Underlying Reality

At the core of all our thoughts and beliefs lies the conviction that the underlying reality is wholly good. That evil lies only at the surface, a thin film of distortion soon to be washed away by the waves.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Essential Good”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

That hardly seems likely. Given the record of wars, crime, and rampant injustice that is written all over human history, it’s extremely difficult to reconcile all of that with the statement, “reality is wholly good.” For me, it’s as difficult as believing the following to be true:

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.

-Anne Frank

I still experience astonishment when imagining how a young Jew in the middle of the Holocaust could pen such a statement. Didn’t the Nazis teach her that humanity is essentially evil?

Of course religious Jews and Christians see the nature of humanity as fundamentally different. Jews see our nature as basically good but influenced by an inclination for evil while Christians see that the fall of Adam resulted in the nature of human beings becoming wholly evil and irredeemable without Jesus Christ. Jews believe people have an active part in working toward repairing themselves and their damaged world while Christians believe we are totally helpless and only through Christ is there any hope at all.

I believe Jesus was serious when he said:

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” –Luke 18:8 (ESV)

Our modern religious world isn’t in any better shape than the secular world surrounding us. We are subject to the same pressures, frailties, passions, temptations, and lusts as the rest of humanity. Christians like to believe we are somehow immune from those forces thanks to the grace of Jesus Christ but scandal upon scandal in the church that has made the headlines over the past several decades shows us otherwise. Dear Christian, if God were to open your heart and show every dirty sin you’ve ever committed in living color on national television, would the reputation of God (already rather shaky in a progressive secular politically correct society) topple completely in the eyes of the common person?

Many religious and inspirational pundits, including Rabbi Freeman have said in one way or another that, “you are what you think,” but what you think won’t affect a morally and ethically corrupt reality.

To know that this world is not some wild jungle where whoever is stronger or richer or smarter can abuse and destroy without regard for those beneath them — this is not a matter of religion or faith, particular to one people or group of believers. This is the underlying reality — that this world has a Master, and it is not any of us.

A peaceful society can only endure when it is built upon that which is real.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Getting Real”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

There are times when I can see the attraction of retreats and monasteries; of withdrawing into a cloistered and sheltered environment isolated from the hideousness of the world around us. In truth though, what I seek most when I have such thoughts, is to be isolated from the corruption within myself. At least if I say or do something that is considered unacceptable to the irreligious and progressive world, in an isolated sanctuary, there are a limited number of people who will be impacted and hopefully, I will be my only victim.

Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go and no place to hide, even from myself, and between the options of seeking hope and expecting total, catastrophic failure in my life, I can only sit and wait to see which one will endure and which one will perish. Anne Frank had hope and she died anyway. The Nazis were ultimately defeated and the death camps turned into testaments warning the next generation against evil, but antisemitism, Jew hatred, and the desire among almost all the nations of the world (and all the major news agencies) to exterminate every living Israeli (Jewish) man, woman, and infant are still unashamedly rampant.

In spite of all this, Rabbi Freeman still has the nerve (I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek right now) to post a series of articles called meditations on happiness. Even if an individual can somehow achieve a state of happiness or (amazingly) joy, the world should just surround that person with its very nature and crush that spirit to a bloody death, as a serpent might crush the eggs of a swan. But then Rabbi Freeman also said this:

It’s not that Abraham and Moses gave the world the ideas of morality and value of life. These ideas were known to Adam and to Noah — only that with time, humankind had mostly forgotten them.

What these giants brought to the world was a greater idea: That the values essential to humanity’s survival can only endure when they are seen as an outcome of monotheism. They must be tied to an underlying reality, and that reality is the knowledge of a Oneness that brings us into being.

One of my favorite episodes of the TV series M*A*S*H (1972-1983) is called Dear Sigmund. Psychiatrist Sydney Freedman (played by Allan Arbus) is undergoing what you might call a “crisis of faith,” but in his case, it isn’t faith in God but rather, faith in his abilities as a psychiatrist. One of his patients has committed suicide, so he “retreats” to the 4077 and amid the insanity typical among people like Hawkeye, BJ, and Klinger, he starts writing a letter to the founder of modern psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. This doesn’t go unnoticed:

Capt. B.J. Hunnicut (Mike Farrell): We couldn’t help but notice that you came for the poker game and stayed two weeks.
Maj. Sidney Freedman: Well, I just wanted a little vacation.
Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda): Sydney, Venice is a vacation. The Swiss Alps is a vacation. This is a fungus convention in Atlantic City.

At one point in his letter to Freud (who at that point in history, was already deceased), Sydney crystallizes the alternative to rage or despair in the face of hopelessness:

Anger turned inwards is depression. Anger turned sideways… is Hawkeye.

I suppose that was the whole point of the eleven year run of the M*A*S*H series. In the face of something has horrible and crazy as war, it is still possible to survive it and find a third alternative besides depression and anger…controlled insanity.

Well, to be fair, a wacky sense of humor.

I used to believe that the last coping mechanism that would fail me when all others went the way of the Dodo bird would be humor, but that too becomes buried along with everything else when the weight of both the world and my personality descend upon me. But then neither Hawkeye or Sydney relied on anything like faith in God (which was already unpopular in 1976 when the “Dear Sigmund” episode first aired).

At the end of the episode, Sydney’s “vacation” at M*A*S*H enabled him to realize that a small bud of hope had begun to grow within him and he felt the need to nurture it. God doesn’t provide vacations for the “tired soul” so all I have to hope for is that He’ll eventually show a small bit of mercy.

It’s not like life is so bad. Compared to most folks, I’ve got it pretty good. It’s just that I can see past the facade into the inner workings of the machine, and I realize that the spinning of its cogs and sprockets and all the stuff we tend to believe makes life meaningful are just the mechanism operating in futility, like some obscene Rube Goldberg machine that looks wonderful but performs absolutely no useful function.

So I’m sitting at a bus stop at the intersection of Hope and Futility waiting to see which bus will show up first…and which one I’ll take for a ride.

I wonder what would happen if I wrote a letter called, “Dear God?”

2 thoughts on “Underlying Reality”

  1. I write “Dear G-d” letters and try to put all those thoughts & comments that I wouldn’t actually say out loud. But I realize half way through that He’s reading it…. Then a bit of the fear of the L-rd comes over me. Then I realize He knows them anyway & wants me to deal with them. so write away and bob’s your uncle.

  2. Actually, I don’t know that I’ll write any blog posts formatted that way (it’s not like it hasn’t been done before), but the mood may hit me at some point.

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