Un-shunned, But Out

Several people suggested that my experience with religion may have moved me to embrace atheism. I don’t deny the experience. But, religion was not responsible for my conclusion that no gods exist.

I was born not knowing. Somebody told me there was a god and I trusted they knew what they were talking about. As a child, I ‘believed’ in god because I believed who told me. For shorter periods of time I also believed in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. I was also convinced monsters existed even though no one told me they did. I never saw a god, Santa, or the tooth fairy. I was sure I saw the monsters, and some lived under my bed.

I was initially told that all these entities existed except for the monsters, but they were the only ones I reacted to and lost sleep over.

I was emphatically told by my parents that there were no monsters and no ghosts. I was agnostic about the ghosts, having seen Casper cartoons. But no monsters? Bull shit! I knew what I saw was real! I began to have doubts about parental honesty.

Eventually, I unwillingly figured out the deal with Santa and the tooth fairy. I also gave up on the monsters, or perhaps they tired of me. Maybe the tooth fairy turned them into dust bunnies.

I figured out the god thingy last, around age fourteen. I was never dumb enough to tell anyone, even friends, that I no longer was buying the eternal life package. My father was the type of Irish-Catholic coal miner who would have attempted to pound belief into me. Besides, the religion thing worked to my social advantage. I often wonder how many of us practice religion for some social advantage or for financial gain, but don’t buy it either.

When my Catholic parish learned that I was an active participant in the protestant Episcopal church down the street, it pissed them off. That pleased me. If I could in some way return the ‘love,’ my parish seemed to have toward me, I was all for that.

Not so much with my parents, who were more upset. Those poor folks had a real shit-head difficult lad to raise, so church was the least of their concerns. Yet, I heard my mother say, “It may not be Catholic, but at least he has a religion.” I did not. But, if she was accepting, I wasn’t going to change it.

The church down the street was a playground of youthful debauchery. I was one of several Catholic teens (boys and girls) who participated in their youth group. My motivation for participation was likely untoward and had nothing to do with religion or god. That was then.

Now, my overall philosophy is a moving target that even I find difficult to corral and define. So, I stole this idea of a three-legged stool from somewhere. One of the legs of the stool is god, which is why the damn thing keeps falling over. Any god or gods get to share one leg and no more. The leg is there, but it’s symbolic. You could call it atheism, but not exactly.

Religion, which I define as the rules regarding humans dealing with gods, is the second leg of the stool. Religion and god relate but are not the same. The religion leg casts an unfavorable shadow upon the god leg. As splintered and twisted as it is, religion exists.

While the non-existence of god is almost a neutral, unemotional, changeable conclusion that came to me from thoughts; my vehement enmity toward all religion, especially the known ‘organized’ faiths, is unwavering and continues to grow as I age and reflect upon what I see and know. If god were to appear before me right now and provide enough proof to roll any skeptic, I would morph to belief in a New York minute, but I would continue to detest religion.

This is where my atheism gets confused with my religious experience. My bitter feelings about religion stem from experience and knowledge. While I am accepting of religious folks and I extend kindness to most believers (and they to me), what they believe I tolerate but don’t respect.

Religious mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with whether any gods exist. Yet, I remain open to the tiniest of possibilities that something may change my mind. However, throughout history, nothing has ever happened to any human that would convince me otherwise.

What most people seem to believe about god and how to relate or interact with that god is manmade. However, religion has a lot to do with how people act toward each other. Call it morality. Theoretically, that should be good. Historically and practically, it has been otherwise.

The third leg is my spiritual philosophy, which is influenced by the other two legs (no-gods exist, and bad religion). The three legs support the seat, which is my overall philosophy (of life, my world view, reason for…whatever). The analogy isn’t perfect but it works for now.

In a debate Rev Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens once struggled to find disagreement because Sharpton kept trying to debate the existence of god (which he admitted he couldn’t prove) while Hitch pointed to problems with scripture, evil, and religion (Hitch admitted he couldn’t prove the non-existence of god). Two separate topics that influence the third philosophical leg of my metaphorical stool.

Atheism is not a religion, a belief system, a philosophy, or anything other than an acceptance of one’s opinion that god might not exist, or probably doesn’t. Atheists have divergent views as do most human groups. Some atheists are nihilist. Most are not. A few atheists go to church. Most do not. Some atheists make room for unscientific things in their opinions and how they live. Others claim that such opinions are not those of true atheists.

It can be confusing. But can’t the same be said of believers? Since I was a child, I was told that TV preachers were nonsense. I still think so. Many believers agree with me. Many believers reject the idea of a virgin birth, others call that heresy. I could go on about divergent religious beliefs, even within a specific religion such as Roman Catholic, Shiite Muslim, or Mahayana Buddhist. Dare I add Southern Baptist or Mormon? But that’s not my point.

While many atheists say that reading scripture will lead to disbelief, I contend that not believing in god is a rational decision not based on religion, dogma, or scripture, even though any of that will support atheism once the no-gods conclusion is reached.

While I claim to be rationally atheist for logical reasons, I think I’m also intrinsically incapable of believing in god without very concrete proof. No religion or religious person; priest, pedophile, or persecutor drove me away from believing in god. I tried to believe. I just couldn’t. Now, I openly don’t. I’m as pleased with that as believers are who foresee their blissful eternity simply because they believe and nothing more. I’m okay with that.

Look both ways in life. Learn from the past. Plan for the future.
Mind the gaps for denial and confusion.

This Paradox of Love – A book

I’m reading The Paradox of Love by Pascal Bruckner (translated by Steven Rendall). I’m not finished, but I want to post a few quotes from the book. It is interesting, well written, and the translation is solid. I’m reading it as research for writing more about the paradox of love as a topic.

Bruckner’s take on how we got from where our ancestors were to where we are with male-female relationships is informative. I should have known. His commentary on, and experience with, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s is interesting (Bruckner is French), but not one I shared.

“Sexual liberation became the most common way of getting in contact with the extraordinary; every morning we reinvented our lives….”

For those of us who may recall some of that time, he asks, “What put an end to this euphoria?” He explains, “We knew only one season in life: eternal youth. Life played a terrible trick on us: we got old.”

He has much more to say; quotes from the book follow.

Regarding the concept of free love, he asks, “How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?”

Here’s more. These are taken from the introduction:

“Our freedom in love was won in battle at a price that remains to be determined. (Someday the “black book” of the 1960s will have to be written.) Freedom does not release us from responsibilities but instead increases them…It resolves problems less than it multiplies paradoxes…This burden explains in part why contemporary romances are so hard.”

“A paradoxical result: we now ask everything from love; we ask too much of it; we ask that it ravish, ravage, and redeem us…Christianity’s invention of the God of love has made the virtue of love the cardinal value of life…By liberating itself, it reveals itself for what it is, in its flashes of brilliance and in its pettiness: noble and base at the same time.”

Bruckner quotes from Les aventures de Télémaque, by Fénelon, an early 18th Century French novel, “love alone is more to be feared than all shipwrecks.” I like the quote. However, in the world today, it’s blatantly false.

The paradox I promote is that today we would rather suffer the potential pains of love, than to not experience love. And, we seem to keep going back for more. This may seem crazy, but it’s the eventual norm.

I like the chapter title: “Salvation through Orgasm.” I am quoting way out of context here, but along with equating the Aurora Borealis as nothing other than a cosmic orgasm, he says this “…like grace for the Calvinists, the orgasm is the narrow gate to redemption.” You always knew that, right?

Try this: “Depending on whether or not you have an orgasm, the Earth will slip into harmony or into discord: Fourier had already drawn an analogy between human copulation and that of the planets, and saw in the Milky Way an immense deposit of luminous semen. If humans made love more enthusiastically, they would give birth to a multitude of galaxies that would illuminate the planet a giorno [roughly, everywhere] and would solve the lighting problem at small expense.”

I shall never see the night sky in quite the same way again.

A few more like that before moving on: “An erection is an insurrection, the body in emotional turmoil…desire is profoundly moral…Coitus is simultaneously a rebellion against society and the culmination of human nature.”

Ok, enough blushing stuff. Bruckner is right in that it would be an obvious dodge to discuss love between men and woman with no reference to sex. Blame Pascal or the translator, I am only quoting. And cherry-picking.

Here is something that I consider more useful: “…but there comes a time when we have to take the risk of a relationship to the other that will upset our expectations and free us from the dreary conversation with ourselves. Independence is not the last word for people—that is what we are told by the love that has a blind faith in the other: that is why the worst misfortune on earth is the death of the few people who are dear to us and without whom life no longer has meaning or savor.”

And this, “If there is a modern dream (old as the hills but widely shared today), it consists entirely in the twofold aspiration: to enjoy symbiosis with the other while at the same time remaining master of one’s own life.” A dream indeed. Don’t we give up something of ourselves in every relationship?

I agree with, “Love is an experience we don’t want to forego, on the condition that it not deprive us of any other experience.” People in relationships with extremely controlling others might have something to say about this. I would argue that some of us are often willing to be deprived to a degree, perhaps even to submit to a more dominant and demanding love – even a forbidden love.

Regarding the conflict of the old ways of love with new: “Whether we like it or not, to fall in love is to slip back into an ancient, magical humus, to revive childhood fears, excessive hopes, and a mixture of servitude and cruelty. Without this permanence, how could we still read The Princess of Cleves, Liaisons of dangereuses, The Sufferings of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Cousin Bette, Madame Bovary, or In Search of Lost Time?

And I like, “Moderns are stupefied to find that love is not always lovable, that it does not coincide with justice or equality, that it is a feudal, antidemocratic passion.”

That much is from only the Introduction and Chapter One. There is much more. I’m over my personal word limit. So, I’ll close with a quote from the beginning of Chapter 4, “The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love.”

This Bruckner quoted from the website Viedemer-de.fr, 2008:

Today, I received two text messages from my girlfriend. The first to tell me that it was all over, the second to tell me that she had sent the message to the wrong address.

As you look both ways in life, mind the gaps.
But love! Crash and burn.
Then get up and love again. Feel the paradox.

Words: Synchronicity

synchronicity-3

I like words – some more than others, but I enjoy all words. I may not use some words often because we communicate with other people using words. When someone doesn’t know the meaning, or has a misunderstanding, stuff can get weird. I also wouldn’t want to be thought of as being too hoity-toity.

I confess to owning and reading dictionaries while hidden in the closet. Books about troublesome words written by Bill Bryson entertain my curiosity, as has everything else he’s written.

I blame my aunt Lorry for the freaky word-love thing. She’d send me the word of the day from the Washington, D.C. newspaper, along with cutouts of Dennis The Menace cartoons. When I was nine or ten, I didn’t care as much as I do now. Thanks, Lorry.

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Synchronicity is polite. While I much prefer saying shit happens or it is what it is, those are not accurate definitions or even quite synonymous. My online dictionary says it’s “a simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.” We can use the word like that, but it’s an even deeper theory proposed by Carl Jung in the 1920s. One of Jung’s definitions was “the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events.” Over the years, his definition moved around a bit. I suppose his theory clarified with time.

synchronicity-2Sue’s excellent blog (An Artist’s Path) on this topic back in April can be seen here. She gives a good personal example similar to the experience of having someone calling you just as you are thinking about them. “That’s weird, I was just thinking about you.” It’s not weird, it’s synchronicity. It happens and always has. Sue tied synchronicity to a conspiracy of the universe. That works for me.

 

Serendipity is a similar and related word: it refers to events happening by chance in a happy or beneficial way. The key word that we would often use in casual conversation is coincidence. That works okay with serendipity, but not as well with synchronicity because the latter invokes elements of spirituality.

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Jung seemed to think there was a relationship to ESP, while others associate synchronicity with deities, universal forces, or some other intelligent spiritual forces or entities.

Remember, there must be no identifiable earthly cause to the event. I don’t assign human events to spiritual entities, but I’m willing to listen to reasonable, albeit unfounded, theories. The two events must also be meaningfully related, or at least appear to be. If there is a cause or reason for something to happen, it also will not fit the definition.

Synchronicity happens often enough so that many of us have experienced several such events. Usually, we charge it to coincidence, then we move on with our lives. But many of us, especially spiritual searchers and people who enjoy unexplained magical events, will focus on the event and may label it synchronicity.

One article I read that discusses both synchronicity and serendipity, posted by Dr. Joe Dispenze, can be found here. I neither agree nor disagree with anything that he said in that piece, but it is longer than what I write.

I’m grateful for the words we have available to define our human experiences and our nature, what we have in common, and how we differ. They enable us to share everything about our brief existence, to understand each other, and to make our lives better.

As things happen in life, we must pay attention,
learn, look both ways, and mind the gaps.

Morality Series: Glutony

I seldom eat the whole pizza any more, at least not in the same evening. My wife may have one slice, but not always. Still, why do some religious folks insist that if, per chance, the wife wants none, I’ll go to Hell?

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Am I gluttonous? I eat more than that guy, but less than that one, and maybe about the same as the other dude. When does eating and drinking become one of the deadly or capital offenses? Where do we cross the line that assures our trip to the inferno?

I’m not going to argue that overeating is good for us. We all know it’s not. But the reason is biological, not spiritual. Besides, I do it more than I care to admit. I don’t think I am alone in my gastronomic fault. In fact, for an American, I’m probably about average.

glutony-1In the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas said, “Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire… leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists.” Inordinate? I only know this limit after I am well past it.

Devils, Demons, and Witchcraft says those who commit the sin of gluttony are punished in Hell by being forced to eat rats, toads, and snakes. Are they cooked or raw? Do we get hot sauce? Since these are eaten by people around the world every day, I feel so not threatened.

I posted about Epicurus back in the Spring, so I want to invoke him here. His name and philosophy has been incorrectly associated with glutinous behavior for centuries. I had it a bit wrong. Further, we’ve also bogarted his name to be associated with fine dining.

The word epicure is linked to indulging the appetite, but that is not the teaching of the man to whom we owe the word. That ancient Greek philosopher taught of simple pleasures, friendship, and a secluded life. He believed in the pursuit of pleasure (as do I), but pleasure for him equated with tranquility and freedom from pain (Dude! Try this plant.) – happiness.

Cannabis
Cannabis

Detractors of Epicurus misrepresented his notions of pleasure to material and sensual gratification. When epicure entered the lingo about 500 years ago, his philosophy had been trivialized. Epicure or epicurean became synonymous with “hedonist.” Way back, he showed a lot of wisdom.

“Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.” —Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

His philosophy combines a form of materialism with ethics that emphasizes moderation of desires and cultivation of friendships. His world view was optimistic, stressing a philosophy of not fearing death or the supernatural. It can teach us how to find happiness in almost any situation – without moaning after we’ve eaten the whole thing.

glutony-4The opposite of gluttony is abstinence. Once again, from one extreme to the other. Abstaining from food can be a diagnosable eating disorder. We know how much, and of what things we should eat and drink. We must eat, but not too much; we must sleep, but not too much; we must drink. But there’s no such thing as too much fun.

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Eating is an essential part of life.
Eat well, be happy, and enjoy all that life offers.
If we mind the gaps and look both ways, we’ll be fine.

Morality Series: Sloth

Intentions Count
Intentions Count

Other than writing about it, does anyone ever use this word except for the animal or when referring to the sin? Do we know what sloth means? Is it laziness?

Sloth is the most difficult of the seven biggies to define precisely. An old-fashioned definition might sound like defiant sorrow turning away from God’s good intentions.

Is it really a bad thing? Is the problem its tendency to lead to other problems? I knew it fit with laziness, but it also goes with apathy and a list of other goof-off words.

Thomas Pynchon wrote a great piece about how sloth is tied to writers. Read it all here. I like this paragraph:

“Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. They are approached all the time on the subject, not only for free advice, but also to speak at Sloth Symposia, head up Sloth Task Forces, testify as expert witnesses at Sloth Hearings. The stereotype arises in part from our conspicuous presence in jobs where pay is by the word, and deadlines are tight and final — we are presumed to know from piecework and the convertibility of time and money. In addition, there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee”, by Thomas Pynchon

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If this is a sin, it’s not one we commit. In fact, it seems we commit nothing, we do nothing, and we don’t much give a shit about anything. As I understand it, sloth refers to our mental, physical, spiritual, and pathological states, usually with a strong religious twist. Even the Buddhists have their five hindrances, of which Sloth-torpor is one defined as a heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. That sounds like it needs a DSM IV diagnosis.

With greed, I wrote that we know it when we see it. I’m not sure sloth is as easy to identify. I don’t take the word sin seriously, but sloth is one item that may not get enough attention. Like the others, it is not healthy if it’s a person’s choice for a way of life. I can accept go with the flow, but like many of the big seven, it can be unhealthy when taken to a wrong extreme. And, it can lead to other behavior that is even more damaging. I think that much of what we might perceive as sloth, in others or ourselves, is either a medical problem like depression, or an existential crisis. Here is another example from Mr. Pynchon:

“Any discussion of Sloth in the present day is of course incomplete without considering television, with its gifts of paralysis, along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically, committing the six other deadly sins in parallel, eating too much, envying the celebrated, coveting merchandise, lusting after images, angry at the news, perversely proud of whatever distance we may enjoy between our couches and what appears on the screen.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee, by Thomas Pynchon

I like saying that I’m lazy, or that it’s a lazy day. I should say relaxed or comfortable, but lazy adds a pinch of ironic guilt. That troubles some folks, but I think it natural. On my calling card, the leading skill is Leisure Aficionado; a reference to many of my goals in retirement. It got less attention than Pleasure Seeker did.

Sure. Sometimes.
Sure. Sometimes.

The opposite of sloth is said to be diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I have always liked persistence, and for a long time, I liked some work. Maybe it was the doing that I liked – my ability to make something happen; or maybe it was the fruit of my labor that was my reward. My writing is kind of both, but mostly my reward is the result. That is also my motivation to do it again. For about five years, I ran – anything from five kilometers to marathons. For marathons, diligent training and persistence are keys to success without much injury. I’ve met no slothy runners. To endurance runners, any day with less than five miles is slacking off.

Is it sloth or depression?
Is it sloth or depression?

One more issue regarding sloth: this whole concept that people who choose to be lazy or sloth are deliberately committing sins is nonsense. People want to feel good, to contribute, to have purpose and success. That is what is normal for humans. We’re unaware of other’s mental, physical, or spiritual health. So, we should focus on ourselves and what’s best for us. If anything is a sin, it’s judgment.

 

 

The song Alphie by Lily Allen is a hoot, and refers to the pot induced lethargy of her younger brother. Yes, the Game of Thrones actor – same guy. But it could be sloth. This Youtube version is a bit edited, but worth a look, nonetheless.

We should look upon our own sloth with a critical eye.
Too little or too much may be unhealthy.
Live life to the fullest as long as possible; always look both ways and mind the gaps.

Series on Morality: Greed

Just another desire?
Just another desire?

How much is enough? When do our simple desires or wants rise to the level of immoral greed?

Steal to feed your hungry family, and you may go to jail. An investment banker, who makes millions, steals from the public, nearly destroys the economy, and causes financial crises to millions of people; we talk about the banker’s greed and move on – no consequences.

So some of us firmly believe.
So some of us firmly believe.

Here’s how I see my own greed: my wants become immoral greed when my having too much causes others to go without or suffer. That view is mostly due to culture and my beliefs about human nature. If I lived the aesthetic life of a Trappist, I’d restrict myself so there would be more for others. I want to have enough without taking away from anyone, especially those in need. But not everyone feels that way.

If there are 10 things we both want, and we each take five, that might seem fair. But what if we need only two each, and will never need more? Do we hoard the other six? Collectors spend fortunes adding items to their collections. Is that greed? If so, is it immoral? If they also donate fortunes to philanthropic causes, does that change anything? Am I discussing greed, or is this an issue of caring about others.

Is greediness a normal part of our nature? Is it instinctive to be greedy to survive, but also part of a darker human condition to be immorally greedy? If the answer to both questions is yes, why? From whence does our greedy nature come? Why are some of us incredibly selfish, while others are altruistic to the point of self-denial? If we feel greedy, but don’t act on that feeling, is it ok? If it’s normal, as I contend it is, then we should feel no guilt. If our actions cause unnecessary harm to others, that’s different.

One of life's balancing acts
One of life’s balancing acts

Why do some people think greed is immoral, yet they blindly practice it routinely? Is it really the opposite of liberality, which is defined as the behavior of someone who gives things or money in a generous way? I think these are both normal. We are greedy and generous.

Bill Gates is very wealthy and continues to make a lot of money. He lives a good life that doubtless has some excesses. But, Gates is also very generous and kind. He is both an American capitalist and a kind and generous person. Many wealthy people seem to be. Some are not.

Is greed a form of self-preservation that has gone too far? When humans find themselves in extremely stressful situations, they become not only selfish and greedy, but dangerously so. Starvation changes us. When basic needs are not met, we don’t consider it greed when people take extreme actions to meet those needs.

Behavior in WWII concentration camps and American prisoners in Bataan and other places provide ample evidence to support this. Oddly, there are remarkable altruistic exceptions. Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, discusses why one camp prisoner will give away his last morsel of food to another who is dying. Yet, another prisoner will harm others, steal from them, or commit murder or suicide. While this was an observational basis for Frankl’s therapies and personal outlook, these very real human experiences testify to major differences in people.

Can greed be satisfied?
Can greed be satisfied?

If it has always been that way with people, will it continue? Is greed normal in other animals? Is survival of the fittest a basic instinct of our animal inheritance that now masquerades as greed?

Greed, like quality, is difficult to precisely define. Yet, also like quality, most of us know it when we see it; particularly when we see it in other people. However, we must admit that greed is something we seem to share, want it or not. We need to feel safe and that may mean not trusting that we will manage with enough. More is safer and better.

Our human nature has many facets and sides. Our morality is a big part of our nature, good or bad.
Keep in mind that if we take only what we need, we care for more than ourselves.
May we live our lives in concert with humanity and all of nature.
Let us look both ways and mind the gaps.

Don't even think about it
Don’t even think about it

How Important is Trust?

“Relax, Stevie, this won’t hurt.”

Early in his memoir, On Writing, and in his life, Stephen King described an experience with a doctor and his mother. King had an ear infection, so Mom took him to the doctor, who said the cure won’t hurt. The lying taker of the Hippocratic Oath (do no harm) busted King’s ear drum with a needle. Then it happened again, and again the child believed the doctor that it wouldn’t hurt. It did. A lot. Both times.

trust-7The third-time little Stevie acted like I would have. From the get-go, he raised holy hell before ever leaving home. Alas, young Stephen was over-powered and for a third time, the Prince of The Inquisition drove the needle through the boy’s ear drum. Over 40 years later, King wrote of the incident, “In fact, I think that in some deep valley of my head that last scream is still echoing.”

My daughter had a similar (one time) experience with a dentist. Unlike King’s mom, I let the dentist know how we felt about such lies. He apologized, so I let him live.

In God We Trust has been the official motto of the USA since 1956. The motto doesn’t identify any specific god and is singular; thus, it’s safe to assume that it refers to the God of Abraham. But, the phrase is still generic enough to apply to anyone who believes in a deity that:

  1. created the world,
  2. rules over the universe,
  3. and is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, and omnipresent.

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Yay, God! Congress said we trust you. Who wouldn’t trust all that? But the concept of trust does not begin and end with any god. Our trust is a belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something in our real-life world. It begins to develop before we have any concept of a god.

We’re social animals. Our trusting nature begins forming at birth, along with a conflicting mistrust. We are taught to trust (or not) by others. I agree with Erik Erikson that our first few years of life are crucial to what follows. Erikson theorized that during those first years, we are uncertain about the world around us. We look to our primary caregivers for stability and consistency. If the care is good, we develop a trust that we may carry to other relationships. We feel secure. How this goes leads to either hope or fear (or both?).

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Of course, if you’re reading this, you have the experience to know the outcome. We learn that trust and love make us vulnerable. Those we trust and those we love can cause us the greatest pain. We keep learning about trust, discernment, and that nasty (not-so-politically-correct) word: judgment. I’ve walked the halls of the school of life for seven decades and I’m still learning. I want to trust. Even more, I want good discernment skills. I’m skeptical, but only as precaution to disappointment, pain, loss, and suffering. Learning that I was mistaken to trust someone sucks. Lesson learned, but better to learn it allegorically.

Much of what we learn about trust and mistrust, we learn through stories, such as the Aesop’s Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The intended moral lesson of which is, if we lie enough, we may not be believed; even when we tell the truth (hence, trust lost). My daughter (yep, the ‘dentist lied’ one) recently found herself explaining why she misled her eleven-year-old son about Santa Claus.

Julie wouldn’t lie to him. But she knew that someday she’d be busted on the Kris Kringle myth, right? Wolf! Like most parents, she seldom lies, if at all, but how’s that trust thing working here? I told her we all go through that because our social tradition overwhelms us, so we play the Santa deception game until it’s time to fess-up. Everyone seems to be saying that the fat man in the red suit is real, who are we to say that it’s a big lie, but a cute tradition?

trust-8Note to my grandchildren: There are things I’ll not tell you, but I may confirm or deny what you ask. There are things I will tell you only if you ask. There are things I will defer until I think you’re old/mature enough. But I will not intentionally deceive you without just cause. Sometimes, I’ll defer to your parents, other times, I will not. I’ve earned the privilege to be either cooperative or difficult. ~ Love, Opa

When someone teaches us, we usually trust that it’s what they believe, and that it’s correct. We assume that people who teach us (teachers, parents, family, ministers, others in authority) are experts and know the truth, or at least what they are talking about. Initially, we seldom anticipate deception, which would be intentional. But it happens. When it does, we learn from it.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ~ Bob Marley

The US has passed laws and made rules regarding truth in advertising, news reporting, responding to law enforcement, and testifying in court or before congress. At least one president was impeached for lying. At least one admired celebrity was jailed for lying. If we need laws and government rules to protect us from the constant lies and deceptions, especially since we almost expect to be lied to in many cases, why even be concerned about trust?

The answer seems to be that from birth, we need to trust. We also need a balance of hope and fear, or of acceptance and skepticism. We are here to learn, but we should be both questioning and wondering. We should be curious and wanting to learn and to know. We should want the truth, like it or not. And that truth should be supported by ample evidence or proof. We must understand the good and bad (dark) sides of human nature. We should all be students of the human condition.

From Bob Marley’s song, Three Little Birds:

Singing’ don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Singing’ don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright

Learn to trust. Demand evidence and proof.
Be skeptical when deception appears present.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.