of the quiet inner
voice by doing physical violence after the initial theft. First they are the Other, than they are the Lesser and your Just Prey.
Oh Lord, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?
Or the matter of humility can be completely divorced from any spiritual
or religious context. As Davis Foster Wallace said in this commencement address:
Blind certainty is a close-mindedness
that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even
know he's locked up.
The point here is that I think this
is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to
mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical
awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of
the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out,
totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I
predict you graduates will, too.
Here is just one example of the total
wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything
in my own immediate experience upports my deep belief that I am
the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and
important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of
natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive.
But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting,
hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no
experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The
world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to
the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other
people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow,
but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don't worry that I'm getting
ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the
so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my
choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my
natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally
self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of
self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are
often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not
an accidental term.