Let me expose my confirmation biases, as best I can, to clear the way forward as much as I am able. I have never been particularly interested in codified religion, and my early memories are of trying to view reality as our modern testable science was bringing it to us, in ever-increasing clarity. There were several comic events that resulted from this inclination toward fact-based behavior that I hope to tell later, but now I want to mention what little religious exploration I sought, and how it brought me to where I am today.
Having grown up in the Western United States I was totally immersed in Christian-based culture even though I didn’t participate, except on the holidays. Of course, we all know that was mostly a commercial excuse to exploit the public, and a reason to visit relatives. When I went to college I immediately fell in with a Unitarian student group called Channing Club, but it wasn’t a religious conversion of any kind, just me meeting Sunday evenings with some like-minded people for conversation. That summer I read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, but don’t remember ever reading it again, until recently.
About 1965, my friend Bob Westerberg said the lines I already knew, but he said them in such a way that I decided to do just that: “Get wisdom, my son, and with all thy getting, get understanding.” I decided to research the definition of the word “wisdom” for a month, and, after wading through an abundance of flimflam on that general subject, decided to follow Coleridge’s definition, “Wisdom is common sense to an uncommon degree.” With that thought in mind, I sought a way to approach that, and then read H. L. Mencken’s “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources“, marking with a dot those quotations that I felt marked common sense. Having hopefully improved my common sense I read it a second time marking with a second dot those ideas that manifest common sense to an uncommon degree. I then reread those marked quotations and further marked some of them with a sideline. Needless to say this took a bit of time.
I then sought for some memorizable sections longer than quotations, selected from the the quintessential authors of common sense. This search ended up with four short “books”, which at one time I learned well enough to be able to quote substantial passages at a time. A problem arose early on, in that I was dealing with translations, and so I started combining several translations of a book to the core ideas, on the grounds that the translators were not as sophisticated as the people whom they were translating. The assumption was that the translators didn’t have common sense to an uncommon degree. Okay, there is some hubris here on my part, but that was a reasonable way to proceed, and I did.
After spending a week in a hospital, it seemed a good idea to publish what I had compiled and that was titled “Tao and War by Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu”. I had also intended to include Machiavelli’s “Prince” and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, but my potential mortality encouraged me to act more quickly. Now, more than forty years later and still in perfect health, it appears that my temporary medical problem was triggered by the ingestion of some toxic substance. You can see from this introduction how my approach to religion was entwined with the arts of war and ancient Chinese philosophy. This is how I came to my understanding of “The Sermon on the Mount.” That short sermon is the heart of Christian religion and Muslim religion too, but unfortunately the meaning has been lost. I hope the reasons I will develop over the coming blogs will reveal a more enjoyable road through life.