… "And It Came To Pass"…
As a somewhat recent convert to the secularist point of view, I feel I ought to say a few words (well, maybe a lot more than "a few") regarding how I came to a state resulting in my occasional and often misunderstood diatribes, both written and oral, which so often and so elaborately end up dissing humanity, its faith, its spirituality, its deities and essentially, its incomprehensible and superstitious dogmas we know as organized religions
I was nurtured in what I have always assumed to be a normal family environment. This environment, naturally enough and at the instigation of my mother and, upon her death, my stepmother, included regular attendance at church, Sunday school, confirmation, etc. where I was sadly enmeshed, as an innocent, in the propaganda and brainwashing endemic to any and all religious faith. I have lately understood that my father, though not exactly a non-theist, appeared to have a less than enthusiastic view of things transcendental, seeming to suffer the foolishness of theism stoically while pursuing a personal philosophy closer akin to what I now comprehend as humanism.The process of my realization of rationality, it appears in hindsight, seems to have been initiated by four years of military service, including a revelationary year of combat, in conjunction with two semesters of philosophy as a sophomore in college. The two philosophy courses were electives pretty much guaranteed to at the very least maintain a marginally passable grade point average, meaning, obviously, that I needed all the help I could get in that regard. Strangely enough, I managed to remain fairly interested in the study of philosophy for the duration of that school year, yet I was not, at that time, any manner of deep thinker (for reasons which will be enumerated shortly). All of this resulted, unfortunately, in a decision to basically ignore the subject after completion of Phil. 101 and 102 in favor of other G.P.A.-enhancing subjects such as Poetry (101 and 102), American History, Sociology, and other less taxing courses consistent with a Liberal Arts baccalaureate.
As to the how I found myself even approaching a course of study requiring much more than what I had previously assumed was my allotted quota of intellectual exercise at twenty six years old: I was attending college under the G.I. Bill (of Rights) as a veteran of four years in the U.S. Navy. The first three of those years were spent aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of Viet Nam; the final year as a gunner’s mate on river patrol boats (specifically Assault Support/Patrol Boats) "in country". We in the riverine squadrons called ourselves "river rats", while a fair number of our generation residing in the States called us "baby killers"…in addition to other un-pleasantries too numerous to mention.*
Ironically, my father, and his father before him were confessed and genuine pacifists in an era when such sentiments were quite frequently looked upon with more than a little disdain, although I never appreciated these facts until fairly recently. I also discovered recently that my grandfather was regarded by the rest of the family as an atheist. Thus, things regarding my upbringing being the way they were, I was not entirely unaware that warfare was one of the more asinine methods of dealing with international differences of opinion. But, as with most others of my generation, I had also been exposed to my fair share of World War II heroics and the glory of mortal combat through television, movies, books and especially the war stories of several uncles and parental acquaintances. I was, then, for the major part of my quintessentially average teenage years, at least tolerably amenable to the allegedly patriotic idea of killing, as well as providing myself the opportunity to be killed by, unlimited numbers of those who did not entirely agree with the cultural and socio/economic heritage, not to mention the often incomprehensible international/military/industrial alliances of these United States of America. My stepmother encouraged this tolerance; my father…well, he never really said much about it one way or the other. Suffice to say that at eighteen years old and thoroughly sick of high school (of ALL scholastic education), I had nothing better to do than join the navy (…and see the world) to avoid the army and, so I had hoped, the shooting war in Viet Nam. Thus, my first three years as a sailor passed, as I had hoped, safely and humbly in boot camp and aboard the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Kittyhawk. The government, however, outdoing itself in capriciousness, decided in some mystical fashion that my services would be desirable as a more active participant in some of the mayhem of the era as opposed to leaving me safely offshore. Without going into detail, the ancient military adage cautioning one to "never volunteer" had hardly been so prescient as the afternoon I opened orders expecting to be assigned to journalism school and found myself heading instead for: "Naval Shipyard, Mare Island for Assault Boat Instruction and Maneuver. Further TDY to Camp Edwards, Calif. for Advanced Gunnery and Small Arms Training." I remember these words well since they were the first which met my eye at the "grand opening".
During my year of personal combat, both with myself (as in: "How the hell did I get here?" and "How the hell do I get out?") as well as in the more martial sense, my thinking, ideals and worldly judgements began to subtly congeal into the conscious cynicism, fatalism and rationality which occasionally graces this page. Jungle warfare, indeed, warfare of any sort occasionally seems to bring these facets of human nature into a more defined focus. Over the course of my year spent navigating and contesting the rivers and canals of Viet Nam, I began, both consciously and, apparently, sub-consciously incorporating this burgeoning cynicism (the seeds of which were, I’m forced to admit, sown in my elementary years of schooling; probably by my father and definitely by his father) into what had been, at the time, the traditional values of my upbringing. The innocent beliefs and "truths" I had harbored throughout the 1950’s and ’60’s were suddenly rocked, first by the political turmoil of the late 1960’s which, obviously, was not entirely unknown nor unappreciated by those of us in combat and, second, by the fact that I was being shot at four or five out of the seven days in any given week for, to my mind, the sole reason that those of us in Viet Nam to avoid Canada and/or imprisonment as draft evaders now seemed to have become the individual representatives of an especially virulent form of Yankee Imperialism.
Funny thing, though; shooting at people, seeing friends wounded and killed, being shot at by perfect strangers, all for no apparent gain, exacts a toll on ones formerly comforting and comfortable concepts of the transcendental beliefs and the so-called spirituality one was occasionally aware of and unquestionably accepted (usually) during ones youth. Thus, upon my discharge from both Southeast Asia and the navy (a surreal journey in itself since the technology of transportation had advanced to the point where I was literally being shot at during breakfast one morning in Saigon and drinking beer and eating crab legs in the relative safety and uneasy tranquility of the departure lounge of the San Francisco airport in late evening of what was essentially that same day), I found myself, within a week or two, sitting in the admissions office of the Mt. Auburn Preparatory School readying myself to question EVERYTHING!
I once had Melville-esque visions of becoming a journalist, or more particularly, a novelist; not realizing in my youthful ignorance that one needs a certain amount of talent for that sort of thing; a fact made quite evident to me over several years of formulaic phrasing, barren characterizations and minimal plotting. in fact, soon after my first endeavor along those lines, during my year at Mt Auburn Prep I began, even then, to question the financial feasibility of my career choice.
Having airily dismissed that first of a continuous series of literary warning signs to come, I blithely matriculated from prep school into Middlesex Community College and the gorgeous women in attendance there. I don’t know where they came from, but I found that school to contain the greatest single concentration of attractive young women it’s ever been my pleasure to associate with. Beautiful women notwithstanding, however, during my first semester at M.C.C., I married (a successful endeavor for twenty-eight years, so far) and began living a societally-sanctioned style of basic comfort and little luxury calling for an intricate balance between full-time classes, a full-time job, and nearly full-time partying…with a nod towards sleep and wedded affection as time allowed. Some months later our first child was born leaving even less time for cerebral interests and worldly pondering.
Having yet to learn my lesson, I continued to ignore the warning shots across the bow of my literary sloop-of-dreams, occasionally attempting even more writings and musings, mostly as part of my various academic curricula and each as sophomoric and muddled as the ones before. I may, after all, not know much about how to spin an intelligent yarn but I appreciated, even then, what is and is not intellectually appealing and economically productive and what I was writing was neither. By that time (1974) I had decided to wring every dime I could out of the government by entering the University of Massachusetts in Boston, resulting eventually in the philosophy courses which lead directly (in fact, if not exactly in this essay) to my honestly derived conglomerations of idealism, reasoning, truth-seeking, personal philosophy and belief coupled with the aforementioned dash of cynicism which some may recognize as an honest attempt to semi-objectively provide a historical basis for the delineation and definition of my position on the ignorant damnation(s) and imperceptible deities of organized religions; in other words, my eventual embrace of atheism.
During my first semester of Philosophy (Philosophy One-oh-one…really!) at U. Mass., our class gained at least a nodding acquaintance with the more common beliefs of many of the better known thinkers of historical and intellectual note. In the second semester (Phil. One-oh-two…really!) we were encouraged, both individually and as a class, to begin conceiving our own "truths" for comparison with the thoughts of philosophers of more noted ability. In the midst of this period where I was sort of prodded into the rarified realm of reasoning, rationalization, dialectic and logic which had for years (before and afterward) eluded me, one of our class assignments involved the organization of our burgeoning intellectual maturity and in my case, merely latent beliefs and dogmatic cultural inheritances into essay form counting for, if I remember correctly, nearly one-half of our final course grade. This resulted, as you may have surmised, in a work of astounding insight, complete honesty and consistent thoughtfulness (beginner’s luck) culminating in an "A" on my essay and a "B" for the course (my disinterest in the rationalizations of Descartes and Pascal had, apparently, been noticed after all).
At this time, I began rediscovering within myself a rebellious streak of which my essay was but one manifestation. Another was a clear propensity, at age twenty-six, to see things from a politically conservative viewpoint (and in 1975 yet). Any sort of conservatism, political or otherwise was near suicidal, socially anyhow, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts back then…and continues to this day. Over time, my particular conservatism has mellowed into more a fiscal conservatism since I refuse to acknowledge the infamous theocratic conservatism associated with the "religious right"…but, I digress.
Eventually, after five years of attendance at diverse institutions of higher learning encompassing myriad scholastic successes and failures, much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, in 1977 I graduated from college and began the processes of begetting two more children and a life of typically middle-class mediocrity consisting of work, taxes, Little League, taxes, mortgages, taxes, insurance payments and taxes.
In August of 1997, approximately a year and a half before organizing my beliefs, theories, diatribes and logic into a collection of essays, of which this is merely one representative sampling, I had occasion to explore some rediscovered boxes of old text books and papers (don’t ask how these cartons had become so deeply, so timelessly buried; suffice to say our cellar is much more than a simple disaster area), I came across…you guessed it…the working outline of my essay of some twenty-three years before.The complete essay, the one with the large, red "A" possibly resides among the cartons at the far end of the cellar where no man has tread for nearly twenty years and, therefore, may be lost to posterity forever.
I read this long forgotten outline on the spot, entirely dismissing whatever I was looking for in the first place, and was so impressed with myself (a quite facile and personally fulfilling task, I must admit) and the early ideas and musings and "truths" contained therein that I began within a matter of a day or so to adjust my complacency and to realize that my philosophy hadn’t changed in any sort of basic way from those days of yore; had indeed, been abruptly crystallized by this accidental anthropological discovery. It was, to put it concisely, a revelation.
Of course, this revelation did not emerge full-blown nor is this current writing at all similar to that ancient essay. The original exercise in scholastically-motivated philosophical reasoning encompassed the elementary ideas indicating an awareness of discontent and disbelief, while twenty-three-odd years of post-essay life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention much observation, both consciously and otherwise, gave me the added certainty that what I wrote about my beliefs, indeed, what my beliefs and philosophy had evolved into from that distant past was and is, at least fundamentally, what I consider truth and will remain so until I die. Although the essay was a mere twelve or so pages ("typewritten, double spaced and annotated", or so my notes tell me), it provided the foundation for the ideas which I’ve expanded and explained and attempted to propose, disprove, dissemble and reveal over the past three or four years with varying degrees of success. The youthful cynicism which propelled the original essay has, obviously, matured over the years into a tasteful blend of amused contempt for most of humanity’s ideology and passions as well as a realization that there is a basic futility to life, faith and worship; that the rewards for all such seem to be blithely promised but seldom realized.
My slow-motion revelation led, by its very nature, almost immediately to several incidents of household enmity concerning religious expression…and suppression…and the rights and freedoms thereof and, here I must provide a bit of deeper background. My wife and therefore, by dictated extension, my children are all enmeshed to one degree or another in the Catholic denomination of the Christian sect. While I’m disposed to think that the lesser degree apparent in my two sons is a reflection of my occasionally reasoned argumentation of rationalism in all things theistic, the devotion on my part to a realistic viewpoint doctrinally speaking has, over the past three or four years, continued to spark a disagreement or two (or three, or…) regarding faith, "god", devotion and worship, as well as the feasibility and viability, along with the rejection and disavowal of organized deistic religion. I felt a bit silly promulgating my position regarding these elements based on a twenty-three-year old burst of youthful insight and perspicacity so I merely agreed with (well, did not discourage, anyhow) the suggestion usually made by my wife that I was probably going through "male menopause" (and, who knows, maybe that really does have something to do with all this), so that she might make allowances for such an alleged phenomenon by respecting my wishes as far as religious expression is concerned in our humble abode. This she has reluctantly and, as yet, incompletely attempted. I realize that the truth still hurts, so I have patience.
Familial peace now usually reigns as we have all learned to tolerate our individual differences and commitments regarding the veracity (and lack thereof) of organized religion and all that it represents. I have learned, and I cannot stress this enough, that a lifetime of dogmatic "faith" and rote devotion will not be overcome by a few outbursts of reasoning, logic and truth.
So now you know the circumstances behind whatever comes of any dissemination of veracity and logic that I may expound upon in the future. I trust this will be a lesson for all those who reflect on their misspent youth and subverted reason…maybe your doubts and confusion have some merit after all.
*While I don’t remember specifically shooting at any infants, I suppose that one or two may have been in the general vicinity of the enormous amount of gunfire (enemy and otherwise) to which we were occasionally subjected. The return fire from us desperate nineteen and twenty year olds may have, inadvertently I’m sure, alarmed a few of the younger citizens of Viet Nam.