Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why ask why?

---every little kid in the world

Because I said so, that's why!
---every parent in response

I started this blog in 2005 mainly to write about issues of faith and my response to them. I took the title "The Pardoner's Tale" as a reference to the Pardoner in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: a man who gives the appearance of a righteous preacher, but behind the scenes cares nothing for the people, he just wants their money. The insinuation being that although I like to call myself a man of faith who has been down many roads along the search for truth, there is always something (or someone) hiding behind the mask that makes it clear- the things we believe aren't always as solid as they appear.

In the course of writing this blog I've had many responses. The one I've received more than others, at least from religious people, is "when are you going to settle on one thing?" The second response is like it: "You know, there are no perfect churches." You can substitute any type of organization, political party, or person for the word "churches", but the gist is the same- you are expecting perfection, Sean, where perfection doesn't exist. Don't ask why. Don't expect change. In the popular parlance, "it is what it is."

But the question "Why?", and the related question "Why not?", are ultimately at the root of everything- all art, all literature, all scientific discovery, and yes, all theological and philosophical reflection as well. Why keep trying to invent a light bulb, or an airplane, or a radio, when previous experiments have ended in failure? Why not? Should we investigate why some children are born disabled? Why not?

Someone asked themselves why women should get to vote; someone else asked, "Why not?" Someone thought to themselves, hey, why not kidnap Africans and make them work the fields? The refusal of generations to ask "Why?" led to one of the greatest tragedies in American history. Why do I go to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and see young children in wheelchairs? Why will one young man have the same frozen expression on his face every day of his life? Why are there children bald from chemotherapy instead of out playing soccer? Why did Avonte Oquendo die?

Damn it, isn't anyone going to ask why?

Why do the babies starve
When there's enough food to feed the world
Why when there're so many of us
Are there people still alone

Why are the missiles called peace keepers
When they're aimed to kill
Why is a woman still not safe
When she's in her home

---Tracy Chapman, "Why"

I don't expect perfection. I'm not that naïve. But I do believe that the failure to ask ourselves "Why?" can lead to imperfections that could be avoided. "Because we've always done it this way" is not an answer! If there is a reason you've always done something a certain way, then it shouldn't be that hard to give it. If there isn't a reason, hey, that's great, do it however you want. Just don't insist that it's the only way to do it... yeah, you would be wrong on that one.

And the answer to "Why?" isn't always cut-and-dried. "Why does that magazine cost $11.99?" is simple enough- paper costs X dollars, ink costs Y, labor costs Z, the profit margin has to be such-and-so to maintain the ability to continue to produce the magazine... all that is simple. "Why do people criticize what they can't understand?"- a little more ethereal, a little more complex. "Why can tolerant people often be the most intolerant of them all?"- yeah, y'all need to get back to me with an answer on that one, 'cause I'd like to know.

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.
-Mario Savio

The answer to the question "Why?" will often demand a response on our part. "Why can't women vote?" "Well, because the powers-that-be have decided that they should continue to fulfill antiquated roles in the life of the family and the nation, and let the big boys play." Should the suffrage movement at that point have said "Oh, well, OK, I like being pregnant all the time, having inadequate medical care and dying when I'm 35 while in the throes of childbirth, so you take care of the important stuff so I don't have to think"? No! Oh hell no! The question was asked, the response was given, and the resulting actions based on that response have led to greater freedoms for more than half of the population.

You aren't always going to get a good response to the question "Why?" At that point you need to make a decision- is this issue not worth the effort to effect change, or is the action of the machine so odious that you have to make it stop whatever the cost? "Why do Democrats and Republicans often act like (orifices)?" There may be an answer to that question, but I'm not so naïve that I believe I can change it- indeed, that it will ever be changed. It isn't worth the time and energy to me to try to effect change. "Why does my son injure himself and try to hurt me?" That's a question that I ask myself; I know there is an answer, I haven't found it yet, but the answer to that question is of such value to me that I am willing to sell all I have to buy the field in which that answer lies.

The answers to everyday life lie somewhere in between.

Choose your battles. Let things go when you can. But do not stop asking "Why?"

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
---REM, "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?"

Darlin' you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

---The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Why don't we do it in the road? No one will be watching us...
---The Beatles, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"

Who are you? Who-who, who-who
---The Who, "Who Are You?"


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