The 1st Command-Be Fruitful and Multiply

(here are my various posts in various Facebook threads this morning.)

The very FIRST of the 613 mitzvahs (commands) in the Torah is “be fruitful and multiply.” I doubt if we can understand, in the context of our age and culture, the desperation that, say, Lot’s daughters, or Sarah or Hannah felt at the prospect of being childless. Lot’s daughters were not being lewd or prurient when they copulated with their own father; they were merely seeking a poor solution to what they saw as a problem of paramount importance. Our minds perhaps focus on what we perceive as the naughtiness of any sexual activity. But the real focus in those times was procreation. In Egypt, where polygyny is still allowed, one barren woman felt guilty and pushed her husband to take a young wife. At the wedding the wife functioned as a bridesmaid. In prehistoric times, you perhaps had no government, and you certainly had no social security. All that you had was family in the immediate sense, and clan or tribe in the broad sense. One important motive for giving a minor daughter in marriage was to forge a protective allegiance with a more wealthy and powerful family. Nowadays, our main problem is overpopulation. In prehistoric times, humanity was often on the verge of extinction. It took until around 1830 for world population to reach 1 billion. But by 1930 it had DOUBLED to two billion. And by the 1960s it had TRIPLED to 6 billion.


It is not inconceivable that a world run by robots, or genetically redesigned humans or cyborgs would be a better world than the world we currently have which is run by us. Perhaps our Pandora’s box technologists will tinker around and develop some self-replicating form of superior being which will come to view us as vermin to be exterminated. If the “world” became a much better place for conscious intelligent life, but a world without us, would that really be a bad thing? We could see it as bad for us, because we would not be there. But we wont be here in 100 years anyway. Some future generation, yet unborn, will be here despoiling the ecosystem and exploiting, tyrannizing, colonizing and torturing each other (that is when they are not busy saving each others souls by preaching the “one true faith.”)


There is all that work on “the compassionate gene”, arguing that since such behavior is actually a survival advantage to our species, hence it was spread by a process of natural selection, since those groups with the “rotten-selfish-sonovabitchova-screw-everyone-else” gene faded into extinction. Then too, what comes to mind suddenly is the Netflix DVD I watched last week, “Pulp Fiction”. The boxer has freed himself and is about to flee, but he hear the screams of his sworn enemy who is being sodomized. He stops and searches for the appropriate weapon. First he picks up a hammer (which of course symbolizes for Tarantino the stoneage man of pre-history), next he picks up a chain saw (which of course symbolizes the industrial revolution) and next he picks up a baseball bat (which symbolizes weirdo American sports notions of a manliness which is both homophobic, yet strangely homoerotic), but FINALLY, he sees the Samuri Sword, which is the eternal unchanging symbol for principles of personal honor and courage. The “greasy gooks” were not worthy to touch his father’s gold watch, but that same Asian culture acquired and passed on a symbol of honor which transcends race and nationality. So, in addition to our genetic traits, Sufi teaching stories and myths can often mold our choices and behavior.


If I cannot find true meaning in this very moment, then all of my life was for nothing. If I can find true meaning in this moment, then even if I die the next moment, I shall not have lived in vain. (Don’t bother to Google, I just now made this up)


It is ironic how all the little babes, who are innocent and loved and adored by definition, grow up to be our enemies, our tyrants, our slaves, our financial swindlers, our false prophets and heretics, and… furthermore, each babe is made to feel very special, adored… and yet part of adulthood and maturity is realizing that we are not special to the world, and in fact we are quite dispensable


I feel that if someone truly had faith in God, then they would not fret so much about whether the Bible is consistent. The Bible tells us that God’s ways are beyond all human comprehension, and then theologians busy themselves trying to explain how God thinks and what God did and how and why.


I watched a Japanese man carefully tending a very small garden, and asked him if he takes any interest in Buddhism or any other religion. He explained that this life is all there is, and then we are gone, nothing, so that is why he makes the most of each day (in his case, with a small flower garden).
I asked my cousin a similar, in his 70s, who worked the family dairy farm all his life, who married a 17 year old girl and has never tried out another woman, who never drinks, smokes, swears, steals or tells a lie, or goes to church, and he said the same thing; namely, this is all there is, and once you die, that is it. Now, we know (or some of us know) that in 500,000 our sun, on its way to death as a white dwarf, will expand to the point that the earth will burn to a crisp, and with it, Shakespeare, Plato, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Three Stooges, Judge Judy, Family Guy, the Bush archives… the whole nine yards. So, tell me what meaningless means unless you believe in “pie in the sky” heaven with angles strumming harps and blowing trumpets. I think Sartre and Frankl are probably two other good examples of two people who created meaning in a meaningless world. But if you are “saved” then you won’t want to understand one word of this (and I cant blame you).


So then, if once you die, there is no trace left of you, except whatever way you might have influenced society, culture, and if one day, all human culture and tradition will be vaporized, then in what sense is their meaning. And do you feel that those things which Jeffrey Dahmer enjoyed are good. I mean, you seem to imply that enjoyment is good, so I suppose you would agree with Doestoevsky’s character that “all is permissible.” Now, if there is no God or afterlife or judgment, and you can kidnap and torture people and eat them, and never get caught, and the planet earth will disappear one day anyway, then that should fit in with your notion of “enjoyment even for a moment.” And I am certain that Hitler felt a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction that he came so close to world conquest and complete genocide (“the Jewish Problem”). Hmmm perhaps by “meaning” we might resort to Socrates wisdom that “every person by nature (or definition) desires the good.” Perhaps we will add a pinch of Solomon: “There are ways which seemeth good unto a person, but the end thereof is death.”
But, wait, suppose we agree that one of the goals of certain postmodernist novelists is meaninglessness, and suppose some philosophers actually cherish their theories of a meaningless world in which we create meaning. Now I have found an example which refutes your assumption that no one could POSSIBLY find meaning in a world they see as meaningless. Remember what Carl Sagan said “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”


I do feel the world and life is quite meaningless from many angles, but we CREATE something subjective for ourselves that gives us meaning. Picasso painted women with 3 breasts. For him, at that time, it had meaning. It just so happens that the world, posterity, took a fancy to such paintings. But if I were to paint a women with 3 breasts, they would say “Oh, he is imitating Picasso.” Sartre found meaning in his Existentialism, and then abandoned it when it was at its height of popularity and embraced Communism. After some years Sartre abandoned Communism as a failed ideology. My statement that “we create meaning for ourselves in a meaningless existence” is no more or less flawed than Socrates’ statement “I only know that I know nothing.” If Socrates truly knows absolutely nothing then surely he cannot know his status, for that would constitute one thing. So the point about Carl Sagan is pertinent. If you cannot find any evidence, you cannot assume absence. BUT, if you can find any number of people who feel that existence is essentially meaningless apart from the meaning we impose upon it, then obviously, your premise is disproved. Now, perhaps DRH agrees with me. Or perhaps she sees the flaw in my thinking but feels sorry for me.

Calvin replies:

I agree with William. The idea of the world being essentially meaningless does not necessarily lead to depression or self-delusion, nor is it illogical. It simply means that the world has no meaning “in and of itself.” I find that even irreligious people who claim to think life has no meaning still ascribe to some essential meaning somewhere in their paradigms. In fact, meaning is generally the invisible bedrock of any paradigm or perspective.

I think “meaningless” is the perfect word for it. The world is inherently devoid of meaning, i.e. it has nothing inherently to do with human concerns or values.

I think the old gardener and the farmer are right. … See More

However, I think Rebecca points out the limitation of Existentialism. I think Existentialism has a limitation that Buddhism does not in that Ex. seeks to build meanings and thinks that self-made meanings are necessary, whereas Buddhism teaches that you can embrace a meaningless world and not create your own to fill in the gap.

Joy and happiness have little to do with meaning, though some

William continues:

Tom Hanks movie, Castaway, is for me a perfect example of our neurotic need to impose meaning, pretend that we know something, pretend that anything matters. On the island, Hanks’ best friend is Wilson, a soccer ball. Finally, Hanks makes it back to civilization. He finds that his wife has moved on and married someone else. The movie ends with the hint of a possible new romance. But really, deep down, everyone and everything is Wilson, the soccer ball. The native American Indians for thousands of years had more meaning in their lives than we do, in part, because they were clueless. Our sun is four times too small to go out as a spectacular supernova, so we dont even have the thrill of that to look forward to. But the natives knew nothing about that. They were lucky if they lived to be as old as 40. But every day was filled with meaning and adventure. Individuals sometimes suffered terribly, but the society as a whole was in perfect health because of natural selection. They had no worries about health insurance. But the real laugh is that our particular homo sapiens variety has not been around as long as the Neanderthal’s 400,000 years. Now, all our modern science makes it possible to life to 100 or beyond. But our culture has no use for us after 50. And even the weakest among us, even the barren and sterile, can reproduce and pass on their weaknesses and become more and more dependent upon antibiotics and medications.
And we were so good at the “be fruitful and multiply” thing that our population is increasing exponentially. But, the glaciers are disappearing, the Ganges will dry up by 2060, etc. And we don’t even have the comfort of our Jungian dream-time beliefs. We feel pretty certain that the universe itself will run down into a thermodynamic heat death of maximum entropy, where no further change can take place. Now, yes Calvin, if I were a wise courageous Buddhist or Jain, I would not even need my Wilson soccer ball. I could just stop eating and perform Jain Sallekhana. But I cant. I am a coward, and I have to live out however many days are left to me talking to my make-believe soccer ball, Wilson, and yet simultaneously know the entire plot and how all movies end. Care for some popcorn?


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: