Even though the idea of an ethnic homeland has caused untold suffering, I connect with Matisyahu’s song Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents for me the promised land of human destiny, the ideal human community for which I hope. May I never forget that goal, or may my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.
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[I just read this in Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts, pp. 83–4.]
The superior man [or woman] goes through his life without any one preconceived course of action or any taboo. He merely decides for the moment what is the right thing to do.… The goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. [Li Chi 32, The Wisdom of China and India by Lin Yutang, p. 835]
In other words, a true human is not a model of righteousness, a prig or a prude, but recognizes that some failings are as necessary to genuine human nature as salt to stew. Merely righteous people are impossible to live with because the have no humor, do not allow the true human nature to be, and are dangerously unconscious of their own shadows.… It is an essential, then of political wu-wei that one does not try to enforce laws against human nature and send people to jail for “sins,” or crimes without unwilling victims. Trust in human nature is acceptance of the good-and-bad of it, and it is hard to trust those who do not admit their own weaknesses.
Dale McGowan, editor of Parenting Beyond Belief, wrote about the definition of humanism that he gave to his six-year-old.
A humanist is somebody who thinks that people should all take care of each other, and that even if there is a heaven or a god, we should spend our time making this life and this world better.
I’m not there yet, but every day sees me care a little bit less about metaphysics except for this one question that crops up whenever someone makes a metaphysical assertion: How do you know that? In other words, I’m becoming a strident apatheistic agnostic.
I hope that I will rewrite my character as the kind of humanist Dale described. I want my attitude to become “I can’t know and you can’t know, so why pretend it matters? Let’s sit down and reason together. When we’re done, let’s be kind to each other and try to remake the world the way we both want it to be. At the end of the day, that must be enough because we can’t do any better.”
So I was a little envious of my wife. She got to teach our daughters a cool story about a Heavenly Father swooping down and creating everything. The basics of the story any toddler can comprehend. And she had cool pictures to back her up.
Then I try to teach them about evolution and modern cosmology and it just doesn’t grab their attention. I don’t have personal experience of how to teach children about evolution and so on because my parents are creationists. There are amazingly few books aimed at really young children on the subject. At least I couldn’t find many. I tried to make it up as I went, but I was doing a pretty crumby job of telling the story.
“So you see, the mammals evolved into apes and then into human beings. Isn’t that cool?”
So, anyway, I was a bit jealous.
Then I found a delightful trilogy of books that take us from the first moments of the Big Bang to modern humans. They take the form of a letter from a personified Universe to the reader. The Universe tells its own story in colorful, comprehensible terms. The words are accompanied by equally colorful illustrations. The reader is placed in the middle of an epic adventure of truly universal proportions.
Born with a Bang starts with the big bang and ends with the formation of planet earth. Along the way we learn about inflationary theory (really!), particles and anti-particles, the formation of hydrogen, the birth of stars and galaxies, and how we are made of the stardust from a supernova. The second and third books, Lava to Life and Mammals that Morph, which I have read fewer times so far, tell our story from abiogenesis to the development of modern humans. I’m no astrophysicist or paleontologist, but everything seems to check out. The authors stuck close to the current scientific understanding.
Any books that can get my four-year-old asking about atomic forces, comparing black holes to bathtub drains, and remembering why grass grows from the bottom-up deserve an A+ in my book.
The books are too long for my two-year-old, though I think she would like the story and illustrations if I just skimmed through. Each page has boldface text which convey the central idea. I think the authors may have intended it just for the purpose of shortening the story for those with a short attention span. I plan to try it out soon.
To top off all the learning about science, the Universe uses its own story to teach the reader important lessons like life is risky, we have to work toward our dreams, diversity is important, and so on.
While this book makes no mention of religious ideas, it is not hostile to religion either. I believe that a religious parent who accepts the current scientific theories (even the Pope accepts the theory of evolution) can benefit from these books. If God acted through the Big Bang and evolution, then these books tell God’s creation story in an inspiring way.
These books present an engaging creation myth that isn’t fiction. I got the books in the hopes of teaching my girls about current scientific theories about human origins. I ended up being inspired by my place in the story of the universe.
Words to live by, the essence of my outlook on life.