Growing up

"They (the gods) did not die lingering in the twilight -- although that lie is told! On the contrary, they passed once upon a time -- laughed themselves to death!" According to Nietzsche, the gods died because they though it humorous that we, as humans, revered them as gods rather than as other beings in the universe. I don't blame them. We are funny, much more funny than any possible written script. The humor of this sick play that we are all a part of is its spontaneity; in one dismal act we perform -- without practice, without script -- the pathetic story we call life. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more; it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing." Even Shakespeare, one of King James' rewriters for the King James Bible, accepts the idea that, despite all of the motions we make here on earth, there is no grand scheme to the universe, and that there is no grand scheme to God (if there is one). If Shakespeare cannot bring himself to accept predestination, and he helped write the book, how can I, a good philosopher, even begin to give the issue serious thought? Besides, if God really is omnipotent, is it possible that in all his "kindness" he has so sick a sense of humor that He has allowed our play to go on as long as it has? It just doesn't add up.

-- Brian Naberhuis, age 18

I usually try not to quote myself all that often. It's a little pompous, and usually just sours people to what you're trying to say. But today, I want to discuss the issue of paradigm, and how we constantly redefine ourselves and our world views.

I was recently back in the bay area to pick up furniture for my apartment down here in San Diego; my parents had my Grandmother's table and a couch waiting for me. So, I flew home on Friday, and then drove down here on Saturday with the furniture (and my dad, who turned around and drove back up on Sunday. Have I ever mentioned I have wonderful parents?).

While I was home, my mom gave me a task worthy of Hercules: go through the old junk in my room and determine what was of value. While I was digging through the hoard of my past, I happened upon a few papers I wrote during high school, including the one I quoted above. That particular paper was an attempt to refute the idea of predestination, and was written for my English class. Have I ever mentioned how kick-ass my senior year English teacher was?

This paper paints a much more painful image of who I was in high school. I was a mind cast adrift in a sea of conflicting ideals, unsure what to believe, and unsure who to trust. So I lashed out against one of the institutions of my youth: the Presbyterian church. One of their staunchest beliefs is predestination. And that all seems to come from a passage in Romans (VIII:29-30):

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren./ Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, he also glorified.

What more can I say? There it is in black and white, in a work that I now find to be nothing more than a story told through the eyes of men looking backwards through the lens of time. And, many of the stories that make up the main story are ones I cannot reconcile with the principles and laws I have learned since.

But, non of this makes the Bible itself any less True. Many of the things written in its pages clearly did not happen. Neal Stephenson points out in Snowcrash that it is difficult to be a thinking Christian and accept the virgin birth and resurection of Christ. Why not just admit to the world that all he did was try to tell people a way to live with each other in peace, rather than a demigod whose coming was foretold?

Stephenson isn't the only author to take on this issue, either. Orson Scott Card takes on the issue in Speaker for the Dead, one of the controversial sequels to Ender's Game. He tells a parable of the rabbi who confronts the crowd about to stone a whore to death, but he tells it two different ways. In the first, the rabbi is so corrupt he sees the law as a way to win favor with the leadership of his city by saving the mayor's mistress. In the second, the rabbi picks up a stone and kills the whore, saying "I might not be without sin, but the law is paramount, and some sins are unforgivable." Then, he points out that the story we are used to is the only one where the rabbi acts with compassion, and that all he got for his trouble was his own cross to bear.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked now. The point is, that I guess I've grown up since I was in high school. I've learned that there can be value in stories told, and maybe if those who came before me found it valuable to write some of them down, then perhaps I owe it to myself to look for hidden meanings, and try to understand what they're saying.

Besides, there has to be a grain of truth in every lie. Otherwise, it could never sound as close to true as they often do.

Brian Naberhuis