Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Good Life

In Australia, both Christmas Day and Boxing Day are public holidays.  If either of them occurs on a normal working day, you most likely get a paid day off.  If both occur on normal work days, you get TWO paid days off!  Lucky!

I have no idea what Boxing Day is about or what you're supposed to do (Pack away your Christmas decorations?  Re-package gifts that you are going to return?  Punch people with over-sized novelty gloves?) but what was once good fortune is now considered an entitlement.  If either Christmas or Boxing Day occur on a weekend (like it did this year), you not only get the day off, but you also get another paid day off to make up for the fact that Sunday was going to be a day off anyhow.  If that same logic is followed indefinitely, people will want an additional paid day off if a public holiday doesn't fall on a weekend, to make up for the additional day they would have gotten if it had been on a weekend, et cetera. Employers will soon have to pay people to never work at all, just like in France.

In any event, that's why on a completely ordinary Tuesday two days after Christmas that wasn't any particular Holiday other than my brother's birthday (he never did have very good timing), I was up at The Shed relaxing and taking it easy.

There I was, lying in a hammock, sipping an ice-cold vanilla Coke, the bright sun warming me, the green Jarrah trees (Eucalyptus marginata) shading me, the cloudless deep-blue sky calming me, the breeze gently rocking me, the spiders in their enormous webs overhead alarming me, and I thought as I absently flicked away yet another kangaroo tick that was crawling up the leg of my jeans, "You know, John, life just doesn't get any better than this."

I honestly wished at that time that every guy in the world could be having such a peaceful, relaxing experience.  They'd most likely be consuming beer instead of cola, however.

Before coming to Australia, I never had to explain my abstinence to anyone.  In the USA, being abnormal is much more . . . well, "normal" isn't right, so I'll say "usual."  But here in Australia, not drinking alcohol is so unusual it can never pass unnoticed and I am constantly having to explain myself.

People assume I must be either Muslim, Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, an extremely committed Methodist, in the Baha'i faith, or possibly a High-Initiate Eckist.  Because nobody would ever choose to not have alcohol if it were entirely up to them, would they?

Not so.  I knew an athiest once who didn't drink either.  He said he'd spent too much of his life trying to learn things and get smarter, that he'd be buggered if he was going to go pouring stuff down his neck that might undo even a little of his hard work.  Especially something like beer that doesn't even taste good anyway.

He also said that too many men cower behind some religion to justify their actions for which they lack the moral courage to take responsibility themselves.  If you're going to do what you believe is right, he said, do it because you believe in it, not because some church says you have to.  "Never let religion prevent you from doing the right thing."  Funny, that I should learn more about religion from an atheist than I ever learned from anyone else.

That got me wondering. Can religion cause someone to lose his individual moral compass?  I once asked a staunch believer in a minority Christian faith what he would do if the leader of his church ordered him to blow up a bus full of children.  I became extremely alarmed simply by the delay in his answer, which I forestalled after a moment by saying, "Great Gilligan, man! You don't seriously have to THINK about that one, do you?"

Rather than a firm and definite "no," his answer was a cowardly, "it depends."   Mind you, his own church adamantly espouses a doctrine of free agency, a person's responsibility for his own actions, and the commandment not to kill people.  Could he really have been absent from Sunday School on all the days those items were covered?  The Superbowl is only once a year.

Or are beliefs in leaders' infallibility, absolute conformity, and moral relativism just that much more attractive to people, even to members of a church that explicitly denounces all three of these tenets?  Why even be in a religion if you're not going to believe anything they teach?  It couldn't possibly be that some people do not want the responsibility of making their own choices, could it?

-     -     -

I have a particular belief that I create my life, through my thoughts, actions, inaction, and choices. I can't prove that this is literally true for everyone all the time, and it seems like an awful lot of responsibility for a person to have.  But having this belief makes me more empowered, helps forestall feelings of helplessness and depression (see this scientifically tested book by Martin Seligman) and rouses me into activity like no other belief I have.  So I choose to believe it without further need of proof.

At times like today when life is as good as it gets (and when I focus more on the blue sky, green trees and sunshine than on the spiders and ticks in my life), I get the feeling that I might have made an OK choice.

Happy New Year to all my readers!  Make your 2012 the best one ever.


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