Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Passing the Baton of Self Sacrifice

We seem to be moving farther and farther away from religion, but sticking with the same old notion that life is made for suffering. Don't you agree?

In some religions, especially the more stentorian ones, people were taught that our job on Earth is to suffer so that we may one day find Heaven. Most Christian religions have taught this in varying degrees. The only thing that was cool about this was that the payoff was an eternity of cloud-riding and harp-strumming. Sure, you would spend a brief lifetime wallowing in sorrow, but the rest of forever was your holy roller coaster ride.

Many, today, are sort of arrogantly writing off the possibility of God, but many of those same people still relegate themselves to suffering a lifetime of lameness -- even suffering. The downside is that they don't believe in the payoff.

When is it okay to live for ourselves? Is humanity's journey a baton-passing running race? Are we consigned to pass the baton of suffering and self-sacrifice from one generation to another?

For instance, if a group of people in history gave up their lives to fight for freedom -- either died for it or gave their time alive to this fight -- do we, the reapers of the freedom, have an obligation to go fight for someone else's freedom, or can we sit back, raise a glass and say, "Thanks for the freedom, fellows, now sod off!"?

Maybe that's an extreme example. But how about structures? In America, as elsewhere, there is a governmental system. How obligated are we to take part in it? Are we obligated by patriotism? Are we obligated because people fought and died for it?

George Carlin was vehement in his right not to vote. There are those who see that as (dare I say it?) sacrilege. "People died for the freedom to vote!" they say. They call people like Carlin "un-American" and they invite him to "get out" if he doesn't love the place.
Robert Gould Shaw
who died for freedom. 

So, is it either "buy-in" or "get out"?

I was watching a survival show the other day and they showed a guy who decided to live in the wilds of Alaska "off of the grid." I suppose that is what it takes to extract one's self from the systems set up by those to whom we should be grateful; those who paid for freedom.

But what about a guy like me, who doesn't want to be a hermit but to whom the idea of being "off of the grid" is appealing? Is it all right for me to work because I need money and then spend my time in the pursuit of Earthly pleasures? I'm not talking about orgies and three months of drug induced black-out partying. I'm talking about telling the world bugger off when I'm off the clock.

Peter Singer would be angry with me.  So would Jonathan Edwards, Puritan author of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

I suppose it is all balance, as usual. I believe in God, so I wonder if God feels I am doing enough. I believe in being grateful for the sacrifices of others, so I don't want to take the cookies they made with out saying "thank you."

What if I don't want to vote? What if I don't want to be on town council? What if I don't want to coach Little League? What if I don't go into impoverished cities and hand out food to the poor?

If I just read books and play games with my kids when I am not at work, am I being selfish or am I enjoying the things that those who went before me wanted me to enjoy? Are they -- those courageous freedom fighters --  like good parents, who expect nothing in return, or are they waiting for me to pay up?

In the end, I guess it is a pay-what-you-want system. I hope I'm doing okay. But I do know that the things that mean most to me seem to mean the least to everyone else.

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