Sunday, March 23, 2008

Can The Whos Hear Horton?

I'm a member of a group that tries to help low income families break the poverty cycle. We're doing this through an organization called Family Pathfinders of Tarrant County.

The idea is that certain destructive, goofy habits are passed from generation to generation, and the parents (and their kids) never learn how to live within a budget, apply for a job, pay speeding tickets promptly, or show up for work on time. Maybe, just maybe, they can learn more through mentors than through perpetual handouts and giveaways.

We've had a rough month with our little family. That's all I'm going to say about it.

So last weekend, we said to heck with trying to break the cycle of poverty and irresponsibility. Let's take the little girls in the family to the movies. We saw "Horton Hears A Who".

It's a great Easter movie.

I'm sure there are many who will need elaboration on that concept....Here goes:

For those who didn't grow up with the Dr. Seuss book, Horton is an elephant who generally minds his own business. One day Horton hears some noise coming from a tiny speck of dust. He discovers that the speck is an entire planet, inhabited by little critters called Whos. He catches the speck on a pink dandelion and does everything he can to keep the Whos from getting hurt.

Through a series of megaphones and ear trumpets, Horton communicates with the mayor of Whoville, and the mayor eventually learns to communicate with Horton. Only Horton can hear the mayor and vice-versa.

Ok, how many of you believe that our universe is a speck resting on a dandelion carried about by an elephant?

Well, try to disprove it.

How much respect do we give to those who claim to clearly hear the voice of Horton? (People like Osama Bin Laden, Benny Hinn, and the mother who drowned her kids in the bathtub?)

We don't give them much respect, but proving them wrong is difficult.

But most of us take comfort in knowing that there is someone huge and big and powerful out there who is watching over us.

Others (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins) claim that there is no Horton. They've never heard Horton speak and they've never seen any other displays of his abilities. After all, if a giant elephant wanted us to know about himself, he would make himself known, right?

Over the millenia we've developed ceremonies and rituals to make Horton happy, views that have differed wildly from time to time and place to place. Our worst wars, atrocities, and political disagreements often have these ceremonial differences as a root cause. Some people believe that the world will end in a nuclear explosion brought about by differing opinions on how to please Horton. There's a comforting thought.

When Whoville seemed so big - before airline travel, the internet, and easy immigration - it was easier to ignore those who had "false" views of Horton. But differing views of The Giant Elephant are now crashing into each other with alarming regularity.

Some of us who believe in The Giant Elephant theory admit that he doesn't intervene in our affairs very often. We think The Elephant finally deposited our little dust speck of a planet "high atop Mount Nool", as the story goes, and apparently went on about his business. He might be busy with other dust speck planets, or he might have decided to let us have our way with things. I find myself agreeing with this group a lot of the time.

But this morning, I'm going to put on some better than average clothes, including socks, and drive to a building dedicated to Horton. I'm going to participate in some ceremonies and rituals that I think will please Horton. (Yes, I really do believe this.) In my case, it's usually nothing more than looking to the sky and joining the other Whos in saying "We Are Here ! ! We Are Here ! ! We Are Here ! !". Yes, I can look to the sky and say "I Am Here" all by myself, should I choose to do so. But there's strength in numbers.

I'll join with friends of mine who believe that Horton was bound, caged, and tormented to keep us Whos from being dropped in boiling Beezle-Nut Juice. (See the movie or read the book. Dr. Seuss, or the Gospel of Luke. It's the same story.)

Horton gave The Whos a picture of what he wants them to be like, how he wants them to act. I don't think Horton cares a whit whether the priest, Iman, rabbi, or preacher faces the altar during mass, speaks Latin, faces Mecca, eats pork, drinks beer, dances, or turns the wine into blood. If there really is A Giant Elephant, I don't think he gets worked up over Protestant vs. Catholic, Jew vs. Muslim, Southern Baptist vs. Moderate Baptist, Guitar vs. Pipe Organ, or whether we do the above on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Horton wants us to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of everyone else in Whoville. That's the picture that Dr. Seuss gave us in his book. I think that's the picture God gave us 2,000 years ago.

Can it really be that simple? I'm starting to think so. Sometimes it's as simple as blowing $30 bucks to take three little girls to the movies.

Happy Easter, from the east side of Whoville.


Anonymous said...

Hi Allen. Now do you see why you should be the new facilitator of our Sunday School class? Come on, Fran is a big girl. I think she can take care of herself. We do have a 2/3 majority in favor of the key staff members at BBC, and she is certainly among them.

On another note: regarding the developmental deficiencies endemic to cultural poverty, I can't help but wonder if using operant conditioning could counteract the negative behavior patterns. The human brain gets "trained" by its environment to respond in a certain way -- and it can be "re-trained" to respond differently. The approach taken by churches in the 19th century to rehabilitate impoverished men who couldn't function as "respectable members of society" (oftentimes because of alcohol abuse) worked very well. It was basically a behavior modification program long before the science of psychology was founded. Are you familiar with what I'm talking about?
All the best -- Cinda
P.S. Sorry for the "anonymous" label - I've never posted a comment on a blog before, so I didn't know how to identify myself as any of the other three categories.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Thanks for the kind words. But having teachers who make "Horton Hears A Who" metaphors is a burden that they don't need right now. (But it does hold up well, doesn't it?????)

On the cultural poverty issue, I read something like that in "The Tragedy of American Compassion" by Marvin Olasky. He either teaches at UT, or taught there before joining a think tank.


The Whited Sepulchre said...

Also, r.e. the bahavior modification programs....The only thing like that I've heard of in a church setting was "The Oxford Movement". This was an Anglican phenomenom in the early 1800's that was very much an influence on the guys who eventually founded Alcoholics Anonymous.
I could be totally wrong in equating the two, but it seems the Oxford guys, through their emphasis on liturgy and personal piety, did some groundbreaking in the behavior modification field.

Pete Wann said...

This comment is not intended to be rude; instead it's intended to invite reasoned discussion (if such a thing can happen on this topic).


Since you've basically argued that it doesn't really matter what you do to try to get the "Great Elephant's" attention; why do you continue to expend the energy doing it?

Is it because you (I mean the collective plural "you") take comfort in the rituals?

Do people feel that religious organizations do better charity or humanitarian work than non-religious entities?

Is it strictly motivated by the fear of going to some bad place that may or may not exist instead of a good place that may or may not exist?

I truly don't get it.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Good to hear from you again.

I genuinely believe that churches do better relief work that govt.

I don't believe in a bad place. Maybe not even a good place.

If you grew up immersed in a certain rigmarole as the explanation and justification for life on this planet, even if you no longer buy into the ritual 100%, it still can bring something worthwhile to the table.

For instance, I've worked for and with some brilliant Mormons. I think their doctrine is the silliest bunch of mess I've ever encountered. But you can watch people with earned Doctorates debate the finer points of Joseph Smith's mad ravings on the BYU channel all day long. I think that it's stark raving nuts, but that's because it's not the system I grew up in.

I've tried to explain the Christian doctrines of atonement, salvation, etc etc etc ad nauseum to my friends in China. It's a tough sell. They think I'm stark raving nuts. And I probably am.

You might notice that I don't use the word "god" as often as I use "creator". If there's something out there bigger than all of us, I don't think it wants to be worshipped and bowed down to.
This sounds awfully New-Agey, but I think we can become a part of it. All Roads Leading To Rome, but some roads might be a straighter path than others.

Pete Wann said...

I don't know if I'll go all the way as to agree that "churches do better relief work than the govt." I will agree that non-profits in general do better relief work. My issue with church relief efforts is the implied cost of receiving the charity. No one will admit it, but if you're going to the church-run soup kitchen for a meal, the assumption is that you're going to get proselytized to. I think that's an unfair burden to put on people receiving relief, and it's unfair to expect that people who need help also need whatever religion happens to be providing it. (I know you didn't say all that happened, but that's been my perception in the past as a participant in the doling out of charity from a church.)

I don't say this to make it sound like I'm smarter (or more "enlightened") than anyone, but I think that you've nailed the difference between modern atheists and "the faithful" exactly on the head; I'm comfortable with the ambiguity of not knowing exactly how things got to where they are now. I see evolution from the primordial ooze as an amazing process (and an amazingly lucky one at that) that didn't need someone or something there to kick it off.

Beyond telling the Judeo-Christian "creation myth," Christianity and its brethren don't have a whole lot of relevance in modern society. We've progressed far enough as human beings to know innately that the things they tell us are wrong are wrong without having to be told that we'll go to hell if we don't follow all of the other silly little rules like not eating meat and dairy at the same time.

I guess that's where I'm going with the "why bother?" motif. 2000+ years of doing the same things over and over because some group of men (different groups of men for the different religions, but they're all pretty exclusively men) thought they heard a voice somewhere telling them to do something a particular way hasn't exactly gotten us to a great place as a species, has it? We're still killing each other because we interpret one or two things differently that were said, mis-heard, and have been mis-translated down the ages, even among sects that are ostensibly the "same" religion. (Shiite and Sunni, Catholic and Protestant, etc. etc.)