“YOU WILL BE KNOWN BY THE COMPANY YOU KEEP” was one of the over fifty adages my tyrant Mother threw at me weekly to ‘assist’ my thinking and behavior.
“Remember this, Glenn Ray, YOU CAN NEVER ESCAPE YOUR GOD!” was a scarrier warning announced with much greater frequency even before I entered kindergarden in 1939.
I have never, never really had a problem with ‘my God” as this wonderful and clever woman craftily or perhaps in error, pounded into my head. She never commanded any such knowledge to my sister, her other child. She played with dolls.
Although I, early in life, had a little difficulty thinking of any other God but my Mother, this notion of the Diety quickly disappeared by the time I went to school and Sunday school. We studied the Bible and behavior in one and science, language, and behavior in the other. By age six I recognized that Mother was just another preacher, but a very powerful one telling me how to behave.
I believe it was in Miss Moe’s tenth grade World History class where I first read or heard the sentence from the ancients, “There is neither good nor bad. Only THINKING makes it so!” The word emphasized here was the word that for me parted the clouds to let the sunlight shine in; the sunlight being my Mother and Dad, Bible studies, school learnings, and Nature as I had already had known it from my experiences managing almost single handedly tending to our World War II Victory Garden work which had begun as a means of punishment to keep me out of trouble.
The most frequent punishment throughout each year of my childhood, was for me to stand face to a wall, the same wall standing there seemingly forever. Except upon this very wall there was hung a picture which came ever closer to my eyes, mind and my mind’s conscience each year of my growth until I was about eleven. By then I got close enough to read the name of the ‘author’ of the print……R. Atkinson Fox, a name I have never forgotten.
Hundreds of hours I stood at that wall snivelling or sulking for about a minute until my mind switched from the unfairness of the punishment to the content of the picture. The switching was easier to do with each standing . For this picture wasn’t just any old picture. My Mother had bought it, I learned many years later, “when I was about 15 or 16 years old” she said proudly. She had graduated 8th grade and entered the adult world at age 13 as a cashier at Friedman’s Super Market downtown St. Paul (around 1920). “I was passing by a picture store”, she explained, “and I thought it so beautiful.”
R. Atkinson Fox was noted for his stylized beautiful landscape garden prints. To this day I can see clearly this dynamic, full speed ahead woman as a teenage girl entering that picture store downtown St. Paul spending her ten cents an hour salary on buying this R. Atkinson Fox print because she ‘thought it so beautiful’.
Mother listened to classical music on radio….Beethoven Strauss Waltzes, and anything polka were her favorites. My sister was always quietly playing in her room with her dolls and paper dolls. I was seldom quiet. I had noises to make and questions to ask. Even when I built my cities with blocks, the cars that I drove along its streets had to be heard. They’d get stuck in the snow.
I therefore had even more opportunities to enjoy beauty. I could listen to the Moonlight Sonata while standing at the wall appreciating an R. Atkinson Fox creation of the beautiful landscape garden both at the same time.
While listening to these classics, I in total silence, often could hear this Mother, driving hard to finish her work while I am occupied at the wall, announce , “I feel I am in heaven when I hear music like this”!
During much of the first hour of his radio show, Dennis Prager interviewed Eric Weiner regarding Mr. Weiner’s book, ‘Man Seeks God: My Flirtation With the Divine.
Intelligent and well ‘educated’ Americans today seem to have trouble believing in “God” went the discussion . Dummies like me and many of my conservative friends which in the broader collection include Dennis himself) are ‘so yesterday’ according to the truths taught at the nation’s schools and universities.
“All is maningless if their is there is no God! Dennis, exclaimed in his usual cheery uplifting manner. “Science and reason are not enough”, the leftist author added as agreement. “Science has become less tolerant than religion”, Dennis continued with another agreement.
Eric Weiner then stated that which scientific surveys report repeatedly, “The religious are happier people”……
“Yes, but the Left would respond, “Ignorance is bliss” Dennis reminded his audience.
Thirty per cent of America’s young are ‘nones’……not among the religious or the God deniers. And the culture certainly displays the ‘none’ behaviors in all aspects of today’s western culture.
The personality of the culture is exposed in that culture’s art. If this is so, modern mankind is in deep trouble!
God exists because man is a thinking animal and therefore knows his life’s fate. Man is born curious using his thinking to corral, yet respect what he does not know to improve his lot. He is by Nature drawn to know the unknown, THEREFORE HE IS DRAWN TO THE FOREVER GOD, the eternally unknown.
Man is more God-like seeking harmony rather than disharmony. God exists most noticeably in the beauty of harmony as opposed to the ugliness of disharmony. the good versus the bad. The inspiring saying, “One is closest to God in the garden” is a Truth from the ancients.
Yet harmony can drive man to final death as quickly as any disharmony. Thinking man understands this, and so, seeks wisdom for guidance, another feature of God’s unknown realm which lures and haunts the living.
God exists and always will exist as long as the senses of a living being include the ability to be curious and know their fate, death.
A civilization is in decline when its people no longer worshipfully believe in, bear respect for, or demonstrate curiosity in exploring the mystery and power of the eternally unknown.
The fokllowing is a New York Times review by Joshua Hammer of Eric Weiner’s book, “Man Seeks God:”
“Books about God tend to fall into two categories: objective inquiries into the nature of belief and personal tales of spiritual awakening. One type explores history, creation myths and religious ritual. In the other, the author typically undergoes a crisis — a terminal illness, the death of a loved one, an onset of existential dread — that causes him to confront his life’s emptiness, coming to realize that there is something out there greater than himself.
MAN SEEKS GOD: My Flirtations With the Divine
Eric Weiner’s “Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine” nimbly and often hilariously straddles the fence between the two genres. A former war correspondent for National Public Radio, Weiner is also the author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” In that best-selling romp, he ditched the hellhole beat for a year and wandered the globe, from Bhutan to Iceland to Switzerland, looking for countries with a high “happiness index.” His new ramble begins after doctors mistake a nasty bout of intestinal gas for something far more dire. Weiner gets the scare of his life, and after a nurse confronts him in his hospital room (“Have you found your God yet?”) this self-described “Confusionist” sets off on a journey through five countries and eight religions to figure out which faith fits him best.
As Weiner explains in his introduction, he was born into a family of “gastronomical Jews” whose sense of a divine presence began and ended in the kitchen: “If we could eat it then it was Jewish and, by extension, had something to do with God. As far as I was concerned, God resided not in Heaven or the Great Void but in the Frigidaire, somewhere between the cream cheese and the salad dressing. We believed in an edible deity, and that was about the extent of our spiritual life.”
But that period of apathy ends with Weiner’s fear-of-death experience. Each subsequent chapter begins with a Craigslist-style personal ad, a plea from a “CWM” (Confusionist White Male) looking for divine inspiration. “Craves sanity and peace of mind,” he writes before heading off to Katmandu to explore the concepts of karma, suffering and reincarnation with Buddhist scholars, including a mystic from Staten Island named Wayne.
“Looking for a levelheaded partner and noble truth teller who has been here before. Please, enlighten me.” After postings like this, Weiner spends time with witches, Franciscan monks, whirling dervishes, shamans and other true believers, managing both to generate one-liners and stimulate inquiry into the nature of faith. He’s Woody Allen channeling Karen Armstrong.
Weiner’s sampling of the religious smorgasbord generates some rich insights. He notes that Buddhism is based on “a tiny barely perceptible pause between our thoughts, a pause that, while we normally are not even aware of its existence, contains the entire universe. We know this intuitively. We say that something ‘gives us pause’ when it makes us stop and think, or rethink.” And he shows that the sheer improbability of many creation stories is what makes them so appealing, bonding believers in a shared leap of faith. “One person’s insanity,” he observes, “is another’s theology, and vice versa.”
A journey to Turkey to investigate Sufism opens Weiner to the joyous, mystical side of Islam. And he’s moved by the self-sacrifice that many major religions, from Buddhism to Roman Catholicism, encourage. Hanging out with a group of Franciscan monks who run a homeless shelter in the South Bronx, he is touched by these dedicated men, who embrace a vow of total poverty and give over their lives to serving not just God but the drug-addled and the destitute. “If we were to wake one morning and find we have lost everything — our job, our house, our money, our reputation, our loved ones — would we roll over and die? Or would we keep going?” he asks. “The Franciscans don’t merely entertain that question as some sort of intellectual exercise. They live it.”
At the other extreme is Weiner’s uproarious visit to a Las Vegas convention of Raëlians, a U.F.O.-based sect whose adherents believe humankind was created 25,000 years ago by a benevolent race of aliens called the Elohim. Mixing self-help mumbo jumbo, worship of extraterrestrials and unabashed pursuit of pleasure, the group was founded by a French journalist, Raël, who appears before the crowd with his hair in a “samurai topknot” in a costume that makes him look “like he just popped out of a ‘Star Trek’ episode.”
Weiner cross-dresses as part of a perspective-shifting exercise (“My thick blond hair falls nicely across my ample bosoms. My freshly shaved face is smooth, and the rouge lends a subtle yet healthy glow to my complexion”), and he wryly notes that the sect’s Order of Angels — a group of beautiful female acolytes — are sworn to a vow of celibacy, with a significant exception: they’re permitted to have sex with the founder. “Raëlianism is the perfect religion for 16-year-old boys,” he concludes. “It has cool gadgets and hot chicks, and has elevated masturbation to an act of holy submission. . . . Yes, between the Raëlians and my local synagogue, it would have been no contest. Not even close.”
In the end, though, Weiner dismisses such sects as “some frothy tonic for our everyday neuroses,” their allure lying in their evasion of the arduous demands made by the world’s “good religions.” A later chapter finds him in the company of Wiccans, participating in black-magic ceremonies — “Macbeth meets Harry Potter” — and pondering the benefits of pagan worship versus monotheism. “If Hashem tanks, has a bad year, Jews have no recourse,” he writes. “Not so with Wiccans. There is always another god.”
Still, Weiner’s odyssey feels unsatisfying. His quest for a religious identity isn’t particularly convincing; in fact, it often seems less a heartfelt search than a device cooked up by an enterprising journalist and his editors, a way to get him on the road again. We never believe, for example, that Weiner is genuinely drawn to the spirit world of shamanism or the spooky ceremonies of modern-day witchcraft. His peripatetic approach doesn’t allow for much depth. And while he deftly captures the kooky spirit of the fringe religions, he’s on far shakier ground trying to explain the concepts of, say, Buddhism and Taoism. A succession of encounters with gurus, meditation teachers and other spiritual advisers results in runic comments and riffs of vagueness that leave both Weiner and his readers frustrated.
He completes his quest with a homecoming of sorts by traveling to the Israeli town of Safed, long a center for the study of kabbalah, a mystical strain of Judaism created by French and Spanish scholars who settled there in the 16th century. “I have lusted in my heart, flirted with a bevy of exotic gods, dabbled in witchcraft,” he writes. “I feel like the wayward spouse, reeking of sweet perfume and cheap booze, sheepishly knocking on the front door after a lengthy and unexplained absence.” Weiner takes lessons in the Zohar — the kabbalah’s scripture — savors the cobblestone streets and shops full of “Jewish misfits,” rekindles a dormant Jewish identity and tries to crack the code that followers of Kabbalah believe keeps God hidden in plain sight. As always, Weiner is great on atmospherics but thin on specifics: we come away with neither a firm sense of what kabbalah is nor an understanding of the demands it makes on its adherents.
At the end of the book, Weiner embraces a hybrid God cobbled together from his various encounters: “His foundation is Jewish, but His support beams Buddhist. He has the heart of Sufism, the simplicity of Taoism, the generosity of the Franciscans, the hedonistic streak of the Raëlians.” It’s a neat way to tie up the loose ends, but it somehow left me a nonbeliever.”
Joshua Hammer is the author of “Chosen by God: A Brother’s Journey” and other books.
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