“….a federal judge has just ruled that the federal government can force me to purchase a product from a private company, under the argument that my not purchasing that product affects interstate commerce. For those of you who support this ruling: Under an interpretation of the Commerce Clause that says the federal government can regulate inactivity, can you name anything at all that the feds wouldn’t have the power to regulate? And if you can’t (and let’s face it, you can’t), why was the Constitution written in the first place? As I understand it, the whole point was to lay out a defined set of federal powers, divided among the three branches, with the understanding that the powers not specifically enumerated in the document are retained by the states and the people. But if that set of powers includes everything you do (see Wickard and Raich), and everything you don’t do (what Obamacare proponents are advocating here), what’s the point in having a Constitution at all?”—Just So I Have This Right… | The Agitator (via jeffmiller)
Simple summary: Bill O’Reilly is invited onto The View, he does what Bill O’Reilly does, and an enraged and offended Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walk off the set. Fast forward to a later episode, where they’re talking about what happened. Barbara Walters, while not defending O’Reilly, chastises Behar and Goldberg for this. Behar and Goldberg, of course, take a stance of oh-so-righteous indignation (which receives audience applause) in trying to justify their walking out of the room.
Now, we could talk about what Bill O’Reilly said to set them off—but for purposes of this discussion, it’s irrelevant. The far more interesting thing to witness is how the ideology of these two liberal women defines their behavior. Similarly, Barbara Walters holds herself out as an interesting paradigm in contrast.
So, let’s take a look at what we’ve got here: a heated discussion, where people are polarized on their stances. We’re all familiar with this. Two (or more) sides are vehemently disagreeing with each other, neither side budging. The subsequent events on this show reveal a dichotomy in today’s society: rational vs. ignorant; open-minded vs. closed-minded; philosopher vs. zealot.
A guy comes along and says something that you disagree with. This episode showed us that there are two kinds of people in the world—the Barbara Walterses and the Joy Behars; those who are willing to listen and want to discuss, and those who will only listen to that with which they already agree and put up with people who agree with them. The latter is the liberal disease. Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walking off that show when confronted by something with which they didn’t agree was a visible symptom of the liberal disease.
Think about what the physical act of getting up and leaving the room represents to a discussion. It says: “I am unwilling to listen to this. I do not want to hear what you have to say, or how you justify and substantiate it, because it is not the same thing as what I believe. I will not tolerate that with which I do not agree.” That’s willful ignorance in a nutshell, folks. Contrast that with what Barbara Walters said:
We must be able to have conversations—that means all of us—without fury, without rage, without screaming, without obscenities, without walking off.
Who can possibly disagree with that?
Well, both Behar and Whoopi managed to—by taking the token catch-all stances liberals use to justify willful ignorance and dismissal of an argument out of hand. First, Joy Behar’s:
WALTERS: Bill O’Reilly has been on the program and he will be on again. If you feel that he is, as you said, ‘hateful and bigoted,’ then we should not invite him to be on the show.
BEHAR: Well that’s not really my not my call.
WALTERS: Yes it is! You can also express your opinion and you do it every day!
BEHAR: Not about the billings!
Do you see what she’s doing there? She’s playing the victim. She’s pretending to take the high road (by walking out) claiming that she has no control over being subjected to his “hate and bigotry.” (You’ll also notice that she didn’t once say how or why O’Reilly was being “hateful and bigoted”—she just kind of unilaterally claimed that he was.) She’s trying to justify her ignorance by claiming that she had no other response she could make, couching it in faux-righteousness by claiming that she was “standing up to bigotry.” Which is, of course, absurd—as Barbara Walters easily proved.
Whoopi Goldberg, on the other hand, took this stance:
The way that we do it, the way that this table does it, is it’s based on respect. And what Bill O’Reilly did not come onto our stage with was, in my opinion, respect. … He was so enraging and so disrespectful just to the five of us that I just thought, “I’m done.”
With liberals, “disrespect” is a strange little amorphous word they use to justify ignoring an argument they don’t like, while simultaneously reaffirming their own position on a subject. (Online, the word “troll” is used instead.) At this point, one should go back and re-watch the segment where O’Reilly incenses them to the point that they walk off, and ask himself, “Was he really disrespectful?” He wasn’t. Not really. Offensive, maybe. Tactless, perhaps. Politically incorrect, absolutely. But disrespectful? No. Goldberg didn’t walk off the show because she felt “disrespected”—she walked off because she flat out did not want to hear what the guy had to say (likely due simply to who he is—which, as is readily observable, is often the case when it comes to people like O’Reilly). Note also the degree of respect she gave to him.
Furthermore, let’s assume that he had been disrespectful. So what? Does an opponent in a discussion need to respect you or your position in order to discuss it calmly, civilly, and rationally? Is respect even a factor in determining whether he’s right or wrong? No. But “respect” is one of those liberal trigger-words. It’s a ripcord they pull to bail out of a discussion that’s not going their way. “My ignorance is justified because he wasn’t being respectful,” says a liberal. No, it’s not—because “respect” has no bearing on the discussion in the first place. You’ll notice that, assuming he had been disrespectful, Barbara Walters didn’t care. That’s because Barbara Walters-types are more concerned with substance than with form. Those afflicted with the liberal disease—as so plainly illustrated by Goldberg and Behar—are not.
(As an aside, this is rampant in liberal bureaucracy. All that red tape? That’s because they don’t care about the outcome—only that all the appropriate steps and procedures were followed. The continuity of the system takes priority over its results. Form over substance.)
There’s also another thing to notice. Behar and Goldberg, like most liberals, acted reactionary. Their emotional response (“enraged”) got the better of them, clouded their rationality, and led them behave ignorantly. Usually this has a way of resulting in a liberal’s voice getting loud (or Caps Lock getting used), maybe a bit of name-calling and vulgarity (Behar started calling him a bigot, and Goldberg got profane)—and, ultimately, any meaningful discussion is lost and the liberal goes back to zealously believing whatever position they originally held (probably spitting some vitriol about the guy who disagreed with them to themselves).
Walters, on the other hand, while clearly disagreeing with O’Reilly, kept a level head and a rational mindset. Why? Because, like she said, “You have just seen what should not happen. We should be able to have discussions without washing our hands and screaming and walking off stage.”
Walters admits that she knows what Bill O’Reilly is about. He’s going to yank your chain and try to push your buttons. But Walters calmly and civilly engages with him anyway. Why? Because she knows and appreciates the value of the discussion—even if she knows he’s probably not going to change her mind on anything.
Those that have the liberal disease are incapable of that. And that’s too bad, because we’d probably be a lot better off as a society if we were more tolerant of those with whom we disagree.
"Because faith, by its very nature, isn't knowledge. It's a substitution, to make up for a lack of knowledge"
Thanks for your answer - it goes a long way in underatnding what makes you tick. I would only add a small rebuttel in that I think you're making a mistake by ignoring the softer stuff - not necessarily pity, but compassion, empathy. Stuff that makes us human. Some see that as a flaw, and it might make finding the truth more difficult, but I can't imagine going through life without it. Seems so cold and empty.
I think you’re making a mistake by ignoring the softer stuff - not necessarily pity, but compassion, empathy.
I don’t ignore it. It just doesn’t change anything. It has no place in The Rational Process. In human life and human dealings, sure. But when we’re trying to figure something out—to discern what is from what is not—I mean, go ahead, tell me the role that compassion or empathy has in that process. They’re simply not tools of knowledge. They’re sociological tools, nothing more.
I mean, you say it yourself—it’s critical to the function of a healthy society. And I don’t (necessarily) deny this. But in terms of understanding reality—whether it’s the definition of a thing, or a math problem, or a moral dilemma—of what possible use are they?
There’s a frequent example I use when illustrating this point. Imagine a teenage girl brutally raped and impregnated by her father and she has no means whatsoever to support a child. I mean, that’s pretty much the worst scenario I can come up with. Now, to avoid a discussion about abortion, for sake of argument let’s just assume that abortion is wrong in any case. Think about all the horrific factors at play here: brutal rape, incest, she’s just a little girl, no financial means—this would be a horrible situation for someone, which I can absolutely sympathize with. I would truly feel terrible for that girl, and I’d want for her to be able to find some semblance of remedy by having an abortion. But if abortion IS wrong (as we’re assuming, for sake of argument)—they how can we rationally justify that exception? Compassion and sympathy (but not empathy—that is, in fact, useless) have their roles in human society—but they do not, DO NOT, provide a substantive basis for exceptions or justifications to something that is otherwise and absolutely wrong.
It’s all well and good to “bond with each other”—but I’m not talking about the bonds of humanity. I’m talking about knowledge.
Seems so cold and empty.
How so? I experience an amazing sensation of warmth and fulfillment when I figure something out that I didn’t know. When it suddenly dawns on you that you have glimpsed a true look at reality itself. I mean, fuck—I don’t think you understand. That experience outdoes love. I mean, most people take it for granted—but then, they’re also not terribly concerned with knowing things. They seem more concerned with “accepting” their version of reality and establishing routines in it. And yes, that’s very practical, and they probably enjoy a whole spectrum of human emotion while they’re doing it—but they’re missing out on something more, something greater.
I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like staring into the void for so long, and then finally catching sight of something inside it. How anyone could call that experience “cold and empty” is beyond me—unless they simply don’t understand it.
“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”—William J. H. Boetcker
have you ever been sure of an answer only to find out you were wrong? That is, have you ever changed your opinion based on learning more about something, getting additonal insights?
What I'm getting at, and I'm sure you've already guessed, is that I find it hard to believe anyone could be so sure all the time. You're 30, old enough to have gone through quite a bit of life experience. Can you think of an instance when you were sure of something in the past that you now know is wrong? Or right?
Even if I were to agree with you that there is an ultimate and basic truth to everything, aren't there some issues where the truth isn't very obvious? Would you call that gray area if someone said there isn't enough information for me take a stand one way or the other. Or to put it another way: in some instances, this, but in other instances that. Like murder - the death penalty?
have you ever been sure of an answer only to find out you were wrong?
Of course. I welcome such moments wholeheartedly, in fact. Because when I find out I’m wrong, I can stop being wrong and start being right. Which is all I really care about. Happened on more than a few ethical subjects in my time. (For example, in high school and early college, I was very pro-abortion. Biomedical Ethics my sophomore year flipped me on that one—which, in turn, flipped me on the death penalty. Also used to be somewhat anti-homosexual, in terms of rights and treatment. I largely flipped on that based on online discussions with gay people. I also drank the “Islam is a religion of peace” kool-aid not long after 9/11. Figured out that one was BS when I started taking upper-level history classes and, later, keeping up with current events.)
I find it hard to believe anyone could be so sure all the time.
I have fact and logic on my side. I know how to engage in reasoning. I know how to separate my thinking organ from my feeling organ. That, plus open-mindedness to the notion that I’m wrong, is all I need. But (especially online) people don’t really know how to make their cases. Like, I run into a lot of people who think I’m wrong—but they can’t adequately present any valid reason for it. They just kind of say it. And then get pissed when I don’t accept it outright (and even more pissed when I offer counterargument). I’m open-minded to the possibility, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to accept any ol’ crap just because that’s what someone says is right. If that’s the case, I may as well go back to religion. No, you have to convince me. And not my appealing to my sensitivites or emotional states—but fact, by logic, by reason.
This is another reason why, as I mentioned in the post we’re discussing and again in the most recent one, environmentalists piss me off so much. At the end of the day, despite all their arguments and all their “facts” and all their posturing—they just plain can’t sell it. Not on any basis of fact, or logic, or reason, that is. And not to any intelligent person capable of basic reasoning that has an internet connection.
And I’ll grant you, that’s one of those cases where, admittedly, we don’t necessarily have all the facts. But they can’t even make a reasonable position, let alone a factual one. I mean, I would be swayed by a reasonable position, knowing that the facts just aren’t there (yet). But if someone can’t even manage that then what exactly would be the basis for doubting the reasonable conclusion I already came to?
aren’t there some issues where the truth isn’t very obvious?
Of course. “Is there a god,” for example, is a big one.
And that brings up another point. You ever notice how I tend not to weigh in on the god discussions? I’ll tread the edges of it sometimes, but I rarely debate either side. Why? Because it’s a logic problem in which you can’t COME TO a conclusion. At all. It’s not one of those cases where you came to a conclusion, and then found out one of your premises (and thus, your conclusion) was wrong. We simply don’t have the premises to DO the problem in the first place.
And in cases like those, the only “correct” answer is to admit, “I don’t know.” Boy oh boy, people hate doing that though. If there’s one thing people can’t stand in life, it’s uncertainty. And that has a way of creating a very special brand of ignorance. I guarantee that’s the basis for both the belief in god, and the belief that there is no god. Neither side has any fact or reasonable argument to substantiate such a claim—but they’d rather have ANY answer rather than NO answer. This is, and always has been, the purpose of faith.
Which is exactly why I couldn’t reconcile it in my ideology. Because faith, by its very nature, isn’t knowledge. It’s a substitution, to make up for a lack of knowledge. And I cannot abide that. No philosopher can. Hell, no man of integrity can.
When the truth isn’t obvious, all you can do is work with what you have to draw a sound and valid conclusion. This is what we do with subjects like abortion. We take what we DO know, and reason as best we can. And if some fact comes up later that changes our conclusion (such as, the answer to “when does life begin?”), we admit that our earlier conclusion was wrong. And in the cases where we just don’t have enough to draw ANY conclusion, we admit uncertainty—and we keep our eyes open for any new information that would lend to a sound and valid conclusion.
This is The Rational Process in a nutshell.
Would you call that gray area if someone said there isn’t enough information for me take a stand one way or the other.
Only if that someone also said, “And there never will be.” These are the people who say, “Such and such CAN’T be known.” Well, yes it can. We simply lack the means for it at this point.
I mean, think about it. Imagine a few millennia ago when people believed, “We can never know what’s in the heavens.” And then the telescope was invented and suddenly we COULD know. Or “We can never know why we get sick.” And then germs were discovered. Usually the “we can never know” people are the ones coming up with mystical answers—gods, spirits, magic, demons, things of that nature.
The reason that becomes gray area is because when people conclude that something “can’t be known”—they stop looking for ways to know it, and just start making up whatever nonsense they want. And it’s justified to them, because “it’s a gray area.”
But no, it’s not. That’s just taking the intellectually lazy route of giving up the search to know.
Or to put it another way: in some instances, this, but in other instances that.
That’s usually a result of over-generalizing a subject. Gray area relativists love to do this, because it keeps the subject vague (and thus, open to interpretation).
Think of it like a math or logic problem. If you add or remove a premise, you’re not “changing” the problem—you’re creating an entirely different one. When you stick a variable on the end of something, it changes it—and thus, you have to evaluate it independently. (The really interesting cases, incidentally, are where you have some overarching premise/fact that renders ALL circumstantial versions as either true or false. Like, what premise regarding rape makes rape wrong in any case you can come up with? Those are fun when you figure them out, because then you can establish principles.)
Gray area types tend to think of something like “killing” as one issue that has many circumstantial versions (as you put it “in some instances, in other instances”) that get different answers, thus it has no absolute answer. But that’s false. All they’ve done is generalize “killing.” The reality is, every circumstantial version (eg. death penalty, murder, self-defense, wartime) is an entirely different issue with its own set of unique premises. Sure, some of the premises are shared between problems, but each individual issue will have at least one premise that none of the others do.
It’s no different than if you keep adding a new variable to a math problem, you create a new math problem. If you start with “2+2”, that’s one problem. If you say, “Well what about the case of X?” Well, now your math problem is “2+2+X.” It’s not the same problem anymore, it’s a entirely different one. I might come out the same (say X=0), but it’s still a separate problem that needs individual solving.
AND, I should mention, it will only have one right answer. That’s why you frequently see me mention that if two people get two different answers to the same question—one (or both!) of them is wrong.
Boy oh boy, the environmentalists really outdid themselves this time.
A nice new ad campaign has popped up for environmentalism. You know, typical environmental wacko nonsense—yammering on about carbon emissions this time (again). Oh, but this ad takes a different approach. This one doesn’t seek to guilt you into it, or pander to your sentiments for preserving the planet for future generations. In this one, they finally take the environmentalist mindset to its logical end: straight up murdering anyone who disagrees with them. Including children.
They do it so casually too. Everyone else is horrified (though, perhaps that’s because they’re covered in bloody chunks of their classmates and co-workers, I kid you not)—but you’ll notice the person killing them is quite calm about it. No big deal—if a minority of people don’t want to reduce their carbon footprint, the environmentalists will reduce it for them. With extreme prejudice.
This is, and always has been, environmentalism (indeed, much of liberalism) in a nutshell. “Do what we say, or else.” And, finally, they show us what the “or else” is that they ultimately intend and would have to resort to. You’ll notice that, while hardly as graphic in their campaigning, this really is the general mindset amongst left-wingers in general. They come preaching benevolence and “the greater good” hoping to get you to do whatever they want voluntarily—but if you refuse to consent to whatever sacrifices they’re demanding, they’ll just as easily turn to force to reach their ends.
I mean, sure, maybe it’s not outright murder—but this is essentially what these kinds of absurd, paternalistic environmental regulations are all about. Not to mention economic constraints, taxation, and socialistic mandates. Those behind them are not actually killing people—but the principle is exactly the same. ”Perpetuate the ideology by threat of force.”
Man comes to you and says, “I’d like you to do something for me. You don’t have to do it, but I’d really like you to. Of course, if you DON’T do it I will screw your universe up royally. I’ll fine you, imprison you, or murder you. So, would you like to do this thing for me? No pressure.”
This is exactly what a poster on another site and I had it out about for over a month recently. The question I posed was essentially, “Why should I give up what’s mine, in order to provide for those that don’t have?”
His answer? Because they will mob up, storm your house, and kill you if you don’t.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you modern liberalism with all its trappings—including socialism and environmentalism. It’s the only way that nonsense works. Basically a protection racket. “Give us what we want ‘voluntarily,’ or else. No pressure.” (As Guido stands in the doorway with an aluminum bat. Or the g-man stands there with his ticketbook, handcuffs, and firearm. Or your teacher stands there with her finger on a button.)
Ahh, but environmentalists are already seeing the folly of having shown their hand, as this ad campaign is apparently short lived. I’ve read that inside of a day they’re already trying to remove all traces of it from the internet. Yeah, good luck with that. Got to love their ridiculous apology too. Essentially, “We were just trying to be funny!” You ever notice how when someone does/says something that is really vile and abhorrent, when they’re ultimately called on it they try to defend it by saying it was just a big joke? Well, I’m sure all the other great fascists in history got the joke.
Cat’s out of the canvas reusable grocery bag, guys. See now the true face of this ideology.
I'm curious about your thoughts about the gray area being a breeding ground for hypocricy. Do you think a hypocrite invents the gray area? Or do you believe the gray area actually exists, but it's best not to acknowledge it if one wants to avoid hypocricy?
On a related note, do you think your dad was a hypocrite for his attempt to keep the peace with your mom and go along with her religion because of his love for her?
My jouney parallels yours in that I was also raised Catholic, and was fairly devout. It was my kids that taught me to reject the church for similar reasons.
I’m curious about your thoughts about the gray area being a breeding ground for hypocricy. Do you think a hypocrite invents the gray area?
Yes. The gray area is what allows a hypocrite to be a hypocrite—without acknowledging himself as one. See, in the gray area, pretty much anything goes. It’s all subjective rationalization and moral relativism in there, and it’s a land that lacks any hard and fast principles.
A principle is black and white. “Murder is wrong,” as a principle, allows no leeway. There’s no getting around it, there’s no justifying it, there’s no argument you can make to the contrary. Saying that principle is “gray” throws all that out the window. That’s a person who says, “Murder is wrong” and then murders someone and says it was OK to do so. Somehow. Because he rationalized it in a way that ignored the principle. And that makes him a hypocrite.
And it’s not just ethical stuff. I dare you to find a person who says something like, “The Constitution is a living, breathing document” who isn’t playing in the gray area. No, it’s not a living, breathing document. It is black and white letters on a page that say exactly what they mean. It is a static document of hard and fast principles that you either subscribe to, or you don’t. And if you don’t then you are simply unconstitutional. But people want to have it both ways. People want to believe that they respect the Constitution, but then they also want to believe they’re entitled to… whatever, something that’s not actually in the Constitution. Healthcare or something. But if you believe you’re entitled to healthcare from the government, then I’m sorry, but you don’t respect the Constitution. There’s no getting around it—unless you play in the gray area. Unless you become a hypocrite.
Or do you believe the gray area actually exists, but it’s best not to acknowledge it if one wants to avoid hypocricy?
You have to appreciate what gray area is. Gray area, at its most basic form, is simply uncertainty. And it’s a failure to realize that NOT knowing doesn’t mean something CAN’T be known.
It doesn’t necessarily MAKE one a hypocrite—it just allows it to happen. A person making a gray area claim is one claiming something they don’t actually know, and can’t actually substantiate. They just really WANT to know it because it feels right and/or seems practical to them. It actually tries to dispense with principle all together, you’ll notice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s actually right—it’s right because they want it to be right. (This is why I absolutely annihilate gray area thinkers in debate—because they don’t know the principle they’re defending on a particular subject. But I do. Or, at least, I can figure it out. And then I nail them to the wall with it.)
Everything, absolutely everything, can be known. Sometimes we simply lack the tools of knowledge. To put it simply (and to use one of my favorite analogies), picture a complex math problem you don’t know how to solve. It doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t have an answer, or that that answer is somehow subjective or relative—it just means that you don’t know what the answer IS, or how to figure it out. Yet, in the face of such a thing, a sickening amount of humans turn to the gray area to solve it. Why? Because they’d rather have ANY answer, than admit that they don’t KNOW the answer.
And I’ll tell you another thing, look at any atrocity or monsterous predator in all of history—and tell me that “gray area,” that desperation for an answer that one doesn’t have, isn’t exactly what they were preying on in order to control a population. Those are the people who manipulate the gray area to their own ends—seeking to justify the otherwise unjustifyable by claiming it “gray.” Enter: pretty much every single special interest, on both sides of the fence, for the last 80 years.
On a related note, do you think your dad was a hypocrite for his attempt to keep the peace with your mom and go along with her religion because of his love for her?
No, not really. A thing about Catholicism is, if you want to get married in the Catholic Church, both parties have to agree to raise the children Catholic. And that’s essentially what he did. He’s not really a Catholic, and never was—but he was willing to accept it (within reason, obviously) for the sake of my mother. I have an uncle like this, that married into the family, as well. I don’t think it makes one a hypocrite to go to Church and respect another’s faith even though you don’t personally believe in all the supernaturalism of it. That’s kind of how I am now. And whenever I go home to visit my family, I often find myself going to Church with my mom—for the dual reason that A) it makes her happy; and B) I find it interesting, despite the fact that I get no spiritual value from it. One thing I won’t do, is take the Eucharist. That’s so wrong, and so offensive (even if nobody knows it) if you don’t actually subscribe to the tenets of what the Eucharist is and all it stands for. (This is why Catholics got SO pissed at Clinton back in the late 90s when he did that. You DO NOT do that, period.)
I have three particular memories of Church attendance when I was young. The first featured my father, the second my mother, and the third was all me.
Little backstory. My mother is very Italian Roman Catholic. My father is… not so Catholic—but he loves my mother very much, and is therefore Catholic. I was raised Catholic. Baptized and Confirmed. I don’t much follow the faith anymore, but I was most definitely raised in it. And we moved around a lot when I was a kid. I remember one of the first things my mom would do when we moved into a new city was scope out the Churches to find one she liked. So with that in mind, OK, onto the memories.
This might possibly be one of the biggest and longest fights my parents ever had. Like, a “wake the neighbors” fight. Soon after we moved to Seattle (the first time), my mom found a Church she really liked. She started regularly attending, usually bringing me along. Big Church, glamorous, impressive statues and stained glass, flowing carpets, and an architecture that was conducive to carrying voices spoken from the altar. And a very nice priest. Friendly, open, and knew his congregation well. Now I didn’t really think too hard about it at the time, I just kinda “went to Church” with my mom. But I’ll never forget this one particular Ash Wednesday—which was the first time my father ever set foot in this Church.
In retrospect, I suppose I could tell something was already bothering him before he even walked through the door. Like, he kind of took a look at the place and thought something was awry about it. But, he’s a man of class and dignity, so he held my mother’s hand and smiled as we walked into the foyer (with me trudging behind them, fidgeting in my corduroy slacks). And the priest was there in the foyer welcoming the parishioners. And I remember my mom introducing my dad to him, who shook hands with him. Now, I didn’t know it at the time—but something happened during that handshake that set my father off in amajor way. But he kept it to himself (for the time being) and we went and found our seats. And, again, in retrospect—I didn’t really notice it at the time, but all throughout that Ash Wednesday mass, my father was pretty much just going through the motions. Mass ended, and we drove home. And that drive home was… tense. I was plugged into my Walkman (yeah, it was that long ago) and not really paying attention—but my parents were in the front seat not really arguing but clearly disagreeing with each other about something. By the time we got home, however, it had turned into a full-blown argument. The basis of it being that my mom loved this Church, but my dad adamantely refused to ever step foot in it again and did not want my mother going there either. And because neither side would budge, it turned into a loud, screaming, name-calling, scaring the children fight between parents.
Now, when my parents fought, I was usually sent to my room for no good reason. I didn’t do anything, but it was largely more of a “you have no business listening to this” kind of thing. But, of course, listen I did. And something my father said was burned into my memory forever.
"I will NOT be fucking lectured to about charity and sacrifice and piety by a guy wearing a $30,000 fucking Rolex."
I think that was the first time I ever really started thinking about and questioning my Catholic faith. My mother ultimately conceded the argument to him and began searching for another Church. But after that, I started realizing what my father was talking about whenever I walked into a Church. And to this day, whenever I find myself in one I find that I’m looking around—trying to estimate how much went into that Church, and if it was (to poach a line from Indiana Jones) “for His glory, or for [theirs].”
And I suppose that colored me in other ways too. Like, a big reason I’m such a cynic about environmentalism is because I see all these jackass bajillionaire celebrities and politicians telling ME I need to “reduce my carbon footprint” and “donate to the cause” while THEY’RE living in megamansions and flying on private jets and sleeping on piles upon piles of their own money. Fuck them. Seriously. You know who I respect as an environmentalist? Leonardo DiCaprio. Why? Because he doesn’t always need a limo to get from A to B. He’ll fly commercial every now and then. I think he genuinely cares about the environment (as opposed to it being a pretense for the cameras) and his lifestyle largely reflects his ideology. I can totally respect that.
But what I can’t respect is a hypocrite. And I think that’s what my father taught me about the (not all, but some) Church that day. The definition of a hypocrite is someone who preaches to you about something, but presents himself in stark defiance of those preachings. And I think that’s why I’ve always been so obsessed about being consistent in my ideology across the board. Yea, I may be a callous, uncaring prick—but I dare anyone to prove that I’m in any way a hypocrite. I think it was that day that I learned that “hypocrisy” is the greatest character flaw a person can ever have. This is why I never play in “the gray area”—because it’s just a breeding ground for hypocrisy. “The gray area” is the place where a guy passing around a collection plate for charity is wearing a $30,000 Rolex and thinking nothing of it.
I refuse to live there. Ever.
That’s what my father taught me, and how the Church played a role in that lesson.
So, several years and a handful of cities later, we moved back to Seattle. This time, in a much smaller community. As always, my mother went shopping for Churches. And she found one that, hands down, she absolutely positively loved more than any Church she’d ever been to, with a priest that I was wholly unprepared for meeting the first time I laid eyes on him.
The Church was nothing special. It had originally just been a tiny little chapel—but its congregation had grown so large that they had to expand to accommodate it. So, they built a new Church behind it—but again, it was nothing elaborate or ornate. Walls, roof, rafters, simple lighting, a stone pool for baptisms, simple altar, and a little organ in the corner. No statues, a stained glass window—but nothing remarkable. No fancy chairs or candelabras. Simple little wood-carved depictions for the Stations of the Cross. It was just a Church. It wasn’t some grand house of worship, and didn’t try to be.
And Father Chuck, whoo. He was something else.
And I remember thinking, “Who in the hell is this raving hippy, with his scraggly hair and his tribal beads and his beat up sandals.” He didn’t look like any priest I’d ever seen or heard of. But I remember my mom tilting her head up (I had outgrown her at this point by several inches) to whisper into my ear, “Just listen to him.” So I did. And man, this guy preached a brand of Catholicism the likes I’d never heard. He made it fun. He made it interesting. He made you think. He didn’t just throw scripture at you, and then lecture you with a sermon. Sometimes he talked like a father talking to his son on a fishing trip. Other times he would talk as a philosopher pondering the great mysteries. The thing of it was, he never really preached—so much as he did converse, on a level that anyone and everyone could understand. And he was likeable. If you spent any time with him, you couldn’t wait to spend more time with him. I daresay it’s probably the closest thing I can imagine to the actual Jesus teaching his congregation on the streets and shores of Galilee. And if you wanted, he’d sit down with you after mass and talk further with you, personally. He was the kind of guy that, when you came across him, you didn’t want to shake his hand. You wanted to hug him. And he’d hug you back, and suddenly you’d just feel at peace.
This, truly, was a man of God. And strangely enough, he frequently ticked the Archdiocese off something fierce. I mean, his Church masses followed the liturgy it was supposed to - but he was just so unorthodox as a priest. The way he dressed, the way he talked, the unusual and special way he understood and communicated the teachings of Jesus Christ. There was just something about him that made you want to listen. And his community absolutely loved him. My mom told me that attendance at his Church dropped significantly when he retired and was replaced.
And the guy had a profound influence on my life. He was the guy that taught me to listen, that my mom told me to listen to—not to the teachings of some book or some supernatural being, but to the world and to myself. And I remember, the very first time I went with my mom to one of his masses, the whole ride home I was jabbering like a maniac—just trying to flesh out all the avenues of all the new things I was thinking just from havingreally listened to one sermon from this guy. After that, I wanted to go to Church. I wanted to leave Church with that feeling of all these ideas and possibilities exploding in my brain to the point that I couldn’t contain them. And my mom, I’m a lot like her in a lot of ways—and we would bounce these things off each other for hours. We do it (over telephone and instant messenger) to this day, on an near-daily basis.
I suspect it was that priest, with my mother as an anchor, that inspired me to become a philosopher. I mean, he just opened my mind to everything. And when he did, all the other stuff just became boring. I mean, car payments and grocery shopping and grades and (to a certain extent) relationships—they just became trivial. I stopped caring about them to any extent more than I practically had to. Suddenly, the answers to the great questions were what interested me: What, Why, How?
I think it was that experience that gave me the courage—a courage few people in this universe will ever have—to really stare into the void knowing full well that it was going to stare back at me.
That’s what my mother taught me, and how the Church played a role in that lesson.
#3 I guess you could call this my departure from the faith. Around my mid-to-late teens, I started feeling confused and unsatisfied with supernatural answers to my questions in life. I had asked the really scary questions, and I realized that my faith wasn’t sufficiently answering them. And I was a little scared about that. To the point that I was uncomfortable with bringing it to my parents, or even to this priest that I had loved and trusted for so many years. So, I got in my car and I drove to a different Church. It was the middle of the day, so there wasn’t a mass or anything - but the confessionals were open. And what I really wanted was just to talk to someone who could appreciate the gravity of what I was going through without any personal attachment to me. So, at least for Catholics, there are private and public confessionals. One puts you behind a screen, the other is face-to-face with the priest. I opted for the face-to-face - because I wasn’t really there to confess, I just wanted someone to talk to about this.
So, I laid it all out. I told him how nothing made sense to me. I told him how I didn’t understand people or the way they live and exist. I told him that I didn’t understand God’s role in the world. I told him that I wanted to know the mysteries of the universe, but how faith wasn’t giving me an answer. I told him how I felt like when I tried to talk to God, he refused me an answer. I told him how I felt like I couldn’t know anything so long as I was holding onto faith.
He looked at me straight in the eye and laid upon me the most clarifying words I’d ever heard in my life. He said, “God is all around you, and He will always love you and welcome you—but perhaps your way through life isn’t through Him. Maybe you need to find your own way. If faith is in your way, then let it go. Let Him go. Find your answers however you need to find them. He doesn’t care, because He loves you regardless. He just wants you to be happy.”
And this man and I talked for well over an hour. Not about God, but about philosophy. The big stuff in which, at the time, I was just starting to get my feet wet. The meaning of life. The value of my fellow man. The inherent rights of a human being. I walked out of that confessional a new man. I think that’s the point I stopped being a Catholic and became a true philosopher. And I did so knowing that, if He’s really out there—he doesn’t care.
If He’s out there, this is what he wants me to be doing. And if He’s not, this is what I should be doing anyway.
The path of righteousness isn’t a building, or a man, or a book, or even a faith. The building can be a fraud. The man can be a charlatan. The book can be a lie. The faith is not the means to knowledge. The Church, as well as my parents, taught me to reject the Church—and to think for myself, by means of reason and candor and open-mindedness. To question authority, to seek the deeper meaning of things, to figure things out for myself, to understand reality for what it is.
Which is what I’ve spent the rest of my life since doing.
That’s what I taught myself, and how the Church played a role in that lesson.