16 May 2010


b. 1936
actor and nonbeliever

Excerpt from "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself"

"I sat next to a young woman on a plane once who bombarded me for five hours with how she had decided to be born again and so should I. I told her I was glad for her but I hadn't used up being born the first time. Nothing stopped her. She was married to an acquaintance of mine, and I couldn't turn her off. I left the plane with an ache in my head the size of a grapefruit. I'm certain she led a life that was meaningful to her and had just had five meaningful hours of it. But it didn't mean she was living the good life. And for five hours neither was I. Fight for what you believe in, they say. Serve a higher purpose than yourself. This will give you fulfillment. It can also turn you into the lady on the plane. Or even a terrorist. Terrorists may feel more purpose in their lives than other people do, but that doesn't mean terrorists are any better off, and neither are the rest of us.
"If I was going looking for meaning, I didn't want meaning that would betray other people, and I didn't want it to betray me. I wanted it to last.... I didn't want to wake up someday and find that what had once given meaning to my life was as stale and tasteless as yesterday's gob of gum.
"For a while in my teens, I was sure I had it. It was about getting to heaven. If heaven existed and lasted forever, then a mere lifetime spent scrupulously following orders was a small investment for an infinite payoff. One day, though, I realized I was no longer a believer, and realizing that, I couldn’t go back. Not that I lost the urge to pray. Occasionally, even after I stopped believing, I might send off a quick memo to the Master of the Universe, usually on a matter needing urgent attention, like Oh, God, don’t let us crash. These were automatic expulsions of words, brief SOS messages from the base of my brain. They were similar to the short prayers that were admired by the church in my Catholic boyhood, which they called 'ejaculations.' I always liked the idea that you could shorten your time in purgatory with each ejaculation; what boy wouldn’t find that a comforting idea? But my effort to keep the plane in the air by talking to God didn’t mean I suddenly was overcome with belief, only that I was scared. Whether I’d wake up in heaven someday or not, whatever meaning I found would have to occur first on this end of eternity."

OTHER ALAN ALDA QUOTATIONS (from other sources):

"I still don't like the word agnostic. It's too fancy. I'm simply not a believer. But, as simple as this notion is, it confuses some people. Someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about me, identifying me as an atheist because I'd said in a book I wrote that I wasn't a believer. I guess in a world uncomfortable with uncertainty, an unbeliever must be an atheist, and possibly an infidel. This gets us back to that most pressing of human questions: why do people worry so much about other people's holding beliefs other than their own?" (2008 interview for the Edge Foundation website)

"Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in."

"I used to be a Catholic. I left because I object to conversion by concussion. If you don`t agree with what they teach, you get clobbered over the head until you do. All that does is change the shape of the head." (from an interview in "Ms." magazine)

"Jean Paul Sartre says in 'No Exit' that hell is other people. Well, our task in life is to make it heaven. Or at least earth."

“Here's my Golden Rule for a tarnished age: Be fair with others, but keep after them until they're fair with you.”

"When people are laughing, they're generally not killing one another."


Snowbrush said...

Jeez, let's HOPE they're not laughing while they're killing one another. What an image.

I think I could have shut the woman up, but maybe he was unwilling to take adequate steps because she was married to someone he knew. But five hours!

Snowbrush said...

Things have been a bit quiet over your way. I hope it's just because it's summer and you're enjoying being outdoors.

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