“You feel like superman”, the young addict says. The Economist
“Does God exist?” “Not yet,” Question and answer in panel discussion on transhumanism.
“For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread.” Proverbs 6:26
Let me briefly serve as a bridge, an intergenerational one.
My Dad, in acute recognition of my needs, was unhesitating. He insisted that nothing good in the life of a teenager happened after midnight—thus a curfew. It made no difference that other parents did not impose one—he seemed unbothered by peer pressure. Much to my discomfort.
Dad insisted that I needed to understand the options of life—my summers were spent working in a grain elevator. When just out of college, I announced an intent to get married; he was apoplectic, and said: “you can’t afford a wife.” Fortunately for me, my wife, Marty, worked while I went to law school.
There was nobody around to write down Dad’s insistent insights. Had he been a direct descendent of King Solomon, the world would have received a 20th Century update of Proverbs.
My Dad would have told the young addict that Superman is a fantasy, that if you are searching for transcendence go to church.
And to the transhumanist searching for perpetual life, he would have suggested spiritual counsel, not chemicals.
To finish the bridge, let me retreat to King Solomon’s version of Proverbs, the one that is blessed by the Bible. The King didn’t lack a keen insight or a sense of humor.
Culturally, our time is devoted to ascendance. Or, as the dictionaries report: “a position of dominance.” My Dad, not inclined to deal in the abstract, would have paired the word with fool. He knew, and probably most humans know, that dominance is fleeting. When we feel dominant, something else is likely to be dominating us.
My faith is inspired by a horrific death on a crucifixion cross—its form–simple and wooden. The narrative surrounding this piece of wood promises transcendence through love and humility.
Regardless of which faith story we find compelling, none of them suggest material wealth or dominance as the pathways to transcendence.
Reflecting on America, it needs a culture that pushes us beyond self. The vulnerable need more than jails and yet another educational initiative that explains for the millionth time what every sentient human knows: drugs are harmful. Millions of people seem to have yielded to nihilism, believing that existence is pointless or alternatively, too heavy a burden to carry. Pharmacological escape and its risks do not weigh heavily on their minds.
America needs insistence voices informed by an overarching morality. My Dad’s rules carried the bite of right or wrong. Simply stated, we (all of us) need to look beyond ourselves. Not to the pop psychology of victimhood. Nor to the ceaseless marketing messages that compare our lives with some glorious alternative.
Today volumes are written about sources of moral principles and their legitimacy. Likewise, volumes are written about how our weaknesses often eclipse our internal powers of discipline. At some point in this narrative stream, right or wrong became a depreciating asset.
Parents, schools, churches, and Synagogues need to start young. They need to recapture the insistence I experienced as a teenager. And while the message needs to be motivated by love, the words need authority, a 21st Century Solomon who understands the earlier one.
Retreating to the last century, I recall a movie with an intergenerational story.
A 1963 movie, Hud, starring Paul Newman, Patricia O’Neal, and Melvyn Douglas, was set on a cattle ranch in Texas that was just hanging on when it was hit by an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease.
The movie pitted a hard drinking, unprincipled son, Hud, (played by Paul Newman) against his father, Homer (played by Melvyn Douglas), who was the patriarch owner of the ranch. The two men often argued in front of an impressionable and idealistic young man, Lon (played by Brandon de Wilde), who was grandson to Homer and nephew to Hud.
In one memorable scene, Homer said to Lon after a furious argument with Hud: “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire….You’re just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what’s right and wrong.”
Today the word “men” tends to be loaded; but as Fathers Day is only days away, I recall my father as a real man.