Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Sunday Repost: Woof, Woof. Bark.

In Death, Dogs, Faith, Philosophy, Writing on February 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

I was at a book reading a few evenings ago. Two rows in front of me sat a woman and next to her, on its own seat, perched an ivory-colored terrier. The dog was well-behaved and I was enjoying her (his?) presence when it turned and looked at me through the slats of the ladder-back chair. Her eyes were like brilliant black marbles tucked in a fluff of silk. I stared into them, lost, and was suddenly and unexpectedlly overwhelmed with the thought of those eyes locked on her master, then closing forever on the stainless steel veterinarian’s table. I chased the thought away it was so immediately and consumingly dark and troubling. Why such a thought would occur to me is a mystery. I’m not dark that way; but animals have always held an incomprehensible sway over me.

It is possibly apocryphal but reported that upon finding a horse being abused on the streets of Turin, Nietzsche threw himself,

Nietzsche, Turin, & the horse.

Nietzsche, Turin, & the horse.

sobbing, around the neck of the beast. The event so overwhelmed the fragile philosopher that he never recovered, never spoke another word, and plummeted into a psychosis from which he did not recover. One can profess a will to power but protecting an animal might be the greatest philosophy.

I’ve had dogs all my life. One dog lost to illness years ago prompted a friend’s comment, “That must be like losing a family member.” No, it was not like losing, it was losing a family member. The most violent mourning I’ve ever experienced was at the loss of my Maggie a year and a half ago. As I write this my little Lucy, a terrier mix, is asleep at the office door, putting

Lucy: ragamuffin.

Lucy: ragamuffin.

herself between me and any intruder who might make the mistake of crossing her without my permission.

Any philosophy I might have must include the beasts.

Hubristic medieval philosophers held that animals had no soul because they had no self-consciousness. Perhaps in that fact alone we hold the  evidence of a superior soul-filled being. This seems provable in that animals will not burn witches at the stake nor slaughter whales.

It is maybe that I want to be more like a dog and less like a human being. I find in them evidence of how to live in a moment so completely as to exist in full vibrancy. Too, I recognize love in a dog more readily and without apprehension than I do in people. Surely, that is a teaching. A dog does not make professions of faith, does not pray, does not sin nor seek redemption. Those are human designs extraneous to an animal intent on spirited life. There is joy at a dog park that is not found in a church. That is where I go to pray.

Does it kill cats?

In Curiosity, Faith, Family, Memoir, Religion, The infinity of ideas on June 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I abandoned my family religion while in college. I did so–abandon my religion–and informed my family, my father and my mother, with a letter filled with pretension and big words. I said recently that I had a youthful tendency to haughtiness and this is but one example. I am not sure how my parents, my mother, in particular, took the letter. I was in college and they had never been. I am sure I talked down to them. I probably hurt them and I am sorry now that I handled it the way I did, aware as I was how important our religion, Christian Science, was to my mother.

I don’t recall ever discussing the letter. Later, I was too ashamed and embarrassed by it, and my mother likely found it too painful to talk about. Her religion was everything. Perhaps my letter will turn up some day, though I think not. I think it was a burden and probably destroyed. Religion was the strongest family link I experienced and in leaving it, all the orderliness amongst the small family of mother, father, and child grew tenuous and subject to strain. Beyond the inevitable drifting of child and parents, my apostasy ushered in a lasting atmosphere of common politeness. The patina of religion, the hue of our family life, had been wiped clear and only an unadorned opaqueness remained.

I left Christian Science for a number of reasons. Chief among them, and most importantly, was the need to remove the strictures necessary to be a good Christian Scientist. That is, I wished to experience life in a broader way. The thing most everyone knows about Christian Science is that the Christian Scientist “does not go to doctors.” And this is true. It is accepted wisdom that Christian Scientists are faith healers and that they don’t go to doctors because they have faith that God will heal them. This is not accurate. In many people’s minds they are akin to snake handlers and child abusers. That was not my experience.

In simplest terms, the Christian Scientist believes that his or her experience is a manifestation of his or her thinking. The

Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy

founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “Stand porter at the door of thought.” That is good advice, I think. It is not a bad idea to be aware of what’s going on between your ears. Indeed, if more of us did the world would likely be a better place. But Christian Science takes this admonition uncomfortably into the realm of the biological. The sick Christian Scientist, simply put, must apprehend what is wrong in her thinking, fix that, and she won’t be sick any more. There is faith, in Christian Science, that this can be figured out. But it is not faith that actually fixes things, which is a fine distinction. It is like math. One can have faith that the answer to the equation can be arrived at, but faith does not deliver it.

I am not here to discuss the merits of this idea. I grew up with it. Yes, I did not go to doctors. My parents did not go to doctors, nor did anyone in the extended family. They all were Christian Scientists. No one died of lingering illness. We were lucky, I guess. Why do I share all this? Is there a reason for telling these things, this aimless self-revelation? Only this: I want you to know who I am as you read me. The irony of any of this is my desire for privacy in the face of such transparency. Regardless, for whatever reason, it is important that you know what is on my mind and who I am. I live in a crazy world where self realization is an optional achievement.

Is curiosity dangerous? Does it kill cats?

Leaving the religion was necessary. The terminally curious will be subject to all manor of challenge. Fear that one’s thinking can turn on one, regardless of the physiological merits of the notion, can be debilitating and if not debilitating, exhausting. To this day, forty years later, I struggle: with my mind; with my thinking; what comes in; what goes on; what comes out–as is evidenced here, with this very self-referential project. Naturally, a thinking person is going to occasionally wrestle with the packets of information speeding along the neural pathways of the brain. But I was trained to examine, challenge and reject any manor of thought which might prove contrary to spiritual well being. I have toll booths build along those pathways. “One dollar please.”

What does my thinking bring to experience, if anything? Or, said another way, what does my experience reflect of my thought? The Christian Scientist holds that some thoughts are lethal and will struggle to replace them. Like all religions there is a path, a manner of being, to which one should adhere. Is that not the responsibility of religion, to point a way? Some people take direction better than others.

Regardless, like hunger, it was good discipline.

 Again, we realize a calm in the turbulent sea of the unsettled.