Lucifer Jones

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I have been unable to sleep lately. For one thing I've been staying up late and waking up later and extending a cycle of madness. For another I just got rid of a bad tooth after a weekend of suffering. So in a bold attempt to get some sleep, I decided to put on the most boring podcast I could think of. I made a mistake and put on Will Durant.

Will Durant is one of those names from my childhood that used to arise whenever people asked who was the smartest man in the world. Aside from the typical answer of Einstein, people used to say it was Bertrand Russell who was such a super-genius that took a genius to appreciate him. It seemed that only Will Durant was smart enough to understand Russell, whereas once the bomb was built anybody could steal the blueprints. But I've already talked about information thermodynamics...

So I put on the podcast and this time, unlike the last time I had insomnia, I actually absorbed a bit of it. And so decided to play it during the daytime as well. So now I know what the big deal about Spinoza is, and I am happy to say that I have found in Spinoza's remarks, precisely some of the same troubles I've had with lesser forms of Christianity.

I'll boil it down thusly. If you are like me, then you simply refuse to gamble that there is no possibility for the existence of God. To put it simply God's mind is the Universe. God's law is physics. God's name is Pi. Or maybe e. Or better yet, e to the power of pi. People struggle mightily to understand the universe, and the lazy people think such knowledge will be Revealed, in the meantime industrious people are figuring it out. It's not wrong to have faith, but the real value of faith is not found in its ability to explain the working of the world. Spinoza recognizes as do I, the false dichotomy between the natural world and God's miracles and explains religious dogma as the dumbed down version of communicating the nature of things to lazy or otherwise non-brilliant people. If God created everything, why would he need to suspend the rules of nature in order to make himself known? 'He' doesn't and he wouldn't. It's just superstition maintained for the interventions of religion. Something lazy thinkers need to believe.

There are a great number of other quotations I have forgotten, but that one is a stunner I have long believed myself, without of course, the ability to put it concisely before my encounter with Spinoza.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Haps

Thanksgiving is one of those days that is very telling in that it's also the one holiday that nobody can do for you. I have found that you really can't wish people a happy Thanksgiving, they either have something to be thankful for, know it and are given comfort by that or they don't. Every Thanksgiving wish is therefore a dual-edged sword, because you can't really evade the fact that there is nothing else to do but look to your family and assess what life has brought you.

Christmas has been externalized to fit every different shape. You can objectify it and get through it without having to deal with its deeper implications. If you're Jewish, you probably have a tradition of eating Chinese food. If you're an atheist, or a materialist you can do the unreformed or reformed Scrooge act according to your mood without bothering to think about Christ in the Spirit of Christmas(tm). If you're a harried parent, you can get caught up in the busy work of it while getting more or less satisfaction depending on your budget and mall traffic. New Years Day, you can get your kiss at midnight and party like it's 1999, or just watch the ball drop eating cheetos in a bean bag chair in your underwear. It gets easier now that Dick Clark has finally become the ghoul he has avoided appearing in the prior century. On the Fourth of July, you don't have to call it Independence Day. On Memorial Day and Veteran's Day you're not expected to *do* anything but take the day off. They've changed President's Day and MLK to fit the schedules of ski venues, and the white sales of JC Penney. But while Black Friday gets more and more like Wall Street's triple witching hour, Thanksgiving still has that unavoidable weight and presence. You *have* to think about giving thanks and family. There's not much else you can do except be with your intimates and deal with the your measure of gratitude.

Dennis Prager and I share a definition of happiness in that we recognize that it cannot be faked. Happiness is the end result of accomplishment. It is in a three legged stool with gratitude and goodness. You cannot be happy if you are not grateful. You cannot be happy if you are not good. These are two qualities that I cannot wish for you or grant you. They are things you must accomplish for yourself. So in that way, I cannot really wish you a happy Thanksgiving, if you are not grateful and good, then you won't have happiness on this or any other day. While you might be able to fake some cheer on the other holidays, and there is something to be said for having that positive attitude because at least you are spreading cheer, Thanksgiving makes you think seriously about what you have to be happy about.

All that sounds like an elaborate excuse for me to be stingy with my holiday greetings, and to be honest, that's how I started off. I mean I just wrote about North Korea and Neil Farage, two rather in your face bad news subjects. So I said, well so many people are wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, oh crap I better write something. But what am I doing, and why is my Thanksgiving going to be happy no matter what people say? Aha. Happiness.

There are not happiness chicklets dropping from heaven in my happy Thanksgiving so much as there are happenings in my life that are more or less under control that are contributing to my sense of accomplishment. Some fraction of those efforts are bearing fruit and I am grateful for that. So I will be happy, and now is the time to recognize. Every day should be the time, but today is the day to speak up and share that recognition and that means recognizing how the people around you have contributed to that sense of achievement and real accomplishment. Our better selves know this and live in the moment, recognizing real accomplishments as they happen, championing them along their curve to success and anticipating that success by spreading cheer before the fact.

So the haps are good. I'm learning again. I'm enjoying good health, although I really need to check a few things. I'm finding ways to stay home and stay here as my kids finish high school - the most important matter of all. I'm finding satisfaction in simple things.

I'm grateful for the attention I get here and for the opportunity to share. I'm grateful that my car didn't break before I paid it off (fingers crossed, one more payment on the Transporter). I'm grateful for the backup on my files, and that I have a record of my children's early lives. I'm grateful for the good things people see in me - that I've been able to turn my obsessions into knowledge and work and that work has helped others accomplish what they desire to. I'm grateful for all of my baseball caps sitting over in that box. I'm grateful that I can afford my electric bill and that nobody has come over to my house to steal the things that use all those kilowatts. I'm grateful that my children are mine, that I possess them and that they possess me. I'm grateful for my wife, for that woman who was patient with me and that we made it work 22 years now. I'm grateful for the teachers who work hard to discipline this community's children. I'm grateful for the gifts of the intellectually generous, and for the spirit of people whose faith in humanity encourages us all. I'm grateful for my cultural inheritance - that I have music to hum to over a dinner whose ingredients we all know, speak it in a word.

I know in every way how I have worked to make all of those things work - that I have no right to it, but that I made efforts that might not be fruitful to attract those virtuous blessings towards me and mine. It's all a part of something we all control and I know that. We do for us. We've done pretty well. So I believe we all have something accomplished. So I just ask you to look at what your work has done.

I'm going to say something else here that I have come to understand, I think. It would be easy, and I almost did it on reflex to say 'All things work together for good for those who love the Lord'. That trips off the tongue a bit too easily. My Christian education helps me understand a great deal, but I also know that I cannot impart that education on others. If I could only speak English then I would never speak anything else. If I could only understand Christian ethics then I would speak only in that dialect. But I am beginning to know things beyond that and with any luck will be able to communicate beyond that argot. So I call attention to the spirit of God in every man even to men who do not see it as God's grace or doing. In doing so I am aiming to be consistent to the ends of faith and reason and the laws of the universe, all as one, all that is seen and unseen. All ends of proper faith and proper reason are the same.

And that's what's happening today. I wish you the peace you require.