A'Croaking We Shall Go
by Fred Reed:
Why the Romnibus Wasn't the Omnibus
When I ponder
such lodestones of faith as Jesus, the 4K background radiation,
and the Seventh Orisha, their explanations of existence fall short
of the satisfactory. They do not convince. No matter what they say,
the truth is that we do not know where we are, where we came from,
why we are here, what we should do, if anything, or where we are
going, if anywhere. This is profoundly unsettling. Consequently
we either invent comforting answers to these questions, or else
assiduously ignore them. Through the ages peoples have usually taken
the first approach. Moderns take the second.
inventions have been many and varied. There were the childlike and
promiscuous gods of the Greeks, the horrid and bloodthirsty Aztec
deities, the endlessly disagreeable Yahweh, and the weirdly complex
divinities of the Hindus. I think the Greeks had the best of it.
Better to drink up and get laid with Bacchus and Pan than tear the
hearts out of prisoners in Mexico. But maybe thats just me.
the gods in distant times and a different world. They do not fit
todays circumstances. The Bible in particular seems most easily
believed when least read. The Old Testament is a ramshackle pastiche
of tribal barbarity, immorality, treachery, and murder; the New,
a syncretistic mishmash assembled after the facts. Though occasionally
saved from tedious unreadability by the King James English, the
Bible is far inferior both as literature and as philosophy to the
The world has
changed since the religions arose. In the times of the Greeks, man
was small upon the earth, the land wild, unknown, forbidding, stars
bright in a sky that seemed to hang near, the winds howling at all
hours. Men were then no more fools than we are, but how must the
moon have seemed, huge and bright over vast forests when it was
not known to be a ball of rock, or a lightning storm before the
terrifying flashes were explained away as electric sparks?
the Moon, was much closer. Children died in infancy perhaps as often
as they lived. Life spans were short. People saw death at first
hand, speculated about it and often believed their speculations.
Spirits walked abroad then and mysterious forces ruled life.
perhaps, but permitting meaning and a sense of something larger
than our sorry selves. Now we have only our sorry selves. We have
been made cogs in an enormous and pointless wheel. This began about
1650 when Newton reduced the world to pure mechanism, no gods need
apply. Darwin and his myrmidons did similarly with life, explaining
it in terms reducible to chemistry. Marx did much the same with
economic behavior, and Freud with the mind. Everything was the mechanistic
result of what had come before. There was no room for gods, or free
will, or magic, or the obvious question, Is this all there
Or for death,
which became something one never mentioned. This does not seem to
have made it go away. Yes, you could say that grandmother had died,
but you could not wonder in polite company what that meant. She
was gone not gone anywhere, just gone.
This is quite
strange. Since everyone dies, and life is a brief passage through
what? one might expect death to be of interest. But
no. Try talking of such things at a cocktail party and see whether
you are invited again.
But when people
refuse to believe in answers, however specious, they must at least
have evasions. Thus the modern creation myth which has no gods and
ignores death. We come from nowhere, have no reason for being here,
and go nowhere. The Big Bang, if such there was, threw out vast
numbers of subatomic particles which swirled about and, whoops,
accidentally formed Manhattan. Life became what it is through biochemical
inadvertence. We are just here, pointlessly.
there is a vague notion that a beneficent evolution moves us ineluctably
toward ever higher intelligence and understanding, though in fact
evolutionary theory does not say this evolution has no direction
and science promises only an eventual dull entropic boredom
but the onward-and-upward popular belief appears to satisfy the
need for an overarching explanation of everything.
The Big Bang
of course is susceptible to the four-year-olds inevitable
question, Mommy, where did God come from? (Well,
the Big Bang
its, you know, like science or something,
and the scientists know all about it. Except they dont.)
And since the brain is an electrochemical mechanism, all of what
we imagine to be thoughts are predetermined by the prior states
of the mechanism. All creation myths fail if examined, so we dont
And of course
our rigorous materialism leaves no room for Good and Evil, or even
kindness and decency. Why should I not torture old women to death?
From an evolutionists point of view they are beyond reproduction
and constitute an evolutionary burden on the rest. A materialist
must concede that burning an aged woman at the stake is merely the
substitution of certain chemical reactions for others. Of course
no scientist not actually mad could react to such burnings except
with horror. Neither could he give a scientific reason for his horror.
perhaps most religions, have posited a moral order in the universe,
usually as being more important than the physical order. That is,
those who were kind, honest, and good would go to a heaven of some
sort upon death, and the wicked would take it in the neck. Many
Christians have managed to persuade themselves in spite of all evidence
that the world is overseen by a loving god of justice, no sparrow
shall fall, misfortune is deserved punishment for our sins, and
of our curious world shows no signs either of a loving god or of
a moral order. The only faint flickerings of decency in the cosmos
seem to come not from gods real or imagined but from people. Most
of life, all life, is characterized by undeserved suffering
a deer being torn down by wolves and agonizingly eaten while not
yet dead, millions of parasite-ridden children dying of starvation
every year, babies born with hideous birth defects (presumably in
punishment for sins committed in the womb). This is not heartening.
And still we
know not who we are, or what, or why, or whence, or whither, or
when. Better not to think about it. Prices on the iPhone 5 are falling
I have always
thought (predeterminedly) the Cogito ergo sum of Descartes
less profound that Bierces Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum.
Cogito. I think I think, therefore I think I am. I think.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au
Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet
Nam, and A
Grand Adventure: Wisdom's Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about
Mexico. Visit his
© 2012 Fred Reed
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