Don Edwards Literary Memorial

July 22, 2007

The Skeptic

Buenos dias, LeRoy, from sunny, downtown Ajijic, Mexico.

I have read your recent “The Wrong Door” entry several times. It touched a nerve I have been wrestling with for some time. You ended the story with this:

“I was stunned and deeply saddened for this mother and her daughter, neither of whom I will ever meet again. Yet, I was proud that Loaves & Fishes exists, that I exist, that I was able to open this locked wrong door and listen to the heart-rendering words spoken by this woman

“Oh, that every run-a-way daughter, and every searching mother, would have their own Loaves & Fishes, and their own wrong door on which to knock”

I admit I was both touched and bothered by these comments. Touched by the poingnancy of the tale, bothered by my immediate reflection about how the values of the land of our birth has changed in our lifetime. Even interpreting those lines allegorically….they are, well, provocative. I had a flash of near panic which, when my initial response, translated into an overlong paragraph, went something like this:

“The United States of America has transformed itself into a selfish, cynical, ‘I’ve got mine, go get your’s’ view of life. The culture has detoriated to such an extent and Christian values have been so distorted that many think that to be homeless is to be shifless, and therfore worthless. Homelessness, they speculate, is a direct result of laziness or deliberate abuse of one sort or another. ‘If only they would try hard, this land of milk and honey and the American Dream would be theirs. They need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ they say.”

Then I pulled myself up short. What the hell was going on in my thinking? Instead of just saying something like, “Thank God for people like LeRoy and Loaves & Fishes,” I went into a mental rage against my entire country. What in the world is this all about?

While I, too, am a byproduct of the “American Dream,” I had so much help. I came from a very poor, but literate family which valued education. I spent time in a monastic order which gave me a social concience, a taste for learning, a head start. I was male and white at a time when American industry, especially high tech industry with computers, exploded. I married someone who loved me and took care of the kids while I went to school. I couldn’t afford to go to college full time, so I went nights, afternoons, weekends to classes whenever I could while I worked as an apprentice engineer at Westinghouse. Finally I got a degree, then, also part time, a master’s degree. Then I managed to live in six countries, travel the world and had many challenging, interesting jobs before retiring to Mexico to live. The American Dream indeed, but I had so many advantages compared to many.

I reflected again on your comments. Have I let myself become arrogant, complacement, cynical I wondered?

Well, while I am demonstrably skeptical about many things, I’ve never thought of myself as a bona fide cynic. I wondered if perhaps that had changed. So as soon as I could, I looked up the precise definitions of each.

skeptic n : follower of the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain. Doubt.

cynic n : Gk, literally “like a dog” 1. An adherent or advocate of the view that virtue is the only good and that its essence lies in self-control and independence 2. one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest….a sneering disbelief in sincerity or nobility.

Interestingly enough, an article I sent to almost everyone some time ago, published by Harper’s Magazine, talked about the un-Christian Christianity in the United States, how many people think the quote, “God helps those who help themselves” comes from scripture rather than Ben Franklin. This is almost exactly the definition of a cynic and almost antithetical to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. While I think that self reliance is a valuable attribute, I am of the belief that society has an obligation to take care of its less fortunate citizens. I guess that makes me a Socialist. I call Canada’s approach to government “benevolent capitalism.”

I know that age and experience shapes values. But had my age and experience in life pushed me from skepticism to cynicism? Had I crossed that line?

So came up with a test for my own question. I wrote down a list of important things and tried to test my current belief system. “Ok,” I thought, “let’s start with something really basic….our species, homo sapiens.”

1. How about the basic goodness of our species? Just watch “The Last King of Scotland” or see the news about Darfur. Skeptical. Our species hasn’t improved in all of recorded history. At the same time as we have been able to double the life expectancy (for those who can afford it), we have invented the technologies of destruction such that, without any help from the Creator whatsoever, we can eliminate all life on earth, the Apocalypse of our own making.

2. A favorite science fiction theme: mankind evolving to a more spiritual plain eventually. Very Skeptical.

3. Arthur Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” is a wonderful allegory that is very unlikely. But I must remember that there are heroic efforts by individual people against incredible odds. “Shindler’s List” comes to mind. So neither skeptical nor cynical when it comes to particular examples. Our species spawns good people too, thank God.
4. Aristotle’s definition of “Politics” as “The science of the good for man.” Perhaps true as an objective, but….well, I’m skeptical.

5. Most Roman Catholic dogmas. Very skeptical. Beyond skeptical, often cynical. Just read the Baltimore Catechism again to see why. And too many dogmas were politically motivated. Constantine and Divinity. Poor translations beget virgin births and the necessity of the most active of angels: Gabriel. My story, “Bless me, Father” which looks at the Roman Catholic dogma of sin, fairly well summarizes my feelings there. To equate masterbaton and deliberate murder in the same sin pot, both deemed to be “mortal” is a statement which is so ludecrous, that the dogma itself is sinful in my book. In Mexico, it is mortally sinful to use contraceptives. A planetary plague of AIDS? Well that’s just too bad. Abstain.

6. The Beatitudes. Not skeptical. Not cynical. Thank God. Just read the Sermon on the Mount again. Blessed are the poor in spirit…for they shall see God. Indeed.

7. The likelihood that any politician’s walk will actually match the talk. Skeptical. Lord Acton’s letter to Bishop Creighton in 1887 resonates: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Just listen to the current “debates” of both parties. Just watch “Sicko” to understand that all politicians are at least partially owned by their financial benefactors.

8. Anything good can intentionally come from the Bush administration. Definitely cynical.

Score: five “skepticals”, two “cynicals” and two “thank God’s”. I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt. Two”thank Gods” negate two cynicals.

So I guess, all in all, while I am still the skeptic, I still believe in the potential of sincerity and nobility of individuals. While I often despair over the future of mankind as a whole to improve much, still I believe that Loaves & Fishes is an admirable, unselfish organization in a sea of cynical disregard for the the hungry, the homeless, the poor in body and spirit.

God bless you all. You and others like you keep me from crossing the line.

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 7:53 pm

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