Reader challenges need for God for enjoyment of life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 21, 2012

Not everyone agrees with my view that our immortal spirit longs for God, not unlike how our mortal eyes long for the sunrise and our ears for a robin’s song.

Jeff Perkins is a longtime coffee companion of mine and a frequent visitor to Cochrane. He’s also one of the founders of Secular Humanists in Calgary (SHIC) and a former board member of Humanists Canada.

Secular humanism holds to the full, mutually respectful development of every human being without reference to any divine being or religious institutions and their dogmas.

In several columns recently I’ve said that we are born with a longing for God that, as we grow older, too easily becomes mere glowing embers, and that we can be used as fans to rekindle the embers of each other’s spirit back into a full flame so that we can be fully alive human beings. (See especially my column for Feb. 15.)

Jeff wrote:

Obfuscation occurs when words such as "spirit" and "soul" are used to explain aspects of human existence. Your suggestion that a baby might have an innate spirit or soul which can, in some, lead to a burning sense of achievement, to a commitment of fervour, to attaining that grand goal of a full life, is not without merit.

I suggest that spirit and soul are not needed to explain this.

A baby begins to learn at a fantastic rate. The senses are not all switched on immediately. Studies have shown that there is a sequence. Sight seems to be the first and then the body's largest organs, including the sensitive lips and hands.

It is this gathering and evaluating of the sensory data which creates that small spark. Not a spirit. Not a Christian soul.

As you know, if the child chose its parents very carefully and they not only passed on good genes but also provided very positive nurturing, a good chance would exist that a spark would be fanned. The world around would be perceived as something glorious and unlimited in its fascination.

On the other hand, a child raised with no encouragement to enjoy and share sensory experiences might end with a cold steel spark of resentment, a spark which identifies knowledge, data, experience as needing to be exclusive and perhaps, not to be shared. I wonder how many artists fall into this category.

My point is clear (to me!) that fuzzy words are not needed to explain your very sound idea. The point is also that some people grow with a spark which bursts out while others seem to have damp squib lives.

That makes me recall a chemical engineer I met who worked for a certain company. He had a fantastic job with good pay – and he detested it. But he could not change, as he had a wife, children and a mortgage. No matter how hard he tried to get different work (to respond to his spark) he was always re-chanelled into chemical engineering. Few are able to make that break and so the spark sputters. There will be no flame.

I agree with much of what Jeff says, especially about how the words we use can often confuse rather than clarify. And this is no less true with the words like “soul” and “spirit,” which sometimes have the same meaning, and other times have quite different meanings.

Personally, I rather like the line by British writer C.S. Lewis: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

I would only add that, just as our soul’s body has five senses for relating to light, sound, etc., so our soul also has a spirit for relating to God.

But of course, that’s where Jeff and I have traditionally disagreed over the years of our long, good friendship.

Does that mean Jeff is not intentionally engaged with the beauty of life? Not at all.

Jeff’s compassion for others is well known, as is his passion for the arts.

“My love of music derives from a deliberately self-ignited spark,” he tells me. In fact, 60 years ago, when only 15, he and a friend took a music appreciation class just so they could embrace classical music.

His love for the visual arts is no less passionate. And the former president of the Calgary Photographic Society and the Foothills Camera Club has certainly helped fan my own photographic flames.

About himself and his unceasing commitment to beauty in life, Jeff says quite clearly: “My need to understand artistic composition became an inner flame which is still burning brightly.”

And here, too, I would add that my own unceasing commitment to beauty in life also includes the spirit’s timeless relationship with God that will continue long after the last notes of a Mozart sonata are forever silenced and Ansel Adams’s finest photographs become dust.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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