George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, died in Santa Monica, California, on Sunday, June 22, 2008. He was 71.
I will remember him fondly, many people will.
My good friend D, who sometimes share the same provocative penchant for the irreverent, posted some four years ago, a rather depressing environmental report about plastic, which she impishly introduced with a quote from one of George Carlin's routines, “The Planet is Fine.”
The Planet is Fine was also the title of her post and features in the background a RealAudio file of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria:
Ave Maria! Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden's prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild,
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish'd, outcast and reviled -
Maiden! hear a maiden's prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Was that odd eclectic juxtaposition irreverent? Irrelevant…? I don’t know. For some reason, it works (it touches you.) And it feels like it all belongs together, somehow.
Some say that there is only one small step from the sacrilegious to the sublime---and vice-versa. Or, as any philosopher worth his/her salt will tell you, even in the Profane, there is the Sublime, and the opposite is also true (they both stem from the same all-encompassing reality.)
Carlin made no secret that he was an Atheist. And he will still tell you so today. Not in person, of course. Not anymore. But all one has to do is watch one of the re-runs of his routine, "Religion is Bulshit":
There is a definite cry for help (“Save Me”) in most religious calls---except in their more ecstatic manifestation (as found in Sufism) or when they are about surrender (as in the detachment of Buddhism or the pantheistic mysticism of Meister Eckhart.)
The Christian tradition offers many fine examples:
This is, most assuredly, one of the reasons why religion generally does best in troubled times or in Man's darkest hour. It seems pretty much to be part of the luggage that comes along with "sentiency" and the confrontation of "life made sentient" with the vastness and coldness of the universe.
The Neanderthal man, deemed to have lived 50,000 years ago, is thought to have buried his dead with ceremonies that suggest a belief in a life after death. This need for “something above or within” is common not only to Christianity and most religions in general, but it is also a dominant quality of western socio-religious New Age "feel-goodism."
The following quote by Carl Braaten (“Christian Dogmatics”) sums it up and would not be out of place had it been uttered by any number of New Age gurus.
"All the world we see, hear, and touch does indeed pass away. If there is the divine, it must therefore be above or behind or beneath or within the experienced world. It must be the bed of time's river, the foundation of the world's otherwise unstable structure, the track of heaven's hastening lights."
But Carlin's cynicism and Job's despair share some sobering thoughts in common;
From the city the dying groan,
And the throat of the wounded cries for help;
Yet God pays no attention to their prayer.
Nonetheless, there is power in Faith.
It does all come in the end in what beliefs we put our faith into...
I think that Death of Terry Pratchett's Discword got it best:
Death: HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO *BE* HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?
Death: YES. AS PRACTICE, YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: YES. JUSTICE, MERCY, DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
Susan: They're not the same at all.
Death: YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER, AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE, AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET, YOU TRY TO ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD. AS IF THERE IS SOME, SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE, BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?
Death: YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN'T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME?