Philosophy

The Cup

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The cup is full.

I place it to my lips, tilt my head back, and drink.

The cup is empty.

I return it to the table beside the TV and go to work. When I come home again at six thirty—when I sit once more before the table, remote in hand, ready to drown myself in a hurricane of commercials and prime time programming—I reach for it again.

The cup is full.

I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how or why it works. I only know that it’s a family heirloom, passed down to me by my mother and passed down to her by her mother before her—an ancient artifact, filigreed in untarnished silver and embossed in gold relief. Its means of production unknown, it is both a paradox and a mystery, a bold and strident reminder of all the things in the world we have yet to understand.

The liquid that materializes inside is tangy, salty, sweet. Like a gourmet meal. Like a decadent dessert. It has nourished me two to three times per day since I inherited the cup at the tender age of eighteen.

How much good could such a relic accomplish in a world ravaged by hunger and thirst? Yet it has somehow managed to fall into my lap, into that of a single middle class, middle-aged man with a decent job, a steady income, and plenty of food at his disposal.

A cruel and senseless joke, I think, setting it down on the table once more. But then the world is a savage and irrational place. It knows not of justice and balance, only of chaos and disorder.

With no children of my own, I sometimes wonder what will happen to the cup after I’m gone. Will it rot in a box, forgotten now that its stewards are no more? Or will someone happen upon it by accident, take it for their own, and start a new tradition?

I shift in my seat, dangerously close to a maddening truth I dare not think about for very long, and let the flickering pictures on the TV deliver me into oblivion.

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Way Station

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Come. Sit. Warm yourself by my fire. It’s not every day someone makes it out this far. You must have many questions.

What’s that? You’ll have to come closer. My ears aren’t what they used to be. Yes, that’s what I thought you asked. You’re not going to make this easy on an old man, are you?

Very well, stop looking at me like that. I’ll tell you what you want to know. It was a long time ago, you understand, and I can’t be expected to remember everything. These were the old times, when the world was still new, still blazing with the wild, newborn magic of creation.

Yes, as a matter of fact I was there when the world was made, and I’m old enough to remember what came before it too. But we can talk about that later.

Now, where was I? The creation of the world. I was there when the Maker spoke the Word. There were many words that came after, of course, but this was the first. This was the prototype, the foundation on which everything else was built, the fount from which all other words derive their meanings and their power. It was the Word that gave birth to the world, the Word that nourished the world, the Word that even now sustains the world.

Well now, what else would the universe be made of? At the root of everything, at the heart of creation, there is only will made manifest. Quite simply, the world exists because the Maker wishes it, and a good thing for you and I, wouldn’t you agree?

You say your father told you a different story? I see. He said the universe started with a bang, that the world we know today was birthed not by the utterance of a divine Word but within the celestial light of a star. Well, he’s not wrong, you know.

I was there, I should know. As an Elder, I witnessed it all. The fireworks were rather spectacular. A shame you couldn’t have been there.

What do you mean, you demand the truth? You believe I’ve deceived you, that both stories can’t be true? That’s the trouble with you humans, you’re so quick to dismiss a mystery as paradox and contradiction.

Yes, it was the Word that created the world, just as it was the motion of matter and energy that produced the world. One was the cause, the other the method.

And I’ll tell you a secret. The world isn’t finished yet. That’s right. How can it be, when everything is in a constant state of change?

I’ll tell you another secret. You’re a part of it. The Word is within you, as it is within me, and by the simple act of living, by making decisions and effecting change, you become a not so insignificant part of the Maker’s work. The mark you leave on the world is indelible and everlasting.

You don’t understand? Well, I’ll tell you one more secret. Neither do I. What is life, after all, but one grand, cosmic mystery? If you didn’t leave the light of my fire with more questions than answers, I’d question your intelligence. But I knew you were special from the start. That’s why you made it this far, and now I’m here to teach you that life’s a journey, that my humble fire is but a way station, one among many.

No, please. Stay as long as you like.  Some move on quickly, but others linger, and there’s no shame in that. Take all the time you need to ask, ponder and learn. No two journeys are ever the same, and some require more deliberation than others.

Just be warned, there is no going back, no returning to the way things were. You should have learned that already, having made it this far, but I want to be certain you understand that time and change are a one-way trip.

One day, the Word will return to the Maker, and you and I and everything else will be swept away along with it. That is the ultimate destination, the point at which everyone’s journey converges. There can be no turning back, and you would do well to look forward and to keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.

Yes, it is a mystery, one of many, and unfortunately, there are no satisfying answers, at least on this side of time.

No, I think that’s enough for now. Rest. The stars along with my fire will keep you warm, and when you wake, I’ll be here to answer more of your questions.

That’s why I’m here, after all.

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How Do We Vanquish Evil?

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Evil. The world groans under its weight. It surrounds us, holds us hostage. Like a choking vine, it slithers through our cities and our streets, latching onto our souls, squeezing the love and the life out of them until we’ve grown jaded and hard of heart.

The seeds of this deadly vine are our uncharitable acts, our lies, gossip, and petty acts of vengeance. The world burns by our own hands, and all we can do is look away, ashamed, wondering in the darkest corners of our souls if the world might be better off without us, if the only true remedy for the problem of evil is to purge the Earth of humanity.

There’s another part of the human heart, the nobler part. It knows we’re capable of better. We might blight the world with the stain of evil, but that doesn’t mean we’re without hope. We want to be better, to make the world better, not just for ourselves but for our children and for theirs.

But when we face the evil within ourselves, when we stare it square in the eyes and prepare to do battle with ourselves, we discover an unsettling truth. Deep down, we don’t want to change. It’s not that we don’t want to be good, just that we’re too afraid and too weak to change our old habits. So we bury our heads in the sand. We rarely examine our actions or our motives, and when we do, we usually shy away in discomfort.

But because we still want to feel noble, because we want to look in the mirror and see a gallant soldier who fights in the names of Justice and Truth, we focus not on the evil within ourselves but on the evil we find in others.

We make it our life’s mission to expose and discredit the evildoer, hoping and praying that such an undertaking will somehow cleanse us of our own sins. But in our zeal, we burn our fellow human beings at the stake. We accuse others with or without basis and destroy reputations. We seek revenge and call it justice. We dehumanize our enemies, convince ourselves and others that they’re only soulless caricatures of humanity. We smite the accused and watch with glee as the lifeblood pours from their veins. We revel in their demise, convinced we’ve made the world a better place.

But by crusading so fervently against the sins of others, by delighting in the wholesale destruction of other humans like ourselves, we’ve succeeded only in growing the evil within ourselves.

The only true way to eliminate evil is to start with our own hearts, to root it out at the source before it has the chance to spread. We must be brave enough and strong enough to examine ourselves, to face our own darkness. We must experience genuine remorse, and in the aftermath of our guilt we must resolve to start anew, to rebuild ourselves from the ground up, to become better and more complete human beings.

Only once we’ve started on the path toward inner sanctity can we begin to address the evil in others, not by shaming and vanquishing them but by loving and encouraging them to shed their own darkness. We must love our enemies. By showing mercy and compassion, by offering our affection and support, we can inspire others to undertake a similar journey.

We live in a fallen world. It pressures us to do wrong, threatens us with punishment if we attempt to do what’s right. We should instead strive for an ecosystem in which love and charity can flourish.

Our worldly experience suggests that evil is inevitable. But the truth is that it can only survive by deceiving us into believing we can destroy evil with more evil. Love on the other hand is inevitable. It’s all-encompassing, all reaching. It’s universal and can be known through instinct alone. A single act of love is one thousand times as potent as the greatest evil.

Love is a fire. It catches, spreads, razes evil where it stands. But it require light to flourish, and if we languor too long in the dark it will shrivel and die.

Want to make the world a better place? Acknowledge your own faults. Face your demons. You shouldn’t wallow in a state of perpetual guilt, but neither should you turn away from your own ugliness. Each of us is sullied, but once we’ve recognized the stain for what it is we have the opportunity to wipe it away. And once you’ve started down that path, you’ll never be the same.

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