Friday, January 17, 2003

what lies beyond?

I've finished a book called The Seekers, by Daniel J. Borstin, and a very good
book by Carl Sagan titled
The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark which is a book that examines and authoritatively debunks such
celebrated fallacies as witchcraft, faith healings, demons, and UFOs.

What lies beyond?
In the beginning I was in awe of God.
When I went to mass on the first day of my first grade school year at
Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Elementary School in Wellsville, Ohio;
I was sure that I'd enter a realm of new knowledge.

I felt that the people around me knew something more about God.

I remember the sight of the host in it's golden chamber, held high by the priests.
I remember the smell of incense, and the smoke that filled the altar area as the priest swung the censer.
I remember the sound of the bells...the hand-held chimes that the altar boy rang strategically during the mass.

I took for granted that God was there, and that everyone one else who came before me already knew He was there.
God and Jesus and the Blessed Mother were as real as the fairies and elves that my mother dutifully pointed out to me. She'd point to the window and
say "Look, a fairy!" I'd swing my head so quickly...but just not quick enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature. When I get older, like
my mom, I'll be wiser and be able to see them before they jump away, out of sight.

And the Tooth fairy dutifully left the quarter under my pillow, in exchange for my tooth.

And Santa Clause even sent me a the summertime even. And when I
turned to catch a fleeting view of a man in a car driving down the tree-lined Broadway Ave in my hometown; as my mom said "Look!, there's Santa Clause!"
"That's no Santa", I replied. "Where's his suit?"
"Those are his summer cloths" was mom's wise answer.

And the Easter Bunny hid those eggs for us to find.

The world was full of invisible, spiritual, powerful beings.


As a junior in high school, I began to seriously doubt my Roman Catholic faith. The faith that I had been so curious about during my 8 years of parochial schooling. I had always asked to many questions of my teachers.

"What if you were a bank robber your whole life, but you saved somebody by pushing them out of the way of an oncoming car...but got killed. Would you go to heaven?"

"What if you were a very good person, but was a Protestant? Would you go to heaven?"

When I asked the hard questions, the teacher would say "You'll have to ask Father about that one."
But I never really want to go ask Father. Maybe it was a fear of the wizened priest...would my questions be frowned upon...or thought frivolous.

But back to my loss of faith...I was sure that I was going to Hell. No stopping at Purgatory for me.
Why would I leave my childhood faith? Well, I thought I was already doomed.
Because once...during a moment of perverse curiosity, after going back to my pew from receiving Holy Communion...I stuck my finger in my mouth and actually TOUCHED the host. I immediately entered a state of remorse. How could I have done such a thing? How could I have desecrated the Holy Sacrament with my vile finger? This became the sin I never, ever confessed.
Even when I was about to receive the sacrament of Confirmation...and had to make a good confession so that I didn't have any sins on my soul when I received my Confirmation from the Bishop..I couldn't bear to speak what I'd done to the priest.

So I received my Confirmation, while having a mortal sin on my soul. So now, I compounded my sin. My soul must be black as coal. I am surely going straight to Hell. Do not pass Purgatory.

But I began to mature and see just a little glimpse of the world around me. I began to doubt my faith...and my self-imposed sinful nature.

It was during this time that my new, hippie intellect began to take hold. I began to dabble in hippie religion (which was not yet called "New Age" at the time). A little Hinduism, A little Baba Ram Das, some Keroac by way of Tom Wolf, some Yippie propaganda. Some witchcraft and Anton Levey's Satanic Bible...and I was off to a roll-your own religious experience. A brief stop-off through Eckankar and Theosophy.

And then coming back full circle to a "Born-Again" Christian experience, which lasted 28 years. (which is another whole story)

And now, the big question mark is back. What lies beyond? What happens when I die?
I am now convinced that no one really knows. Everyone is believing a made up religion.
They believe because everyone else believes. They think that everyone else has a good understanding of the religion. It's just me, the individual who begins to believe what I think I should believe.
As in my first Catholic years...everyone else seems to know all about this religion. I'm sure I'll catch on when I get a little older...spend a little more time...learn a little more.

Carl Sagan had a good analogy in his book, "The Demon Haunted World". A chapter titled "A Dragon In My Garage". Let me quote:

---------begin quote-------------
"A Fire-Breathing dragon lives in my garage."
Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard
Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to
check it out, see for yourself. There have

"Show me", you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a
ladder, empty cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention
that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the
dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea," I say "but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, except she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special
explanation of why is won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? IF there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypotheses is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair to me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative--merely because you render the Scottish verdict of 'not proved'.

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons-to say nothing about invisible ones-you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it's not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you they have dragons in their garages--but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so add a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans must catching on. I'd rather it not be true, I tell
you. But maybe all of those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all..

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself: On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such "evidence"--no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it--is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder when the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion."

-----end of quote-----

end of part I