...and good will to all
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu.com Editorial ISBN/ITEM#: ED_Dec05
Date: December 2005 / Show Official Info /
I'm more of a socio-biologist than anything else, believing the issue of god(s) or not god(s) to be pretty much a matter for cosmologists rather than philosophers, and that the nature of the beast within us was shaped by genetic responses to the environment, call that evolution or what you will, though I think we need new labels for it...ones that don't have a this end up arrow on them. Just because there might not be an actively involved god in the daily business of making man doesn't mean that there's no place for concepts like good or bad, right or wrong. Better minds (by far) than mine have held forth on this, and in fact Kim Stanley Robinson muses about it a fair bit in his Washington Trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Title Yet To Come...), or he has his main character Frank do it for him. If you take away the religious side of morality, a lot of what you're left with comes down to stuff that makes pretty good sense in terms of games theory, or how groups manage competition and cooperation for survival.
So I've always tended to look at human ritual as something that served a purpose, and while humanity may become supermen and transcend those needs, it's not going to happen this year. This year, as it has for millennia upon millennia, the shortening days and cold winds drive us all closer together, gathered in some longhouse or temple or village hall, to share warmth and food stored against the coming of this cold night, and to pray to whatever gods we place our faith in that the days will soon be longer. For myself, that's mostly St. Johannes Kepler, but I don't think whether or not I believe in him is going to change the motion of the Earth around the Sun...and he came along long after the rhythms induced by that process were wired into me.
The thing I love about this season though, is this sense of the need for community in the face of environmental stresses. I think I know where it comes from, and though I know the days will get longer soon (By the way, the precise moment of the 2005 solstice will be December 21, 2005 at 1:35 P.M.) I'm pleased to think that caring about it goes back further than any individual explanation for why it's so, whether they call themselves religions, or sciences, or just worldviews. To me, they're all attempts to understand a feeling, and to share it with those close to us.
My family has always celebrated Christmas, and we will again this year. It took me a long time to get over my intellectual angst (not to mention those little issues with my father the minister) and let myself enjoy it as one peculiar expression of a deeper truth, that this yule-tide pulls on all creatures who have developed on a tilted world.
The result is that I don't care which faith you belong to, or even if you think you don't belong to any. I know a lot of folks who don't believe in anything, but love stories about spiritual forces...and in these affections I see the desire to put reason on our yearnings.
What I do care about is that when you feel the cold night press in upon you that you look out for a light in your neighbor's window and feel warmed by the knowledge that you're not alone, that no matter how dangerous it is to trust, it's infinitely more dangerous to trust no one. To go one step further into X-Files territory, it's important to keep in mind that the truth may well be out there...but the reason for looking for it is inside us.
Share light and warmth and fellowship this December, and yes, keep it alive all year long. Looking back on the Earth from Lunar orbit made it clear to the Apollo astronauts that we were all adrift together on this tiny lifeboat in the void...and the things that we share in common are far greater than the things that divide us.
We may not remember how to put a man on the moon, though we can no doubt figure it out again, and maybe even add a few new wrinkles to that knowledge...but the real lesson we should strive not to forget is that we're all huddled together in the same small hall, and the only way to make it through the winter is by sharing the warmth with each other.
Peace on Earth, good will towards all.