Sunday, September 29, 2013

What I Learned from Tarzan (and The Who) about the Holy Trinity



When one thinks of Tarzan, perhaps the last thing that comes to mind is the Blessed Trinity. Nevertheless, there is something quite profound when you get right down to it about the manner in which Tarzan speaks. Tarzan is what one might call a feral child, and what we mean by that is that he was "raised" in the wild, not by a pack of wolves, by rather by monkeys. And considering the type of environment in which he was reared, it should come as little surprise that his grammar was more than a little bit lacking (viz. "I Tarzan. You Jane!"). But why is that a significant detail? And in what sense does it have anything to do with the Holy Trinity? 

In recent decades psychologists and doctors have gained a greater and greater understanding of childhood development. For example, there have been any number of studies that dwell on the importance of human touch- along with the manner and age at which a child develops the capacity to speak. The latter may seem less significant than the former, but apparently they are both intimately connected. In point of fact, not only do such insights tell us a great deal about the nature and importance of "childhood development", but they also (I would suggest) lend insight into our identity as children who are made in the image and likeness of the one Triune God.


Some years back there was a TLC documentary on a little girl name Genie Wiley who had been kept isolated in one room for the first thirteen years of her life. Her father ordered the mother and the rest of the children not to touch her or talk to her. When the authorities finally discovered the child, she was, not surprisingly, malnourished and psychologically traumatized. So terrible was her treatment that she behaved more like an animal than a human being. According to the doctors report, in spite of the fact that she was chronologically aged thirteen, she appeared to be physically more like the age of six. Initially the doctors were optimistic about her progress, but as time went on they quickly came to realization that some of the damage was irreparable. Indeed much like the mythical figure Tarzan, no matter how hard her teachers tried, they could not seem to get her to speak in grammar. Mind you, she could use certain words as indicators, she just couldn't in any way seem to connect different ideas to one another.


If like me you too hated diagramming sentences as a child, it might be difficult to appreciate the significance of this deficiency. Yet one need not appreciate the academic exercise in order to comprehend the significance. At our core, human beings are physically, psychologically, and emotionally oriented towards others. Observe how the arms naturally reach out to embrace others, or how each man is marked by that indelible belly button which reminds us of our immortal connectedness. Consider how our sexual organs are specially designed to work in concert with members of the opposite sex. The point is when we deny this communitarian aspect of ourselves, we find that we are somehow less than ourselves. "It is not good for man to be alone." If there were ever an understatement in Scriptures, this would be it! This does not mean that our time by ourselves is bad (for life is filled with such healthy retreats); what it means is that even our time alone should ultimately be at the service our time together.



If Tarzan and the story of Genie do not convince you of this trinitarian truth, simply consider what too much time alone can do with our own equilibrium. Being in your own head (or on this computer) too much can make anyone feel a little bit unbalanced. Just look at the behavior of some of those responsible for the mass shootings in recent years. How many of those situations were exacerbated by the fact that those men spent an inordinate amount of time locked up in their rooms? I think most of us would agree that a little more time in the company of others wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world for any of them.

And then of course there are a few notable examples from the popular culture; like I Am Legend and Cast Away. In the first movie, the main character is completely alone because practically everyone on the planet has died due to a plague. As a consequence, all he has left is his dog Sam. Prompted by these circumstances, he naturally feels compelled to anthropomorphize his dog and engage in conversations with adult mannequins. Then there's Cast Away, a story in which a man, played by Tom Hanks, is shipwrecked on a deserted island. As an expedient for finding someone to talk to, he paints a face on a Volleyball; names it Wilson (after the brand name), and starts yelling at it. Thus, even when a man lacks someone with whom to communicate, he still feels compelled to invent some form of replacement. There is an old expression; "If God didn't exist, we would have to invent him." Well in this instance I think we might just as well say; "If the Trinity didn't exist, this too we would have to invent."                        


At this point you may still be saying; "How does the fact that abject loneliness drives us nuts point to the fact that God is a Trinity?" Good question. It is a deduction arrived at from the simple Biblical notion that "God is love." For if God is love itself, and we are "made in his image and likeness" (those for whom it is "not good to be alone"), then why would it make sense that there is a different standard for God? If it is insanity for man to be in utter isolation, then imagine what sort of madness would take shape if you had to live that way for all of eternity (actually don't- that might mess with your mind). In order for God to be love itself, he must possess within his own Being all that love entails, otherwise he could potentially love something beyond himself, but would be incapable of being Love.


If we accept the notion that God is love, then there are only two options that seem logical to entertain about his nature. The first possibility is to envision a concept of God which resembles something like the Christian notion of a divine "Tri-Unity". The second idea would be to conceive of a God who is completely and utterly full of Himself. Indeed, if there is no Other in this equation, then it would logically follow that Selfish Love would be the defining characteristic of this Being. This would then affirm (God help us all) the modern instinct that we should make it our vocation to pamper ourselves with spas, incense, flowers, poems and self proposals. Instead of self sacrifice we would all be worshipping at the altar of the Holy Selfie, praying incessantly in the name of Me, Myself, and I. But if God is in fact Trinitarian in nature, then it seems only appropriate that the highest form of love would be to lay down one's life for one's friend, and/or to vow one's self to another so completely that a third person miraculously springs from the wellspring of that love.


Perhaps this explains why some of the most satisfying love songs ever written are not anything like those bad Catholic hymns wherein we must sing about how wonderful we are, or those terrible hip-hop songs where the artist speaks of himself in third person and feels the need to repeat over and over again why he deserves respect. To the contrary, love always diminishes the self in favor of the beloved. Yet there is one love song that does this better than just about any other. Known primarily for their anarchic spirit, the band The Who is not generally associated with something so "banal" as a love song. However, the song "Bargain" may in truth be the most rebellious song they ever wrote (if only for the fact that it preaches supernatural love in an age which would have been the least tolerant of it). The idea is an ancient one, the notion that the lover should go to every length possible, including a humiliating death, in the name of the beloved; "To win you I'd stand naked, stoned, and stabbed..." Making this sentiment even more beautiful and original, Townshend gives his sacrifice a chivalric twist; "I'd call that a bargain, the best I have ever had." The lover is not only brave, but humble, for he sees his effort as a "bargain" in comparison to good of love.


The first thing we should know about the nature of perfect love is that it finds perfection in the complete and utter gift of self to another- not so much because it is demanded by the beloved- but rather because it is demanded by the lover of himself. The love between lover and the beloved is never stagnate or presumptuous, but rather is constantly seeking to embody and express that spirit. Perhaps the most paradoxical part of the song comes towards the end; "I look at my face in the mirror. I know I'm worth nothing without you. In life one and one don't make two; one and one make one. And I'm looking for my free ride to me... I'm looking for you." Love in this sense is unintelligible without the beloved. In order for one to truly know one's self, one must give one's self entirely to another, holding nothing back. To whatever extent we are capable of such an expression, we are divine, and to whatever extent it is withheld, we are practically indistinguishable from the animals.

A recent study of the brain by neuroscientists upholds this trinitarian instinct. One of the most interesting details to come out of the survey was the fact that more endorphins are released in an act of charity than in almost any other activity. In fact, the only thing comparable to this charitable "high" was the brain's reaction to ingesting narcotics or winning the lottery (both of which seem to me a rather temporary expedient). In any case, who would have ever thought that science would ultimately help vindicate such a sublime doctrine, who would have imagined that it would come to the aid of such a paradoxical idea, the pious notion that; "...it is better to give than to receive"?





Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Best Argument For Atheism... and a Response



There are any number of arguments which attempt to disprove, or at least call into question, the existence of God. But the best atheistic/skeptical argument I have ever heard runs like this:

(Disclaimer) First of all, if I have failed in any way to frame this objection as fairly and as accurately as would please an atheist or skeptic, I would invite someone who shares this view to re-phrase it in a way that is more in keeping with the objector. My intention here is not to create a "straw-man" with which I can easily dispose (for I genuinely find this to be a challenging objection), but rather to tackle the argument at its most challenging. Otherwise, what would be the point of presenting it? Secondly, I am approaching the argument point by point, from most general, like, can one have a general belief in a Deity; to most specific, like whether or not a deep devotion to God is even possible.


Objection:
As a purely rational human being (i.e. as a materialist) I demand evidence for things, which is why science seems more practical to me. In other words, I put my trust in things which can be verified and tested empirically, not in things which lie beyond it. Thus, it seems wholly irrational and impractical to base your life on something or someone that you have never met, nor are likely to meet.

Response:
First Point: To trust in the work of science is already to admit to a design and a pattern to things, the only real question is who or what is ultimately responsible for that mysterious "pattern". Whether you believe that the order itself is a consequence of a Creator, or that it comes from nothing at all, you nevertheless must have full faith that the method is logical, trustworthy, and consistent. In either case, we come to trust in it for a very simple and practical reason... it works.


Second point: Presumably at their best, both religion and science (if we must separate them in this way) seek to come to the knowledge of what is true and real. Neither one would suggest that they are absolutely able to exhaust all that can be known about the physical universe and beyond. Nevertheless, they both embark on this particular journey in order to uncover clues and hints that further illuminate this mysterious engine that propels everything in the universe. In light of this, it should be noted that the scientist and the religionist both base their belief in things visible upon those which are not visible (i.e. wherever there's smoke, we naturally deduce there's fire). In other words, the things that we do see, provoke immediate interest or speculation in the things which cannot be seen.


Third point: The materialist contends that life can be lived on purely materialist grounds. I would argue that not only is this impossible to live for those who wish to live in a humane world, but equally for those who simply wish to continue to practice science. Indeed, everything that makes life worth living (not to mention livable) is empirically unverifiable. From the thoughts we think, to the virtues that we practice, to the conscience that atheists prize, to our free will, to love, to dignity, freedom; even the scientific formulas and mathematical equations necessary to justify a materialist world-view cannot technically be observed unless humans represent them. Thus, for every bit of science that we do (or anything else which is important in this world), we must inevitably presuppose/admit to some sort of immaterial reality in order to draw successful conclusions about what is in fact material.

Fourth point: This part of the objection is- in my opinion- the most potent and certainly requires our fullest attention. Whereas the first part of the argument concerns itself with the question of science vs. religion (of which, again, there need not be opposition) the latter raises the question of whether or not we can really have a deep and abiding relationship with a personal being whom we have never met. The only way to answer this part of the objection is to see if we can observe instances of this in the world around us.



First of all, we are certainly not privileged enough to have met every single ancestor that is responsible for us being on this planet (including the first one), nevertheless we know logically without that "first cause" there would have been no effect (namely us). So in this one sense it is irrelevant whether or not we have met them. Even if we only knew this much about God, it should be enough to inspire some sort of reverence and gratitude (if only in a Deist manner), just as it is appropriate in the case of honoring our own ancestry, many of whom we have never met.


Secondly, it is also possible to compare this remote kind of devotion to the "celebrities" that we venerate in our culture. Once again, we may never have been blessed enough to meet them personally, but simply by reading their words, hearing their music, listening to tales about them, etc., we nevertheless feel that they have touched our lives in ways that perhaps even those closest to us have not. In all walks of life there are these heroes (dead and alive) that, for whatever reason, we seem hard-wired, or at least generally inclined, to venerate.


And then lastly, I offer the following analogy in an attempt to offer a rational justification for having a deep and profound devotion, nay a communion, with one whom we have never technically met. A child need not remember his father in order to know that he longs for his embrace. In the case of an orphan, the child is often haunted by questions surrounding the nature of  his conception and birth, especially as it relates to his parents identity, as well as why they left him in the first place. So even in the absence of this parent, the child still finds himself affected by this person (even if it is only in the negative sense). This does not simply hold true in the human sense, but also spiritually. Where is God? And why did he abandon me? Am I an accident? Or was I conceived in love? From a Christian point of view (and to some extent a Jewish), we have an answer to this question; "Can a mother forget the child at her breast, even so I will never forget you" (Isaiah 49:15); "Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will gather me in" (Psalm 27:10). This promise in the Hebrew Scriptures is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, for in the Incarnation we find out that the father's absence is not the result of abandonment, as was true in the case of his first parent (viz. the sin of Adam), but rather the result of heroism. It might likened to a father who dies in the process of saving his baby boy. And though the child remembers nothing of these events, the mother (i.e. the Church), consoles the boy as he grows up, telling him stories about his father's incomparable goodness. She also presents to him a diary addressed specifically to the child, which chronicles the events of his life, expressing, among other things, the father's deep and abiding love for the boy, along with advice on what it means to be a virtuous man. The "diary" ultimately ends with a promise, albeit one that requires tremendous faith, one that ensures a reunion of the two as long as the child follows in the father's footsteps.

Whether or not one believes that this story is true, it is nevertheless difficult to argue that a son in such a position would not feel a deep sense of obligation and commitment to a father who would do this for him (heck, sometimes kids feel it for fathers who wouldn't do it). And though the child would only have an assortment of relics and second hand accounts of these tremendous events, he would nevertheless feel a deep sense of responsibility to live in such a way so as to honor his father's life. As a matter of fact, it might even be argued that this child would be so committed to honoring his father's memory, that he would make his entire life a memorial to him, one in which he dutifully and meticulously carried out his father's final wish; "Do this in memory of me."          


       


Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Wayne's World Taught Me About Divine Worship...



A few years back a family member of mine who is also Catholic once challenged me about all of the emphasis in the Catholic liturgy on the unworthiness of man. She pointed to the prayer that we say right before receiving communion; "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed". Since then the Church has returned the prayer to its more Biblical roots, which places it in the context of the Centurion's recognition of Christ's "dignus" (or elevated status), nevertheless, I must confess at the time her criticism did catch me a little off-guard. In other words, what she was saying was: why all of the emphasis on man being a sinner, and in particular, the excessive focus on his unworthiness? Well, I guess the simple answer can be found right in Scripture, which is to say, perhaps the best approach is to ask the people in Scripture the reason they responded to Jesus in such a manner.

I already mentioned one instance of this "groveling" expedition, but let's look at another. Early in the Gospels Jesus is out preaching to the crowds when he asks permission to borrow Peter's boat (Peter has a small fishing business). He does this because the crowds are closing in on him and he needs a little space to be able to address them. When he's done speaking to the crowds he turns to Peter and the rest of the fishermen and tells them to cast their nets into the deep. They respond with incredulity because they have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. However, in spite of their skepticism, they ultimately choose to honor his request, and subsequently catch so many fish that they can hardly haul them into the boat.


Spontaneously reacting to this miraculous event, Peter immediately falls down before Jesus and declares; "Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man!" (Matthew 5:5). Hearing this for the first time, our initial inclination might be to wonder why he would have such a strange reaction. Indeed, one should not be groveling at such beneficence, but rather expressing pleasure with the results; "Thank you kind sir for your help- would you be so generous as to accompany us on all future fishing expeditions?" Yet therein lies the problem with how we interpret the story, and even more importantly, how we interpret worship. To see this scene only as some sort of miracle for miracle's sake is to miss the whole point, not only of this story, but of the Gospel in general. Likewise, to analyze Peter's reaction as a kind of low level serendipity is equally near-sighted.


Enter Wayne's World. Who better to show us from whence comes this desire to fall prostrate than Wayne and Garth? The scene at the bottom of this post tells you everything you need to know about why Peter reacted the way he did in the presence of Jesus. Now, I have no idea whether or not Wayne and Garth believe in God, but regardless of their beliefs, they do demonstrate orthodox behavior, especially as it relates to divine worship. As a matter of fact, if you asked them the same question that my relative asked me- but applied it to the band Aerosmith, they might look at you like you had two heads. "Why do we fall down in worship before them? Well duh, because they are in the pantheon of 'rock gods' and the appropriate behavior in the presence of something so immeasurably great is not to act like it is nothing, but rather to hide your face from the glory."


Yet as important as it is to bow down before something greater than yourself, there is another reason that Wayne and Garth (as well as Christians) bow down. They bow down out of love and reverence in the same spirit as a man lowers himself in proposing marriage. Familiarity may be great, but when it comes to love, nothing beats the sensation that you have just won the lottery because you can't believe you have been chosen. And so it is that Peter, Wayne, and Garth (the latter two not apostles) receive back stage passes to "come and see" how their heroes (and Lord) spend their time away from the crowds. Incidentally, as each one remains prostrates, so also they are told not to be afraid, to arise and get up, and that in essence they "are worthy" to share in an audience with their respective God/gods.

All of us are made for worship, but not merely to worship something that is- to a terrifying degree- greater than ourselves (though there is that as well), but to recognize that in the truest sense we fall prostrate because we are invited to participate in a love so great and so wonderful that our hearts are compelled to cry out "I am not worthy." Does this diminish us in any way? To the contrary, when it comes to love, it is gratitude, not self-hatred, that makes us declare our unworthiness. Indeed, unworthiness in this sense only amplifies the experience of joy in the presence of God.

The scene ends with an equally Biblical moment, wherein Wayne and Garth receive a high-five from the band, and then look at their hand as if something magical has touched them. Here we are reminded as well of the power and sublimity of the touch of Christ. When they do eventually arrive back stage with the band, one can also see the pattern of the Gospels at play here as well, though one does not assume that any of the prostitutes (or groupies in this case) are encouraged to repent. Even so, in some odd way I suppose they too are motivated, however misguidedly, by the same thing as Wayne, Garth, and Peter.


To stretch this metaphor alarmingly too far (though I still think it fits), the conclusion of this lesson of divine worship and Wayne's World, comes when these metal boys actually join their heroes on stage for a performance. This would seem to me the culmination of Christian worship, the notion that awe and reverence in the Christian sense is not simply a passive thing, but rather a participation in the divine life. Just as in Gospels the apostles eventually take up the ministry of Christ and perform miracles in his name, so in a similar way God invites us up on stage to join him in this dramatic symphony of salvation. All the same, just because we are invited one stage to play with the band, doesn't mean that we do not still consider ourselves, like Wayne and Garth, to be in a magnificent dream, one that seems far too good to be true.                                  

video



Friday, September 6, 2013

Why Christians Don't Worship Trees...



As G.K. Chesterton once said; "The modern world is not evil; in some sense it is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues... The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone." One of those wild virtues that is wandering loose is the Christian doctrine of creation, or more specifically, the belief that everything that was made is fundamentally "good", and furthermore that man has a special duty to care for it. Yet as a attractive as an idea like this sounds, problems may arise when this idea is taken in isolation. Indeed, when nature itself is treated like a God, it naturally follows that all of the reverence and respect we originally afforded the Deity is now spent on lesser gods. Simply walk down the streets of Asheville, Portland, or some other "progressive" city, and behold a member of "Greenpeace", or PETA, preaching the apocalypse with no less vim and vigor than some hell-fire preacher straight out of Bob Jones University.




Say what you will about the hell fire preacher, but at least he is warning you about the wrath of a personal Deity, not going around personalizing plants. The real question is if we do not believe that God is behind the natural world, then in what sense can we even regard it as something good or beautiful. Is this not rank sentimentalism to marvel at the environment, while never acknowledging that there is some objective beauty upon which to base your admiration. The simple way to explain this total lack of proportion is to consider the fact that each man has been given a certain amount of religious  energy to utilize. But to whatever extent we substitute worship of the creature/creation for God himself is the extent to which our worship becomes perverse and even insane. As Bob Dylan once said; "you've got to worship something", and if we don't worship God, then we are bound to fill that God-shaped void with something else.


The beauty of the Christian faith is not that in our view everything is worthless except God (which might be another potential issue), but rather that there is a hierarchy of importance to all things, which, if maintained in their proper sequence, works a bit like a great symphony (as opposed to a bunch of out of tune instruments attempting to play to the beat of their own imaginary drummer). Below is one of the best videos I have seen in a long time. It further highlights my point about the importance of worshiping the right things. There is a little creative flourish at the end that was not in the original edition, but apart from that it is authentic (or at any rate it may as well be). Besides the hilarity of it, I was most fascinated by the woman's description of nature as a cathedral, which I think is an apt description of nature, the problem is, however, she gives no credit to the Architect, even while dramatically gushing over the nature of His architecture.





Sunday, September 1, 2013

Is Robin Thicke a Prophet?



Yes. Uh, errrr, um, kind of. Before the whole unmentionable controversy last week, I had heard only a few things about this performer. First, that he is the son of the fabulous Growing Pains star, Alan Thicke (brings new meaning to the title of the show). Secondly, that he had recently written a song called "Blurred Lines" that offended some people. And third, that before this he was essentially known for his pleasing R&B brand of music, and not for being particularly controversial. But recently all of the hubbub about he and his song and the awards show got me thinking that he may be striking right at the heart of an important truth. Indeed, he may be a kind of bell weather and a prophet screaming just slightly louder than the rest of the screamers about what happens when we do in fact "blur the lines".


Now when I call Mr. Thicke a prophet I am not suggesting that he is a prophet in the traditional sense of the word. He is more like what I would call an anti-prophet. An anti-prophet is one who utters, or rather embodies, a certain truth about where things are in the world at the present moment, and where they may be going. In other words, as far as I know this man is not out there performing in order to communicate what God wishes him to say to everyone, nevertheless he does reflect some kind of truth about what is going on in our culture. He embodies what is written in the stars (or by the stars), if we continue to go on the road that we are presently on. This sort of "prophet" is able to be one, not because he is brave like a real prophet, but because at this time evil is so prevalent that he is able to be as brazen he wants. "Ha ha ha, look what I can get away with because no one has enough moral courage to stop me!" That is not to imply that there are not those who will still react negatively to such behavior, however, more often than not such a response is toothless and winds up redounding to the benefit of the profiteer (especially when it's a man) rather than hurting him.

But in what sense is all of this libidinous activity truly "prophetic"? In this sense. The title of the song really does tell you just about everything you need to know about its larger significance. And in some ways Mr. Thicke himself seems to get this completely:
"'Blurred lines' refers to the moral ambiguity of flirting with a girl that I know isn’t single. Even if she’s in a committed relationship she’s a “wild animal” with independent thoughts, and thus her significant other doesn’t own her, so is it really all that wrong?"
When you blur the lines of truth and you blur the lines of what you think is right or wrong, you may as well have no lines at all. To do so it is a lot like turning life into one gigantic impressionistic painting, or a Rorschach test, where the reality becomes whatever you are inclined to see at any given moment. Consequently, once those lines are made sufficiently vague the only real purpose for their existence at all is to create the impression that there is still some sort of moral standard, when in truth the standard has been essentially overturned. For this reason, when events occur like the one on MTV the other night, many are quick to call it immoral, when the fact is they no longer have any rational basis for doing so. Why shouldn't people simulate sexual acts on stage? Because it's gross? Because we don't want to see it? Because kids might watch? Why? All this moral outrage is well and good, but since we are so fond of blurring the lines, and creating "50 Shades of Gray", we should also recognize that ideas have consequences, and just because something doesn't personally "float your boat" doesn't mean that another's boats is not made sufficiently buoyant by the whole experience.


When asked about the contents of his controversial song, Mr. Thicke is predictably coy. For example, on the Today Show he responded in classic fiendish style, declaring that he was only trying to "stir a conversation about what's important". I thank him for his kindness in this regard, and I trust that the conversation that he envisions is one in which truth and virtue dance in perichoretic union with one another. It is well worth noting that in these interviews he often feels the need to mention (like some bizarre red herring) how long he has been married to the same woman, as if mentioning his marriage should make us all feel better about the fact that he is treating some other woman like she is on the receiving end of some Deliverance-like experience.  


The only way to prevent this mentality and behavior from becoming the norm is to in fact "unblur the lines" and provide some logical basis for objecting to it. You cannot simply say that you dislike this behavior, you must also make the case for what is clean and pure. Heck, you cannot even say that you like this behavior without also admitting to some sense of what is true and good. Hence, Mr. Thicke is right on the money with his song. And frankly, Ms. Cyrus was right on the money with her "dance" too. As a matter of fact, Mr. Thicke is practically a visionary in this regard, granting us a glimpse into the future of our culture if we continue down this road. Sodomy, bestiality (his words not mine), sexual pain and violence glamorized and glorified. Ahhhh, sounds perfectly delightful! This is the ugly truth behind the subsequent blurring (and ultimate erasing) of the standard of Christian morality. If you have no problem with that then welcome to your vision of paradise; if you are like myself, and are not so inclined to confuse Hell with Heaven, then stand up and fight the good fight. This is why I view the song (and the accompanying dance) as an ominous reminder sent from above (or below) of the impending doom that awaits us if we do nothing. Indeed, it should be a wake up call to all of us of the indignity and the endless twerk-fest that awaits us if we continue to reject the notion that the primary reason we have fallen "off the rails" is because we have lost sight of the simple fact that at one time we were perfectly content to be on them.