Over the last month, I had a couple of experiences that started me thinking about how my perspectives have changed over time. While these changes were focused primarily on physical things, there is no escaping that fact that over time we change the way we perceive and understand nearly everything.
I was born in Milwaukee and went to school there until the seventh grade. Life for children was infinitely less complicated then as we could roam and play far and wide with little fear of harm — and believe me, we roamed. We walked to and from school or took the bus pretty much at will. I still have vivid pictures in my mind of the two places where we lived, my schools and many other things.
One of my favorite haunts was the museum downtown. It had a giant squid hanging from the ceiling and every week either before or after my piano lesson I visited the museum to marvel at that creature and wonder about so many other things on display. I took my wife and granddaughter to the museum a few weeks ago and they still had the squid, but it had certainly shrunk in size from what I remember. So did the house where I lived, the playground at school and the church where I attended Mass. While the school building itself seemed to be the right size on the block, I cannot imagine how all of us played anything on that playground.
And then this past week I took a short tour of the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I was struck by several things. Again, the buildings did not appear quite as large as I remember, nor did the mall seem to be the great expanse of old. But the most disappointing aspect was the loss of the charm of the stately campus buildings now mixed with what I consider some garish modern edifices that detract rather than add to the atmosphere.
I guess it’s true that you really can’t ever go home again.
So, let’s shift to the perspective of ideas and other related things. If you have read the editorial pages of the Brainerd Dispatch over the last few months, there has been an extensive debate over the existence of God. I have contributed my 2 cents worth on one or two occasions and that has also been the main or peripheral subject of some of my columns. This is a debate that has been going on probably since humans first roamed the earth and their brains developed to the point that reason and intellect were part of their being.
For the record, I believe in God. I cannot fathom how every physical thing from the smallest identifiable particle to the largest galaxy — and that includes you and me — that has existed, does exist or will exist can be blithely explained as a simple happy accident of nature. The explorations and ruminations of all the scientists from day one have yet to explain conclusively how we came to be, much less why. And why is extremely important because the “why” has to be connected to the “who” — yes, that means a creator.
Think about your children. They ask a seemingly infinite number of questions. But they have a favorite one that can bring you to your knees both intellectually and in the realm of patience. I had one daughter who never stopped asking it and now I have a granddaughter who has taken her place.
It is “why?”
And the answer to “why” at the adult level usually brings us to the areas of philosophy and theology. Our philosophy defines and encompasses our values, beliefs and way of life. And our theology — or lack thereof — provides context and boundaries to our philosophy. I believe the two are inexorably tied together such that the philosophy that ignores theology leads us to the very situation we have today in most modern societies — freedom of action becomes license to ignore all accepted boundaries or limits.
One of the letters published in the Dispatch totally dismissed the role of philosophy in theological discussions and debates as useless and meaningless. People who cannot win an argument in the realm of ideas are the first ones to simply dismiss the very ideas themselves ... and by extension those who propose the ideas or ask the questions. People who won’t answer the “why” question either don’t have a credible answer or don’t care because to answer it would lead them where they don’t want to go.
I know God our Creator exists, but I don’t know that in the same way I know my wife, friends and family. The best explanation I ever heard came during a retreat. The retreat master put it this way, “God is so ‘other’ that even if you think you know what ‘other’ is, He’s other than that.”
From my perspective, our greatest fault as human beings is our pride and arrogance in believing we and our intellect are supreme and transcend all else. We believe we are so smart that we never have to ask, “Why?” And if we ask the question we don’t listen to the answer.
I’m afraid many of us will learn the answer when it’s too late.
Well, that’s the way I see it.