“. . . contempt prior to investigation . . .” (Herbert Spencer)


The “survival of the fittest”? Herbert Spencer’s phrase, not Darwin’s, by the way.

We’ve entered our 2017th year.

You’d think by now we would have figured things out well enough so we wouldn’t have a demagogue poised to be nominated to run for President. And that we in Texas wouldn’t need to revert today to the social bullyism and vigilante justice of the frontier 150 years ago. And that no group of us would need to point out that their lives matter. And that our nation, built on the idea that all men have the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would not be supporting with money and political power the state terrorism of one of the most tyrannical of nations.

Day after tomorrow I will enter my 72nd year. You’d think by now I would have figured things out well enough so I would be able to keep my material affairs in proper order to make sure I have food until I die. And that I would have established whatever social interaction is necessary to insure that I’m participating in the genetic necessities of being Homo sapiens. And that I would have learned how a gay boy is supposed to live in society and be accepted by both (or either) straight and gay people. You’d think I’d at least be able to decide whether to stop what I’m doing and take the 15 minutes necessary to brew a pot of Arabic coffee, which I so keenly want to do but think is probably a frivolous waste of time.

I wonder why I can’t seem to order my life the way most people (I assume although I have no proof) would imagine someone with a PhD and 30 years of college teaching and the ability to guide a church’s music program, and so on, could do. Evidence that I can’t: I’m “on call” to substitute as organist at a large and important church on my birthday, and I cannot find my organ-playing shoes. How do you lose a pair of shoes? I suppose that’s not a good example because even the gay boys with the most elegant and fastidiously maintained homes misplace stuff now and then.

Most of what I observe in the way people around me live is, simply put, deeply mysterious to me. I have no idea how to organize stuff I need for cooking (do I need it?) in the cabinets provided in my kitchen or why I should. I have no idea why I’m (apparently) supposed to have more than two pairs―not counting my organ shoes―of shoes, one for wearing and one for exercising. I have no clue why the topic of conversation in so many circumstances is “Downton Abbey” or “Star Wars.” And cars? Don’t get me started on the absurdity of the automobile. I am glad someone discovered the joy of drinking coffee, but I can’t imagine how that got started or why I have to buy it in little bags using bits of the money I have that should keep me eating until the day I die.

Speaking of dying, I cannot fathom―I’ll say it again―why Texans want to start today carrying their rifles into Kroger. Or why Kroger will let them.

Speaking of dying, if our society is founded on the idea that all men are endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, why are there 9 million of us wandering homeless and hungry in the deserts around Syria? And why does our country keep bombing people in Afghanistan? And why do a few people from that part of the world think they’ll get justice by killing a few of us and scaring the bejeebers out of the rest of us so we kill more of them?

Of course, I don’t understand a few tiny practical things either. How these two implements can hold the same amount of water boggles my mind.


Isn’t one bigger than the other?

That falls in the category, “It’s a holy mystery and ought to remain such,” articulated by my friend Sr. Mary Charles who disappeared into a cloistered nunnery about 45 years ago never to be heard from again.

And that―ha! I wondered how I was going to get here―brings me to the greatest mystery I know: God. I don’t mean God herself is a mystery. I mean that so many people believe she exists is a mystery to me.

For my entire life I’ve been involved in groups that exist because of their belief in God. The church since the day I was born and the famous 12-step programs for the last 29 years. I can repeat myriad kinds of God-talk ad infinitum. I know about it. I used to believe a great deal of it.

But I hear people talking about doing God’s will or having God help them out with something or feeling God’s presence, and I wonder what on earth they’re talking about. I’m not espousing

. . . a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation,”

the dictum of Herbert Spencer that people in 12-step groups use to chide people who may not believe in God. The very fact that they quote one of the great agnostics of the 19th century to argue against agnosticism is in itself a kind of commentary on the belief in God.

No, I have investigated.

And I’ve decided that belief in God is a purely political phenomenon. Radical Zionists are sure they are justified in killing off all Palestinians because God told them so. Radical Muslims are sure they need to form a monstrous killing machine because it will please God. And radical Americans say, “one nation under God. . .” believing either that we are doing God’s will or that God loves us so much that she will help us force our way of life on the rest of the world.

I don’t get it.


How (or why) do you organize a kitchen?

(But I did make my Arabic coffee.)

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

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