September 29, 2012 in City

Faith and Values: Some provocative thoughts – to distract from the election

Donald Clegg

I don’t know about you, but I’m totally done with this election. By way of relief, I’d like to just put out a few random humanist-oriented thoughts from a file of ideas that I keep, so that you can focus your irritation on me instead of the candidates. Agree, disagree, I don’t care, but it’ll give you something to think about besides how doomed we are if Obama/Romney is elected.

Humanism is self-derived, and to the degree that it is a belief system, it is provisional and incomplete, always subject to change as new views of the world provide new ways of seeing.

Training – or put another way, indoctrination – prepares one against surprise. Education prepares one for surprise.

Much indoctrination is in service of an already written past and future. The future is already known, merely awaiting its certain end/fate/completion. The Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.” George Orwell: “We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.”

To be educated is to recognize that the past is provisional, incomplete, and always waiting to be modified. In fact, the past is never “past,” but in partnership with the present, with an eye toward an equally unwritten future.

Helmut Richard Niebuhr: “Religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people.” My addendum: Humanism is a good thing for good people and a good thing for bad people.

If there is a god, and that god is merciful and just – or at least merciful – neither will the “damned” receive eternal flames, nor the “saved” eternal life. I can’t imagine a worse fate than everlasting life. Life is only worth living because it ends.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Death is not an event in life; we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, paraphrased: When the wave function collapses, rather more can be known about the particle’s position, or its momentum. Put another way, it is the nature of reality at the quantum level that the position and momentum of a particle cannot be definitely stated. This does not imply “uncertainty,” as the principle is generally inaccurately labeled, but, rather, indeterminacy. It is not that we DON’T know but that we CAN’T know.

Knowledge ends where absolute belief begins. To hold such a belief, one sets a border beyond which one may not (indeed, must not) think. Thinking still occurs, but only within the limits of the ordained border. Absolute belief is, therefore, intensely territorial. And finite in its range. One knows, but not much.

Learning is the process of increasing your ignorance. If you continue to learn you necessarily realize that you know less and less about more and more. Ignorance is always ahead.

Growth-oriented sight is horizontal. That is, there are no fixed boundaries, as the horizon continues to change position as one changes stance. To grow is to change. Change or die, basically, a lesson that America is going to have to learn sometime.

Now would be nice.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via email at

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