Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Random Acts of God

Friends of ours in Chicago have a dog named Murray, whom they adopted from an animal shelter. Murray is a great dog, mostly Lab I think, and very active. (We met up with him in a dog park and he literally ran the pads off our Australian Cattle dog mix. Caper's paws were bleeding by the end of the visit.)

Murray's background is a bit of a question mark, but it's a certainty that it featured some mistreatment at the hands of cruel humans. He's great now with his adopted Mom and Dad, but he's a little wary of strangers. Oh, he wants to like people, he wants to be friendly, but he's just not sure. Poor Murray is the master of mixed signals.

Murray can have the submissive, head down, creeping up to you thing going on, but then he can start to growl a little. But then he might approach you again, interested, but then he's not sure. He's difficult to read. Does he want pets or does he want your fingers for lunch? Sometimes it's impossible to tell, so the best course of action is to steer clear until Murray figures out exactly how he feels about you and what he wants.

The weather today reminds me a lot of Murray. This afternoon, the sun was shining. And not in some half-assed, peeking through the clouds way. It was Sesame-Street-Sunny-Days out there. But, in the midst of this abundance of golden light goodness, it was lashing rain. Great big sheets of rain of the "I hope you're wearing rain paints and galoshes because an umbrella isn't going to cut it" variety.

This split-personality weather gave way to cloudy skies and then good old-fashioned grey-skies rain. It rained for about two hours, then became brilliantly sunny with fluffy white clouds in a deep blue sky. It looked like the sort of weather that would make you want to frolic in fields and make daisy chains. This lasted for about an hour, then it was back to grey skies and rain. Now, we have brilliant blue skies with radiant sun and no clouds or rain.

I remember hearing about a psychology experiment involving rats and tasks and treats. I believe it went something like if a rat always gets a treat for performing a task, that is good. If a rat never gets a treat for performing a task, it is tough luck for the rat, but is better than if the rat gets treats intermittantly. When there is no correlation between reward and good behaviour (or, for that matter, punishment and bad behaviour), then the rat has a breakdown trying to figure out the pattern, trying to learn the system.

I used to have this theory about religious guilt. I'm Irish Catholic and I'm full up to the brim with guilt. My friend Mary Ellen is Polish Catholic and she, too, is at-guilt-capacity all the time. It doesn't matter that we don't go to church anymore. What matters is that we both went to Catholic school and were well-schooled in guilt doctrine.

But, I have to ask you - when was the last time you met an Italian Catholic who felt guilty? How about a guilty Catholic Spaniard? I don't believe that they exist. My theory had to do with the climates and weather of the different Catholic countries. Spain and Italy have much better weather than Poland and Ireland. While the Irish are sheltering from icy sheets of rain and the Poles are freezing their tootsies off, the Italians are drinking wine and lounging on the southern beaches and the Spaniards are having siestas in the sun.

My theory goes that the Irish and the Poles, because they were continually punished with the weather, feel an acute sense of Catholic guilt because in order to suffer so much, they must be bad or deficient in the eyes of God. After today, I think I want to give more consideration to the role that unpredictability in the weather plays in the development of a religious guilt complex.

If the weather changes randomly and we go from praise to punishment in a nanosecond (or, worse yet, we are punished and praised at the same time), what hope do we have of avoiding becoming neurotic with the guilt? If you took an Irish Catholic or a Polish Catholic person and transplanted him or her in southern Italy, would the guilt complex fade away with the sunshine and wine therapy?

I'd love to speculate more on this, but I've got to get out there and enjoy the weather while it lasts.


At 29 September 2005 at 01:15, Blogger Career Guy said...

You might look at the role of mothers in all this, though your own mother is a saint and never gave you cause to feel guilty, am I right? (smile) Hmmm. What to do...what to do...I know, find a church you like and get back in touch. Rationalists of every stripe are welcome, unless you subscribe to the National Review and then they make you check your gun at the door.

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