Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Thanks

It's the time of year that we're told to cultivate gratitude, to look at our life as a gift. What does that mean?

Growing up, if my mother gave me a shirt for my birthday, I'd of course thank her. It was never a big deal; it didn't seem to matter so much to her when I said "thank you." But if she later saw me wearing the shirt, that seemed to make her very happy.

So on Thanksgiving, I don't try to feel thankful, or look for ways to express appreciation to some higher power. Instead, I look at whatever it is I've got right now, and think about the best way to use it.

Every week I get a paycheck, the direct deposit into my checking account from the MS Excel design contracts I do. A certain amount goes for my rent, or to food and utilities and insurance, or into savings towards retirement or the next vacation or Vegas poker jag I want to take. Since the paycheck is regular and expected, it's practically automatic, how it gets directed into well-establish channels.

But what if I hit say a video poker jackpot? I didn't expect to get it, and have no assurance that it will happen regularly. That makes it different than a paycheck; it's more like a gift. With a gift, I've got no pre-determined plans or habits to guide what to do with it. I must take a moment to stop and ponder: how am I going to use this thing that unexpectedly dropped in my lap?

Life is a gift; we sure as hell never planned to get born in this world. I wouldn't know who or what to thank for this gift... and if I did, I'm not so sure that I'd want to thank them or curse them. But forget about that; the important thing about a gift isn't where it came from, and it isn't even whether I like it or not. The one vital point is: how am I going to use it?


Anonymous said...

This comment is in response to what you wrote at TruthDig:

You state something that you find obvious, that we are all born believers. Then you divide people into doubters and believers. Then you base conclusions on these assumptions.

And they are just that, assumptions, based on nothing more than your opinion - or based on your opinion about your opinion. Please, just spare us your silly opinions if you are going to state them as facts, when such things cannot be proven or even known to be facts, ever.

Just because you "believe" that your opinions are facts, doesn't make them true, nor does it make you a "believer". It just makes you ridiculous. And if you can't see why, then you need to learn why, becaus it makes you look like a witless simpleton.

Furthermore, if I don't believe in your religion or your god or even the existence of god, that doesn't make me a "doubter". I have no doubt about god - there IS no god. And I truly say that without any doubt. No doubt at all! So by definition, I cannot be what you call a "doubter".

I could just as easily and accurately define YOU as a "Doubter", if I reference myself at the center of the deciding universe like you ridiculously do: I, Anonymous, declare there is no god. Therefore, you "DOUBT" what I say is true. Therefore, you are a "doubter".

Yes, that's how arrogant you are without even knowing it. Do you think your God wants you to be arrogant? You've got some 'splainin to do, "Believer".

Stuart said...

The anonymous comment above refers to this new article at truthdig.com:

Troy Jollimore on Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Case for God’

If you follow that link to Troy's article, and search the comments section for "randomstu" (my screen name), you'll see the bits I wrote there, that apparently inspired Anony. If you find any of this interesting, I'd enjoy reading your coherent responses either here or on the truthdig site.

My reponse to Anonymous himself:

I appreciate all the time and effort it took for you to make a weighty comment. That means something.

You wrote, "Please, just spare us your juvenile opinions." Instead, why don't you ignore them? It's so very simple to ignore my juvenile opinions. Much much easier than writing a 6-paragraph comment, as you did!

Also: Why not use a name, even if it's a made-up one? What are you hiding from?

You write, "I have no doubt about god... No doubt at all... I cannot be what you call a 'doubter'."

I'm sorry that you lack doubt. Doubt is wonderful; it's 10,000 times better than belief. Doubt is better than God, better than Buddha, better than anything!

If you really have no doubt, I grieve for you. Please please keep trying till you find doubt, till you discover a great, clear "Don't know."

"Don't know" will light your way, and then everything will be no problem.

Doug said...

This comment made me laugh. :) Anony took the time to attempt a scathing response to your commentary, but looks quite the fool for having tried. If he had skimmed your posts on this blog for even five minutes maybe his trolling could have hit closer to the mark.

In the end don't all thought actions boil down to belief? Sensory inputs arbitrarily categorized and conclusions drawn about the categories, further arbitrary categorizations made, ad nauseum. Doubter vs. believer are just another division of the mind, no different than God vs. no-god. Totally arbitrary and of no bearing on reality, except for the delusions they incite.

- Doug

P.S. - Is calling a Zen Bhuddist a believer the same as calling Baptist Christian a doubter? Maybe he actually meant that as a subtle insult after all. =D

Stuart said...

Thanks for your comment, Doug.

Doug wrote...
In the end don't all thought actions boil down to belief?

I could decide "I'm a believing Jew" (or whatever). Then in each life situation, I'd just follow whatever the scriptures, authorities, and community of Judaism tell me to do. In concrete terms, that's what I'm thinking of when I use the word "believer."

It's a big time-saver, since it's quicker to follow rules than to think through each action. This is true even if my belief isn't a religion, but just some dogma I create with my own thinking.

But often we believe together with others, which has the additional advantage of group cohesion. If I'm a believing Hassid or Mormon or Amish etc, that binds me to the community, such that when I'm in trouble, there will always be others to come to my aid. No small matter!

The downside of belief is that binding to a community (or to internalized rules) not only safeguards against deviance to the downside (I'll refrain from stealing, because the group or rules tell me not to). It also hinders deviance to the up-side (if I think deeply, freely, creatively, that will also put me at odds with the beliefs and believers).

We can see this in groups like the Hassids and Mormons and Uber-Christians. The system of sharing beliefs works great for the majority of the group... but can be hell on non-conformists or independent thinkers.

Anyway, when I talk about "doubters," I'm thinking about meeting a situation with a mind that questions what I've been told is true, or what I think is true.

(Actually, the True Believers I've encountered are just as likely to believe in a political party or doctrine, or a psychology or therapy world-view, as a religion. The dynamics are the same.)

P.S. - Is calling a Zen Bhuddist a believer the same as calling Baptist Christian a doubter? Maybe he actually meant that as a subtle insult after all. =D

Yeah, calling a Zennist a "believer" is like calling a Baptist a "doubter"... or like calling a 3rd-grader a "snotnose."

In my Zen school, we say you need three things to practice: Great Effort, Great Faith, and Great Doubt. It's funny that the last 2 qualities seem to contradict each other. It's also interesting that we explicitly say that the mark of great faith is that it's not faith in anything.