We have to laugh. Because laughter, we already know, is the first evidence of freedom.
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We have to laugh. Because laughter, we already know, is the first evidence of freedom.

-Rosario Castellanos

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The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. There are tyrants, not Muslims.United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list -- yes, even the short skirts and the dancing -- are worth dying for?The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.

-Salman Rushdie

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Tell me something. Do you believe in God?'Snow darted an apprehensive glance in my direction. 'What? Who still believes nowadays?''It isn't that simple. I don't mean the traditional God of Earth religion. I'm no expert in the history of religions, and perhaps this is nothing new--do you happen to know if there was ever a belief in an...imperfect God?''What do you mean by imperfect?' Snow frowned. 'In a way all the gods of the old religions were imperfect, considered that their attributes were amplified human ones. The God of the Old Testament, for instance, required humble submission and sacrifices, and and was jealous of other gods. The Greek gods had fits of sulks and family quarrels, and they were just as imperfect as mortals...''No,' I interrupted. 'I'm not thinking of a god whose imperfection arises out of the candor of his human creators, but one whose imperfection represents his essential characteristic: a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is a...sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or mechanisms that serves specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which measures his unending defeat.'Snow hesitated, but his attitude no longer showed any of the wary reserve of recent weeks:'There was Manicheanism...''Nothing at all to do with the principles of Good and Evil,' I broke in immediately. 'This god has no existence outside of matter. He would like to free himself from matter, but he cannot...'Snow pondered for a while:'I don't know of any religion that answers your description. That kind of religion has never been...necessary. If i understand you, and I'm afraid I do, what you have in mind is an evolving god, who develops in the course of time, grows, and keeps increasing in power while remaining aware of his powerlessness. For your god, the divine condition is a situation without a goal. And understanding that, he despairs. But isn't this despairing god of yours mankind, Kelvin? Is it man you are talking about, and that is a fallacy, not just philosophically but also mystically speaking.'I kept on:'No, it's nothing to do with man. man may correspond to my provisional definition from some point of view, but that is because the definition has a lot of gaps. Man does not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him. Man can serve is age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes to him from outside. If there was only a since human being in existence, he would apparently be able to attempt the experiment of creating his own goals in complete freedom--apparently, because a man not brought up among other human beings cannot become a man. And the being--the being I have in mind--cannot exist in the plural, you see? ...Perhaps he has already been born somewhere, in some corner of the galaxy, and soon he will have some childish enthusiasm that will set him putting out one star and lighting another. We will notice him after a while...''We already have,' Snow said sarcastically. 'Novas and supernovas. According to you they are candles on his altar.''If you're going to take what I say literally...'...Snow asked abruptly:'What gave you this idea of an imperfect god?''I don't know. It seems quite feasible to me. That is the only god I could imagine believing in, a god whose passion is not a redemption, who saves nothing, fulfills no purpose--a god who simply is.

-Stanisław Lem

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In the campaign of 1876, Robert G. Ingersoll came to Madison to speak. I had heard of him for years; when I was a boy on the farm a relative of ours had testified in a case in which Ingersoll had appeared as an attorney and he had told the glowing stories of the plea that Ingersoll had made. Then, in the spring of 1876, Ingersoll delivered the Memorial Day address at Indianapolis. It was widely published shortly after it was delivered and it startled and enthralled the whole country. I remember that it was printed on a poster as large as a door and hung in the post-office at Madison. I can scarcely convey now, or even understand, the emotional effect the reading of it produced upon me. Oblivious of my surroundings, I read it with tears streaming down my face. It began, I remember:"The past rises before me like a dream. Again we are in the great struggle for national life.We hear the sounds of preparation--the music of boisterous drums--the silver voices of heroic bugles. We see the pale cheeks of women and the flushed faces of men; and in those assemblages we see all the dead whose dust we have covered with flowers..."I was fairly entranced. he pictured the recruiting of the troops, the husbands and fathers with their families on the last evening, the lover under the trees and the stars; then the beat of drums, the waving flags, the marching away; the wife at the turn of the lane holds her baby aloft in her arms--a wave of the hand and he has gone; then you see him again in the heat of the charge. It was wonderful how it seized upon my youthful imagination.When he came to Madison I crowded myself into the assembly chamber to hear him: I would not have missed it for every worldly thing I possessed. And he did not disappoint me.A large handsome man of perfect build, with a face as round as a child's and a compelling smile--all the arts of the old-time oratory were his in high degree. He was witty, he was droll, he was eloquent: he was as full of sentiment as an old violin. Often, while speaking, he would pause, break into a smile, and the audience, in anticipation of what was to come, would follow him in irresistible peals of laughter. I cannot remember much that he said, but the impression he made upon me was indelible.After that I got Ingersoll's books and never afterward lost an opportunity to hear him speak. He was the greatest orater, I think, that I have ever heard; and the greatest of his lectures, I have always thought, was the one on Shakespeare.Ingersoll had a tremendous influence upon me, as indeed he had upon many young men of that time. It was not that he changed my beliefs, but that he liberated my mind. Freedom was what he preached: he wanted the shackles off everywhere. He wanted men to think boldly about all things: he demanded intellectual and moral courage. He wanted men to follow wherever truth might lead them. He was a rare, bold, heroic figure.

-Robert G.

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Like the most of you, I was raised among people who knew - who were certain. They did not reason or investigate. They had no doubts. They knew that they had the truth. In their creed there was no guess — no perhaps. They had a revelation from God. They knew the beginning of things. They knew that God commenced to create one Monday morning, four thousand and four years before Christ. They knew that in the eternity — back of that morning, he had done nothing. They knew that it took him six days to make the earth — all plants, all animals, all life, and all the globes that wheel in space. They knew exactly what he did each day and when he rested. They knew the origin, the cause of evil, of all crime, of all disease and death.At the same time they knew that God created man in his own image and was perfectly satisfied with his work... They knew all about the Flood -- knew that God, with the exception of eight, drowned all his children -- the old and young -- the bowed patriarch and the dimpled babe -- the young man and the merry maiden -- the loving mother and the laughing child -- because his mercy endureth forever. They knew too, that he drowned the beasts and birds -- everything that walked or crawled or flew -- because his loving kindness is over all his works. They knew that God, for the purpose of civilizing his children, had devoured some with earthquakes, destroyed some with storms of fire, killed some with his lightnings, millions with famine, with pestilence, and sacrificed countless thousands upon the fields of war. They knew that it was necessary to believe these things and to love God. They knew that there could be no salvation except by faith, and through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.Then I asked myself the question: Is there a supernatural power -- an arbitrary mind -- an enthroned God -- a supreme will that sways the tides and currents of the world -- to which all causes bow?I do not deny. I do not know - but I do not believe. I believe that the natural is supreme - that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken — that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer - no power that worship can persuade or change — no power that cares for man.Is there a God?I do not know.Is man immortal?I do not know.One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be.We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know. We can tell the truth, and we can enjoy the blessed freedom that the brave have won. We can destroy the monsters of superstition, the hissing snakes of ignorance and fear. We can drive from our minds the frightful things that tear and wound with beak and fang. We can civilize our fellow-men. We can fill our lives with generous deeds, with loving words, with art and song, and all the ecstasies of love. We can flood our years with sunshine — with the divine climate of kindness, and we can drain to the last drop the golden cup of joy.

-Robert G.

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