03 January 2010

Quotations of the Week

A year or so after I began this blog, I thought I might expand it to include critical reviews of books relating to philosophy, science, and religion. I had already started an enjoyable hobby at that point -- making informal comments about the books I read on a weekly basis at a social network site -- and decided instead to make blogspot "This Week at the Library"'s home.  Often, weekly comments have a "Quotation of the Week" section, typically chosen for point-making or humor value. Since it's the end of the year, I thought I would share the quotations with a point to make here.

"It's always easy to avoid other people's vices, isn't it?".  This is a paraphrase of a comment made in a Star Wars novel, but it struck home for me. My brain sometimes insists on chattering about other people's failings, even though I know good and well their behavior isn't really my business, and when I feel tempted to compare my behavior to theirs for reasons that are not for my own edification -- that is, learning from other people's examples -- I shut that part of my brain up with Sean Stewart's quotation in Yoda, Dark Rendezvous.

"The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say it isn't. Which is to say further , it is about how one ought to live one's life." (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death) Television commercials not only sell products, they sell the idea that we should be interested in this product and its presentation.

"There is no need for temple or church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter what or who they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practiced these in our daily lives, [...] there is no doubt we will be happy. "- Tenzin Gyatso, Ethics for a New Millenium.   Gyatso, better known as the Dalai Lama, has a very humanistic religion of happiness at heart.

"What Camus is saying is that there is reason to be hopeful, that man must understand his condition and must struggle, fight, and rebel against the absurdity of life. There is hope, and hope is to be found in man and in man only. Man defines himself, gives himself an identity through his actions. Even though the futility of our condition leads us all to the same end, we must and can dignify life through our needs and behavior." - Jacques Pepin, commenting on Camus' Myth of Sisyphus in The Book that Changed my Life.

By ourselves is evil done;
By ourselves we pain endure.
By ourselves we cease from ill;
By ourselves become we pure.
No one can save us but ourselves;
No one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the path,
Buddhas only point the way.   - repeated in Taming the Mind, an introduction to Buddhism. I find its lines very humanistic.

"Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. It is a way of of skeptically interrogating the universe with an eye for human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those of authority, then we're up for grabs for the next charlatan -- political or religious -- who comes ambling along." - Carl Sagan, echoing a comment he made also in The Demon-Haunted World, which I re-read this year.

 "All men are created equal, endowed with reason sufficient to manage their own affairs and even to get to the heart of abstract and philosophical matters. The miracles attributed to the greatest prophets and religious leaders are tricks, no more real than the illusions of street-corner fakirs. People do not need rules handed down and enforced from one high to form orderly societies. In contrast, blind belief in the absolute truths of religions inspires fanaticism and hatred. All authorities and accepted knowledge need to be questioned. Each generation has the opportunity to move science forward through new observations and experimentation and because of such progress, society itself often advances." - Abu Bakr al-Razi, as quoted-in-paraphrase in Medical Firsts by Robert Adler.

"There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumblings of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, [and] kindness. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many where people have behaved magnificently -- this gives us the energy to act. Hope is the energy for change. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live in defiance of the worst of everything around us is a marvelous victory." - Howard Zinn, The People's History of American Empire.  Although my cynical mood has lifted in the last week, Zinn's thoughts -- and Jacques Pepin's -- should be taken more to heart by me, I think.

The general theme of these quotations, I think, is of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

No comments: