lundi, mai 16, 2011

Stephen Hawking, you make me cry

Actually, it's not just the famed physicist who reduced me to sobbing at my computer this morning. It's really our tribalism, that makes me fear for the ability of our species to transcend our own belief systems.

But first to Dr. Hawking. A person of incredible intelligence and bravery, he has beat the odds on motor neuron disease, outliving his diagnosis by decades. In a recent interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Hawking said this:

You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

I don't have an issue with Hawking's science. I don't have a problem with his beliefs. It troubles me when people of faith attack his ideas because they don't agree with them.

I'm not crazy about the "fairy story" comment, however, because it demeans a whole class of people. I don't like it when politicians do it. And I am equally upset when it is done by prominent non-believers. Although I do understand why they do it -- there's a lot of anti-intellectual bias rampant in many religious circles.

There are many times when I rant about the weird triumphalism of American political life, with its tendency to embrace forms of red-necked bigotry. Just get away from here for a while, and read foreign papers, and you can see how small our lens is -- as I am reminded by my Americans friends who live abroad.

But, since I am not living abroad I also look for places where I can join forces with others. There is so much to be done right here, right now, that allowing our beliefs to divide us when there is so much to be accomplished seems wrong.

I come from a family largely of agnostics and atheists (though for centuries we had rabbis on one side). People of faith, like me, are remarkable simply because somehow we mutated from devoutly skeptical branches of our family tree.

But no one in my family ever mocked me for what I believe. No one ever refused to talk to me. No one disowned me. No one, at least to my knowledge, disrespected my intelligence.

We love each other. And what we share is more important to us than what divides us.

It was only when I left the nest that I realized how rare that kind of tolerance is. But I will keep on raising that standard --
I will look for kindred spirits who share similar beliefs. I will, as Hawking suggests, try to make my work on earth meaningful.

And occasionally, I will surrender to profound pessimism about human collaboration -- and put my head on my desk, and let the tears flow. Giving in to pessimism, long-term, however -- not an option. Not for a Jackson. We are tougher than that -- or maybe more foolish. At any rate, if I'm going down on a ship, I want to be with the kind fools, however misguided we might be.

1 commentaire:

BigLittleWolf a dit…

"What we share is more important than what divides us."

Amen to that, Elizabeth.