Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another exercise in clarity of thought

As always, I have especially the young people in mind, although also those who are older who have suffered at the hands of very poor educational and spiritual formulators in their personal lives and who are trying to correct those deficiencies and errors.

Today I had a thought in which I used the word "fateful" correctly. And so I realized this would be a good time to correct the misconceptions that have arisen over the years around two words and their associated concepts: "destiny" and "fate."

The concepts of destiny and fate are ancient and come from pre-religious and pagan human societies and their effort to understand what hidden powers and forces control all or parts of their lives. Destiny implied a predestination of an entire life, from start to finish. Fate implied a foregone conclusion to a particular event. They have slightly different meanings, therefore. A person would be viewed as having a "destiny" that describes their entire life, while "fate" is like a momentous conclusion to an event or chapter of life which may or may not be the end of the person's life.

Two things ought to have changed human beings' views of so-called destiny and fate. One is that better understanding of science, biology, society and the consequences of freedom of choice have taken the mystery out of ordinary life events. For example, remember that early humans did not understand the origins of many diseases. Now instead of thinking a certain person was "destined" to die young, people understand that a person may have contracted a terminal disease or develop a condition with no cure. People ascribed to "destiny" all sorts of things they did not understand, like hygiene, undetectable medical conditions, droughts and famines, etc.

The second thing that has in fact also improved human debunking of so-called destiny and faith are the understanding of a benevolent one God, who only wishes well for humans and gives them freedom of choice along with guidance. The faithful came to understand that while God knows all and knows what choices humans will make, and what future conditions (such as the weather) will bring, God is not treating humans like pre-programmed game pieces.

In this secular and occult infested modern society, however, I noticed that the old and inappropriate definitions of destiny and fate have crept into common thinking. Sadly, the words are also the tools of those who push anti-religious agendas and who seek to mislead people through pseudo-"spirituality." So this is why I want to help people to understand the origins of the concepts, the reason they should be debunked, and also how one can correctly use the terms (after all, I'm not saying it's "word banning" time!)

One can safely and correctly use the word "destiny" when describing a human laid plan for another human, but you must at the same time recognize how rarely it comes true. See, throughout history people have used the words "destiny" and "fate" not in in the beginning of a human's life, but looking "back" and applying such a label to a life lived to its conclusion. So people would write books and say that someone was "destined" or "fated," but they are "Monday morning quarterbacking" by looking back on what has already occurred and choosing those labels! In truth you can rarely say in advance that someone is "destined" or "fated" to anything at all! Here is an obvious example.

One could say that The Prince of Wales is "destined" to be King of England. He is the heir and his mother, the Queen, will not live forever (though God grant her many years, I hope). So one could safely say that the Prince of Wales is destined to be the King of England as that is his accepted position and those are the "rules." But can you actually say that even in this most obvious and safest of examples of the use of the word and concept "destiny?" Actually, no. In recent years the media has speculated about all sorts of scenarios where that might not actually take place. Life is simply unpredictable (and only God knows for sure what will happen) that even the most obvious human example of "destiny" is dubious at best! So I actually advise against using the word "destiny" simply because it no longer (if it ever did) measure up in the reality based world.

You cannot even say that someone is "destined" to starve to death in Darfur. After all, many agencies and people of good will fight to prevent that from happening. So perhaps a hundred years ago someone unknown (but to God) and obscure in a remote area might be "destined" to starve simply because there were no real alternatives. But now reporters and agencies have a presence everywhere and anything is indeed possible, if only humans put their minds to it. "Destiny" is a bad word, in my opinion, because it saps humans of their God given will power to work hard for the better alternatives to the dire situation someone may be forced to endure.

"Fate" is a safer word if someone uses it properly. Here's how I view it. I never use the word "fate" because of the same objections and reality of freedom of will and choice that humans have. However I do occasionally use the word "fateful" when I express solidarity with a human who has had a momentous consequence or outcome to a routine action or choice. I do so only in that I marvel at how a fullness of effect has occurred, but this by no means indicates that the "fateful outcome" was inevitable.

I was reading the excellent coverage of the tragic collision of trains north of Los Angeles city and they have a section with basic information and memorials for each identified deceased victim. All of them are so sad, and we all mourn the pointlessness of an accident or tragedy that should not have happened, and pray for the survivors' strength and recovery, and the identification of further safety measures to eliminate at least more of the risk from whatever was the cause. It was while I was reading one of the victim's information that I thought, "How fateful!"

By that I meant I was deeply moved by the routine actions and decisions that resulted in that person being on that train, in that car, and suffering fatal wounds. And so the culmination of all the routine and totally justifiable daily actions of that person culminated in such a fateful outcome. This does not mean that this was the person's "destiny" or "fate!" What it means is that this particular person's life just converged with a separate uncontrollable and unforeseeable event that is fateful in magnitude.

Think of a person's life as being a line that extends into the distance. Another person, and their analogous line of life, intersects. If it is a routine intersection (say you both go to work for the same employer and meet each other for the first time on the job) that is simply "life." Life is the intersection of many individuals and events, day in and day out. But when there is a momentous conclusion, either good or dire, one can marvel and say "how fateful" as a way to describe how momentous that intersection was, as in this train collision. Most strongly, though, you must remind yourself that this is not "fate at work" or "destiny." No one "has to die" or is "fated to die" because someone else misses a red light signal or equipment breaks down. But one can honestly wonder and shake one's head at the fatefulness of the intersection when it does take place with such a momentous outcome.

My deceased cousin's wife was once complaining to me, while my cousin was still alive, how unfair it was that she missed out on a big company downsizing payout. (Turns out she already had tons of money I didn't know about, so I dealt with her complaint with sympathy since I didn't know she was just being greedy for more on top of what she already had). I told her and my cousin that just because she didn't get that check does not mean she should obsess about "injustice." I asked, "What if you got run over by a car on the way to the bank to cash that check?" When I said that I was reminding her that there is no "A" or "B" series of events in one's life. It is all a complexity of realistic possibilities. There is no "safe" or "guaranteed" thread of destiny or fate to detect and follow. All events are both fraught with meaning (because they all contribute to life) and are at the same time insignificant, in the sense that there are not "sliding doors" where if one goes one way your whole life is different than if you went another. That is "stinking occult thinking."

Here's an example. When writing about the train accident the news media routinely reports on other recent California train accidents. The most recent one before this past week's is that guy who decided to suicide by parking his car on the train tracks. So here is an example of where one might think, ah, this guy chooses to suicide, and so he is "selecting that sliding door" (A) instead of (B) which is "not suiciding." But what happens? Um, (Z). He chickens out to not suicide (not A) but is not (B) because guess what? He leaves the car there so that the train rams into it and something like eleven passengers are killed. He's in prison. So there was no (A) or (B) sliding door because people and life are complex, messy and more robust than people give life credit for. Life is not so delicate that it hinges on a series of (A) or (B) choices. That's how you get a (Z) out of an (A) or (B) decision. This guy soaked his car in fuel, left it there on the tracks, ran away and did not try to warn people, maybe he was addicted and under influence or withdrawal at the time he "planned," etc etc... and so there is a sequence of events that are not "foreordained" or "fated" but are fateful in their outcome.

So one can only react, once in a while, as I did, to the complexity of real genuine life and shake one's head in sympathy and say or think to oneself, "How fateful," as kind of a memorial to the culmination of separate events that intersect in such a momentous way. It will be additionally "fateful" if one finds during investigations that chances to avoid this were missed, but not because it was "meant to be," but rather, how great in sacrifice is the reaping of what might or might not have been sown. For example, if someone had voted down a budget for more safety, and then he or she is on the very train that derails. I'm not saying that this would happen, but that is an example of where one might notice a "fatefulness" of the confluence of the decisions and how they intersect. That starts to go into the subject of "consequences" and "implications" of action rather than fatefulness. Fatefulness has more of a random feeling to it because the intersection is so unforeseen and unforeseeable. Consequences is like sending soldiers into battle without body armor; that's hardly "destiny" or "fate."

I hope you find this helpful and a way to exercise clearing your mind of the gunk of occult enabling and dehumanizing thinking, and seeing human life and its continuum of complexity of options more simply and truthfully.