Ask Dr. Salvo
July 27, 1993
Dear Dr. Salvo,
Your recent column has taken a serious line of dialog. What amazes me is that so many people would come up with such profundity of irrefutable answers. Particularly since none of them is true. Please, if you would, refer to that great literary tome, "Venus On The Half Shell" by Kilgore Trout. According to Trout humanity is the result of evolution from the refuse and dung of giant intergalactic cockroaches who performed a planetary survey many millions of years ago. While neither Trout nor the book's hero Simon Wagstaff had personally seen God, they were able to confer with the elder cockroach who'd been his good friend in ages past. The answer to the whole question is, of course, the finale of the book, and so would spoil the plot if revealed here. Just like the book, (Kant, Paul of Tarsus, and the whole bunch notwithstanding), life would be pretty dull if revealed before its time, so I'd suggest the next column be devoted to something more beneficial to those who read for its wit and humor.
Perhaps Salvo should consider sharing his recipe for raisin pudding, which his more empirical readers may use experimentally to deduce the rate of expansion of the universe (or at least those fragments contained by their respective ovens).
He also might suggest recipes for enemas for his more obstipated readers. (Either literal or figurative would be satisfactory -- in fact is that already his intention?
Surely the letter from Jesse was an intellectual suppository of sorts, intended to easily relieve us of our religious woes.)
Incidentally, Jesse proves an important point. People should not be educated beyond their true ability. The best argument he makes is that for licensure of writing tools as concealed weapons.
Sir William of Satsuma
(inventor of the famous Satsuma razor)
A few fatherly suggestions: Stop reading Henry James for a while and shorten your sentences. Stop masquerading as William of Ockham, who did in fact have a celebrated razor, known as Ockham's Razor. And, try to be more accurate. The Interplanetary Flying Turtles of William Seabury are sufficient unto themselves and far more within our tiny grasp than your unlikely antique cockroaches. Now if you are up to a few quotes from Archie the Cockroach bon ami of Mehitabel the cat -- why we other students of cosmology might take your scatological diatribes more seriously. Even though they suggest an effect more obstipating than cathartic. Also, start typing. Your writing (Cyrillic script?) was so obscure I had to copy the whole letter over again.
Are you too shy to admit that Kilgore Trout is an imaginary novelist invented by Kurt Vonnegut -- or perhaps Studs Terkel or Hunter Thompson? Or, are you trying to incite fear and loathing without our awareness?
Suppose that instead of the modern sophisticated methods of birth control we have today, we had to endure a system such as the following: The one to be born is not notified much less asked if he'd like to be born. He arrives naked, upside down, cross-eyed, speechless, ignorant, and penniless. Some 70 tormented years later he departs this earth in roughly the same condition except more wrinkled. Would you agree that such an entrance, interim, and exit are intrinsically absurd? Then look no further for an explanation of humanity's fondness for comedians, cartoonists, satirists, comic novelists, and writers of nonsense verse. These practitioners of practical cosmology have it right -- their speculations are absurd because so is life. Whether it will turn out to be more, remains to be seen. Keep your eyes open, friend.
A Note For the Doctor
(Left pinned to his lapel)
As summer settles over the tropical abode of Dr. Salvo, laying to rest all thoughts of God, one little question continues to buzz about the screened-in porch, gently disturbing the company: "Well, if we can't talk about God, what about--oh, happiness, say?"
Happiness. That's something pleasant to think about on a summer's eve, isn't it? Doesn't heat up the old brain, you know, like some Abstractions we might mention.
Happiness is a personal issue, purely personal. If I'm happy, I don't care if I'm right or wrong, or if you're right or wrong, or if we're all going to hell in a handbasket. I'm happy with things just as they are.
You want to be happy like that? Perfectly happy? Happy all the time?
Well, it's easy. Just believe in God.
The purer your faith, the more successful you will be in attaining unalloyed happiness on Earth; but just the decision itself -- to believe in the meaningfulness of life in a world designed for love and personal fulfillment -- will fill you with contentment.
Just believe that what seems a cruel fate, marred by hateful accidents and necessities, is actually the gift of a benevolent Power, offered to us all for our enjoyment.
When we enjoy life, the cycle of meaning is complete. God has revealed Itself to us. But when we do not enjoy life, we miss the point and become unhappy. Or just bored, maybe, as we often are in the Real World.
When we enjoy whatever happens when it happens, we are happy all the time. And being happy all the time is all we need ask of our existence.
Thank you for sharing with our readers your joyous rhapsody to happiness. Or, how to find happiness by belief in God. Or how to hypnotize yourself to the third plane of anesthesia by believing in a world designed for love and personal fulfillment.
The most insulting proposition, Walt, is that "being happy all the time is all we need ask of our existence." What about being magnanimous, or merciful, or compassionate, or generous, or just -- all the time???
Would we had entry to all the parallel universe implicit in the Many World Theory. We could experiment with all these qualities, one at a time, and see if we might produce worlds nearer to the heart's desire than we have managed to do by hankering and whoring after happiness.
Walt, you just happened to step on the old bear's sore paw. And grampaw, perhaps. Even the Declaration of Independence would be vastly improved by the replacement of "pursuit of happiness" by other words like those already suggested above. Meanwhile we could legitimately hope for the feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing well what you do in life -- with only rare episodes of happiness that descend on one unexpected like a blessing. However, we need not consent to be un-happy while we wait just because we aren't happy all the time!
Dear Dr. Salvo,
I know you decreed a moratorium on letters about religion. This is a letter first and foremost about sex, but it touches on religion. Could you possibly let it slide on into print? It's a response to Jesse Bailey's silly claim that Christianity denigrates sexuality, an assertion that just begs for somebody who actually knows what he's talking about (i.e. a Christian who knows what Christians believe about sexuality) to respond.
Christians do not "denigrate" sexuality. Indeed, we revere it. That is why we oppose attempts to cheapen or pervert it.
The Bible takes a very high view of sex. But it also takes a holistic view. Sex is not, in the Biblical view, simply a physical act. It is a mental, emotional, spiritual and physical thing. Consequently, to reduce it to pure physicality, which is the view most "freethinkers" today take, is to cheapen it beyond all recognition...
In our society today we take sex as casually as food. It ceases to be anything special, and becomes just another thing people can do. It reduces people to an animalistic level. To fight this, far from being a denigration of sexuality, is to hold sexuality in highest regard.
The cost of this casual attitude in physical terms is real and severe. It is the direct cause of the transmission of AIDS, herpes and other less serious diseases. It causes unwanted pregnancies, which lead either to unwanted children or aborted children...
The more people are seen as sex objects, the less they are seen as whole persons. Another female friend of mine tells me that women see the images of perfection in Playboy, or in topless bars, and come to feel inadequate. If what men want is perfection, then few real women are going to measure up. And I'm not without sin in this regard...I have seen many Playboy women, as well as women in topless bars and erotic movies, and I find myself sometimes judging real women against those standards. I believe if I had not fed myself on those images, I would not do this. And it is important to not do that. The more concerned I am about a woman's breast size or waist size or legginess, the less I care about her mind or character. And that's wrong.
Actually, Christianity presents us with the very best approach to sexuality of any religion, including atheism. Some religions, especially Eastern religions, preach asceticism, that sex is evil. (As Jesse wrongly accuses Christianity of doing.) Other philosophies teach an irresponsible hedonistic approach, such as Jesse advocates, that leads to all of the problems I listed, and more.
But the Judeo-Christian teaching is that sex is a great good in its proper place, which becomes wrong when it is wrested from that context. It paves the way to healthy, fulfilling sexual relationships without cheapening of one another's personhood, without fear of disease and without betrayal of anyone else's trust.
Jesse's assertion that the family is a breeding ground for incest, etc. is silly. That's like saying that we wouldn't have bank robbers if there weren't all these banks.
I do realize there are individual Christians and even perhaps some Christian groups who do fear sexuality. But it is not the normal Christian experience, nor is it the Biblical view. God created sex and saw that it was good. It is only when people pervert it away from its intended context that it becomes a problem.
Mr. X the Irrational
Dear Mr. X,
Thanks for your uplifting thoughts on sex, how healthy, holy, fulfilling it can be, given the proper Judeo-Christian attitude. Two reactions from within kept insisting on being expressed. One was a Hemingway quote in which, after hours of earnest rhetoric on some subjects, he said, "Well, you know, you can talk a thing to death." And Will Rogers said "It is not what we don't know that hurts us. It is all the things we know that ain't so."
Grandfather Freud remembered that whenever he lectured on sexuality his audience all went home disappointed. They had secretly hoped for some sex. Or put otherwise they had hoped for a hearty meal but received only a menu.
It is not your fault or to your discredit that your expressions of opinion about sex should call up these irreverent associations in my mind. But I would be gravely at fault if I omitted to mention a spontaneous response of mild derision and a firm recommendation that you browse about in Bocaccio for a couple of weeks. Or perhaps Balzac or the Thousand and One Nights.
--July 27, 1993