Posts Tagged ‘This I Believe’

FoL: coda

December 10, 2010

I quoted Thomas Kurton’s Sagan-esque statement about drawing inspiration from our species’ steady climb out of the cave, up from primitive wall drawings to the edge of designing our own nature and future.

Here’s an even more Sagan-esque statement, from Sagan himself. It comes at the end of Pale Blue Dot, with which we began stretching the frame of our Future of Life course.

Two billion years ago our ancestors were microbes; a half-billion years ago, fish; a hundred million years ago, something like mice; ten million years ago, arboreal apes; and a million years ago, proto-humans puzzling out the taming of fire. Our evolutionary lineage is marked by a mastery of change. In our time, the pace is quickening.

Two years ago we thought we’d reclaimed our legacy of change, by electing an eloquent and vital young President whose entire appeal was predicated on our hunger for it. Lately we’ve had our doubts. But he has already endorsed the spirit of enterprise and quest. We should remind him, and his critics.

The first voyage of men and women to Mars is the key step in transforming us into a multiplanet species.

It’s not about Mars, it’s about moving onward and upward. Ad astra per aspera. We must not make this planet either our refuse dump or our permanent burial ground. That Jamesian “feeling of being at home in the Universe” is an expansive one. It feels right. I believe we’ll get there.


March 27, 2010

He may sound like an old starched pietist from another century, but pioneering Harvard neuroscientist (and grandson of Emerson) Alexander Forbes was a  Stephen Jay Gould ahead of his time. (I know, Gould’s critics think he was out of time and devoid of sense.) This fifties testimonial is worth listening to. (NOTE TO A&S STUDENTS: don’t forget, I’ve challenged you to draft your own testimonials. For credit, yet. And, don’t forget to send me your exam questions.)

The notion that science and religion are antagonistic and incompatible seems, to me, utterly false. Science is the quest for eternal truths in the universe by disciplined minds, and I am sure that if pursued in the right spirit, science engenders reverence. Reverence and worship are as much part of the normal human being as hunger for food, or zest for action. Primitive man, naturally, worships the sun—prime source of light and warmth, and indeed of this earth, itself. I sympathize and find the blue sky overhead as noble a setting for worship as the temple or cathedral… This I Believe

this they believe

March 23, 2010

Speaking of Unitarians, Elizabeth Anderson was one. Her parents had been raised Lutheran and (culturally) Jewish but as adults rejected the local representatives of those traditions who rejected them in their recombinant marriage and turned to the UUs.

“Unitarianism is a church without a creed; there are no doctrinal requirements of membership. (Although Bertrand Russell once quipped that Unitarianism stands for the proposition that there is at most one God, these days pagans are as welcome as all others.) It was a pretty good fit for us, until the New Age spiritualists started to take over the church. That was too loopy for my father’s rationalistic outlook, so we left.”

Pretty much my story too.  But I’m as down with the interdependent web of all existence as anybody. Guess that strikes some traditionalists as pagan too.

Anderson leads off today’s readings in A&S with an impressive rejection of the canard that you can’t be good without God. (Sam Harris has interesting new thoughts on the fact-value distinction he shared at TED recently.)

The other canard we’ve scrutinized this semester is the stereotype of atheists as negative nay-saying nabobs who only know what they’re against. That’s the regrettable, sordid legacy of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, but most thoughtfully-Godless folk are for plenty. The magician Penn Gillette offered his “This I Believe” testament in an affirming spirit– “No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future, with more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O…”  —but it was still purveyed under the barely-affirming title “There is no God.” Sigh.

More of us need to speak up, in that forum and others, to dispel the false perception of Godlessness as akin to Scrooge-hood. Gillette’s is at the top of the queue of (as of this writing) 136 atheism-themed essays. [Click here to submit your essay to “This I Believe.”  I did. ] When I found the little piece I’d dashed off to celebrate the lunar landing anniversary back in the summer posted on TIB’s website recently it was like Christmas in January.

Also today: Ian McEwan’s “End of the World Blues” (aka “Day of Judgment“*), Steven Weinberg from Dreams of a Final Theory (not taking back his famous gut-punch statement “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,” but adding “I did not mean that science teaches us” this), Salman Rushdie humming Lennon and imagining God as a dispensable concept, and the pseudonymous Ibn Warraq’s Why I am not a Muslim. (Muslim Spirit– has Hitch been abducted? Unofficial Warraq site)

*McEwan says it’s time to tell a new story:

“Thirty years ago, we might have been able to convince ourselves that contemporary religious apocalyptic thought was a harmless remnant of a more credulous, superstitious, pre-scientific age, now safely behind us. But today prophecy belief, particularly within the Christian and Islamic traditions, is a force in our contemporary history, a medieval engine driving our modern moral, geopolitical, and military concerns. The various jealous sky-gods – and they are certainly not one and the same god – who in the past directly addressed Abraham, Paul, or Mohammed, among others, now indirectly address us through the daily television news. These different gods have wound themselves inextricably around our politics and our political differences.”

Biophilia would be better.

per aspera ad astra*

January 24, 2010

Yesterday morning I ruminated at dawn on an old but youthfully-optimistic, affirming, humanistic “This I Believe” testimonial from Pearl Buck in the ’50s.

Last night, I opened an unexpected email: Thank you for submitting an essay to This I Believe. .. [I’d forgotten doing that, impulsively, back in the summer. I  sent it off on July 20,  the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap.”]

Once it’s added to the website, your essay will appear at…

<> [Just opened it. Cool!]

We are honored by your having shared your most closely held convictions with us. Thank you, sincerely, for participating in our project.

— The staff of This I Believe


* “through difficulties to the stars” -Seneca

“to infinity, and beyond!” -Buzz Lightyear

good earth

January 23, 2010

Here’s an affirming humanist statement from Pearl S. Buck, from the 1950s archives of This I Believe:

Like Confucius of old, I am absorbed in the wonder of earth, and the life upon it, and I cannot think of heaven and the angels. I have enough for this life. If there is no other life, than this one has been enough to make it worth being born, myself a human being. With so profound a faith in the human heart and its power to grow toward the light, I find here reason and cause enough for hope and confidence in the future of mankind. The common sense of people will surely prove to them someday that mutual support and cooperation are only sensible for the security and happiness of all. Such faith keeps me continually ready and purposeful with energy to do what one person can towards shaping the environment in which the human being can grow with freedom. This environment, I believe, is based upon the necessity for security and friendship…

Half a century ago, no one had thought of world food, world health, world education. Many are thinking today of these things. In the midst of possible world war, of wholesale destruction, I find my only question this: are there enough people now who believe? Is there time enough left for the wise to act? It is a contest between ignorance and death, or wisdom and life. My faith in humanity stands firm.

it happens

June 9, 2009

Norman Corwin, 99 years old, pioneer of radio’s golden age, and that rare lottery winner (the genetic lottery, in his case) who didn’t squander his treasure, found a baseball hook for his This I Believe essay on the power of simple kindness:

Years ago, while watching a baseball game on television, I saw Orel Hershiser, pitching for the Dodgers, throw a fastball that hit a batter. The camera was on a close-up of Hershiser, and I could read his lips as he mouthed, “I’m sorry.” The batter, taking first base, nodded to the pitcher in a friendly way and the game went on.

Just two words, and I felt good about Hershiser and the batter and the game all at once. It was only a common courtesy but it made an impression striking enough for me to remember after many summers.

The blood relatives of common courtesy are kindness, sympathy and consideration. And the reward for exercising them is to feel good about having done so…

One more secret of happiness (and one more dispensation of evolution) revealed: doing good, feeling others’ pain, and caring about other people makes most of us feel good, one at a time. For some of us, it even lengthens a happy life. Norman Corwin is a national treasure. I want what he’s having.