HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS – 5


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An easy day.  I decided to stay at the OB headquarters to man the phones and rest my back.  I was joined by Carmella, a Greenville College student.  I had the volunteer line, she handled relief requests.

Throughout the day, I received numerous offers of volunteer help and materiel, but by then OB was beginning to wrap things up.  Our instructions were to ask people to call back next week when the city of Harrisburg itself had stood up its own relief effort and would require volunteers.  And as regards materiel: a definite NO on clothing and furniture.

All in all, I took over thirty calls from places near and far, including one gent who said he had the use of a dump truck and was willing to come out immediately.  That struck me as a very useful offer, since the Illinois Department of Transportation truck crews throughout Harrisburg seemed hard-pressed to keep up with cleanup requirements.  I promised to check it out and call him back.  The instructions remained the same, however, and I had to call him and tell him to check with the city next week.

For her part, Carmella handled four work requests.  A young local gent sat with us most of the day, providing humorous relief by flirting with Carmella.  He said that he was exhausted because, as a volunteer firefighter, he’d had to quench a dozen or more burning haystacks the previous night, but I saw no evidence of exhaustion in him as he kept Carmella in stitches.  I sat there, watching, chuckling and telling myself: Thanks G-d I don’t ever have to go through this phase again!  There is something to be said for the body growing quiescent.  (Except that a quiescent body doesn’t necessarily lead to a less distracted or sharper mind.  Damn…)

Toward the end of our shift, an elderly couple arrived with two bags and a box of clothing.  It was the usual story: they’d collected stuff, hopped in their pickup and drove I-don’t-know-how-many-miles to deliver it.  They were a little miffed that OB was not accepting clothing any more, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them simply to go home.  So, having heard earlier that the Salvation Army was still accepting donations, I asked them to shift their donation to my pickup and told them that I would deal with it.

Here’s where young Romeo came in handy.  I asked him to move the stuff to his truck and drive them to Salvation Army.  He did, but came back to report that the Salvation Army wasn’t accepting clothing either.  So the donation ended up back in my truck.

Off to the LCC at the end of the shift, wondering what to do with the stuff.  I ended up telling this as a sob story to one of the ladies at the LCC.  She exclaimed that no, I couldn’t possibly have refused the good people’s donation, and told me to put the bags and the box in the LCC gym.  LCC would find a way.  Thus was a minuscule humanistic crisis solved, and I was able to eat dinner and later retire feeling pleased with myself.

Thursday, March 15 2012

Thursday started as a “blue roof day:” that is to say, we had to put tarps over some damaged roofs before the roofers could get to them.   I followed a pickup filled with a boisterous Greenville College team to one of the hard-hit neighborhoods, and we spent a few hours climbing roofs, nailing down tarps and doing other outside repair work.

Others labored mightily inside, turning damaged buildings into homes again.

There was even time to sit down with a bag lunch and to play with a neighborhood dog (note the U. S. Marines collar!).

In the afternoon, we were going to cut down trees, but the weather disagreed, so we ended up with a free afternoon.  I took the opportunity to buy a new pair of work jeans and some new socks, then returned to the LCC to rest and to await dinner.

Dinner was good as always, but even better was the conversation that developed afterwards at our table.  There were four of us: two gents from Cheyenne, Wyoming, a professor of biology and myself.  Conversations around the dinner tables in LCC often involved religion, and this was no exception.  The prof, though a Christian believer himself, added some spice to the conversation by his devotion to science, and he found some considerable fault with the creationist perspective because it simply ignores the existence of a large body of scientific data.

The gents from Wyoming, being of a somewhat fundamentalist bent, opined that G-d had indeed created the universe and that scientific explanations, particularly of evolution and the differentiation of species, were hard to swallow.  The prof didn’t exactly disagree, but he pointed out that there were some pretty compelling scientific arguments – cosmological for the universe, biological for evolution – in favor of science.  We all agreed that this was a tough question, essentially unanswerable, since key facts of faith cannot be proved by science.

The question, then, was how to reconcile science and religion – or rather science and faith – in light of this conclusion.

This is a problem that has worried me exceedingly for a very long time now, since I see the split between science and faith as unnecessary.  Moreover, I see it as thoroughly destructive, since it pits large groups of people against one another who should remain friends and allies.  The conflict, in my view, is destructive of democracy and genuine progress.

So I proposed something that I had been thinking about for a long time but never really thought through.

I posited two assumptions:

  • The peeps from cosmology, astrophysics and related sciences are essentially correct, or at least on the right track, with respect to the Big Bang, universe expanding, universe being around 14 billion years old, etc.
  • The peeps from biology, anthropology and related sciences are essentially correct, or at least on the right track, with respect to the development of life on Earth, evolution, speciation, etc.

So far, the physical universe.  Now, the mental, spiritual, metaphysical, or whatever.  It is possible that what the Torah and other creation myths document is the appearance of consciousness in humans and, with it, the capacity for self-awareness and abstract thought, including spiritual thought.  Instead of just gawking at things unknown with jaws dropped, humans can now speculate about their meaning – and their own meaning.  Now something other a formless void exists above the face of the deep.

In other words, Homo sapiens fosillis is now Homo sapiens sapiens.

As to how or why this happened, I cannot say.  It might be that the quantity of gray matter had reached a certain critical point.  It might be that the innervation of the corpus callosum had reached a certain critical level, allowing the two sides of the neocortex to communicate and to work together.  It might be a thousand other things, singly or in combination, and I for one will surely never know.  But it would be interesting to see if this shift (if it took place at all) coincided with the appearance or major shift of art, language, agriculture, technology, and/or other manifestations of sophisticated human existence.  Or, for that matter, global warming (after an ice age).

As to the consequences of this speculation…

The believer might agree that the Torah doesn’t document physical creation but spiritual creation which establishes, for the first time, a pathway for G-d to communicate with the human soul.  The agnostic might say happily that the believer might be right, or that humans finally had the wherewithal to create G-d.  The atheist is pleased that faith no longer seeks to overthrow science because creation refers not to the physical world but to the mental and spiritual one.  On a good day, he might even agree with Carl Gustav Jung that it is immaterial whether there is a G-d or an innate human need to believe in G-d or gods: the practical effects are the same.  Like it or not, faith will be with us forever (if only some people didn’t follow it too religiously).

So everybody gets something.  Now fans of both science and faith can finally stop working at cross purposes, agree that science (that incredible product of abstract human thought) is one of the greatest gifts from G-d ever, but that faith and spirit must still guide human decisions because it provides a value system which science can never yield – and shouldn’t try to.

Upon this, we all shook hands, expressed pleasure that the discussion had been so stimulating, and I myself went to bed.

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About Michael J. Kubat

I'm a grumpy Czech-born clinical social worker who is vitally interested in the survival in the United States as a viable democracy and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
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