A few days ago I got an email from someone who pointed out that, in a recent blog post comment, I'd said: "Karma, reincarnation, rebirth -- no, not solid at all, as evidence is lacking for these ideas."
My correspondent thought that a retraction of sorts was in order, given that in 1998 I'd written a book for an Indian spiritual organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, called Life is Fair. The book is a karmic justification for vegetarianism (complete with cartoons!).
I replied to the emailer by saying that, hey, minds change. Today, I don't look upon karma and reincarnation as I did thirteen years ago.
A reply to my reply then hit my inbox:
Perhaps you might consider publicizing what may - now - be your "retraction" (so to speak) of your previous "views" - as the crap which I saw them to be when I looked at your book years ago.
That struck me as a reasonable request. At first. Then I did some additional thinking about when it makes sense to publicly retract previous views that currently seem like "crap" to both me and other people.
I talked about this question in regards to Life is Fair in a 2009 blog post: "Shocked at my own beliefs, should I disown me?" Conclusion: no.
Back in the late 90's I thought differently. In the future, who knows?
The only thing I can be certain about is that from this moment until the day I die, I'm not going to be absolutely certain about anything. Probably, I should add, to be consistent.
So after a few days of pondering my emotional reaction to re-reading what I wrote a dozen or so years ago, I've concluded that I was too hard on myself.
Yes, I was disturbed that my beliefs back then fell into a "religiously mentally ill" diagnosis. And when I read how the Brian of that time looked upon evolution, it bothered me that I was less scientific than I'd remembered myself being.
But here's the thing: I changed. And I'm still changing. As are we all.Thankfully.
Because change only stops when we're dead. Until then, living leads us in largely unpredictable ways. Our relationships with other people change; our bodies change; our lifestyles change; our physical activities change; our personalities change; our philosophical and religious beliefs change.
Which is unavoidable. And largely to the good, even though many of life's changes are objectionable to us.
So I don't feel like retracting what I said in Life is Fair. I'm glad I wrote the book. It pleases me to think that some people have become vegetarians as a result of reading it, or were strengthened in their commitment to remain meatless.
I still believe that life is fair.
Just not for the same reasons I offered up back in 1998. Now I'm much more skeptical about the reality of reincarnation. If we haven't had past lives then "karma" is limited to our experiences in this life, plus the genetic heritage in our DNA of ancestors' lives.
But often it isn't possible to prove the non-existence of something, especially when that thing is hypothesized to be beyond the bounds of materiality. I'm not 100% sure that karma and reincarnation aren't real, just as I'm not 100% sure that God doesn't exist.
To me, retractions are justified when a factual error has been made.
If a newspaper story gets someone's age or occupation wrong, or misquotes them, a retraction/ correction is called for. However, opinion writers don't issue retractions. If a columnist changes her mind, she says "I look upon this issue differently now." No apology is required; no mea culpa.
Recalling my state of mind when I wrote Life is Fair, I don't see how I could have done anything differently. Life is what it is, a cliche that nonetheless is true.
As I've noted before, my relationship with Radha Soami Satsang Beas and the guru (Charan Singh) who led the organization when I joined up in 1971 strikes me as being a lot like my first marriage. Both began with love, followed by many years of happiness, and ended with a divorce.
Have I ever felt about "retracting" my attraction to my first wife? Of course not. What I felt for her at the time was real. I still feel a lot of fondness for her. We grew apart, but the eighteen years we were married never will leave either of us. Our marriage changed us, led us to grow, albeit in different directions.
Likewise, writing Life is Fair meant a lot to me. I agree with the person who emailed me that some parts of the book aren't scientifically defensible. I'd write it differently today, but yesterday isn't today.