Saturday, January 18, 2014

 Pogo and Common Sense in an Age of Skepticism


            I suggest that today we are living in an age of skepticism because we have such high hopes for the future; yet at the same time we have such great fear and skepticism. When we have the combination of great hopes and fear, then we enter into a state of skepticism. We have become a people who  live with expectations of continuous economic growth in personal income. We have been told that we are able to achieve the American Dream. We have been defined by our consumer hopes of comfort and various levels of affluence. We have become a people of risk takers who look at the future with little concern for failure. We have been taught by teachers and preachers to believe in our own abilities to achieve in a land of hope.

            However, this secular-driven hope over the past few years has begun to appear somewhat tenuous.  An election came and the streets were filled with hope again. This time the hope was placed in a new type of political system. But since those celebration days, the world’s economic and terrorist dilemmas continue to cast a veil of skepticism over the world. The Western hope of material ease and progress has been challenged. These new days of anxiety fueled by a culture of skepticism are now being experienced by wealthy nations as well as the emerging poor nations. We are struggling to rekindle our hope, and we turn to political rhetoric comprised of convoluted logic presented by media commentators, clerical and academic skeptics.


             A real problem exists when we simply believe in a hard driven postmodern rational mind. We must, therefore, not see hope as a mere wish for the gift of a hopeful future based on a solely rational mind. In the spiritual and moral life, hope is a cardinal virtue, and it is also a habit of the soul and an action. Dante wrote that on the entrance to hell it is written, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter herein.” What does it mean to abandon all hope? It means that we have lost all sense of action. When we lose hope, we are unable to move; we are unable to become. The root cause of depression and anxiety is the loss of hope, and we have entered into a type of hell of skepticism.  

            As a preacher and a parish priest, I cannot change the present American culture; I cannot change the economic system. I cannot change academia. Nevertheless, I would like to offer some solid common sense advice for living as a person of faith in a skeptical age. I will call it the common sense philosophy of Pogo taken from the cartoon series of Walt Kelly who, I see, as a common sense satirist. The cartoon series is about the allegorical characters of the Okefenokee Swamp.

1)    Pogo:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Yes, we are immersed in in a skeptical culture. Yes, we live in a media skeptical Okefenokee Swamp, but as Christians we do not have to become skeptical. We live by the life of the Spirit that allows us to overcome all shades of false and unnecessary skepticism. I remember talking to a businessman when the late recession began. Everyone was so negative and skeptical about the future of the American economy. At the peak of the recession in a small town, he purchased a local Ford dealer ship. A local radio reported asked him, “Are you not nervous about buying a Ford dealership when we are not even sure in this recession if and when the car market will return.” He answered, “No, at Bob’s Ford we’re not going to participate in this recession.” He was using common sense and was really saying that there is reason for caution and fear, but it does not have to become skepticism in  mind and heart.

2)    Porky Pine:  “The best break anybody ever gets is bein’ alive in the first place. An’ you don’t unnerstan what a perfect deal it is until you realizes that you aint gone be stuck with it forever, either.”

Here, Porky Pine speaks as an insightful common sense existential philosopher. He calls our attention to a basic common sense principle that should shape our attitude towards life, “The best break anybody gets is being alive in the first place.” Then Professor Porky Pine explains that we must avoid skepticism and understand what a perfect deal its. It is by understanding and interpreting the potential and opportunities that life offers that we avoid skepticism. It is for this reason that Mortimer J. Adler wrote the book The Time of Our Lives and teaches that we must interpret, judge and plan, “A certain amount of experience in the business of living and a certain seriousness of purpose are required for anyone to understand the problem of making a good life and to judge whether this or that proposal for its solution is practically sound.” (Adler, Mortimer J, 1996, P.9)  It is no wonder that the preacher Joel Osteen has thousands of people listening to the constant motif running through his sermons, “Your Best Life Now.”

There is a skeptical colloquial expression that I really dislike because it is an attack on a balanced and common sense approach to life. It goes something like this, “Hi Harry, how are you doing?” Harry answers, “You know same old, same old!” Harry responds from the attitude of a skeptical belief system. I have a friend who is a joyful and happy devout evangelical. He is a country western disc jockey on radio, and he loves to share western ballads that enrich life. He is very different than Harry. When I meet him, I ask, “Earl how’s it going?” and he answers, “I am blessed!”

3)    Pogo says: “Eventually Porky, I figger every critics heart’s in the right place.”

Porky responds: “If you gotta be wrong bout somthin’, that’s ‘bout the best thing they is to wrong bout.”

 Again, we see Porky acting like the common sense philosopher. Pogo has made a statement that he believes is true that every critic’s heart is in the right place. Porky has read Mortimer Adler on the milder forms of skepticism and knows that common sense calls for cautious restraint, “The fact that we differ in our judgments and change them from time to time should awaken us to the wisdom of a cautious restraint not to regard our judgments as certain and secure, as infallible and incorrigible.” (Adler, Mortimer J. 1981)


It is important to note carefully how Porky responds. He may sound skeptical, but he is actually a common sense realist. We must first note what he does not answer, “Well, if that’s your opinion Porky, I guess it is okay. I have my opinion, so I guess we are both entitled to our opinions.” This statement expresses a popular postmodern common attitude, but is an exercise relativistic skepticism. It is based on the great skeptical article of faith that the truth is there is no truth.  Porky may disagree, but he wants to examine the topic without being skeptical. He approaches Pogo’s opinion with serious reservation. Even though much of life is unclear, if we approach every perplexing issue with a skeptical mind and heart then we remain in the Okefenokee Swamp of skepticism.


4)    Beauregard is sleeping under a tree, and he hears a scream, “The Dam is Bus!”

He answers, “Is we runnin To it or From it?”


Skepticism makes us spiritually and mentally lazy. Initially, we think our cool modern skepticism identifies us as a cool, with it type person. In our skepticism, we only find meaning and truth within our own subjective consciousness. Like Beauregard, we lie under our comfortable shady tree in the Okefenokee Skeptic Swamp. It is as if we find a type of mystical spirituality in the skepticism.


Suddenly there is a catastrophe, and we wake from our slumber. As skeptics, we must confront a harsh objective world, “The Dam is bust.” We cannot say, “Oh, that is only your opinion.” No, it is real the dam has bust, and we must have a real response, but we are skeptics, and we don’t know if we run to it or from it. As the old saying goes, we don’t know if we are coming or going.


Beauregard freezes because skeptics in life are only good at working the problem; it is the common sense realist who knows how to work the solution. Beauregard is a skeptic, and he is not in the habit of facing the real catastrophes of life. The skeptic is not able to face reality, especially at catastrophic moments, since he only knows his inner skeptical perceptions. In a sense, Beauregard does not know the Swamp; rather the Swamp knows and owns him.


5)    Miz Beaver: “I’ll tell you son, the minority got us surrounded.”

Skeptics are somewhat loud, arrogant and militant in their belief system. They become petulant when anyone does not buy into their skepticism. They are strongly given to proselytizing their skeptical attitude and beliefs, covering them in a veneer such as it is the only way an enlightened person should think. Fortunately, there is an innate common sense in most people that skepticism is a dismal approach to life. The common sense person must constantly avoid this militant voice that milks the beauty and innate moral longing for goodness of the person and God’s creation.

6)    Porky Pine:

“That’s only two possibilities. Thur is life out there which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought.”


Unfortunately, it is not a sobering thought for the true skeptic. There is only one sobering thought for the true skeptic: i.e. be skeptical about everything. If we are skeptical about any universal truth then we just have to wake up, dress up and show up. For a common sense realist, a basic axiom is there is a God, and I am not big and smart enough to sit on His throne. That is real common sense.













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