There was a man who came to my church on a Sunday and brought his guitar, and made himself fit right in, accompanying the pianist and the choir at the service. It was like the appearance of Mary Poppins – unexpected, as if he just flew in on an East wind. He was personable and chatted with a lot of the long-time members, including myself. Then after the service, he joined us at a nearby park, where we were having a previously planned picnic to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and May Day. He was in the 50s or 60s I’d say, and his name was Richard. Later I learned he was a dentist with a local practice. Well one thing led to another on this particular Sunday. Another member was present with her flute, and Richard and she collaborated on a few tunes and chords, jamming and fooling around as musicians are wont to do. At one point, Richard strummed a few tunes from the 60s and 70s and several of us sang along: The Boxer, Norwegian Wood, She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah, Obladi Oblada, The House of the Rising Sun. Great fun.
Somehow this segued into his mentioning that he had written a song, and it might appeal to Unitarian Universalists (as we were part of a UU congregation). And he went on to sing it for us. On one level, it could be a kid’s song, but it was really more for adults. It was a song about Mickey Mouse, the cartoon character. It was about how Mickey is a great little guy and has had a lot of success, and been in a lot of movies, and helped launch an empire of sorts, but with all his success and talent there is one thing he is not capable of – he will never know or understand Walt Disney, his creator. This is supposed to be a little parable about how man, in his quest to know God, will never be able to do so.
Okay, on first pass, it sounds simple enough, and clever, and yes something to mentally munch on. But the more I thought about it, the more it became a real mind bender, and started to hurt my head. And then I started to think about existentialism (only I would leap that far afield) and the belief that some existentialists hold, that God, if he does exist (a big “if”), is indifferent to man, and stays out of the picture, a fairly hands off kind of guy. Or so many perceive him to be, if he’s there at all. Well, we know that someone directs Mickey Mouse’s activities all along the way, all through his “life.” He is told what to say and how to say it by a cartoonist (first Walt and then others), and his roles and dialogue are scripted for him (though he doesn’t know it), and his activities at Disneyland are pre-planned by a staff of hundreds.
We humans, on the other hand, have free will – but do we? Or do we just have the illusion that we do? Is the being we call God, for want of a better name, just a cartoonist, a puppeteer, a ventriloquist, and do we perform according to script? It gets back to that old argument about predestination vs. free will. And then it starts to become circular, like the chicken and the egg.
For me it comes down to the big bundle of stuff/knowledge that we don’t know, possibly can’t know, with our little pea brains. At least not for now, or not until the future generations of Stephen Hawkings and Galileos come along and posit some theorem that will hurt our heads even more.
Somehow my mind skipped from Mickey and cartoon creators and incomplete knowledge to butterflies. That may have been brought on by a recent garden tour, where I observed some Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in a butterfly habitat. My mind works like that – just skitters from one idea to the next, like a butterfly. Although I don’t believe in an afterlife in the manner it is portrayed in orthodox Christianity, I do like the idea of reincarnation. I like it because it would give you almost certain immortality in a way. You don’t really “die,” you just keep living more lives. I mean, isn’t that the ultimate travel scenario – not just going to visit other countries, but actually living other lives? Which brings me back to butterflies. We know that in nature, caterpillars spin cocoons and then emerge as moths or butterflies in the next stage of life. And we know this as metamorphosis. What I want to know is this: does the caterpillar, as it fattens up on milkweed leaves, know that it will become a butterfly? Does it comprehend the concept of “butterfly-ness?” Well, that is another thing we don’t know, and my hunch is that the caterpillar does not know either. He just goes on munching milkweed, and being smug and happy.
So this whole caterpillar-butterfly scenario is factual – we know it to exist for real, in the plant/insect kingdom, the biological realm. The caterpillar may not know he has a future life, and the butterfly may have no knowledge of a prior life (unless, of course, there is a Shirley MacLaine butterfly in the mix – but that’s a whole nuther story). So if multiple lives are possible in the kingdom of butterflies, why not in some other realm of nature? – the human realm. Of course, we have no iron clad, scientific “proof” of such a thing. But, what if our lack of knowledge is because we are like Mickey Mouse or like caterpillars – we just don’t have the capability, the measuring tools, the insight to see the bigger picture? Our inability to see the bigger picture may not mean there isn’t one. But, I have a feeling that if there is a bigger picture, and we are destined to go on to live more lives, that these “after lives” are not like the heaven and hell portrayed by televangelists or even by Dante. And maybe, just as the caterpillar is driven to fatten up, in preparation for the next phase of life, we are driven to fatten up on pizza and donuts, and guacamole and chips, and carrot cake and French fries, in preparation for something beyond our understanding. Maybe it’s part of “the plan.” Okay, so maybe not – it was just a passing thought.
So I guess all this thinking and positing and what-iffing is just my way of justifying the position I’ve taken, at least for now, of being an agnostic – an I-don’t-knower. Is it possible that I might be more like Mickey Mouse than I realize? After all, I’ll never know Walt Disney either.