10.05.2009

Some Prosaic Silliness in the Defense of Wonder

This piece came about after reading a series of postings from a number of sources that stated that anyone lacking belief lacks a sense of wonder. I obviously disagree...

To hear tell by many that do, absent belief tears our psyche’s rug out from under,
eschewing magic and seeking only the rational seen as a colossal blunder,
They smile knowingly that we are accursed and left without a sense of wonder,
(Perhaps all said because our contentment would rend their views asunder?)

One wonders why they can’t be with their faithful knowledge content,
instead of at nonbelievers their spleens to vent,
Best if they had just left us be,
instead of falling to the temptation of insisting on rabid labels for people like me.

Not true of all, who hear the call,
I encounter quite many who lack such gall,
No, it’s usually a more obvious failing,
Amongst a demographic most enamored with Sara Palin.

Really, I say, nothing to rival the words of herders, and merchants, shamans and prophets and mystics quoted chapter, line and verse?
So sad I say, perhaps they should close that book and open their eyes to what surrounds - the real bleeping universe!

Not clear on why reality is considered such a drag,
Or how one becomes engrossed when some tele-evangelist’s tongue does wag,
Nor sure the attraction of diversions built,
on foundations made of generous portions of shame and fear and guilt.

But if appealing to wonder is to be the tack,
You may want to rethink the strategy and take it all back.
For the universe’s wonders do more to inspire,
Than threatening us with brimstone and fire.

Can the imaginings of any man do justice to its truth,
particularly the machinations of ones from our history’s youth?
So sorry, but I’ll take my natural wonders over theirs,
For I’ve taken samples and seen how each compares.

(Truth be told I do find wonder in the practice of belief,
Just not so much from the canon, but more from those who feel it grants relief.
I read the texts and wonder why it sings to some and not to all,
wouldn’t really bother me but for the plans of some who hear the call.)

I change the channel and there they stand, their heads up and down do nod,
swaying bodies, eyes closed with arms stretched up like rabbit ears to god.
Such teaming masses drinking deep from a well I do not see,
makes me wonder if for human kind it’s possible, from superstition to be free.

So many great books and not enough time to read,
Why spend the time over and over studying some ancient creed.
Decades of study, what new will be defined or in the mind emplaced,
Even Julia Childs' steps in but one year can be retraced.

One must work hard to miss the myriad clues to the grandeur of reality,
But since denial was true of the first recruit, I suppose it’s now a part of the oath of fealty.
Sad to me, so many to see, seeking mysteries with nose deep in some sacred text,
and thus they are blind to all the wonder around that hints at true context.

For amongst all that philosophical and mystical chatter,
what can compare to the existence and nature of antimatter?
Peer up into the night sky and travel back in time,
or sit with down turned eyes ensconced within some shrine?

A few lines of vague text from long ago,
or an echo of creation still visible in 400 lines of snow?
The atoms within your very being forged within a star,
What creation lore, from any text, could ever hope to be on that par?

I’d rather be star stuff than any sculptor's clay,
I say again, what miracle in any text more wonder can convey?
Some part of me once lit the sky out shining any heavenly light,
The source of my stardust most certainly did ‘not go quietly into any good night’.

Wonder of amazement provided by the nature for any and all to see,
wondering about the beliefs of men, is more just questioning to me.

Or what wonders can one find amidst the pages of an old book,
more amazing to the mind than the migrations of a chinook!
cryptic codes and metaphors, the truth they do belie,
Me, I find more mystery in the travails of those parr and fry.

A minute of arc in empty space revealing faint milk of trillions of suns as they shine,
Or an ark carried by tribesman some simple rules to enshrine?
Forty thousand swallows, from trial and selection their descent to roost a ghostly dark aurora,
It stirs me more to wonder than a hundred songs from the Torah.

Cataclysms so intense that they outshine a galaxy of stars for a time,
Or tales of pillage and genocides and other manners of crime.
Witness the death of stars and what king’s passing can possibly stir awe and rue,
But many still cling to the notion that only religion can provide our social glue.

No easy answers to reality’s challenges neatly dispensed from pulpit to pew,
even as a child my thoughts involved how best off my paw to chew.
Repetition over and over and over again, stopped time refusing to zip by,
Numbed my senses even more that could the largest TseTse fly.
(The only wonder that I ever did receive,
is when this will end and when can we leave...)

Ironically, like our DNA, religion is composed,
of bits and pieces tried and true, repurposed and transposed.
Some left over Assyrian, four parts Hebrew, six new, with a smattering of Rome does result in a very strange new brew,
wonder is that no one cares, or wouldn’t even if they knew.

Physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and more, our understanding and wonder do sublime.
To teach our children otherwise would be this nation’s biggest crime.
Scaling walls of superstition, though weak of foundation, seeming higher every year,
returning again to the middle ages is for some our biggest fear.

The record of eons writ large on eroded walls of stone,
or canon prohibitions on the hygienic uses for a bone?
Fossil remains of magnificent beasts etched by wind and rain in an ancient hollow,
or whether his relative or his associates is who we must now follow?

Gossamer roils so beautiful at this distance, not quite vacuum thin,
Nurseries for new stars we see forming from within.
Or graven images of punishment same for crimes big or small,
or with empathy seemingly not even crimes at all?

Two earnest young men in dark suits come by and interrupt our quiet dinner,
Not enough that my food’s getting cold, they must call me a sinner.
‘What would I say if I was to hear that Jesus came to America before ascending to the sky?’
I’d say you’d been smoking too much weed and shouldn’t proselytize when you’re so high.
(the wonder here, that beanbag round not fired into their rear...)

Wonder of amazement provided by the nature for any and all to see,
wondering about the beliefs of men, is more just questioning to me.

What of sects numbering as many as the stars,
Each leaves behind its own subset of mental scars.
Debating hidden meanings in translation of translation of translation of word of mouth passed through many a year,
Since eating blood is taboo and IV fluids can a patient feed, that life saving transfusion must we fear.

Who begat who among a tribe, and a myth where a prophet climbed a mountain and saw a burning tree,
Or the evidence of what begat the tree of life burned into the DNA of every cell within thee?
From a ship’s deck, a flying fish soaring above the waves a hundred feet or more,
or the genealogy of a bunch of shepherds and a wretched record of gore?

Super dense whirling ovoids keeping cadence with precision unmatched,
Or a confusing anthology rewritten many times and just as oft patched?
Two by two, animals fill an ark, the kind of stories told to little shavers,
aren’t up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom far more interesting and adult flavors?

They say that belief and science are the same,
convincing others has become a desperate game,
but while a prophet says to follow me for I am the way to providence,
a scientist says to follow too - but means the chain of evidence.

No sense of wonder no joy of discovery because we don’t believe?
What says it of their faith if about others they must deceive.
Observe, consider, hypothesize, test and then predict,
much more wondrous than to simply follow some prescribed edict.

Curiosity, science sees as no fault,
But in religion it may result in a pillar of salt.
Understanding light unravels no rainbows and steals none of nature’s thunder,
the universe vast and real is full of wonder.

My senses a mere pinhole into an infinite room by any measure,
like Carter’s first torch light glimpse at a pharaoh’s treasure.
Thanks to they not content to rehash old predilections,
on giants shoulders can I stand and see more of nature’s confections.

When some believers speak of wonder I must admit it often tickles my paranoia,
but on further reflection makes me return to the words of Indigo Montoya.
When they speak of wonder with a smile from that passage what one gleans,
I think to myself, “I do not think it means what you think it means...”

Even without the lore my sense of wonder is intact,
For in truth the universe is most amazing in stark fact,
I can accept that these things stir you, and give you peace,
as long as you recognize that nature alone provides me wonders that will never cease.

Here today and then tilled under,
wishing it away is not wonder,
that is reserved for eyes opened wide,
Not denial or wishful hoping from Thanatos to hide.

Contemplate my mortality full of lament and deliverance from death pining?
Does my end mean that I'll stop trying? Life’s not worth defining?
I think not and take comfort in the knowing, even the stars in time will die,
though if they knew, would not stop shining.

12 comments:

Asylum Seeker said...

Very nice job. I don't know why, but the brief allusion to Mormons tickled me (as did the fourth to last stanza). I see that within the poem itself you do a thorough job of dealing with this petty implication that a scientific world (not just an atheistic one, but one in which you can actually explain how certain things work and can't just wave it away with the word "mystery" and "magic") is without wonder. But I should note that another popular version of the same "argument from your beliefs are so depressing" include nonbelievers being unable of providing relief to people mourning, and about how not believing in god is inherently arrogant. Only when one doesn't look at what nonbelievers actually say about such things at all, and only be firmly judging such things based upon your own religion's way of dealing with things do such criticisms make sense. And they are weak criticisms, because you yourself showed that the "lack of wonder" could easily be applied to them as well, since religion is a prepackaged set of answers that are supposed to stomp out any mystery at all from the universe. Same thing can go for the inability to comfort and about possible inherent arrogance of believing in god if you are willing to spin what someone else believes in such a manner.

In short, I can see why you would want to respond in poetic form, because the only way to formally respond to such arguments is with a hearty slap to the side of the face otherwise.

Jared said...

That last line really hits home:
"even the stars in time will die,
though if they knew, would not stop shining"

JefFlyingV said...

It would seem that those that are believers have no understanding of humans in general and even less understanding of non believers. A sense of wonder or awe leads to questions.

This non believer has been awed by the universe, the Grand Canyon, time...and creations by people.

Just because I've been awed does not mean I should not seek answers.

Michael Lockridge said...

A very impressive piece, well said and filled with some delightful surpises.

It does, unfortunately, reflect a limited experience with "believers." Or perhaps more accurately, too much experience with a narrow and unpleasant spectrum of those who "believe."

Why should the wonders of nature as viewed through science exclude the wonder of exploring an "old book?" Why should the discipline of science exclude the experience of a trance dance and mystical enlightenment?

Should all be subjected to science? I see no reason why not. Should we await the interpretation and judgement of science before encorporating experiences into our lives? I would choose not.

I am a believer, and one who loves wonder. I do not fear that the tools of science will dispell wonder from the world. Nor do I hold that science will uncover and explain all that is. It explains much, and is useful AND wonderful.

Perhaps the "believers" who see science and wonder as contradictory only see scientists as simply plumbers. Where is the wonder in plumbing?

Many humans are afraid of what they don't understand. The belief they find to embrace protects them from the unknown that houses all that they fear. Such humans would despise the scientist as much as any other heretic that might disturb the demons in the dark.

Other humans will use that fear, manipulating it and shaping the form of belief to accomplish their own ends. Few of these, if any, can know wonder. These will malign the scientist and any other heretic for fear of any light they might shine into that darkness from which they draw their power.

Most humans just walk on in whatever light they have, living with such knowledge and belief as they have accumulated along the way. Neither their science nor their religion are particularly well structured.

I still don't really know where I fit in all of this. I love knowledge and delight in wonder, and muddle through with such light as I have found.

Mike

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

This piece was definitely aimed at the 'fer us or agin us' type of believer. I actually debated with myself for some time whether to even post this (came off the meds long enough to allow the opposing side to articulate its position...). Call me an accomodationist if you want but I do believe that there are many many sincere believers out there (some I even socialize with). Sincerity to me is reflected not in their distain for others but in the way they live their own lives. They don't worry bout labeling others, just attend to being what they feel they should be. The point of this piece was simply that one point of view does not have a monopoly on a sense of wonder. No one who actually reads this blog falls into that category ;)

oneblood said...

"They say that belief and science are the same,
convincing others has become a desperate game,
but while a prophet says to follow me for I am the way to providence,
a scientist says to follow too - but means the chain of evidence."

My vote for favorite verse.

I agree most wholeheartedly and do not consider it to be pejorative to say that 'wonder' is probably one of the coolest aspects of human nature that religion made acceptable. Truly acceptable.

But where is man to go? We take the good and move on hopefully.

I hope we'll become like little kids again in that sense, and where I give Dawkins a tip of the hat.

Whatever that was inside us (biologically banal, experientially wonderful) that went, "Wow!" when we first looked up and saw that night sky without the light pollution, filled with stars. Some of us reached for metaphors, others pointed etc. but that wonder was...oh man I love the night sky.

I hate to be a cheeseball and harp on the same points on different blogs but as you stated, that wonder is yours as well. That wonder is ours. That's so freakin cool!

Anyway, the reason I said religion made it legit is because I can't correlate it's potency with natural selection. It would be great though if the hot cave chicks really dug the stargazers.

"I'd go with Thag, but Og points at the pretty far away things!"

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Anyway, the reason I said religion made it legit is because I can't correlate it's potency with natural selection. It would be great though if the hot cave chicks really dug the stargazers.
----------------

They did in fact. Those first stargazers got curious and tried to see if they could knock down one of the stars with a rock for their sweeties. They couldn't and when it came back down and hit one of them on the head, the scientific thread that ultimately lead to the ICBM began...

GearHedEd said...

Eureka! I found it!

After reading a couple of lines of your poem, I googled "science is magic that works" and it took me to a list of quotes from Vonnegut's book "Cat's Cradle" (of which I have a copy and have read several times).

I get it now! We all need to embrace and become practicing Bokononists!

GearHedEd said...

Link in, and be amazed...

Bokononism

Jared said...

OneBlood, there are traits which arise as byproducts ("spandrels" or "exaptations" or "cooptions," etc). This derives from the fact that single genes are not selected for or against, but whole organisms, with complex linkages, crossing-over, and so forth, making it difficult to determine which allele on a genetic region is actually being selected for. It is easy to tell if an allele is in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, but not so easy to discover the source of disturbances in this equilibrium. Again, it may be a result of many aspects of our cognitive functions which do seem evolutionarily adaptive such as:
1) dualism (decoupled cognition) - the functional mechanism which perceives humans as not just the individual, but also the thought processes of that individual within an artificial social construct. (results in spiritualism; think of childhood imaginary friends)
2) causality (agency) - humans tend to attribute causality for events based upon known information. (results in spiritual agency; think weather gods/goddesses)
3) anthropomorphism - when discussing agency, agents are often perceived as human.

All three of these are quite useful in everyday life; dualism is useful to regulate behavior, causality is useful in preemption of problems...

Finally, at least one neuroimaging study (Kapogiannis, 2009) demonstrated that religious experiences, thoughts, and ideas are integrated into various pathways of neural circuitry that are extensively studied and could very easily be adaptive.

Harvey said...

I guess it could be said that believers wonder only at what they perceive to be the "Hand of God". The rest of us are free to wonder at everything we encounter in this amazing Universe. The narrowmindedness(sic?) of some fundamentalists illustrated by their knee jerk response that "unbelievers have no sense of wonder" actually confirms their own lack thereof.

Richelle said...

you know pliny, that was actually quite beautiful.

i won't deny that as an atheist i don't enjoy a little christian jabbing every now and then, but for me your post didn't even read that way. and that made it even more enjoyable.

when speaking with believers i often hear some form of the "when i found god" moment. it always involves an almost overwhelming sense of love or belonging which leaves the recipient in tears (or at least with some pretty wicked warm fuzzies). typically, they speak as if the intensity of this experience can only be felt when one is "touched by god", or whatever, and this is what really bothers me.

who are they to assume that a person cannot experience an incredibly intense emotional moment while marveling at the complexities of our world and the universe?

i think your post addresses this very well. trying to cram the wonders of the universe into the confines structured by a belief system in an effort to avoid compromising those beliefs seems like such an injustice to the mind.