Friday, February 20, 2009

Life lessons

I am now in my fifth decade, and, from this perspective, it seems to me that the following are true:

1. No one has the right to volunteer children to suffer for his beliefs, no matter how deeply held they may be.

(This applies equally to vegans as to Christian Scientists and Scientologists, and to religionists and political extremists and true believers of all kinds. Allow the children to grow up in a protected, secure and loving environment, and, if your belief is true, they will come to it of their own accord.)

2. There is no higher pleasure to be found in art than a great opera aria beautifully performed.

3. People cling to the liberalism of their youth because they do not want to admit that they are no longer young.

4. The most important job a man ever undertakes is fatherhood, and it is essential for the sake of society and the individual soul that it be done well.

5. I agree with Saint Augustine: People fear death because they have not lived well.

6. Atheists have no more right to impose their disbelief on others than religionists have to impose their belief on others.

7. Surely it is the summit of arrogance for a man to believe that Man is the summit of creation.

8. Never compare your children.

9. Do not become involved in other people's divorces; and do not interfere in other people's parenting, unless the child's safety is at risk.

10. People consider it sophisticated when they talk about that which is good, that which is bad, and that which is sometimes necessary even though it is bad. But surely the higher sophistication is to avoid that which is bad whether it is necessary or not.

11. Violence is a spiritual disease.

12. The great mystery of parenting is that we raise our children to leave us.

13. I think Tolstoy is right: That which gives life is the same in all things. This fact connects me to everything that lives, and places on me a responsibility to all that is alive.

14. Animals cannot be said to have rights, except the right not to be abused. But people have responsibilities toward everything that lives. How we exercise those responsibilities determines, to a great extent, the quality of our humanity.

15. A Jesuit priest once said to me: It is less important that you decide whether you believe in God than that you know what you are going to do tomorrow. For young people, this is true. But as we get older, the former decision becomes more urgent.

16. You cannot begin to understand what it means to live until you have found something for which you are willing to die.

17. Most people do live 'the unexamined life' as Socrates called it, and this is a pity. But those who disdain such people have also failed truly to examine life.

18. Life is always more complex, more mysterious, than we think it is. And that which is simple is not always clear.

19. Courage is essential to life. The ability to face that which is fearsome, in the world and in oneself, makes living possible.

20. Sex and love are not the same thing, and very rarely do they overlap. Sex is about power; love is about vulnerability. Sex is conquest and the drive for immortality through consummation; love is the willingness to be conquered, and to achieve immortality through being consumed. It is the difference between the carnal and the divine. I sometimes think, too, that it is the difference between men and women.

21. Those who tell you that they are spiritual and therefore superior are not telling the truth to themselves.

22. If I could have only one blessing in life it would be children. They give richness and depth and joy to life, even above religious belief, which often leaves one lonely and in doubt.

23. The most important attitude toward life is learning.

24. It is simply impossible to sustain a coherent moral viewpoint without reference to an immutable Truth.

25. Where uncertainty exists in matters of life and death, we must always err on the side of life.

26. The consequences of telling the truth, no matter how bad you think they may be, are far less than the consequences of telling a lie, no matter how successful you think it will be.

27. As we grow older, we feel inexorably the gravitational pull of that essence from which we emerged as infants. All life thus returns to the source from which it came.

28. When you are wrong, have the courage to admit you are wrong; when you are right, have the courage to insist you are right. But if you are proved to be wrong, have the courage to change your view.

29. Do not get into the habit, as many parents do, of reflexively saying no to your children. Every time you say no, you risk missing something that only your child can teach you.

30. Many people fear parenthood on the grounds that they cannot imagine what they will teach their children. The truth is that your children will teach you more than you will teach them, if your heart, mind and soul are open to the learning.

31. The only statement that I have ever been able to construct about God that seems to me to be true is: God is not.

(I will endeavor to explain this elsewhere in this site.)

32. The truism about writers is that they should write about what they know. I have never found this to be true. I prefer to write about what I do not know (or do not know well) so that I am forced to do research and to learn.

33. The easiest thing in the world is not to write a book.

34. I do not think that the screenplay is literature. Rather, it is like the blueprints of naval architecture, which describe the lines of the vessel, its substructure and superstructure, and how the water and wind will pass over it, leaving the construction and outfitting and the piloting of it to others.

35. The highest form of literature is poetry. For poetry is the closest to music, and music is the greatest of all the arts - the purest, the most abstract, the most spiritual.

36. One of the greatest lies perpetrated in the twentieth century was that communism and fascism are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. In fact, both are forms of socialism, and as such, are located at the extreme left. Liberalism tends toward socialism, communism and fascism. Conservatism tends toward libertarianism and anarchism. Anarchism is inimical to both communism and fascism, as Hitler and Stalin knew; both feared it and tried to eradicate it. No communist system has ever tended toward anarchism; in fact, they have all become more centralist and autocratic, that is, fascistic. Fascism is merely the most extreme and inevitable form of communism.

37. All law is oppressive, and so citizens of a nation of laws have the duty to decide how much oppression they can endure before they cease to be free.

(In a democracy, law is the instrument by which government imposes the will of the people, and the ultimate means of imposing that will is through the use of force. All law, therefore, is oppressive. The irony in a democracy is that the only way for the people to impose their will is to limit their own liberty. And that is why I say that it is the duty of citizens to decide when the rule of law has become oppressive to the point where it is destructive of liberty.)

38. The greatest danger to individual liberty is government. The Founding Fathers clearly recognized this. Government is not our friend; it is our enemy, and as such, it must be limited to the greatest extent possible.

39. I believe Dostoevsky was correct: People will always be tempted to exchange their liberty for bread (that is, for material benefits, such as welfare or health care). And when they do, they find that they eat their fill in prison.

40. When people stop doing for themselves, government will gladly step in and do for them; that is - to them.

41. The government is not our mother. I would much rather live with no government at all and take my own risks, than with a government that claims it cares for me and wishes to save me from risk.

42. This nation was founded on trust in individual liberty and a deep suspicion of government. But we are becoming a nation that trusts government and is suspicious of liberty.

43. Government cannot grant you freedom; it can only take away your freedom. Law does not liberate; at best, it can only protect your rights. The law that prevents guards from abusing prisoners does not make the prisoners free.

44. Reject politicians who offer you benefits in exchange for your liberty. Cling to your liberty as you do to your life, because life without liberty is scarcely worth living.

45. It is possible to experience freedom in prison, but not to enjoy it.

46. We should fear government and fight to restrain it, just as we keep dangerous animals in cages.

47. The politician who tells you that government is your friend, and that he or she cares about you and wishes government to make you happy, is a liar.

48. Government must be made the servant of citizens, and not the other way around. You either tame the elephant and make it labor for you, or it will trample you underfoot.

49. If you must choose between happiness and freedom, choose freedom, because so long as there is freedom, happiness remains possible, but without freedom, there can be no happiness.

50. Love liberty and mistrust government - that is the American way.

51. Citizens should fear government, but they should never be afraid of their government. The first is wisdom; the second, submission.

52. Above all, a writer should be dangerous.

53. It is very important to be kind. Yet this simple fact is often overlooked.

54. Teach children to be kind to animals, and they will learn to be kind to people.

55. I think it is an inescapable truth: If nothing happens after death, then nothing of importance happens before it.

56. To kill in the name of religion is the second greatest evil man can commit. The greatest evil is to teach others to do so.

57. A man who boasts of being an atheist is like a man in an art museum boasting that he has left his glasses at home.

58. The fetus is human life. It can be created only by human life and it produces only human life. Its inception and its end, its origin and its destiny are the same: human life. By what logic, then, can one argue that it is not human life?

59. Atheism is loneliness, pure and simple.

60. The very fact that you can deny there is a spiritual dimension to life is proof that such a dimension exists.

61. Do not live for the present. Live in the present, learn from the past, and live for the future of your soul.

62. A man who fathers children and does not parent them is a failure as a human being, no matter his other accomplishments.

63. Professional politicians are, for the most part, shameless people. They should be ashamed of their lust for power, and they should be ashamed of their selfish self-promotion in the pursuit of power, yet they are not. I would no more be a politician than I would be a liar or a thief. And yet, most professional politicians are both liars and thieves.

64. Life is such a powerful force, and its spiritual essence so undeniable, that I cannot imagine that it is limited solely to this planet.

65. It has taken years of reading, reflection and experience, but I have finally come to the conclusion that those who assert that one can live a moral life without religion are simply wrong, and may, in fact, be lying to themselves.

66. It may be possible to lead a moral life without religion just as it is possible to find your way in a wilderness without a map or compass. Yet the chances that you can do so are very small. It is better - indeed, I think, it is indispensable - to have a map and compass.

67. You are never alone when you are with your own thoughts. But if your thoughts are bad, then you are in evil company. And people should always avoid evil company.

68. How you treat animals is an indicator of the condition of your soul.

69. I think that a man who does not do work with his hands on a regular basis is not really a man.

70. We are put on this earth to create beauty. Create as much of it as you can.

71. Children, well-raised, are the greatest artistic creation of mankind. And so, great art is within the grasp of every human being.

72. Fatherhood is the fulfillment of manhood. A man who is not a father, either because he chooses not to have children or because he chooses not to parent his children, can never fully be a man.

(I do not say he cannot be a man; I say 'fully' a man.)

73. The celibate clergy is a refuge of the deeply disturbed.

74. Materialists are missing half of reality; atheists are missing the whole of it.

75. What does it mean to pray? Not to ask, or beg, or glorify, but simply to attempt to connect your mind with that which transcends it. Prayer is thus always private, quiet and ego-less.

76. Achievements, not excuses.

77. Someone said to me recently that death is a natural part of life. Yet, surely this is not true. The fact that death occurs in life is no more in the nature of life than drowning is in the nature of water, or darkness is in the nature of fire. Death is something quite apart from and inimical to life.

78. Prayer, in order to be meaningful, should begin in the mind, but it must go beyond the mind and become that to which it attains.

79. Romantic love is, alas, an illusion -- a sweet, charming illusion, but no less illusory for that.

80. Romance does not last; regret does.

81. Mistakes are one of the most important tools for learning. Children must make their own mistakes. It is our job as parents, however, to help them avoid unnecessary mistakes.

82. For children, the world is water; for grown-ups, it is fire; for the old, ice.

83. Children are you, living outside yourself. A life without children is an empty, selfish shell.

84. I think it is critically important to understand this: God is not a being, God does not possess existence as a category, nor any other category for that matter; God cannot be said to exist, God is not a thing, God is not a concept. If anything can be said of God, it is that God is that from which all things take their being, and so God, by definition, must not be a form of being. Therefore, since God is not being, and is that from which all things take their being, then God must be non-being. God is nothingness. And from that nothingness all forms of being arise. God is the primal, creative, generative Nothing, the first principle which is no principle, the source of all that exists which, itself, does not exist. And because of this, emptiness is the essence of existence.

85 Augustine said: Love, then do what you will. Yet I think this is wrong. Love, if it has any meaning, does not precede action, will, experience; rather, it is a function of those things. Love is the result of struggle, of torment, of ecstasy, of dreams and hope and illusion. Love is not a point of origin, but an ending point; not a prelude but a product.

86. Silence is essential to meaningful thought. Ideas conceived through chatter are like flotsam on the sea, whereas those conceived in silence are like its depths.

87. Remember that you are essentially a spiritual being. Do as much good as you can as often as you can. Be careful to be kind and thoughtful; listen, reflect and always tell the truth. Such is in the nature of your soul.

88. Those who deny the spiritual nature of man deny the only part of themselves that endures, and that has meaning, dignity and destiny.

89. People readily recognize that they are physical, mental and emotional beings, because they can see and touch these things, or the products of these things. Yet many still deny their spiritual essence, because they cannot see or touch it. But all the other things - physical, mental, emotional - are the products of a spiritual origin. This is like a man who, in the middle of a long journey, denies that he ever left home, or even has a home.

90. Lying is one of the worst sins because it is the denial of Truth, and Truth is what gives meaning to life.

91. Moral cowardice is the inability or unwillingness to confront the consequences of one's behavior.

92. Truly to know yourself is to know what you are capable of, and why.

93. Ask most people what God is and they will reply that God is a spirit. Then ask them what a spirit is, and they will answer that spirit is a form of energy - an energy that is at work in the world producing perceptible effects. But as Einstein demonstrated, energy is simply another form of matter. By this logic, then God is a form of matter. Yet this cannot be since all matter is created, and God, by definition, was not created, but is the source of all matter. The concept that God is a spirit, then, is a contradiction.

94. Speak less, think more. Reflect.

95. That which truly is alive in us is eternal. And so, death has no power over our lives.

96. I used to intervene forcefully and directly in other people's lives when I thought they were doing something harmful to themselves. I no longer do this. People must learn in their own way and in their own time, otherwise, it is merely borrowed knowledge.

97. Life is strong, it is powerful and resilient, but it is not unquenchable. Life can be destroyed, not only by guns and knives and bombs, but by cynicism and doubt, by cowardice and fear, and by submission to authority when you know that the authority is wrong.

98. As a rule, do not lend money to friends. Often, the friend will choose to drop you rather than repay you.

99. A man should never lend money to a woman (and vice-versa). The relations between the sexes are complicated enough.

100. Nothing lasts as long as regret. Therefore, take your opportunities; they will never come again.