Thursday, July 23, 2009

Profound Trivialities-

I was responding to a blog the other day, and had occasion to relate something as to how this particular philosopher developed. I related to my youthful atheism, the transition to agnosticism, and my eventual conversion to Christianity.

Somehow, thinking on this I am reminded of the time I pointed out to a friend that our being together at that moment was the culmination of all of History. Yep. All of the events, great or small, that preceded our existence at that place and that time were represented in that moment. Us, together, talking about profound trivialities.

The atheism of my youth was largely a response to the apparent disorder of the world in which I lived, the presence of evil in the world, and an angst that was probably hormonal in nature. It was also partially ego driven. I felt cool declaring myself to be an atheist.

My agnosticism that followed was more thoughtful. I realized that the scope and potential of my human knowledge did not allow for an intellectual base large enough to declare God as non-existent. This occurred at a time in my youth when I was becoming profoundly aware of the scope of my ignorance. I perceived myself as a speck of dust on a speck of dust, and declaring the non-being of God was tragically egotistical.

Over the next several years I recognized that starting from the presupposition of a profound ignorance I tended to think on things with fewer biases and to be open to more ideas. I also embraced the concept of tentative belief as the starting point of any investigation.

That was, of course, during such times as I was actively thinking and building a world view. Keep in mind that I was young and often driven by my hormones and lurching maturation rather than careful thought.

For a time I thought Science would provide the avenue for expansion and exploration. It indeed was a realm of great interest, and some of the disciplines of thought rubbed off as I dabbled. However, I saw scientific study as an ever narrowing focus in which the scientist learned more and more about less and less. To exhaust the narrowest speciality in any given field of science was an impossible task.

Study was endless, but life is short. Throw in the threat of being drafted and sent to Viet Nam as an agent of our great nation and a sense of mortality grew deep and morbid. I responded by dabbling in sensuality but was not really cut out for it. Always I returned to the life of the mind.

It was the Age of Aquarius, and I was caught up in the wave of mysticism. I contemplated learning from the major religions by practicing each one for a time. As I explored the scope of my intended project I was often overwhelmed. So much to learn and do, and so little time.

I explored Hinduism first, cobbling my own mystical adventure as I sought knowledge. I might have sought formal guidance, but I joined the Army in hopes of avoiding Viet Nam. I reasoned that nuclear weapons were not deployed in active war zones, and so sought training in that field. My course was altered, however, by my inability to focus on the required training and my own inner explorations at the same time.

Failing my training in the maintenance of nuclear weapons I was sent to the Quartermaster corps, and became a Army supply specialist. That time of training in supply management was transitional. I was brought into constant contact with the first Christian I had ever met who was wholly committed to his faith.

His faith was intriguing. I reconsidered my course of exploration, and decided to explore Christianity next. I decided to believe in this Christian's God, and in this Jesus who somehow saved me from sin. I did not really know much about sin and salvation, but I embraced the things I learned as if I did believe.

Over a matter of weeks I did believe, and I began to grow in the faith I had adopted. My path took me through several of the many sub-sets of that which is Christian, and my own beliefs took form as a consequence of the experiences.

So it went for many years. I have held many jobs, been married for over three decades, raised three children to adulthood, and assumed my greatest title in that time. The whole course of my personal history, which was a consequence of all of history before my time, made me a grandfather. The title "Papa" is my greatest achievement.

Trivial. Everyone has a grandfather or two. Profound. No other experience is like loving and being loved by grandchildren. It is a mystery beyond mere knowledge, the confirmation of magic in the Universe.

I have no hope of knowing all I long to know. My mortal life is too short, and my resources are too few. However, I have hope of knowing what is best. I have walked dark paths, and seen the face of evil more than once. They are nothing compared to the light of love my grandchildren have shown me. That love is but a glimmer of the love that my God has for me.

How do I know? That is the mystery, and the mysticism. As I have only recently come to understand, my agnosticism has shaped me as much as my faith. I still love knowledge and learning, and embrace the experiences that give me both. Knowing and believing is only part of the experience. Greater, by far, is the mystery.

What, then, beyond this life? Yes. What then?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Death Penalty-

Over time I have reconsidered my support for the death penalty. Perhaps some is the consequence of the changed perspective of many years of living. A great deal is the consequence of working many years in a county jail.

I have learned something of what life in prison is like. Even in our relatively humane modern prisons life is difficult and brutish. It is no favor to the guilty to sentence them to a life in prison, especially without prospect of parole.

With that in mind, the appetite for vengeance that drives the passion for the death penalty for many people can be satisfied with the knowledge that it is not a pleasant life to which the guilty are assigned.

Additionally, by sentencing a person to a life in prison it does remain possible to reverse the sentence should additional evidence vindicate a sentence server. That simply cannot be done in the case of an execution. On this point the opponents to the death penalty are right, no matter what their actual motive for that opposition.

From a cost only perspective a quick execution of those found guilty of murder would be a savings. However, few executions soon follow a sentence, and death row inmates are expensive to hold. Calculating a break even point in the cost of a life sentence as opposed to a death sentence might prove difficult.

I don't have the data, but the rough figures I have seen in the past indicate that the greater expense of death row housing over the protracted periods inmates reside in such housing hint at a probable savings in an alternative a life sentence.

While working in jail I have transferred a lot of young people to prison. Some I have transferred repeatedly. As the inmates aged they tended to get longer sentences. I don't recall seeing any of these repeat offenders come back after reaching the age of forty five or so.

Are they dying in prison? It would seem so. Many become diseased due to chronic abuse of drugs, alcohol, and dangerous sexual practices. Many practice violence in their youth that eventually comes back upon them as they are sentenced to long terms later in life. The probability of a long life is not high in prison.

I shall not be joining any protests of the death penalty. I shall not strive to halt any particular executions. I shall support elimination of the death penalty as a voter. I will probably not consider the position of a candidate on the death penalty as critical with regard to my support and my vote.

I am reminded of one inmate I transferred to prison. He had three consecutive life sentences. I was confident he would serve the first one. I doubted he would make it through the other two.

Death was too good for him.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Sell You Fish!

Years ago I had a friend and co-worker who was from England. He was an older gentleman, a working class fellow with working class values. He would, from time to time, relate stories from his past.

This is one of them.

The Second World War was raging as he came of age. Barely of age. He joined the British Navy at the age of seventeen, and spent some time in the North Sea and the English Channel. He was engaged in the D-Day assault, and support work after that significant day.

During one of those support cruises his ship was taking on supplies off of the coast of France. A French fisherman was selling his catch to the English liberators.

One sailor quipped, "I bet you are glad to see us."

The fisherman continued to unload his catch. As he did so, he said "When the Germans were here I sold them fish. Now you are here. I sell you fish!"

I could visualize this practical man who drew his living from the sea. Before the German occupation of France he sold his fish to the French. With the German occupation he sold his fish to the Germans. With the liberation he sold his fish to the English.

His life probably did not change much over the course of the war. His life was well ordered, though probably far from easy. He knew how to fish. Fish provided food, and procured the other things he needed in his simple life. He may have been contemplative, a deep thinker as well as deep fisher.

By his answer I would think he was probably not.

I certainly find appealing the idea of a life unaffected by the social and political winds. I just don't see our country falling to an outside foe. We still have too much power for that. I do see the possibility of us falling to economic changes, and some inward upheaval which will redefine the United States of America as something else.

Could I ride out such a shift? Could I sell my "fish" to whomever comes seeking them?

In thinking about this, I realize how bound I am to the existing way of life. I have vesture in a government pension, one for which I have worked and upon which my later life shall largely depend. I am not yet old but I am far from young. To be compelled by world events to start over is a rather unpleasant and overwhelming prospect.

It is unlikely that I shall ever be tested in this. Thinking about it, however, does emphasize just how dependent I am on the system as it is. I may long for change in that system, but I can no longer comfortably harbor thoughts of radical change.

Thinking about this old story, one I heard years ago, has compelled me to think a bit more about myself.

Perhaps I need to go fishing.