I Grok

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Some readers might speed read past insertions of ideas or philosophies while reading fiction.  Some might pause to think.  I tend to do the latter, and... it slows me down.  But, some of those reflections, or even quotes, I carry with me.

I don’t remember which book it was, but one of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford fiction series put forth something close to “The boundaries of a war are determined by the side with the lesser morals.”  Stop.  Consider.  Agree or Disagree.  Make it a point to remember if found worthy.  Move on.  I just wish I could remember more of these things.

So I begin several thoughtful considerations from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Somewhere around DragonCon, I’ve seen people wearing T-Shirts with “I Grok” or “I Grok Spock” or similar, and, like many things at DragonCon, I just let it alone under the hopeful assumption that it belongs in some fan universe of which I am not a part.

The man from mars (in the book, in case I distracted you), Michael Valentine Smith, says “grok” frequently, and it’s not long before his earthly companions start using the word as if they understand it.  So, if a word can be used freely without fully understanding it’s meaning, I grok.  You grok.  We all grok.  Grok isn’t very satisfying, is it?

I’ll skip to dictionary.reference.com, noting that if it’s on a T-shirt, it must be a recognized word:


[grok] Slang.

verb (used with object)
1. to understand thoroughly and intuitively.

verb (used without object)
2. to communicate sympathetically.

Definition one applies to most of occasions of grokking in the book... well, “intuitively” doesn’t.  Number two is a stretch, so...

By the end of the book... I grok in fullness, but I’ll seek help on the interweb for a fuller truthful telling.   Per Wikipedia, “grok” means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

That may or may not help, but it’s at least shorter than reading the book.

Fear not!  Moving forward a number of years, we learn of something similar.  “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.”

These aren’t the same expressions of thought, but they’re similar.  Both seek to set aside a notion of God, while appealing to the idea of another means or higher force that in some way binds life and/or matter.  It speaks to human hope for something eternal beyond “The End.”  It’s something that can be sought or learned, giving us something for which to strive.  And it’s just shiny enough, like a mystical crystal in a kitchen window, that it says “pretty” to those who like sun-catchers and “expanded consciousness” to those want something more from it.

The devil is figuring out what “it” is.  I’d suggest, in context, that “it” is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  In a word, faith.

And I suppose that’s the problem with many things.  People look for what they want to find, at a depth with which they are comfortable, and at a cost which they are willing to pay.  In short, there’s a human desire, at least as a starting point, for psychobabble.  And what’s a more comfy starting point than a metaphysical feel good with no trappings of accountability?  I grok The Force.

People will believe what they want to believe. 

Rather than make something up, I prefer a Truth that I don’t have to make up.  If it’s so true, it’s been observed before.   Giving the law of non-contradiction its due, people can believe widely divergent things and claim they have found Truth, but where they contradict, only one can be true.  I’m too lazy in this space to justify the “why” behind the “what” I believe, but whatever (metaphysical) truth you hold to, it ought to be reinforced in life experience.

In biblical terms, this is called general revelation (Romans 1:18-32):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Verse 18 is a turnoff from the get-go for people looking for a soft sell of carbonated ooze, but v. 19-20 speaks to my point.  The notion of a “God-shaped hole in the heart” is a contemporary view of this, but it has a good pedigree.

Searching for God, in whatever terms used, seems to be built into our DNA (figuratively, not literally, for those seeking to argue).  Perhaps the truth is that all of our hopes and faith are only a vain conceit, the last laugh of a cosmic accident.  But we should still be honest enough, if only with ourselves, to recognize that if it’s not God we’re looking to find, we’re working doubly hard to avoid the elephant in the room. 

The last quote in the link above is worth repeating (correctly though), because G.K. Chesteron’s work is replete with awesome sayings.

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

Look around and test whether that statement is true.  Grok?

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