Monday, February 24, 2014

Signs of Life

"Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him"
(The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche 1882)

            The idea that “God is dead” (from the German Gott ist tot), also referred to as “the death of God,” first appeared as commentary in 1882 as part of a German publication Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science). Attributed to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 -1900), a German philosopher, poet and cultural critic, “the meaning of the phrase is often misunderstood.” Nietzsche did not believe “in a literal death or end of God.” His concern was more with the “western world’s reliance on religion as a moral compass and source of meaning.” His philosophy, in general, was more centred on the idea of life-affirmation and a passive, nihilistic point of view.
            For some, this statement defined Nietzsche as an atheist. For others, it “reflects a more subtle understanding of divinity.” For Nietzsche, it expressed his fear that “the decline of religion, the rise of atheism, and the absence of a higher moral authority would plunge the world into chaos.” He recognized that “the western world had depended on the rule of God for thousands of years” and so religion “gave order to society and meaning to life.” Nietzsche believed that, without God, “society will move into an age of nihilism” (complete denial of all established authority and institutions). He warned that life “will turn away from itself,” leaving “nothing of value” in this world. Although Nietzsche is considered a nihilist by definition, “he was critical of it and warned that accepting nihilism would be dangerous.”

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
(The Gay Science, Section 125, Friedrich Nietzsche 1882)

            The question “Is God Dead?” appeared on the cover of the April 8th 1966 edition of Time. The inside article “addressed growing atheism in America.” The ‘death of God’ movement had reared its ugly head in North American theology. Also known as theothanatology (the belief that God is dead), the idea that religion was dying off and that a theistic God may not exist was much in fashion in intellectual circles at the time. It was a growing trend among Atheists, Agnostics and secularists alike. The article speculates that the question of God’s status “tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect that the answer is no.” Although the idea of God being dead is no longer in vogue, it continues to garner debate in academic circles and throughout theological schools of thought.  

            A May 2011 Gallup poll showed that “when given only the choice between believing and not believing in God, more than 9 in 10 Americans say they do believe.” The 1 in 10 surveyed revealed that “they have no formal religious identity.” Other statistics showed that “a lack of religious identity increased in every U.S. state between 1990 and 2008,” however, “less than 2% of the U.S. population describes itself as atheist.”  Indicators show that “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” People autonomous to religion “increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults,” with more than “13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).” On the 12th of September 2011, a Canadian Ipsos Reid poll, titled "Canadians Split On Whether Religion Does More Harm in the World than Good", sampled 1,129 Canadian adults. 30% claimed they “do not believe in a god.” The study found that the number of Canadians “who believe in a deity are dropping at a significant rate.”

“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
(Christopher Hitchens, British-American author/journalist)

            On occasion, I saunter down to the end of my street and seek refuge from my wacky world in Victoria Park. On a summer day, I usually take a good book and a bag of treats for my feathered friends. The park is located in the downtown core of Kitchener, Ontario and tends to act as a gathering point for bikers, walkers and overheated children. A large splash park, a small lake and paved paths leading in all directions attract a cornucopia of citizens out to experience nature in an urban setting. Ducks and geese abound and children, usually screaming for gratification, attempt to scatter away from their families throughout the play areas, all the while running through goose poop and wet grasses. Schneider Creek feeds the manmade lake and encourages trippers to stop and sit on a bench to enjoy the view.
            My regular spot hides just over the creek on one of the small islands which direct the flow of the quaint waterway. An aging iron bridge leads me there. Amid dense spruce trees, and next to several large flowerbeds, my bench is secluded for the most part. I come here to clear my mind and free my spirit. Like a form of meditation, the time I spend alone in this haven seems to cleanse both my body and soul. When the wind softly blows and the trees sway in accord, I close my eyes and I am taken away. I can hear the rustle and sense the other people, but for a moment or two, I can always find a glimmer of peace. I feed the wildlife, even though I am not supposed to. It is an experience I never tire of. To commune with God’s creation, to recognize my place in it all, this is what it means to be alive. This is the reason I return again and again to my favourite spot just beside the water at the end of my street.
            She cried out from the bridge and quickened her pace towards me. She wasn’t more than four or five years old, but her vocal chords were already well trained. She stood only so tall, but her auburn hair was long and free flowing. Her purple shorts matched her colourful t-shirt; it was painted with white daisies and fit her ever so tightly. She was slim and energized and did not even notice me as she ran to the flowerbed just before my position. Her mother followed right behind. For a moment, I cursed them both under my breath for intruding on my privacy. Damn the public park!
            With little hesitation, she climbed right into the mass of geraniums and purple lilies, almost a match for her colour scheme. She seemed like a sweet little girl, but man, she sure could scream. Her cries of exuberance were not quite enchanting, but her joy could be heard throughout the area. You could tell from her energy that she was thrilled to be amidst the rainbow of plant life. She walked about the garden rapidly, spying on each blossom, each flower, like it was a piece of heaven. Her Mom cried out to her, “Carrie, get out of that garden!” Little miss sunshine simply continued to gaze.
            Sometimes when I am around children I forget how innocent and impeccant they really are. They never cease to amaze me with their insight. The simplest things are the most incredible to them. I sat there watching with a smile, despite her banshee wailings. They still lingered in the air like fog and smoke. Once again, her mother called out for her to cease and desist, but these sounds of fury outweighed them all. The wee thing bent over, picked herself a lily, and after hiding it behind her back, then made her way in leaps and bounds to the bench her killjoy had found for herself. She stopped dead, revealed her gift and said, “Mom, look what Jesus made.” 

“Only sheep need a shepherd.”
(Voltaire - François-Marie Arouet, French historian and philosopher)

            He must have been at least seventy-five, perhaps even eighty years old. He stood on the corner with his small wicker basket, nodding to all as they passed his way.  Although limited by the lack of teeth, he tried to smile nonetheless. It was not that he appeared frayed, by any means, but his body looked weak and frail beneath an oversized suit jacket and ill fitting slacks. His hat was dapper, brimmed with a light blue trim-ribbon, and pinched perfectly to each side of his face. Perhaps it had been Sinatra’s fedora, tossed to the crowd when he played the Toronto C.N.E. Grandstand in September of 1984. Just maybe this younger fellow had reached out from that crowd of revellers and clutched the prize. It seemed to make this man.
            I just assumed that the pamphlets he attempted to give each passerby were either promotional flyers from some business in the area or Watchtower material from the Jehovah’s Witness temple down the street. Each soul within his reach was met with a colourful page with wording I could not discern from my vantage point. With only fifteen minutes left in my lunch break, eye spied this old man in a sea of people. It was not that he seemed timid, rather he struck me as unobtrusive, careful not to offend. He was sure to offer each one his gift of paper, but he never forced it upon anyone. As each message disappeared into an ocean of irrelevance, he carefully took another and then another, not once hesitating in his mission. He never spoke a word.
            The wicker basket that held his revelation was made for a fisherman, but the cap to hold things in tight had been removed and was nowhere to be seen. His shoes were old, but nothing in comparison to this gent. Each sole had seen far better days. Even the obvious polish he had used to hide their scars was aging rapidly and crumbling from being well worn. Despite his attire, and overall appearance, I didn’t feel sorry for him. Sometimes people just glow with a form of energy, an aura if you will. He may have appeared to be one way, but his output was vibrant. No lack of nimbus could explain his glow away. He radiated, apparently quite happy to be doing what he was doing.               
            The warm morning sun began to give way to darker afternoon skies, a harbinger of all the wet that met the rest of the day. With my free time quickly ending, I dropped my cigarette to the ground, stood rather quickly and fixed myself as I pressed my boot to ensure my bad habit would not spread to anything vulnerable. I took one last look at the man and his hat and started walking in a direction which would not cross his path. Something overtook me, rapidly reaching inside and suggesting that I turn around. I could not help myself, I just had to see. As I approached him, he reached inside his carrying case and pulled out a yellow page. Not two, not three, but just one perfectly timed to hand me. He nodded, as if offering a hello. I smiled at him and said “thank you” before I softly walked away, his canary coloured disclosure in hand. “God loves you and I do too,” was all it had to say.

“Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body.” (The Waves, Virginia Woolf 1931)
            She was mean, bitchy and quite the curmudgeon. She went to services anyway. Long before my family arrived in Strathroy and began attending the United Church, she was in her pew, in her spot, week after week for years. I always assumed that someone of her social and intellectual calibre would not take part in religion, but I was only a kid so what did I know? I have to admit that as a pre-teenager I did not care much for Dora P. Fortner. She seemed sour to me. Even when I won a poetry contest in grade six, judged by the Grinch, she appeared to begrudge everyone for making her partake. Taking a photo with her for the local newspaper, The Age Dispatch, seemed more like torture than an academic reward. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like her so much as I just didn’t get her. She was a well known citizen, a published writer and poet who received great respect for both her achievement and her wisdom, but she put off such a nasty vibe. I found it hard to be around her for any period of time.
            My mother used to talk to Dora all the time back when the old girl was alive. Miss Fortner had taught her English and Poetry when my Mom was in public school. She only ever had good things to say about her friend. She never understood why I found the experience of her such a hard pill to swallow. I suppose I have never really taken to something so bitter. She was friendly enough, and well liked among the congregation, but I don’t ever remember seeing her smile. The more people talked about her, the more the newspaper published her work or got her input into current events, the more I struggled with understanding her disposition. I mean no disrespect, but every time I ran into her at Church or saw her out in public, I wondered how she had gotten such a big stick up her butt. I couldn’t even stand reading her poetry.                 
            When she died in 1988, the town celebrated her life. The Age made nothing but grand gestures regarding the lady and her work. My mother cried at the funeral, or so I was told. The Church welcomed her into heaven with not even a pause to consider it. She had lived most of her life primarily as a recluse, shielding herself from the world in a rugged home near the flour mill where my first partner passed away. Her poetry was well received and she published collections of it throughout her life.  Her work in Flights of Fancy (1955) and Daydreams (1958) made her somewhat of a local celebrity. I’ve always found her work rather tactile and observational.
            People never cease to amaze me. I am always surprised at what lies beneath our social facade. In the summer of 1980, I first realized that not everyone is who they seem. My Mom had arranged for me to take instruction, to be tutored by her aging friend. I recall being quite intimidated as I knocked on her door. For a moment, I thought that the house was about to cave in, all creaky and broken and frail. Inside was like a museum. Antiques and books, so many books, filled the space. It reminded me of some old professor’s office in those black and white British movies they used to play on late night TV. She welcomed me into her home and we headed to the back of the house and her private study. I stepped inside and I couldn’t believe my eyes. From floor to ceiling stood Christianity, represented through art and sculpture and literature. Everywhere you looked, you could tell that Jesus had been there. I would not have been shocked to have discovered Him under a pile of papers or magazines. Apparently, there was so much more to her than met the eye.

"Because you have seen me, you have believed;
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
(John 20:29, NIV) 

             I see glimpses of God almost every day. Since I was young, I have always been in tune with a presence I could not deny. I am aware of Him, in spite of the harsh life I have lived. I see Him in nature and hear Him in song. He can be found in children, in the aging, and even in memory. I will not believe that God is dead. He must live. I have witnessed Him in children, in the aging, and even in my memory. I can see him all around me and I am not the only one.

I am constantly noticing signs of life.  








Backus Woods
Southern Norfolk, Ontario, Canada
May 2013

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pins and Needles


            If God hates religion, He hates it because all religion has an agenda. Religion itself is the agenda. The entire fabric of it is comprised of manipulation. It is based on control and thrives through codology. From the beginning laws were created, standards of acceptable behaviour were established. The written word became the very breath of god. Stepping outside this lineation always resulted in one very pissed off deity, a fact which his earth-bound representatives happily conveyed.  Failure to toe the line was harshly met. Morality, law and ritual turned from mere admonishment to gospel. God was a god of love until someone strayed from the flock or dared to question. There are always consequences for disobeying.
            That’s what we are supposed to think. Actually, the religious establishment would rather we not think at all. After all, we have Holy books to do that thinking for us. It has always been this way throughout human history. Religion has always functioned as a mechanism to restrain society. We are told God exists and then to adhere to the status quo. We are taught to resist change, especially if it goes against our scriptures. There is no need for us to seek answers elsewhere because we can already find them in these divine revelations. We are encouraged to read them over and over as they hold the only truth. There are to be no new revelations because they would interfere with all of the conventional standards and established rules we just memorized.
            German economist Karl Marx believed that religion acts like a narcotic. It inhibits clear thinking and acts to pacify the user. This concept was published in his 1844 journal Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Yearbooks), and is translated from the original German. He states that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Strangely enough, some modern religious thinkers have taken this habituation one step further and twisted it around. All over the internet we are beseeched to give Jesus a try, to become Christ addicts. Images of a syringe with a cross instead of a needle permeate the mind whenever you look for this and that on Google.
            Instead of promoting dialogue, religion muffles anything that goes against the grain. It is to be the only voice. It silences understanding and demands submission. Religion is the enemy of freethinking and inhibits the evolution of civilization. Radical intellects such as Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei and Origen Adamantius all feared reprisal by the Church for their theories and ground breaking ideas. They initially withheld their findings and observations, well knowing that claims of heresy awaited any disclosure. They understood that the religion of their day held a monopoly on truth.
            Darwin, in particular, suffered greatly at the thought of revealing his findings on Natural Selection. He not only stymied his conclusions, he battled his own inner dialogue regarding the consequence he felt they might bring. In his day, science and religion were different sides of the same coin. This created conflict within his own belief structure. The Church had helped to create a schism he found difficult to deal with. Religion has survived because of this type of brainwashing. It cannot function outside its own box so it attempts to hinder anyone thinking beyond what the Lord has to say. They don’t even have to try, it is ingrained in us and has been for centuries.     

“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.” (The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin 1871)

            Darwin dropped out of medical studies at the University of Edinburgh because he could not bear the sight of blood or suffering. He immersed himself in his childhood passion for the natural sciences. While he excelled in the field, for Darwin it was suggested that he follow a simpler path. His father directed him to the priesthood, “a respectable alternative,” and life as an Anglican clergyman. In 1831, Charles convinced his father to allow him one great adventure before settling into responsibility. Taking a commission as a “gentleman naturalist” on the ship HMS Beagle, he set out on an  expedition that circumnavigated the world. At the age of 26, he left England for the southern hemisphere and embarked on a journey that would change not only his life but the very ideas mankind has regarding Creation. 
            For half a decade, Darwin threw himself into his observations. The Beagle journeyed from Cape Verde down the South American coast to the Falklands and then north to the Galapagos Islands. These islands, and the unique life upon them, acted as a catalyst and were at the beginning of the process that developed his ideas on evolution. Across the Pacific, the voyage met New Zealand next, then Australia. Along the course, Charles continued to build on his radical theory. He collected specimens, drew sketches and made more observations, each one developing and validating his hypothesis.
            By the time the Beagle arrived at Cape Town, and then headed home towards England, Darwin had become a different man. He changed from a “dilettante into a disciplined and observant scientist, and ultimately a thinker of extraordinary imagination and originality.” New ideas about how the world worked had taken root in his mind. He recognized “the consequence of civilization” and “the tragedy of existence.” On October 2nd 1836, the ship and crew arrived back at Plymouth Sound. As Darwin struggled with his place in the new Victorian Age, his health deteriorated and he was “plagued by strange illnesses.” Charles’ health had always been compromised. As a child, he was constantly battling one malady after another. He was a “sickly man”. The process of creating his “world changing theory” only seemed to make matters worse for him.  
            As Darwin wrestled with his creation, he also battled his body and his conscience. He grew depressed and was “chronically unwell; He had minor neurological disorders, he felt nausea for a lot of the time.”  As his body continued to suffer, so did his mind. He knew he must keep his heretical thoughts to himself or “face ridicule and ostracism from the scientific establishment of which he [had] become a part.” Charles begins to lead a double life. He had to bite his tongue and learn to play along. Darwin’s was not the first theory involving evolution so he knew fully well to keep his thoughts to himself. For years he brainstormed in private, tracking and meticulously recording his findings in secret notebooks. He referred to certain segments from this time as “mental rioting”. The conflict between God and science was tearing him apart. The emotional and spiritual weight was heavy on him. He felt that his theory would eventually destroy society if it was presented, he feared that “the whole fabric will totter and fall.”

“In Darwin’s day you couldn’t graduate or even enter Oxford or Cambridge unless you were a member of the Church of England, and the leading naturalists in Darwin’s day were clergymen of the Church of England. We have to think back to a world were science, politics and religion are all mixed up together. That to be properly scientific was to be properly Christian. Evolution is damned as being anti-god and anti-science because it’s creation by natural law not acts of god.”
(Darwin’s Brave New World, Episode 1; Origins - James Moore, The Open University: The Nature of Things, CBC television, first aired September 2nd, 2010)

            In 1839, The Voyage of the Beagle was first published. Also known as Journal of Researches, it brought Darwin “considerable fame and respect.” Charles Darwin became a household name. The title refers to his five year voyage under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy, R.N. on the HMS Beagle. Based on his diaries and remarks, the travel memoir is also a “detailed scientific field journal covering biology, geology, and anthropology that demonstrates Darwin's keen powers of observation.” His notes include “comments illustrating his changing views at a time when he was developing his theory of evolution by natural selection and includes some suggestions of his ideas, particularly in the second edition of 1845.” Darwin was taking risks, but he did so selectively.
            For years he continues to apply himself in secret. He knew that his “man from ape” theory “would have been considered ludicrous and heretical” and therefore “slammed to the ground.” He knew that to publish then meant he would be damned. Britain, and the greater society, were experiencing a “massive transformation,” as revolution and democratic movements brought social upheaval and condemnation from the Church. Freethinking was a tool of the devil, especially when it questioned established truths contained in the Christian scriptures. Darwin was "keenly aware of the political, social, and religious implications of his new idea. ... Religion, especially, appeared to have much to lose.” He knew that nature was cruel, that it had to be, and that nature, not God, determined survival.
            As he continued to develop his radical conclusions, his perspective on God shifted and his illness worsened. Towards the end of his Voyage, Darwin had become “critical of the Bible as history, and wondered why all religions should not be equally valid.” He began to view religion as a “tribal survival strategy.” He continued to believe that “God was the ultimate lawgiver,” but his assurances began to falter. He still refused to offend  religious people and “he was not above appearing to be religious so that he could advance his theory of evolution.”  He became “disingenuous.” Human beings, throughout religious history, had thought themselves "the central and immortal apex of creation - the apple of God's eye,” but Darwin began to accept that we are "unexceptional, contingent, and ephemeral in the cosmological scheme of things." It became clear to him that “our lives are brief, our fate is oblivion.” The book of Genesis, as a literal description of history, holds a "worldview that is entirely incompatible with the idea of evolution.” He recognized that everything mankind had learned from science since the time of Galileo suggested that the universe is “oblivious to our fates [and] that the grave is our destiny.”

“I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for his existence. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture.”  (The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin 1871)


            On November 24th 1859, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was released to the public. The shorter, and better known title, On the Origin of Species, was established in 1872 with the sixth edition. The book was an immediate bestseller. Released as a work of scientific literature, it is “considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology.” Darwinism, as the theory was coined, had “a devastating impact, not only on Christianity, but also on theism.” It convinced volumes of scientists and laymen that the account of creation, from the first pages of the Bible, is inaccurate. If the very first chapter of the Genesis was wrong, then the validity of the entire book could be called into question. Evolution was not just another scientific idea, it acted like a “bombshell” and caused “the whole house of theistic cards to tumble.” 
             Darwin was instantly both hero and heretic. His theory was “welcomed by atheists, [and] feared by theists.” The Church of England’s response was initially quite hostile. He was condemned as an atheist and “vehemently attacked.” The idea that all species of life evolved from common ancestors scandalized Victorian society. Queen Victoria herself described it as “disagreeably human!” Darwin, however, had thought ahead. Throughout Origins, he had cleverly neglected to mention mankind’s place in his thinking, but for one exception. He hinted, that through his current and future works, “a light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”
            The logical extension of Darwin’s theory was that homo sapiens were simply another form of animal. This idea was extremely polemic. The slightest notion that  people may have also evolved,  perhaps from the ape, was “not welcomed in the prevailing orthodoxy of how the world was created.” As the disputation between the Church and Darwin’s support began, Charles’ illness kept him away from these public debates. He “read eagerly about them and mustered support through correspondence.” The majority of Darwin's daily life had become like laying on a rack of pins and needles, “which consisted of fluctuating degrees of pain." His excruciation was often so severe that he referred to it as "distressingly great.” The greater his suffering, the more he began to doubt himself. He feared that “his theory was false and there was, in fact, a divine Creator.” He could not escape the God he once believed in.
            He had been leading a “double intellectual life,” jumping from “aristocratic, anti-evolutionary circles even while, privately, he was working feverishly on the details of his account of evolution,” and his health had suffered for it. He asked himself “Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” His wife Emma Wedgwood (his cousin) validated this duplicity with concerns that not only would he would be ostracized from “accepted scientific society” but she expressed great fear that “his heretical opinions would cut him off from spending eternity with her.” In the end she consoled him, she felt that “while you are acting conscientiously and sincerely wishing, and trying to learn the truth, you cannot be wrong."
            Darwin’s condition is commonly considered to have had “a psychological origin.” Most schools of thought on the issue concur that “behind these symptoms there was always a core of anxiety and depression." Many have speculated that part of his developing mental problems were “due to his nagging, gnawing fear that he had devoted his life to a fantasy.” Modern scholars argue that Darwin’s prolonged bouts of illness were the result of Chaga’s disease, a condition caused by an insect common to South America. Some have suggested arsenic poisoning while others reasoned that he had “a classic, essential mental disturbance bordering on psychosis.” Regardless, “Darwin's condition was clearly incapacitating, often for months at a time, and rendered him an invalid for much of his life, especially in the prime of his life.”

“It is a cursed evil to any man to become as absorbed in any subject as I am in mine.” (a letter to J.D. Hooker, January 11th 1844)

            Darwin never claimed to be an atheist. He was a deist. His understanding was that God had “indeed” created the cosmos, but then abandoned it. Deism is the theological rationalism that “a creator had designed the universe and set up natural laws according to which all of nature was unwaveringly governed.” It is to believe in God using reason, not revelation. For Darwin, it was the avocation “of a man of science to discover the laws by which nature operated.” In 1879, Charles addressed his critics by claiming he had never been an atheist. He did not deny the existence of God.  He announced “an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”
            The term Agnostic was an idea originated by one of the first adherents to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Thomas Henry Huxley was a friend and a fierce supporter. Their intellectual relationship was one of quid pro quo. Darwin used Huxley as his public voice while Darwin’s fame helped to advance Huxley’s own ideas on evolution. In 1871, The Descent of Man was published, to be followed the next year by The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. These studies “helped lay the foundations for modern biological anthropology.” What the Church had feared was coming to pass. Darwin’s publications soon gave room to a general acceptance of his hypothesis and eventually his theories on Natural Selection became “the new orthodoxy.”
            For years, disbelief had built itself within him “at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.” Darwin argued in Descent that “the existence of religion was due, not to God, but natural selection.” Not only mankind’s “moral and intellectual capacities are brought about by natural selection, but even religion itself.” Human beings are “naturally asocial and amoral, and only became social and moral historically.” To Darwin, natural selection revealed “the good of adaptation but removed the need for design.” Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws so he found great difficulty seeing “the work of an omnipotent deity in all the pain and suffering.” To accept Darwinism was to accept the belief that homo sapiens "are accidental, contingent, ephemeral parts of creation, rather than lords over it.” We are not the beginning and the end all of existence, as all theistic religions would have us believe. There would be no more public debate from Darwin regarding the topic of God. He spent the rest of his life wandering about his family home and the extensive gardens which had inspired him so. Illness continued to plague him and Down House became his refuge.  He rarely ever left the property.  
            Darwin died on April 19th 1882, at the age of 72. There was no deathbed conversion. Earlier that year, he had been diagnosed with what was then called "angina pectoris" or in modern terms, ”coronary thrombosis and disease of the heart.” His death was the result of "anginal attacks" and "heart-failure." Surrounded by his family at Down House, his last words to his wife Emma were, “I am not the least afraid of death - Remember what a good wife you have been to me - Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me." While Emma rested, he repeatedly told his caregivers that "It's almost worth while to be sick to be nursed by you."
            It was expected that Darwin would be buried at the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, in the town of Downe where he resided. At the request of Darwin's colleagues, and after much “public and parliamentary petitioning,” Darwin was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, close to Sir Isaac Newton. While his “preference for the term "agnostic" seems to have been dictated primarily by his worries about “offending people unnecessarily,” the use of this “less aggressive term” also allowed for Darwinism to be more easily accepted by his contemporaries and British society in general. The price for his duplicity wore away at him and his health, and in the end he deteriorated rapidly. His final thoughts on his position, and the question of God, were made years earlier, in private, with him expounding that “I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

“I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose.” (a letter to N. D. Doedes, April 2nd, 1873)

            The years following Charles’s death brought great deliberation in the scientific community regarding his theories. Although scientists proposed “various alternative evolutionary mechanisms which eventually proved untenable,” the debate itself “brought broad scientific consensus that natural selection was the basic mechanism of evolution.” Darwin had been correct all along. It was not “the strongest of the species that survives”; it was not “the most intelligent that survives”; the one who survives is “the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Ironically, Darwin himself had recognized his own very mortal limitations. For him, there was always “more in man than the mere breath of his body.” He expressed that “a scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections - a mere heart of stone.” This ambivalence was something he was never able to achieve for himself. Many would argue this dichotomy was the death of him.
            In June of 1909, “more than 400 officials and scientists from across the world” gathered together to honour both the man and his work on evolution. The celebration was held in Cambridge, England “to commemorate his centenary and the fiftieth anniversary of On the Origin of Species.” Darwin and his ideas had come a long way from the days when the Church condemned them like heresy. On September 15th 2008, the Church of England formally, and officially, apologized to Darwin for “misunderstanding his theory of evolution.” 126 years after his death, they claimed “there is nothing incompatible between the scientific theories adopted by Darwin and Christian teaching.” All they requested was that “science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

“It is a law and fact in nature that there shall be the weak and the strong. The strong shall triumph and the weak shall go to the wall. The law, though involving destruction is really preservative. If all plants and animals were free to reproduce their kind under like and equally favourable conditions, if all were equally strong and well equipped for obtaining sustenance and making their way in the world, there would soon be no room on the earth for even a single species.”
(Obituary, The New York Times April 21st 1882)

            Religion cannot maintain itself outside its own agenda. It hinders any radical thinking, restricts any fluctuation and uses these methods to ensure its own survival. “Survival of the fittest” seems ironic, from a historical sense, considering the savagery and brainwashing used by religion to promote and ensure its own endurance. Until recently, religion thrived by creating its own parameters. It would attempt to silence, without mercy, anyone foolish enough to challenge the status quo. It once held all the power so it was easy for it to control its subjects. Thankfully, there have always been great thinkers who came along to question and challenge religiosity. Despite grave consequences, they strove for their voice to be heard. Some suffered, some excelled, but all made a difference in the collective consciousness of mankind. Finally, they can be heard. It’s okay to question the rules no matter what they say God says.
            Darwin once revealed that, for him, the "more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." One can only imagine the difficulty in maintaining a relationship with something divine while constantly living on a bed of needles and pins. No matter the evidence against religion, Darwin still could not be sure. While Charles was a man of reason, not revelation, he could not escape the lingering voice of something far greater than himself. Perhaps, just perhaps, Charles Darwin had discovered his design in God’s design. Maybe, just maybe, evolution and natural selection are merely examples of God working through the laws of nature. Evolution is simply how God did it. 


            It is possible that God speaks to us through the things we know. Natural selection,  in essence, allows for “a nobler conception of the deity,” it reveals a God which “created primal forms capable of self development” (Kingsley). The calibre by which mankind views and uses religion clearly demonstrates, as Darwin might argue, “that man with all his noble qualities... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” You can wrap up the notion of God in pretty paper and then use it to sing yourself to sleep, but sweet lullabies won’t make it something that it is not. They tell us that religion is all about love and salvation, but it is really all about control and conformity, and as Marx would concur, we need a new drug.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
(The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin 1871)






Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kissing Ghosts

            Memories can haunt you. Memories can soothe you. Regardless of their effect, I am no longer convinced that I should try and block them out. I understand that the past can be painful, but I do not relate to people who ignore or hide from the life they have lived. I may have done the same myself, once upon a time, but I no longer have this need. I know that I would have nothing if not for the memories that living has brought me. Good or bad, they are mine alone. They define who I am and how I think. Granted, a memory may be some form of heaven from which we do not wish to depart, or a hell from which we cannot escape, but everything that one has lived through, survived and experienced is characterized through memory. Without our memories, we would not be the individuals we are now. Memories are the makeup, the sum of our identity.  
            Although you cannot nullify your memories, you can alter their meaning. You can restrict any influence they may hold over you. You can take away their power. The most destructive and guilt ridden event can become the greatest lesson you have ever learned. The way you used to be may measure the way you are today. The sadness of a last goodbye may hold much comfort in the darkest night. We can either embrace or change the manner with which we function during recall or we can suffer, allowing all the garbage we once left behind to linger and slowly rot. Your memories may be heaven or they may be hell, but in the end only you get to decide.   
            A changed memory is not a deleted memory. When we alter the way we view a memory, we do not erase it. Each may still hold a bitter sting, each may contain much hope, but it is the permission that we give each thought that will determine its usefulness. Any cause and effect will vary depending on the energy you place upon that moment. The woman who was raped can lapse into that terror, over and over again, or she can use that experience to help others deal with the very same thing. How she sees that memory will either allow for healing or it may well cripple her and any life she one day might have lived. The very same things which might kill you, when turned against themselves, may be the very same things that save you.  How you consider an event or experience creates a new way to remember it.
            Your point of view is everything when you stop and really examine things. When we approach memories with sorrow, we find only sorrow. When we approach memories with understanding, we gain wisdom. Memory may be a way of holding on to the things that you love, but not all love is healthy. Memory may be a way of validating the person you are, but not everyone is as they seem. The things that you never want to forget may contain great meaning, but no lesson should go unlearned. As we continue on through life, we evolve and grow and change. So too should our memories. They should serve us, not the other way around.
            I am no fool. I understand that it is easier for me to make great claims than it is for some wounded soul to make it through each day, let alone each memory. Life is tragic and more often than not, our past is something we wish to forget. It is no simple matter to just wish it all away. We do not realize that by extinguishing the pain, we also extinguish the joy. Blocking out all the bad things restricts our view of all the good things. By moderating how we react to a specific memory, we find there is no need to abandon it. We can use it as an effective tool in coping.  We can use it to make us better. When your memories are an awful, ugly adversary, befriend them.

 “There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.”
(Great Expectations, Charles Dickens 1860 - 1861)

            Without any doubt, the worst experience of my life was the suicide of my first partner. It does not help that my final encounter with his mortal frame found him frozen. He was, simply put, quite stiff. As I identified his body, I just about went out of my mind. At first, my grief was so intense that I found it almost impossible to function from moment to moment. As I got used to the idea, then came the visions. Almost every time I closed my eyes, I could picture nothing else but his damaged body laying on that slab of metal, his eyes opaque white, fixed on someplace other than there. For months, the experience crippled me.
            You learn to live with a certain kind of pain. It follows you and quite often will just not let you be. It chases you like a shadow. For the longest time, the only way I could survive this horror was to try and shut it out. I attempted to make it all go away. No matter how I tried to flee, I found no reprieve. I could not escape the reality of what had happened to him and what had happened to me. I was haunted by a ghost with its spine cracked in two and a pizza where the back of his head used to be.
            When the torture ends and the pain begins to lessen, you make room for other memories. For years, I refused to embrace the good times I had with Doug because they just brought too much pain. The scars were much too fresh. Eventually, you have to decide whether you want to get under all the grief or get over all the grief. Instead of letting my memories run me down, I trained myself to associate a good memory with that horrific one. Instead of focusing on what had occurred that February night, I started to pay attention to what had been during the time Doug and I spent together. I allowed all the good and the bad and the ugly to flood over me. I let each one find its place.
            Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can see him. He sleeps on, in the very same place he was the time before. I lean in, gently taking his shoulder, and he stirs in the early morning light. I say my farewell and softly kiss his left cheek. He rolls over and once again finds his slumber. I do not realize that I will never see him alive again. I cannot imagine that I will never again know his laugh or his tears or the way he used to make me smile. There are to be no more moments of this state, ever. Within thirty-six hours, he would be gone, never to come back. At least I got to kiss him goodbye.

“A safe but sometimes chilly way of recalling the past is to force open a crammed drawer. If you are searching for anything in particular you don't find it, but something falls out at the back that is often more interesting.”
(Peter Pan,  J.M. Barrie 1902)

            Her cheek was cold and clammy. In that moment, I knew she was gone. I guess I had to see for myself. I stood holding her hand, wishing that things had been different for her. I only ever wanted for her life to be rich and full, but it seems that no one ever really gets what they want. No one ever promised that we get out of this life sentence unscathed, so who would presume to get away scott free? She had only died a few hours before, but I could already feel the void. I could sense all the empty. I knew her death was bound to happen, but I could not believe it had happened so soon. I could not believe that I felt this way again. I wanted her back and I wanted her back now!
            I dealt with the grief brought on by my Mother’s death very differently than I did when Doug died. All those years I spent trying to avoid feeling anything had only left me feeling guilty and ashamed that I had tried to block him out. I had betrayed his memory in trying to save myself. I felt as if I had forgotten him on purpose. I decided that I would not do the same with my Mother’s passing. I let the waves come and they almost carried me away. I allowed every good memory, every bad memory to filter through me like water. All memory, like water, just wants to go back to where it was. Still, it goes where it will and is always trying to level itself. Instead of closing off, I would embrace her memory. I would not allow my human reaction to keep her from me.
            I bought her flowers every week. I placed her pictures all around my home. I gathered together as many of the things I had given her and stored them as if within a temple. I made it my mission to remember my Mom. Every song still made me cry. Every snapshot cut like a knife. At night, I still cried myself to sleep. I still felt the pain, and most certainly, I still missed her so. At times, I was overwhelmed by the grief. Quite often, there was just too much trying to remember it all. I was burning out. I had to focus on something that would help me get through.
            Almost thirty-six hours before she died, I stopped in at my parents’ home for a visit. My Mom was sad, slightly withdrawn and almost defeated. She asked me to move back home for her. I stand by my decision to tell her no. When the time came to leave, I approached from behind her, and reaching over the couch, I told her that I loved her. I gently kissed her left tearstained cheek, then headed out to the car. She stood in the window waving, her red knitted top and ponytail the last glimpses of her being alive. In less than two days, she was gone. At least I got to kiss her goodbye.

“When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” (The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood 1985)

             Just because something goes missing does not necessarily negate its existence. When love is lost, it remains love nevertheless. It simply takes another form. You can foster it, allowing it to shape itself into life lessons or you can abandon it to whimsy and capriciousness. You can own the memory or the memory can own you. When the tactile experiences you have fade, other senses become heightened. Memory can become more real than reality itself. You can sustain memory. You can feel it. It doesn’t ever have to go away. Just because someone dies does not mean your love for them need end. 
            What a person overcomes will determine who they will become. Each hurdle should make us more determined, but for most of us just crossing the start line is more than enough. Sometimes people forget that the first step in moving forward lies in deciding you are no longer willing to stay where you are. Perhaps our fear of hurting explains why we become so stranded. Maybe we are unable to deal with any truth that remembering might reveal. We can view the  past as dim, filled with anguish or horror, and then it becomes like a trap, or we can claim our wonderful joys and beautiful miseries and discover the very things we thought were lost. We should never become so afraid that we stop loving. We should never be so hurt that we forget.
            I find it peculiar that so many of the things we end up remembering went unnoticed as they happened. The smallest details can fixate the mind, playing a small unimportant scene from your past as if it were on the television screen. We prefer these simpler memories. When I think of Doug, or my Mother, I try to find myself in friendly fields where the sun shines and the sky is blue. In my mind I hear their favourite songs. When I close my eyes, I can relive the good things, particularly those last goodbyes that I was so blessed to have with each one. I do not think I could have healed without them. While I am more than happy to have some form of control over the more negative memories which I have stored up and come to terms with, I am not confident that it would do me any good to leave them there. I also need those horrific and emotional bruises to make it through. I would be weak without them. So I remember on my terms. I am the one who defines my memory, it does not define me. It is no surprise to me that sometimes you have to pave over hell to get to heaven.
“The one charm of the past is that it is the past.”
(The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde 1890)






Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Something in the Water

“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.” (Pier Massimo Forni, Professor of Italian  Languages, the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore)

            I have driven a car deep into the downtown core of Detroit. What a frightful experience that turned out to be. Car after car intent on going nowhere, but in such a hurry to do just that. In Los Angeles, I spent a few hours on a Greyhound bus, sitting rather than moving towards Hollywood. In the horde, each vehicle seemed strangled, mired in a heavy sea of robots. All the while each detainee raged for freedom, but with nowhere that they really needed to get to. In New York City, Manhattan, the traffic was so dense that I abandoned my transportation and took to walking. It seemed quicker that way and far less expensive. I left the taxi cab many blocks behind me, trapped like a rodent in some assigned little cage.
            Once a week or so, I have to journey in “mein auto” down the 401 corridor and into the heart of Toronto. For the life of me, I have never seen as many cars and trucks heading towards one place. Deep inside these fibreglass shells are countless faces, faces screaming to get going and to zoom faster and faster still. All these places, and those too many to mention, are congested, strangled and choked off by mechanized ease and urban overpopulation. The commute for each is a descent into some kind of hell. These demons have nothing on the Kitchener-Waterloo beasts that lurk on this road and that road. There is terror that travelling in this area brings.
            Nowhere on God’s green earth have I encountered drivers as bad as those in the city where I live. I swear there must be something in the water. Each trip is a constant reminder that this world is not a friendly place. Like some mass narcissism, each vehicle becomes a weapon, but without radar to guide it and no conscience to restrain it. They tour aimlessly, so sure they are the only one using that way that day. They descend as if they own the road. Locked inside those industrial boxes, they treat their route like a sporting event. Each race car driver always ready and able to speed into the lead and get across the finish line first.     
            The daily drive is a quagmire. It doesn’t matter what highway you take or what side street you venture down, the end result is a swamp of steel. I often find myself steering into the very same puddle of this reason and that rhyme. All that anger and all that hostility tends to suck you in. You can’t help but to explode sometimes. With one fell swoop, you become one of them. When I first learnt to drive in the early 1980s, I don’t recall it being like this. Something has happened to warp common civility, and apparently, all it takes is a set of keys and a tank with some gas in it.  

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” (Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist)

            It is a mere 10 minutes from where I live to the front door of Ben’s employer. Straight up Weber Street and back the same way, it is an unpredictable journey on the best of days. Along that 12 kilometre strip, the world seems to abandon all hope and in turn gives in to chaos. Mere mortals surrender to the dark side. Somehow every single traveller, every single day, manages to get a lobotomy before they leave their driveway. Whether in a beautiful Lexus or a 20 year old jalopy, looks can be deceiving. You cannot take your eyes off the way for a second without another moron deciding that the road belongs to them. It is futile to fight it. It is like that on every street, in every alley and especially on the local highways that were built for efficiency.     
            Quite often, I am overwhelmed. There is nothing worse than an 80 year old driver doing 25 in a 60 or 60 in a 90. If you see someone texting from behind the wheel, I think you should be allowed to turn them over to the cops, sight unseen. People who don’t use their signal indicators should be tarred and feathered. There are many in our quiet little city who assume if you cut out in one direction with no signal that everyone will know what the hell you are doing. It turns out that a turn signal is not made for you to know which way you are going, but for the cars in front and behind you. What’s with people who use their signal only after they almost complete their turn or who cross four lanes of the freeway without a single notification? Erratic, senseless, self-absorbed fools taking chances with their lives so they can get someplace 15 minutes sooner. Selfish, unthinking, inconsiderate tools taking chances with my life so they can smoke before they have to go inside and work for 8 hours. I don’t even have to stray beyond my own building to discover stupidity in a four-door Sedan. 

“We have a choice about how we behave, and that means we have the choice to opt for civility and grace.” (Dwight Currie, American Author)

            She refused to move. I was coming down the final ramp to park the Sunfire when she pulled up in front of me. She stopped dead centre and left me nowhere to go but backwards. It was the most idiotic thing I had seen in years. I sat looking at her, waiting for her to retreat. Soon enough, I realized she had no such intention. There was no way in hell I was going to gear down and reverse up the steep and regularly damaging incline. I was there first, and even so, I had nowhere to safely go. I suppose I could have rammed the shit out of her car, and although I played with that notion, she still refused to adjust her position so that I could pass.  
            I love a loud horn. Nothing pisses off the narcissist more than someone honking at them. I imagine it is like yelling at a know-it-all when they just assume that they are correct. God forbid someone should shatter their rose-coloured glasses. With no other option left to me, I leaned heavy on my steering wheel, then released. When she still would not move, I held it for what seemed like forever. The shrill of it echoed throughout the underground garage. For a moment, I thought that an Asian retard had escaped from tranquility, stealing someone’s transportation in an attempt to finally be free. Perhaps I stood like some mental block, refusing to go away without her taking proper medication and a cookie for snack.    
            At 6 foot tall and 200 pounds, I intimidate a lot of people, especially strangers.  The fact that I normally look like I am ready to punch someone in the face doesn’t hurt, particularly when I am truly angered. I cursed her as I shifted into park, turned off the car and applied the safety brake. I was so furious that I could have smacked the bitch. Almost in sync with me stepping out in front of my vehicle, she floored it in reverse and finally let me go past her. I still can’t make sense of why she would be more afraid of me than a running car, humming in place and ready to proceed. I’ve seen her a few times on the elevator and I wasn’t far off on that retard judgment. I know this may seem rather harsh, but if it looks like a retard and acts like a retard, then that’s exactly what it is.   

"Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none."
(Benjamin Franklin, American polymath)

            Using a car in Kitchener makes me paranoid. Every time I park at the mall, I have to find the most secluded and distant spot from all the other automobiles. Unfortunately, something always comes along to affirm one’s inclinations. I was so far away from the Wal-Mart entrance that I had no idea what I was about to find. Somehow, someone had managed to sideswipe the Sunfire, even though I was parked out in the boondocks. You could tell from the gouge, and the resulting scrapes, that they had not even bothered to look and see if a car was there. They backed into the passenger’s door, right in the middle of no man’s land. For the life of me, I could not locate a note. I am not sure how they did it, but they must have been drunk. I was at least 500 feet from any other vehicle. 
            The brand new Jetta I now drive has not eased my sense of bewilderment and any related psychosis. It has only made me worse. I stand firm that you can trust no one, particularly those behind the wheel. Like in most metropolitan centres, warm weather means construction. I can’t remember any season when the streets in this town were free of complications masquerading as improvements, but that is beside the point. Heading home down Weber Street, the right lane beside me ended slowly with a large flashing arrow at its end. I just assumed it meant get over for everyone. I stayed my course, slowing down with no vehicle in front of me, and went to stop at the red light. Suddenly, as I attempted to pull up to the line, a mid-sized four by four sped up on my right. He pulled out from the construction lane and right in front of me. I suppose he thought that I would just let him in, but I didn’t have the chance. There was little room for him to navigate. As he proceeded, his eight foot long flat bed trailer, attached to his rear, slid over and missed me by mere inches. He continued on like I wasn’t even there so I let him know I most certainly was. I even let out a girlish scream when it appeared he was about to clash with the side of my new car. I laid on my horn.  When he reached out his window, giving me the finger, I did so again then again and then again. I was pissed! 
            Almost methodically, he opened his door and stepped out on to the road. I had no idea it was okay to park in the middle of the street at a red light. As he walked towards me, I powered down my window and readied myself for anything. After a few distant catcalls, he finally managed to get his asshole to the front side of my car. He stopped like he had seen a ghost. His tirade went on pause and I went on his dignity. You could tell he had not expected someone like me to be behind the wheel. He seemed dumbfounded as I ripped him another orifice. It was clear I would not need to get out of the car since he began slowly inching his way back towards his truck. He was a little man, despite his tall frame. Had he just turned sideways, he might well have disappeared. Well prepared to stand up and fight, I watched him slither back into the overcompensation that he came in. When the light turned green, I honked again for good measure.

"When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency." (Samuel Johnson, English writer )

            I am sure that most people, at one time or another, lament as I have about drivers in their city or town and the dimwitted nature that seems to come with them. I am not alone in my frustration, that much is very clear. It is either this or that for all of us. In the end, it would appear that road rage is an inconvenient trap. The behaviour which we despise so much in others serves to bring out the very same conduct in us. Watch out for the monster you fight, lest you become one yourself. Sometimes I forget that if there is something in the water, I have been drinking it too.
            It appears that in these modern times, once you sit behind the wheel, civility is lost on the best us. The longer you stay there, the worse you get. It all comes down to perspective. The very things we hate in other people, we fail to see in ourselves. The truth is that we have all been corrupted. We lack consideration. Kindness, politeness and tolerance have been sacrificed, en masse, to selfishness and the inability to see past ourselves. We no longer treat each other the way we wish to be treated. While we have a choice to rise above and respond with understanding, we do not. Then again, it’s a difficult thing to not get angry when someone puts their schedule ahead of your safety.

“When the healthy pursuit of self-interest and self-realization turns into self-absorption, other people can lose their intrinsic value in our eyes and become mere means to the fulfillment of our needs and desires.” (The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, Pier Massimo Forni)