We were in a fairly useless “birth class” the other day and were subjected to watching a video of a man who has built a career out of quieting colicky babies. It may have been the best part of the class, actually, but something in the man’s eyes made me uneasy, and I couldn’t tell why, until it struck me: he reminded me of this guy:
Remember him? 1997, a small gated community in Southern California, Hale Bopp comet in the night sky, and this wide-eyed gnome having convinced 39 other men and women to dress in black, lie in their bunk-beds, and ritually overdose so that their souls could be carried off by the spaceship lurking behind the comet.
(And, excuse me for a moment, but god I love Heaven’s Gate; so many amazing details: the “alien abduction insurance,” the voluntary castrations, the fact that one of them survived and, a decade later, still believed he’d missed his chance “to turn against the Next Level when it is being offered.” I even formed a lasting friendship when a friend of a friend, hearing me rant about it one night, said, “Yeah, but you know, what if they made it!” and only later did I realize that, well, maybe Johnny was somewhat serious about that…)
It’s absurd, of course, that Colic Man reminded me of the Heaven’s Gate prophet; it speaks more of my own paranoid habit of sniffing out even the faintest hint of religious fervor than anything else. But there was something to the devotional way the mothers in the video hung on Colic Man’s every word that gave some credence to my otherwise unjust assumption about
his quasi-messianic underpinnings. Of course, these were mothers who hadn’t gotten more than four hours of sleep a night in eleven months, and thus were probably ready to worship a sleep-inducing Muppet at that point.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m driving at here: something about the hypnotic way Colic Man moved his head, soothingly, strangely; something about those piercing green eyes of the Heaven’s Gate prophet, and something about lines from a poem by the Guatemalan revolutionary poet Otto Rene Castillo that have been rising to the surface of my days’ thoughts for quite some time now: “But it is beautiful to love the world/ with the eyes/ of those/ still/ to be born.”
It is beautiful. But it is also scary (as I laid out in my last post.). By what means, I wonder, by what fickle paths and improbable twists do Castillo’s unborn eyes become these others’ eyes? I am wary of the devotion in these others’ eyes: “The trouble with our species,” Arthur Koestler said*, “is not an excess of aggression, but an excess capacity for fanatical devotion.”
I’m not truly afraid my child is going to be a cult member or cult leader. I highly doubt that any child raised by a father who doesn’t see why one should believe in Jesus and not Osiris, Mohammed, or Zeus, and thus none of them; who, on a finer scale, believes that if humans have souls then surely all animals do, and thus all living life, even the ebola virus and gonorrhea bacteria, which calls into question the existence of a soul altogether; who doesn’t really view the “miracle” of human birth as all that different from that of a chimpanzee or Neanderthal or dolphin or bat’s birth (“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” David Hume); and by a mother who, in contrast to her husband’s skepticism, is content to encapsulate her religious beliefs in two simple words—“nutrient cycling”—is going to grow up a fanatic of just about anything.
But you never know! We probably won’t ever bring her to church, and yet she still may become a Christian Fundamentalist. We’ll try and raise her to critically analyze everything, grounded in logic and objective perspective, and yet she still may start Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel. Hell, she may even become some sort of rabid Celtics fanatic, just to spite her old man. We all have heard the stories, we all know the people, some of us are the people who have turned away from, renounced, or became completely different—spiritually, politically, practically—than their parents and the way they were raised. Many for the better.
So it goes.
No need to sweat and whine** about this: what shall be will be. She will be who she will be. She wants to believe in Jesus and not Odin, fine. She wants to love the Celtics…fine. She wants to drop bombs out of unmanned aircraft in whatever war we’ll be fighting at that point, well, damn. We did our best, and much of our best will be exactly that expressed in Castillo’s lines: we will try and teach her to see the world through wonder and possibility, and not through dogma or narrow devotion to any other’s beliefs.
So I guess I have faith after all; faith that this will be enough.
*If you’re beginning to suspect that this whole blog is merely an excuse for me to employ my large collection of quotes, well, you’re not entirely wrong.
**Stolen directly from the great Walt Whitman lines, which obviously influenced my worldview:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.