Thursday, December 31, 2009

I'm Not One for New Year's Resolutions, However ...

There are no doubt a few things—hell, many for that matter—about my life that a resolution to change could only help. But are these disingenuous promises we make to ourselves every January 1st really doing us any good, or do they just set us up for failure?

I can only recall one New Year's resolution I ever made that met with even the most modest level of success. Three years ago I resolved to start drinking coffee, whether self-brewed or purchased from a coffee shop, that was made of one-half regular and one-half decaffeinated coffee. My crack medical team impressed upon me the notion that too much caffeine was probably not good for someone with a history of less-than-stellar impulse control. Amazingly, I managed to habituate myself to the task of buying and brewing only semi-caffeinated java for about 18 months! Then one day I forgot to ask for half-decaf and was treated to the most delicious-tasting, fully satisfying, 100% caffeinated coffee. Wow! For several moments I wondered why my coffee tasted so good, then it dawned on me: there was no decaf in this mug! I made a new resolution on that day: to never drink half-decaffeinated swill ever again.

It's December 31st again, and I've been considering a few resolutions for this New Year that I am determined to make succeed:

1. Every day in my email in box, I receive several 'words-of-the-day' from various sources. (It's been very helpful for improving my vapid vocabulary.) Each of these words comes, of course, with its definitions as well as a sentence or two exemplifying its uses. At the bottom of each word entry is a paragraph dedicated to the etymology of the featured word. As a rule, I don't bother reading this part. On those occasions when I do, I am usually amazed, impressed, and informed to the point of giddiness. It's one thing to know a word's definition; it's quite another to be able to expound about its origins and historical significance. I am therefore resolved this coming New Year to reading the entire contents of my 'words-of-the-day' emails—including etymologies—for the betterment of my appreciation for words and how to properly use them.

2. At this point, things get a little dicey. My Dunkin Donuts habit is in dire need of intervention. For the coming year, I resolve not to go into a Dunking Donuts coffee shop more than once on any given day. Do I hear snickering? No, this is not meant as a joke. Committing to this resolution would realize a significant step forward in my quest to save a little money as well as moderate my caffeine intake. Those who know me understand full well what an achievement this would be. Well, let's just move on. I sense some of you are still laughing.

3. This is a big one. My daughter and I have to stop conspiring to buy techno-gadgets for the computer or stereo system behind Jami's back. It's really quite devious, to say nothing of immature. Besides, I think Alycia is a rat anyway; Jami always seems to find out everything. Some partner-in-crime she turned out to be.

4. And finally, I resolve to remove not just some, but all, of the rust that is accumulating on my treadmill. It's such a pain. Every time I go to use it (every January 1st) it squeals so loudly I am forced to turn it off before it catches fire. I'll just have to achieve my Richard Gere physique some other way.

This year is going to be different. There's no reason a few well thought out resolutions can't succeed. This year I resolve to stick to my resolutions. (Can you do that?) Sure you can. You just watch. This year is going to be different.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Legend for the Ages: The Story of Christmas

The beauty of mythology is that it celebrates one of man's most treasured possessions—the imagination. With the unique powers of the imagination, one can construct that which reason tells us cannot be constructed; travel to places reason tells us we cannot go; become something reason tells us we will never become. Reason, it seems, has no place in such a conjured world.

The cult of reason and rationality often fails to satisfy our collective appetite for the unreal, the unachievable, the unknowable. But we have ingeniously devised a way to go to these very places where none have gone before. The imagination takes us on these fantastical voyages to worlds which cannot become real, and yet manage to become nearly real through the magic of belief! By believing something to be true, we ground in our own reality that which would otherwise remain forever outside the world of possibility.

And so it is with Christmas. For the faithful, this holiday commemorates events believed to have actually occurred. For the rest of us, it has evolved into a legend of grand proportions—a myth worthy of the gods. And frankly, this is where Christmas belongs—as a fable among fables, the finest of folklore.

As unassailable dogma, the story of Christmas fails completely; as fruit from the tree of the imagination, however, it succeeds in grand style. Here it can be embraced for the quaint and charming fiction that it is. That being said, wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" nonetheless has the feel of a ratifying gesture many of us are not comfortable offering. Until such time as the story of Christmas is relieved of the religious burden to ground itself in reality, the seasonal greeting of choice for us skeptics will likely remain "Happy Holidays."

Perhaps in another thousand years, the Christmas tale will be told to our young without the taint of religious indoctrination, and will instead be appreciated for what it truly is—precious fodder for the untamed imagination.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Self or God: The False Choice

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut was interviewed recently on the Colin McEnroe Show on Connecticut Public Radio. (Check out the interview.) It was an oddly entertaining encounter—as revealing as it was nonsensical.

First off, Bishop Rosazza is an affable figure. He engagingly interacted with the host who is self-professed in his religious skepticism. At no point did the bishop appear to be condescending, though he could not help but come across as somewhat instructive—no doubt for the benefit of the godless Mr. McEnroe. The problem the bishop had was the same one religious apologists face the world over: having to explain the inexplicable.

To every substantive question posed by the interviewer about matters of faith, God, spirituality, etc., Bishop Rosazza's responses were constructed of little more that compounded metaphors, as though he were speaking in a code only the faithful could comprehend. He didn't seem to possess the tools of articulation necessary to put forth even a modest defense of his own life of faith. Circular reasoning, ambiguous logic, and flowery ruminations were all he offered, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Many apologists amazingly find success with these tools, especially when addressing those who are more predisposed to conformity and group-think in the first place.

While acknowledging that man is indeed responsible for the condition of his fellow man, the bishop nonetheless asserts that successfully fulfilling this duty requires “faith in action.” The objectionable insinuation is that without religious faith, man is ill equipped to adequately tend to his fellow man. Scores of godless humanitarians might have something different to say on the subject.

Of particular interest was the bishop’s assertion that without God in his life, man is unalterably self-centered. In other words, by not believing in the supreme transcendence of an omnipotent and omniscient god, man is anointing himself supreme entity in all things. What other choice is there? One could easily infer from this rhetorical device that there is nothing else to put one’s “faith” in. How often it is said, We can not do it alone. About this, those who say such things are absolutely correct. We humanist skeptics understand all too well that we are powerless to manage life’s complexities on our own. We turn to a different place for answers, however. We turn to one another. We worship nothing; we worship no one. Instead, we value and respect man’s ability to strive for his own betterment by committing to that which brings out the best of his nature. This mindset not only fills our lives with meaning and purpose, it even provides a sense of worldly salvation.

The human individual—on his own—is just as impotent as any supernatural entity when it comes to conquering life’s challenges. Living, loving, and working in concert, however, man has no need to conjure an entity that serves only to condemn him for his failures.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Twenty Years and Counting

It was a day like no other — at once ordinary and unique. Having as yet to be emancipated from the sticky tentacles of religiosity, Jami and I passively relented and were married in a church ceremony.

The weight of expectations, in retrospect, was enormous. Where else would one get married? Certainly not in a civil ceremony at the Town Hall. That's just not where good Catholics tie the knot. But why? That we didn't even entertain the notion of having the local Justice of the Peace formally unite us says much about how conforming our state of mind had become.

Jami and I married one another because we loved each other and wanted our union to be recognized. We were married in a Catholic church, however, for no other reason than we were expected to be. Such is the power of religious culture, family influence, and ritualized conformity.

We take comfort in the knowledge that our marriage was recognized by the state, having met certain state-imposed criteria. In a practical sense, then, it was a civil union. Today we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our marriage not our religious wedding ceremony. We take joy in recalling the social ritual of eating, drinking, dancing, and otherwise partying with so many who wished us well on that special night.

Our relationship is stronger today because we have freed ourselves to be who and what we really are: two human beings tethered by sweetness and good humor, intent upon learning how to better love ourselves, each other, and our precious daughter Alycia.

It may not be the perfect relationship, but it is one built upon respect, and for that reason alone, it's a fair bet we're gonna make it.