Just about every time I get caught up in the clutches of an expert, a scientist, an economist, or a politician I begin to wonder whether or not life has any meaning or purpose. You’d think it would be the other way around. After all, they’re the people whose resumes lionize them as deconstructers the mysteries and myths that have kept mankind in the dark for centuries. As Frederick Buechner once observed, they are the special ones among us who specialize in solving our problems for us. How have they done it? By eliminating “all the ancient myths and dreams and superstitions.” It’s a case of addition by subtraction. Take away the old wives’ tales and open up a spreadsheet and there you have it. Our problems are solved. All we need to do is put our lives in the hands of this modern age’s anointed ones.
Why is it, then, that I cling so stubbornly to the old ways of thinking? I doubt that my answer will satisfy many, but it’s the only answer that makes sense to me. Like Buechner, I’ve had a summons to a pilgrimage¸ where I sense “meanings no less overwhelming because they can only be hinted at in myth and ritual,” where I glimpse “a destination I can never fully know till I reach it.”
I like to think of myself as a reasonable man. I love the political process. I enjoy tweaking the noses of the high and mighty. Lord knows, they richly deserve what they get. I know that two plus two equals four. I take medication to regulate my heartbeat and blood pressure, which means, I think, that I have some measure of trust in modern science. I have some grasp of great concepts like supply and demand. I think I’ve learned to demand less when everyone else is demanding more, knowing that getting into the rat race will cost me more in resources I don’t have in order to get what a lot of other people seem to think is absolutely necessary to maintain the good life. I’m learning to resist the temptation to convince myself I can’t live without the things they have or want. This all seems quite reasonable to me.
I got a call a couple of weeks ago from someone who was upset about something I’d written. I never did find out what he was upset about. Once I acknowledged that I was indeed Phil Dillon, he screamed, “You’re stoooooopid!” I couldn’t think of anything to say in response other than, “Thank you.” That seemed to make him angrier. He screamed even louder, “Did you hear me? I said you’re stoooooopid!” I thanked him again and he closed with a crescendo. “Go to hell, stoooooopid!” I was tempted to remind him of Forrest Gump’s insight that stupid is as stupid does, but I thought that might bring on a real fit of rage. I reminded him that, while he had established to his satisfaction that I was stupid, I didn’t think I was stupid enough to go where he wanted me to go.
My critic may be half right. There are times I feel as dumb as a stump. I knew just about everything when I was thirty. Now, I’m pushing seventy. I’ve learned more , but I know less than I did forty years ago. This is a big world and a very big universe. There’s a lot about life and existence that’s mysterious and I’m not smart enough to figure it all out. I’ll leave that to those who have a firmer grasp on all the facts.
Sometimes I’m tempted to defend myself. But, I usually come to my senses and realize any defense I mount wouldn’t be acceptable to my detractors. When the temptation does come I read the Book of Job. When his comforters were done with him he found himself confronted by the Almighty himself. The questions from on high came rat a tat, like the Anvil Chorus. “Can you loose the chords of Orion?” “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?” “Do they report to you?” “Do you give the horse his strength?” “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom?” After the last question came Job put his hand over his mouth and answered, “I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice and I will say no more.”
Like Job, I’ve come to the place where I’ve learned, often through painful experience, there’s more to life than spreadsheets, political calculations, science or slickly marketed appeals to greed. If that marks me as a fool, there’s nothing I can do but embrace my foolishness. It’s better, I think, to be a fool at peace than to be a “wise” man caught up in a web of self-deceit.