Saturday, July 17, 2010


Some people enjoy dreaming about taking a week off to gamble and see shows … and maybe engage in a professional-caliber fornication. So sooner or later, they head to Vegas. Others enjoy fantasizing about going back in time to high school, only this time they can hit a curve ball. So they head off to one of those camps run by ex-big leaguers, where for one week, they can don their favorite team’s uniforms and pretend that they’re in a pennant race. Me? I’ve got my own fantasies, my own dreams. I imagine being part of a species where most people have stopped confusing religious myths for realities, but aren’t willing to give up thirsting for spirituality or showing respect for ancient traditions. So I plan on spending next week the same way I spent this time last summer and the two summers before that: teaching workshops on the philosophy of Spinoza at the Unitarian-Universalist Summer Institute.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how much respect the UUs have for ancient traditions. But they’ve sure stopped confusing religious myths for realities, and most seem unwilling to give up the thirst for spirituality. Ask anyone at Fantasy Baseball Camp: not only ain’t two out of three “bad,” but if you hit that often enough, you’ll make the Hall of Fame.

When I’ve not been imagining a world with more Spinozists than Fundamentalists, I’ve been dreaming about some other things. I will offer a few examples. But my dreams aren’t what’s most important, yours are. When you’ve finished my list, please take a minute to reflect on your own dreams and then take even more time plotting how to make those dreams come true.

1. I dream about getting my news from media outlets that are more interested in informing people than in shocking them. Just reflect on some of the events of the last several weeks, and all the ups and downs we’ve been reading about with respect to national security or environmental issues. Have you noticed that bad news gets reported over and over again, but good news is treated with but a yawn? Can you think of anything more insane than that? It’s as if the media moguls are trying not only to depress us but also to torture us. In fact, however, much of what they’re trying to do is identify what sells and give it to us. So the problem here isn’t just the media, it’s us – apparently, we’d rather obsess about what’s awful than what’s beautiful.

So I dream that some day, people will be as riveted by stories about humanitarians and philosophers as by stories about rape or murder. And that whether or not people are most likely to stay tuned when horrible news is being reported, journalists decide what to report based strictly on what they view as significant from a long-run as well as a short-run perspective.

2. I dream that the play about Spinoza (David Ives’ “New Jerusalem”) that is now getting such rave reviews in Washington, D.C., can find a playhouse outside of DC or New York with the guts to perform it. And I dream that another masterful playwright will craft a script about another great thinker … and that this time, it will actually make it to Broadway.

3. I dream that the Miami Heat will NOT win an NBA Championship with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I don’t like the idea that a group of superstars in the prime of their careers can get together during an off-season, join hands, and instantly become the favorite to win the next year’s title. In a league of roughly 30 teams, when you put together three of the best ten players, including two of the top three or four, why shouldn’t you win? What would winning even prove?

I like the idea of championships being earned by shrewd personnel moves and by superior on-the-court effort, particularly when the pressure is on and a worthy competitor is posing a legitimate challenge. I don’t like the idea of any one team being able to stockpile so much talent that the players don’t even have to play their best to win. It’s fine to see basketball teams with three or more superstars, but they shouldn’t all be in their primes. All-Star Teams are for All-Star Games, not to play in a league that’s supposed to be competitive.

4. I dream that we will soon get the hell out of Afghanistan. Or that someone who supports the continuation of this war could at least sound like THEY’RE convinced. I hear people try to defend this war, but they always sound like they’re speaking in slogans – like the way others used to defend the war in Vietnam. The country at large never really did appreciate that earlier war, and most of us don’t seem to get this one either (at least not after it has been going on for eight years). I guess as long as people aren’t being drafted or dying in Vietnam-like numbers, the clamoring to end the war will remain muted. So we can probably count on this dragging out for a bit longer, but I cannot imagine it will end well. Can you?

5. I dream that the people of Israel can soon put an end to the right-wing trend that seems to have infected that country during the past few years, and that they will embrace meaningful concessions to the Palestinian people, whose living conditions are frankly intolerable. It’s time for the Israelis and their supporters to realize that the Palestinians will not be brought to their knees and beg for a lopsided peace agreement. Nor should they. And I dream that the Palestinian people will form organizations that passionately proclaim their support not only for “two states” but for a “Jewish State” side by side with a “Palestinian State.” It’s time for the Palestinians and their supporters to respect the Jews’ claim to a portion of the Holy Land, and to stop preaching the mantra that, by rights, all of the land belongs to the Palestinians.

6. And finally, I dream that we all will quickly become as concerned about the long-term health of our environment as the short-term health of our economy. Something tells me that of all the dreams I mentioned, this one might actually be the most important. Except of course for the one about LeBron James.

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