What have I always believed?That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.
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What have I always believed?That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.

-Terry Pratchett

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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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...What I have denied and what my reason compels me to deny, is the existence of a Being throned above us as a god, directing our mundane affairs in detail, regarding us as individuals, punishing us, rewarding us as human judges might.When the churches learn to take this rational view of things, when they become true schools of ethics and stop teaching fables, they will be more effective than they are to-day... If they would turn all that ability to teaching this one thing – the fact that honesty is best, that selfishness and lies of any sort must surely fail to produce happiness – they would accomplish actual things. Religious faiths and creeds have greatly hampered our development. They have absorbed and wasted some fine intellects. That creeds are getting to be less and less important to the average mind with every passing year is a good sign, I think, although I do not wish to talk about what is commonly called theology.The criticisms which have been hurled at me have not worried me. A man cannot control his beliefs. If he is honest in his frank expression of them, that is all that can in justice be required of him. Professor Thomson and a thousand others do not in the least agree with me. His criticism of me, as I read it, charged that because I doubted the soul’s immortality, or ‘personality,’ as he called it, my mind must be abnormal, ‘pathological,’ in other, words, diseased... I try to say exactly what I honestly believe to be the truth, and more than that no man can do. I honestly believe that creedists have built up a mighty structure of inaccuracy, based, curiously, on those fundamental truths which I, with every honest man, must not alone admit but earnestly acclaim.I have been working on the same lines for many years. I have tried to go as far as possible toward the bottom of each subject I have studied. I have not reached my conclusions through study of traditions; I have reached them through the study of hard fact. I cannot see that unproved theories or sentiment should be permitted to have influence in the building of conviction upon matters so important. Science proves its theories or it rejects them. I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. I earnestly believe that I am right; I cannot help believing as I do... I cannot accept as final any theory which is not provable. The theories of the theologians cannot be proved. Proof, proof! That is what I always have been after; that is what my mind requires before it can accept a theory as fact. Some things are provable, some things disprovable, some things are doubtful. All the problems which perplex us, now, will, soon or late, be solved, and solved beyond a question through scientific investigation. The thing which most impresses me about theology is that it does not seem to be investigating. It seems to be asserting, merely, without actual study....Moral teaching is the thing we need most in this world, and many of these men could be great moral teachers if they would but give their whole time to it, and to scientific search for the rock-bottom truth, instead of wasting it upon expounding theories of theology which are not in the first place firmly based. What we need is search for fundamentals, not reiteration of traditions born in days when men knew even less than we do now.[Columbian Magazine interview]

-Thomas A. Edison

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I don’t want to read about them!” But really, how can a picture hurt you?Better that each serve as a Hallmark card that greets your fitful fevers with reason and uncurtains your valor. Then, so gospeled, you may see that defeating a disaster is as innocently easy as deciding to go out to dinner. Remove the dread that bars your doors of perception, and you will enjoy a banquet of treats that will make the difference between suffering and safety. You will enter a brave new world that will erase your panic, and release you from the grip of terror, and relieve you of the deadening effects of indifference —and you will find that switch of initiative that will energize your intelligence, empower your imagination, and rouse your sense of vigilance in ways that will tilt the odds of danger from being forever against you to being always in your favor. Indeed, just thinking about a disaster is one of the best things you can do —because it allows you to imagine how you would respond in a way that is free of pain and destruction.Another reason why disasters seem so scary is that many victims tend to see them as a whole rather than divide them into much smaller and more manageable problems. A disaster can seem overwhelming when confronted with everything at once —but if you dice it into its tiny parts and knock them off one at a time, the whole thing can seem as easy as eating a lavish dinner one bite at a time.In a disaster you must also plan for disruption as well as destruction. Death and damage may make the news, but in almost every disaster far more lives are disrupted than destroyed. Wit­ness the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011 and killed 158 people. The path of death and destruction was less than a mile wide and only 22 miles long —but within thirty miles 160,000 citizens whose property didn’t suffer a dime of damage were profoundly disrupted by the carnage, loss of power and water, suspension of civic services, and inability to buy food, gas, and other necessities. You may rightfully believe your chances of dying in a disaster in your lifetime may be nearly nil, but the chances of your life being disrupted by a disaster in the next decade is nearly a sure thing.Not only should you prepare for disasters, you should learn to premeditate them. Prepare concerns the body; premeditate concerns the mind. Everywhere you go, think what could happen and how you might/could/would/should respond. Use your imagination. Fill your brain with these visualizations —run mind-movies in your head —develop a repertoire —until when you walk into a building/room/situation you’ll automatically know what to do. If a disaster does ambush you —sure you’re apt to panic, but in seconds your memory will load the proper video into your mobile disk drive and you’ll feel like you’re watching a scary movie for the second time and you’ll know what to expect and how to react. That’s why this book is important: its manner of vivifying disasters kickstarts and streamlines your acquiring these premeditations, which lays the foundation for satisfying your needs when a disaster catches you by surprise.

-Robert Brown

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I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose......Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty - describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. - And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

-Rainer Maria

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How often since then has she wondered what might have happened if she'd tried to remain with him; if she’d returned Richard's kiss on the corner of Bleeker and McDougal, gone off somewhere (where?) with him, never bought the packet of incense or the alpaca coat with rose-shaped buttons. Couldn’t they have discovered something larger and stranger than what they've got. It is impossible not to imagine that other future, that rejected future, as taking place in Italy or France, among big sunny rooms and gardens; as being full of infidelities and great battles; as a vast and enduring romance laid over friendship so searing and profound it would accompany them to the grave and possibly even beyond. She could, she thinks, have entered another world. She could have had a life as potent and dangerous as literature itself.Or then again maybe not, Clarissa tells herself. That's who I was. This is who I am--a decent woman with a good apartment, with a stable and affectionate marriage, giving a party. Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citizenship in the country you've made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port.Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe it's as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment. Richard had stood beside her at the pond's edge at dusk, wearing cut-off jeans and rubber sandals. Richard had called her Mrs. Dalloway, and they had kissed. His mouth had opened to hers; (exciting and utterly familiar, she'd never forget it) had worked its way shyly inside until she met its own. They'd kissed and walked around the pond together.It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk. The anticipation of dinner and a book. The dinner is by now forgotten; Lessing has been long overshadowed by other writers. What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.

-Michael Cunningham

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But what if I don’t believe in God? It’s like they’ve sat me in front of a mannequin and said, Fall in love with him. You can’t will feeling. What Jack says issues from some still, true place that could not be extinguished by all the schizophrenia his genetic code could muster. It sounds something like this: Get on your knees and find some quiet space inside yourself, a little sunshine right about here. Jack holds his hands in a ball about midchest, saying, Let go. Surrender, Dorothy, the witch wrote in the sky. Surrender, Mary. I want to surrender but have no idea what that means. He goes on with a level gaze and a steady tone: Yield up what scares you. Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry. Enter into that quiet. It’s a cathedral. It’s an empty football stadium with all the lights on. And pray to be an instrument of peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is conflict, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope… What if I get no answer there? If god hasn’t spoken, do nothing. Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen. Make the containers you promised to tape and staple. Go quietly and shine. Wait. Those not impelled to act must remain in the cathedral. Don’t be lonely. I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger. But I have to go to a meeting and make the chairs circle perfect. He kisses his index finger and plants it in the middle of my forehead, and I swear it burns like it had eucalyptus on it. Like a coal from the archangel onto the mouth of Isaiah.

-Mary Karr

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Had I catalogued the downsides of parenthood, "son might turn out to be a killer" would never have turned up on the list. Rather, it might have looked something like this:1. Hassle.2. Less time just the two of us. (Try no time just the two of us.)3. Other people. (PTA meetings. Ballet teachers. The kid's insufferable friends and their insufferable parents.)4. Turing into a cow. (I was slight, and preferred to stay that way. My sister-in-law had developed bulging varicose veins in her legs during pregnancy that never retreated, and the prospect of calves branched in blue tree roots mortified me more than I could say. So I didn't say. I am vain, or once was, and one of my vanities was to feign that I was not.)5. Unnatural altruism: being forced to make decisions in accordance with what was best for someone else. (I'm a pig.)6. Curtailment of my traveling. (Note curtailment. Not conclusion.)7. Dementing boredom. (I found small children brutally dull. I did, even at the outset, admit this to myself.)8. Worthless social life. (I had never had a decent conversation with a friend's five-year-old in the room.)9. Social demotion. (I was a respected entrepreneur. Once I had a toddler in tow, every man I knew--every woman, too, which is depressing--would take me less seriously.)10. Paying the piper. (Parenthood repays a debt. But who wants to pay a debt she can escape? Apparently, the childless get away with something sneaky. Besides, what good is repaying a debt to the wrong party? Only the most warped mother would feel rewarded for her trouble by the fact that at last her daughter's life is hideous, too.)

-Lionel Shriver

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1. Myth: Without God, life has no meaning. There are 1.2 billion Chinese who have no predominant religion, and 1 billion people in India who are predominantly Hindu. And 65% of Japan's 127 million people claim to be non-believers. It is laughable to suggest that none of these billions of people are leading meaningful lives.2. Myth: Prayer works. Studies have now shown that inter-cessionary prayer has no effect whatsoever of the health or well-being of the subject.3. Myth: Atheists are immoral.There are hundreds of millions of non-believers on the planet living normal, decent, moral lives. They love their children, care about others, obey laws, and try to keep from doing harm to others just like everyone else. In fact, in predominantly non-believing countries such as in northern Europe, measures of societal health such as life expectancy at birth, adult literacy, per capita income, education, homicide, suicide, gender equality, and political coercion are better than they are in believing societies.4. Myth: Belief in God is compatible with science. In the past, every supernatural or paranormal explanation of phenomena that humans believed turned out to be mistaken; science has always found a physical explanation that revealed that the supernatural view was a myth. Modern organisms evolved from lower life forms, they weren't created 6,000 years ago in the finished state. Fever is not caused by demon possession. Bad weather is not the wrath of angry gods. Miracle claims have turned out to be mistakes, frauds, or deceptions. We have every reason to conclude that science will continue to undermine the superstitious worldview of religion.5. Myth: We have immortal souls that survive death.We have mountains of evidence that makes it clear that our consciousness, our beliefs, our desires, our thoughts all depend upon the proper functioning of our brains our nervous systems to exist. So when the brain dies, all of these things that we identify with the soul also cease to exist. Despite the fact that billions of people have lived and died on this planet, we do not have a single credible case of someone's soul, or consciousness, or personality continuing to exist despite the demise of their bodies.6. Myth: If there is no God, everything is permitted.Consider the billions of people in China, India, and Japan above. If this claim was true, none of them would be decent moral people. So Ghandi, the Buddha, and Confucius, to name only a few were not moral people on this view.7. Myth: Believing in God is not a cause of evil.The examples of cases where it was someone's belief in God that was the justification for their evils on humankind are too numerous to mention.8. Myth: God explains the origins of the universe.All of the questions that allegedly plague non-God attempts to explain our origins still apply to the faux explanation of God. The suggestion that God created everything does not make it any clearer to us where it all came from, how he created it, why he created it, where it is all going. In fact, it raises even more difficult mysteries: how did God, operating outside the confines of space, time, and natural law 'create' or 'build' a universe that has physical laws? We have no precedent and maybe no hope of answering or understanding such a possibility. What does it mean to say that some disembodied, spiritual being who knows everything and has all power, 'loves' us, or has thoughts, or goals, or plans?9. Myth: There's no harm in believing in God.Religious views inform voting, how they raise their children, what they think is moral and immoral, what laws and legislation they pass, who they are friends and enemies with, what companies they invest in, where they donate to charities, who they approve and disapprove of, who they are willing to kill or tolerate, what crimes they are willing to commit, and which wars they are willing to fight.

-Matt McCormick

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Maria, lonely prostitute on a street of pain,You, at least, hail me and speak to meWhile a thousand others ignore my face.You offer me an hour of love,And your fees are not as costly as most.You are the madonna of the lonely,The first-born daughter in a world of pain.You do not turn fat men aside,Or trample on the stuttering, shy ones,You are the meadow where desperate menCan find a moment's comfort.Men have paid more to their wivesTo know a bit of peaceAnd could not walk away without the guiltThat masquerades as love.You do not bind them, lovely Maria, you comfort themAnd bid them return. Your body is more Christian than the Bishop'sWhose gloved hand cannot feel the dropping of my blood.Your passion is as genuine as most,Your caring as real!But you, Maria, sacred whore on the endless pavement of pain,You, whose virginity each man may make his ownWithout paying ought but your fee,You who know nothing of virgin births and immaculate conceptions,You who touch man's flesh and caress a stranger,Who warm his bed to bring his aching skin alive,You make more sense than stock markets and football gamesWhere sad men beg for virility.You offer yourself for a fee--and who offers himself for less?At times you are cruel and demanding--harsh and insensitive,At times you are shrewd and deceptive--grasping and hollow.The wonder is that at times you are gentle and concerned,Warm and loving.You deserve more respect than nuns who hide their sex for eternal love;Your fees are not so high, nor your prejudice so virtuous.You deserve more laurels than the self-pitying mother of many children,And your fee is not as costly as most.Man comes to you when his bed is filled with brass and emptiness,When liquor has dulled his sense enoughTo know his need of you.He will come in fantasy and despair, Maria,And leave without apologies.He will come in loneliness--and perhapsLeave in loneliness as well.But you give him more than soldiers who win medals and pensions,More than priests who offer absolutionAnd sweet-smelling ritual,More than friends who anticipate his deathOr challenge his life,And your fee is not as costly as most.You admit that your love is for a fee,Few women can be as honest.There are monuments to statesmen who gave nothing to anyoneExcept their hungry ego,Monuments to mothers who turned their childrenInto starving, anxious bodies,Monuments to Lady Liberty who makes poor men prisoners.I would erect a monument for you--who give more than most--And for a meager fee.Among the lonely, you are perhaps the loneliest of all,You come so close to loveBut it eludes youWhile proper women march to church and fantasizeIn the silence of their rooms,While lonely women take their husbands' armsTo hold them on life's surface,While chattering women fill their closets with clothes andTheir lips with lies,You offer love for a fee--which is not as costly as most--And remain a lonely prostitute on a street of pain.You are not immoral, little Maria, only tired and afraid,But you are not as hollow as the police who pursue you,The politicians who jail you, the pharisees who scorn you.You give what you promise--take your paltry fee--andWander on the endless, aching pavements of pain.You know more of universal love than the nations who thrive on war,More than the churches whose dogmas are private vendettas made sacred,More than the tall buildings and sprawling factoriesWhere men wear chains.You are a lonely prostitute who speaks to me as I pass,And I smile at you because I am a lonely man.

-James Kavanaugh

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Bohr is really doing what the Stoic allegorists did to close the gap between their world and Homer's, or what St. Augustine did when he explained, against the evidence, the concord of the canonical scriptures. The dissonances as well as the harmonies have to be made concordant by means of some ultimate complementarity. Later biblical scholarship has sought different explanations, and more sophisticated concords; but the motive is the same, however the methods may differ. An epoch, as Einstein remarked, is the instruments of its research. Stoic physics, biblical typology, Copenhagen quantum theory, are all different, but all use concord-fictions and assert complementarities.Such fictions meet a need. They seem to do what Bacon said poetry could: 'give some show of satisfaction to the mind, wherein the nature of things doth seem to deny it.' Literary fictions ( Bacon's 'poetry') do likewise. One consequence is that they change, for the same reason that patristic allegory is not the same thing, though it may be essentially the same kind of thing, as the physicists' Principle of Complementarity. The show of satisfaction will only serve when there seems to be a degree of real compliance with reality as we, from time to time, imagine it. Thus we might imagine a constant value for the irreconcileable observations of the reason and the imagination, the one immersed in chronos, the other in kairos; but the proportions vary indeterminably. Or, when we find 'what will suffice,' the element of what I have called the paradigmatic will vary. We measure and order time with our fictions; but time seems, in reality, to be ever more diverse and less and less subject to any uniform system of measurement. Thus we think of the past in very different timescales, according to what we are doing; the time of the art-historian is different from that of the geologist, that of the football coach from the anthropologist's. There is a time of clocks, a time of radioactive carbon, a time even of linguistic change, as in lexicostatics. None of these is the same as the 'structural' or 'family' time of sociology. George Kubler in his book The Shape of Time distinguished between 'absolute' and 'systematic' age, a hierarchy of durations from that of the coral reef to that of the solar year. Our ways of filling the interval between the tick and tock must grow more difficult and more selfcritical, as well as more various; the need we continue to feel is a need of concord, and we supply it by increasingly varied concord-fictions. They change as the reality from which we, in the middest, seek a show of satisfaction, changes; because 'times change.' The fictions by which we seek to find 'what will suffice' change also. They change because we no longer live in a world with an historical tick which will certainly be consummated by a definitive tock. And among all the other changing fictions, literary fictions take their place. They find out about the changing world on our behalf; they arrange our complementarities. They do this, for some of us, perhaps better than history, perhaps better than theology, largely because they are consciously false; but the way to understand their development is to see how they are related to those other fictional systems. It is not that we are connoisseurs of chaos, but that we are surrounded by it, and equipped for coexistence with it only by our fictive powers. This may, in the absence of a supreme fiction-or the possibility of it, be a hard fate; which is why the poet of that fiction is compelled to say From this the poem springs: that we live in a place That is not our own, and much more, nor ourselves And hard it is, in spite of blazoned days.

-Frank Kermode

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