It's friggin' cold.
I can't believe I did the whole hour-long walk with Arden today. It was really cold, I think it was 8 degrees. When I woke up, the radio - tuned to NPR - announced the temperature was 0. ZERO! And with the wind chill factor, minus 20! Arden was so cold, I think his paws started to freeze. He would stop occasionally and shake a paw and stare at it. He looked like he was surprised and that his paw was numb. I was only going to go as far as I needed to for Arden to rid himself of waste - but we just kept going. I had no intention of crossing Green Bay Road to the lake, but then did. And I was so glad. The waves were rolling and the steam from the lake created this mist wafting above, it was really otherworldly - primordial. My mouth fell open at the scene but then my teeth began to chatter again.
I keep getting letters from people. It really is thrilling to read people's response to the show. One letter I got was from an oncologist who said that he found that people who were religious seemed comforted by their faith at first, but then many had a hard time towards the end, if it looked like they were going to lose their life in their battle with cancer. And that people who were not religious and had a naturalistic world view, and didn't think their life was going to go on in the hereafter - they had a harder time at first but then an easier time accepting death. This is just one man's observations, and of course I am inclined to believe it's probably true about people. I often wonder how much religion and God and the idea of an afterlife helps. It seems that it would be very helpful in extremely uncertain situations. I know first hand how the idea of God being "with me" in a crisis was helpful. But I wonder, was it really?
For example, long long ago I was involved in a... a... well, I was abducted. Wow - I was going to say kidnapped but that sounds too dramatic. In any case, that's what the court called it. It's a long story for another time, but the bottom line is that I offered a person help and they ended up pulling a gun on me and I was with this man for several hours. This man told me he was going to kill me.
And, I was totally calm. I thought it was my destiny - whatever happened. I befriended - or pretended to befriend him so he would have compassion. I tried to make myself a person to him. I talked about jazz and the kinds of music I liked - that sort of thing. The whole time I thought I had God on my side. I thought this situation was being witnessed by someone who was going to judge me on how brave and smart I was being. My faith seemed to help me be calm, to help me get through it.
But now that I look back on this, I think it was my blind faith that was partly to blame for me even being in a situation like I was in! There were many clues that this person was not trustworthy and I ignored them, partly because I felt that God put people in my life for a reason. I was not cautious and I was not critical. When I think of Mulan at age 23 (the age I was then) I hope she is more savvy and much less trusting than I was. Part of this is more about age than philosophy of course. I don't automatically trust people but that is what happens to everyone I know as they get older. Maybe religion didn't have all that much to do with it. I'm not sure, but it's something I like to mull.
I just finished the book about Samuel Champlain today. His Catholic faith seemed to make him more loving and more open to the humanity of the native americans. Of course there are so many examples of religion working the opposite way - to make people not acknowledge other's humanity - to be judgmental in the worst ways and superior in all the wrong ways. Champlain wanted to integrate with the native Americans and wanted them to intermarry with the french. He respected them - maybe not in all ways, but so much more than his counterparts did. Was it his nature or his faith that made him this way?
It's something I will probably muse upon for decades - whether religion helps people. I am inclined to think that religion, when used sparingly - like an aspirin, seems to be okay. It's just when it's used too much.... No, WAIT, I cannot say that. I think in the end - on balance, it's not helpful. In any case, it's too likely to be a lie and can a lie ever be helpful? (Well, yes. It can. When you're hiding innocents in your attic - that sort of thing. What would you tell a child facing certain death? The blunt truth? Oh! I don't know - I guess I would. I think I would. Would I really???)
I also got a letter from a young woman with throat cancer and she faces a stiff battle for her life. She is no longer a believer in God but her family, who is religious, wants her to believe. She doesn't know how to respond. I don't either but I cannot stop thinking about it. Family members want you to feel better and they believe that believing makes you feel better. It's like Daniel Dennet writes about so eloquently. People don't really believe - but they believe in believing.