Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Friday, January 30, 2009


Cynics say faith and religion
try to explain away the world's
chaos and mystery.
Sometimes it's the opposite:

They try to explain all the things we KNOW,
though we see no reason in this universe
why we SHOULD know.

A cynic is one who cannot face
how much he knows,
for it is mysterious to him that one can know --

and threatening,because he has done much
that he does not want to know,
nor know that it can be known.

Cynicism, then, is an attempt to explain away
what, despite the world's chaos, we know.
Why SHOULD there be a reason in this universe
for our knowing? Why should we expect
the playground to teach us the game we play?

Some religion is pretended knowledge.
Some religion is refusal to know.
Some religion is an excuse for knowing --
an apology to the physical universe
for patronizing a competitor.

Cynicism is embarrassment about knowing.

If you know and know that you know,
you can dispense with both excuses
and embarrassment.

The poem above suggests that faith can be many things, and that it is a vast oversimplification to label all faith a crutch, a way to avoid the so-called truths (the "nitty gritty" ones). There is a kind of faith that amounts to integrity, a willingness to recognize one's own knowledge. And most cynicism, I think, amounts to an inverted crutch (must be uncomfortable to rest one's arm pits on the small end).

After all, certain things associated with faith are far from comfortable for most people. For example, if we're immortal beings, what will we do with eternity? Even visions of harps and angels suggest ultimate boredom. And if blame and shame do not end with death, how will we bear those burdens?

Isn't it comfortable to think that we will not have to experience that ordeals we've left to our descendants (possibly nuclear wars, certainly huge indebtedness, perhaps a Brave New Medicated World, etc.)? Isn't it uncomfortable to think that we don't get out of it that easy? That we may be our descendants?

Which is the crutch and which is the obvious? I think the cynical ones know damned well that they've been around longer than one lifetime. Or at least they did as children, before they erected stone walls of arguments and evasions. Why else would they dodge so clumsily? For example, if you say that we are each immortal beings, the cynic will say that that's silly, because we all know that bodies die, an odd non-sequitur. I think the cynic hopes for an end, all debts paid forever, no need ever to take responsibility for past actions. And, as the poem says, I think the cynic proclaims the impossibility of knowing certain things because the cynic hopes never to be known by others.

Of course, some forms of religiosity are refinements of cynicism--of failed cynicism, a cynic covering his ass, just in case, or putting more impenetrable walls between himself and knowing or being known.Skepticism is a different critter. What one knows can and should be tested. But tested against what? What experts say? What "everybody knows"? Actually, I think there are better tests. For example, the day (age 12) when I, drug free, looking up through birch and tall pines at woolly summer clouds, found myself far above my body, filling up the sky, I knew something. Here's a poem I wrote about that:

Growing Pains

At a distance from the bustling cookout fire,
I, twelve, awkward, unpopular,
lay back on my jacket on pine needles
to look up through branches
along tapered birch-laced pines,
rising so swiftly I found myself

suddenly alone in the sky, filled up
with millions of minute rustlings of leaf, needle
and branch, each defining with each movement
new planes of perspective,

bending, supple as wind, to touch
the curvature of clouds. My body
tiny, but I am huge, overflowing
myself, floating there...

when a kid threw sand in my face!
I wept, turned away from him, hid my face.

Wait! Retake! Close-up! Slow motion!

Yes, floating there, I looked down
at the other small bodies scuttling
about the camp-fire and thought: They
could never understand THIS--
and had started to think: THAT thought
doesn't belong to the sky--

when a kid threw sand in a body's face--mine.
Anger and self-pity whooshed out like air
from a punctured balloon, as I was swallowed upb
y my growing body.

Turning from myself, I felt myself,
watching me, weep a few bitter tears
at my silly smallness,
floating there.

But whether that's "evidence" or can be communicated to others is another subject. What I will say is that at that time I not only knew something, but knew that I knew it. Later I learned of ways others could experience something similar (with considerable predictability--and without drugs or hypnosis). Obviously anyone else's reasoning about how such a thing cannot be or cannot be known will not impinge upon my certainty of my own experience. Unless I'm so suggestible that I can be persuaded that a hot stove is cold because someone has placed a label on it saying "COLD."

But what I mainly look at is workability: Does supposed knowledge, treated as knowledge, open my life up or close it down? Do I become a more able or a less able person, brighter or stupider, better able to align data and resolve confusions or less able, more useful to others or less useful, etc.?

But this, too is another subject, not the point of the poem. My poem is subtler than I am, and doesn't seek to insist on any particular knowledge, but merely to suggest that if there is any to be obtained, it will not be obtained via cynicism. It is true, I think, that some forms of faith (for example, acceptance of dogma with no willingness to relate it to one's own experience) are obstacles to knowing. It is also true, I think, that cynicism is a barrier to knowing. Both are vested interests, based on fear.

No comments: