Joyful uncertainty

Jul 28, 2010 at 5:00 am

What do Rush Limbaugh, Christopher Hitchins and your average militant Jihadi have in common outside of being complete assholes?

All of them know something and are very, very sure about it.

Their belief is so clear and resolute that each one is able to express it as Undeniable Certainty to the exclusion of any other.

Seems to me there can’t be enough truth to go around.

If absolute certainty could be imagined as a half-stick of butter, everybody at the table is fighting like hell to keep from eating dry toast for breakfast.

I’m certain of very little. I don’t know much at all, and, to extend the breakfast metaphor, I’d just as soon walk down to the corner shop for some mini-cake donuts and a pack of cigs, if for nothing else, to leave the maddening noise of their ridiculously assured caterwauling.

My education — which set sail under the confusing flag of Vatican II Catholicism, was steered by the constellations of Secular Humanism under partly cloudy skies and banged murderously against the rocks of Hollywood blockbusters, comic books and populist indignation — has left me with a moral/intellectual compass that usually spins around uncontrollably and squeaks a lot. (How do magnets work?)

All the same, while absolute certainty must feel very liberating, and while I’m secretly envious of those who can be certain, the license to change your mind any time you damn well please isn’t too bad either. As America’s finest one-liner luminary Ralph Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

One thing I am certain of is that there’s not enough space in this column to jump into a linguistic foxhole over the nuanced differences in words like belief, faith, knowledge, fact, certainty, etc. Do your own damn experiments and get some philosophy majors, gutter-punks, scientists and divinity students drunk at a barbecue, then casually initiate a grudge-match. It’s easy as pie.

I don’t know much for certain, but I believe a lot.

Let me explain in an unabashed, unsolicited attempt to land a spot on NPR’s charming bumper segment “This I Believe,” which I believe is produced right here in Louisville.

Ahem …

I believe horror movies are getting scarier and more abundant.

I believe the tarring and feathering of criminals was a vile page in our culture’s history, and we can pat ourselves on the back for abandoning the practice in favor of more civil forms of rehabilitation, which actually turn a profit.

On the other hand, I believe the publicly sanctioned throwing of rotten vegetables at, say, crooked bankers and Big Coal execs ought to be given another chance.

I believe the children are our future, and that whacked-out, violent video games are making that future a little grim.

I believe R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” was a watershed cultural event.

I believe Soylent Green is people.

Despite the fact that I’ve subconsciously absorbed the lyrics to basically every song they ever wrote and can sing one if not all of the accompanying harmonies, I believe the music of the Eagles sucks out loud and may even be dangerous.

I believe the construction of an elevator into outer space will be crucial to the continued existence of the human race and that we’re pretty close to achieving that goal.

I believe punk’s not dead, but that it has been heavily sedated.

I believe that if anything like a TGI Friday’s or Panera Bread moves into the old ear X-tacy building in the Highlands, someone will throw one small brick through the window — just one.

I believe the Ohio River Bridges Project is going to bankrupt this city and will unfold as a disaster that may not be fixed for generations.

I believe that any of the following natural phenomena might lead a person to reasonably conclude God exists and loves us:

The total improbability that honey bees make honey, that we harvest it as food, that it never, ever goes bad, and that it is completely delicious on toast, in tea or coffee, or all by itself. Have you thought about that recently?

The persistence of feminine beauty.

The fact that oranges are conveniently divided into parts, which make them perfect for sharing.

I believe these things, but I couldn’t say for certain.