Be careful what you wish for

It has been raining for several days now in California. We have come out of drought with a vengeance. Floods, mud slides, death, destruction. A five-year-old boy, whose mother was rescued, is missing. Unthinkable–and yet every news update forces us to think about it. I sit at my computer, warm and safe, and wonder at the complexity of life, its twisty, tangled path, how tragedy bypasses one and descends upon another. Is there any reasonable explanation?
 
If I turn my head away from politics, as I am inclined to do after a half-dozen years of intense scrutiny, I am confronted by the philosophical, the speculative, the moral and even religious implications of our day-to-day lives. Perhaps that is why I write. Life is a mystery, and I am a small-town detective, product of the Midwest, seeking answers, explanations, solutions, resolution. For most of us, of course, there is no easy answer. Life is a “muddle” (I am recalling E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India) and we have not yet acquired the mental and moral tools to make sense of it.
 
Religion does not attempt to make sense of it. That’s why it succeeds where other explanations fail. If we can accept the concept of God, we can make everything fall into place. Faith has always been a leap, and not everyone can make that leap. To rest in the lap of God, one needs the courage of one’s convictions.
 
Philosophy is a worthy alternative. It is mind-bending and mind-expanding. It offers us answers and argues us into submission. It is good for those who can rise above the humdrum of everyday thinking. It requires not so much a leap of faith as a willingness to consider what is not obvious and/or tangible, but perhaps reasonable, or at least possible.
 
Skepticism is, perhaps, our most popular contemporary adaptation to the mystery. If there is no religious or philosophical explanation, then let’s go with no explanation at all. One could argue that this is a philosophy in itself, but I choose to give it its own category. It goes like this: “I have only this life and my few years on this earth, so to hell with limitations, screw any morality imposed on me by someone on the outside. I am my own best judge of my behavior, and I opt to live as I choose, to do what I want, to eschew those societal restrictions that are burdensome for me. I may foster an inner circle consisting of myself and those like me, to exclude anyone who does not look, think, and act like me. Some might call this extreme, but I believe it is defensible. It is my armor and they are my reinforcement.”
 
I believe I fall somewhere in the cracks between religion and philosophy. I wear the tattered remnants of the Roman Catholic religion, with which I was baptized and indoctrinated from birth through my undergraduate years. During those undergraduate years, I studied philosophy, and came to acknowledge it as a worthy pursuit.
 
And yet I remain, to some extent, wary of the easy answer, the inherited norm, the sometimes smug satisfaction that comes with having “solved” the mystery.
 
This is a long, rambling way of saying, I don’t know.  I accept that my philosophy is permanently tinged with faith. I want to believe.
 
Where is that five-year-old boy? Is he, by some miracle, alive? If he is, I will thank God, with the belief that God hears me. My faith will bob up, like a yellow buoy in the middle of a dark sea.
 
In his novel, Howards End, E. M. Forster tells us, “Only connect.” Howards End was published a dozen years before the “muddle” of A Passage to India. Had he found a philosophy in the former novel that he abandoned in the latter? I think not. A Passage to India was the mature mind of the master demonstrating the tragedy of the disconnect–or perhaps the impossibility of real connection–between people, cultures, norms, and beliefs.

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