Sunday, April 29, 2007


I’m one of those football fanatics who never misses the first round of the NFL draft. But yesterday was the exception. Though I kept up on it a bit via a friend’s laptop, I wasn’t glued to my TV this year. In fact, I didn’t watch a minute of draft coverage until more than 25 guys were already picked. Something else came up that was more important.

Before I explain what happened, let me tell you that one steal of draft day, in my opinion, was Joe Staley, a tackle for Central Michigan (and converted tight end), who the 49ers selected at #28. I like athletic offensive linemen and can’t understand why so many NFL GMs are enamored of big fat slow linemen. Staley is one of closest things we have in this draft to a “can’t miss” outside of the first dozen or so players selected. I'm not a 49er fan, but I've got to give them credit where it's due.

But Staley was not the real steal of draft day. That took place far away from all the major draft day festivities in New York. It happened instead in Baltimore.

Veteran readers of this blog might remember my 14 year old daughter Rebecca’s unsuccessful experience in trying out for the state band (see the November post entitled “Excellence and Empathy”). Well, yesterday Rebecca saved a little face. And the more I think about it, the more I’m realizing that she “stole” one, as we draft fans might say. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Rebecca and her friend Gina wrote a play that they entered in our county’s History Day competition. The theme this year was “Triumph and Tragedy in History” and they had a unique presentation that I knew gave them a chance to win at the county level, which they did. Yesterday, that play became one of the two middle school “performances” to make it to Nationals. And yes, I’m very proud of both my daughter and her friend.

Why, you ask, was it a steal? It’s because their presentation less involved history than a discipline that has become one of its neglected stepchildren. I’m speaking of none other than “the love of the search for wisdom” – otherwise known as philosophy. Their topic – Spinoza Remembered – was one part history and two parts philosophy, and it is precisely that mix that surely made it unique among its competition.

Why is it that we teach our children history year after year after year after year after year after year after -- can I stop now, because I really could have continued for grades 1-12 – while almost totally neglecting philosophy? Is it because we’re convinced that children are too shallow to grapple with philosophy? If so, it’s only true because we make them shallow, because lots of kids enjoy thinking deeply … or at least cutting through the B.S. that so often falls under the name of orthodoxy or tradition.

Yes, the kids “stole” one because they found a way to fit a square peg (the philosophy of Spinoza) into a round hole (the events of history). But if they hope to get recognized at a the national level, they will have to work a bit more to ascertain Spinoza’s influence not merely on the history of philosophy but on human history generally. That will be a worthy goal for them between now and June 11th, when they will be presenting their ideas at the National competition.

Of course, all this has made me think a bit more about Spinoza as well. I can’t write their play for them, but I have to write my own script, as it were, for the Workshop that I’m teaching this summer on Spinoza at the Southeastern Unitarian-Universalist Summer Institute (it’s based in, of all places, Virginia Tech). I’ve been asking myself such questions as: Why should the U-U’s care about Spinoza? Why might the U-U’s find Spinoza inspiring? Why might they find Spinoza liberating?

And then it dawned on me. Think about liberty in terms of “freedom to” and not just “freedom from [interference].” Then answer this non-rhetorical question: who, in the history of our species has done more for religious freedom in the modern world than Spinoza?

I can’t think of anyone. But if you can, let me know.


Bert Bananas said...

Kudos to your daughter!

Here's a rhetorical question:

Which is more important, freedom of religion or freedom from religion?

Daniel Spiro said...

I'm not sure I understand what "freedom from religion" means. If it means freedom as an individual to reject religious beliefs, either wholly or in part, I would include that under the phrase "freedom of religion." Indeed, Spinoza was vital in fostering that sort of freedom. If it means freedom as a society to be cleansed of religion in all its manifestations -- and I know people who would prefer that definition -- than obviously I would say "freedom of religion" is more important.

Like many, I have a love/hate relationship with religion, but the love still predominates. Actually, what I love is "religiosity" (i.e., spirituality). Organized religion, when severed from religiosity, often either bores me or pisses me off.

Mary Lois said...

I thought religiosity meant excessive, insincere and obtrusive religiousness. Not easy to love, that -- but a specialty of many organized religions.

From what I understand, Mr. Bananas espouses a freedom from religion that he terms "laztheism," a term we discussed at some length on my blog last summer.

Daniel Spiro said...

I guess words like "religiosity" can be defined in different ways -- some with positive connotations, some with negative ones. Hopefully, you understood what I was trying to say when I used that word synonymously with "spirituality."

I looked at your blog but didn't see a definition of laztheism, or at least not one that struck a chord with me. It's funny how jargon gets in our way, isn't it? We all use it, thinking that its use makes writing more concise and elegant. But in fact, because we operate with different vocabularies, jargon usually serves to make communication more difficult.

Bert Bananas said...

I have a hazy recollection of my college (BYU, which goes a long way to explain things about me...) Communication 201 class. Korzybski, Hayakawa, maps and territories... I don't even have the tiniest recollection of any other classes, except for lazy afternoon in an abnormal psychology class when the talk got around to Plural Marriage and the instructor asked a general question of the girls in the class: what do you think of it? We ran out of time before all the females in favor of it could all talk. Weird, huh?

Anyway, "communication" is not easy; it can be the hardest work we do, if we're willing to really try to do it well, run-on sentences not withstanding.

Laztheism is basically the concept of not even thinking about God or religion; not even a little bit, not even to knock it. Very few people are capable of this.

Daniel Spiro said...

Funny, but here in the Washington, D.C. area, many, many people seem to be capable of complete apathy when it comes to God or religion. I think it's quite different than in Utah.

Daniel Spiro said...

By the way, Bert, my views on non-traditional marriage are basically set forth in The Creed Room. To me "marriage" is between two consenting adults. Gay or straight doesn't matter. But when you start creating situations where multiple people are being "married," I think you're talking about a different animal. In other words, whether those relationships should be legal or not, they shouldn't (in my mind) be called "marriages."

I don't have the time right now to set forth all my reasons for saying that, but suffice it to say for now that I think of marriage as an institution that supports the right of one person to identify another -- a single other individual -- as a partner in a relationship that both parties can reasonably count on lasting forever. Once you begin talking about groups of three, four, five ... or ten people, you're not talking about a relationship that's anywhere near as stable.

Daniel Spiro said...

Bert --

Here's what I meant. When I married my wife, I knew that in order to have a permanent loving relationship, I needed only to get along well (permanently) with a single person. If, however, I was engaged in a relationship of marriage with three, or four, or eight people, the odds that I could maintain a stable, loving relationship with all my spouses would be geometrically reduced.