16 August 2012

My Invisible Friend Bernard Attacks the Belief in Prophets and Founding Fathers

Bernard is my octogenarian, invisible friend but I can never convince him of that. I’ve tried but it’s best just to go along with his existence. He pouts when I question it.

I could see that Bernard was agitated as I approached.
“What’s up Bernard,” I asked as I sat down at the table of our favorite deli.
“What do you think about the Supreme Court deciding whether Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act is constitutional?”
“Um. I think that if they’ve said it, then by definition it is constitutional?”
“Well yeah, by a 5-4 vote. Flip the coin the other way and isn’t constitutional? Politics drives me nuts. Could you imagine deciding on scientific principles in genetics or physics that way? Politics are all made up but they pretend that it’s some kind of science, as if the conversation between Supreme Court justices is an experiment in a Hadron Collider.”
“It’s called a constitutional government, Bernard.”

“And that’s the other thing.”
“The constitution?”
“Yes. Did you know that the Supreme Court once struck down child labor laws as unconstitutional?”
“People treat the constitution like it’s scripture.”
“Well it is the basis for our government Bernard.”
“But the founding fathers didn’t use the constitution as a guide to writing the constitution.”
“These guys made it up but we can’t make things up? They decided what is right or wrong in defiance of the government before them but now we’re bound by that?”
“Isn’t that how life works, Bernard?”

“You know why people deify the founding fathers or even, for that matter, prophets like Jesus or Mohammed?”
“Oh. Now you’re going after sacred figures everywhere? Seriously? Are you off your meds?”
Bernard wrinkled his nose and brushed aside my question as he leaned in. “You know what it all is? All these things like binding constitutions and sacred scriptures are just ways for one generation to avoid responsibility, to blame a previous generation for what does or doesn’t work in their own lives. If they believe, they don't have to think," he waved his hands. "But here’s the kick. The founding fathers sure didn’t decide what was right or wrong based on what past generations thought. If they had faith in anything, it was in their own thinking. So why is it that people think that the way to honor them is to stop thinking?” He took a gulp of water, and I watched a drop roll down his chin.
“Same thing with scriptures. Joseph Smith didn’t limit himself by what other people said was true and yet now there are millions of Mormons all worried about whether Joseph Smith would approve of what they said or did? Jesus, same thing. He certainly didn’t worry about what the Jews or Romans thought was right.”

“Yeah, but if you believe in Jesus or Joseph Smith you believe they had a revelation.”
“Ah!” Bernard’s eyes lit up. “What’s that? Revelation is just a directly revealed truth. Something that doesn’t need any third-party confirmation.”
“You are all over the map, Bernard. Didn’t you start out talking about the constitution?”
“I’m saying that it’s all the same.”
“So you think that we should ignore inspired genius? Just dismiss people like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams or Jesus and Moses?”
“No!” Bernard shook his head. “No. I think that we should be inspired by them. But do you think that they’d be remembered at all in history if they’d limited themselves by what generations before them had believed was right? They’d be forgotten if they defined themselves by past generations. So why should anyone who claims to reverence them then limit their own lives by those past lives?”

At this point he was either beginning to persuade me or was simply wearing me down. I just shrugged. “I don’t know, Bernard. You tell me. Why would anyone do that?”
“Because it’s a wonderful way to avoid responsibility. Supreme Court justices don’t have to actually judge whether universal health care or bans on child labor are good ideas. They just have to decide whether words written by past generations would allow or prohibit it. The faithful don’t have to decide if women preachers or same-sex marriage are right. They just have to compare it to something past generations wrote. It’s a wonderful thing, this avoiding responsibility for your own life, your own choices. And it is something that all the men they look to did not do.”
“So what does it mean, Bernard?”

“You really think that L. Ron Hubbard would become a Scientologists if he were alive today? If it weren’t something he’d started? You think that Joseph Smith would become a Mormon today? Or even that Jesus would become a Christian or Mohammad would become a Muslim? You really think that they’d accept what someone else taught rather than trust their own personal revelation?”
“You don’t believe that Joseph Smith would become a Mormon if he were alive today?
"More than that. They wouldn't let him. He drank. He was a polygamist. He couldn't even get temple certified.”
"So Mormons today are more Mormon than Joseph Smith? Is that what you're saying?"
"Same with Jesus. His incessant talk about how the rich would find it so hard to get into heaven, you think that the Catholic Church with all it wealth or any of these Protestant churches with their Protestant work ethic would put up with that kind of talk from a spokesperson?"
I winced a little. "But people follow the teachings of these prophets, no?"
“I’m saying that people who claim to follow the teachings of a Mohammad or Jesus or Mary Baker Eddy aren’t doing anything of the sort.”
“They’re not?”
“No. They’re not following. They’re just standing. Right there in the spot where their prophets fell.”
“Or ascended.”
“Ascended. Jesus and Mohammad ascended.”
Bernard shook his head. “Okay, ascended. But they’re not following anyone. They’re just standing there. The world moves on. And that’s what these creative geniuses knew, it's why they created new religions. So why would communities just stand in one spot rather than continue in the direction those people pointed?”

"So you're suggesting that religious leaders should be treated the way that great scientists or philosophers are treated? As a starting point?"
"Sure. Yeah."
"But there's a difference between religious truth and scientific truth, right?"
"Not really," Bernard claimed.
"Not really?"
"Science is a a collective search for truth out there that can be measured. Religion ought to be a individual search for truth that can't be measured, can only resonate internally."

“Bernard, are you religious?”
“No. Not really.”
“But you’re claiming to know how religions work? Isn’t this like getting marriage advice from a bachelor?”
“I’m just saying.”
“Which isn’t quite the same as prophesying. Is it?”
“No,” Bernard looked down at the table, worrying his napkin into what looked like a string.
“Bernard, you’re not Christian, you’re not Mormon, you’re not Muslim. You’re the most politically opinionated, unregistered voter I know. And I’m not even sure you’re a citizen. Then you rant about all this like you're some kind of expert?”
“Well sure,” he said. “Not being a member of any church or state actually gives me a a certain perspective that lets me see what people ensconced in all that can’t.”
“But your formula for creating dynamic communities is to dismiss every significant religion or government founded in a previous generation? For some reason that sounds to me like a better way to create chaos than community, Bernard.”
He was silent for a time. I stared at the menu for a while. Fidgeted. Waved off the waitress.

“I’m not saying that you throw away everything they’ve given us,” Bernard exhaled. “I guess all I’m saying is that their lives were trajectories that pointed in a particular direction and we’ve made them into statues rooted in one spot.” He leaned forward. “You can reverence any prophet or founding father but what they’ve created can never be a substitute for what you have to create.”
“Which is?”
“Well that’s what you have to decide. And nobody else’s revelation is going to tell you that.”

1 comment:

alleykat said...

I should read blog this every time you post. Then I can say smart stuff in conversations. :)