Finding Comfort in Balboa Park

March 1, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

Venue: just outside the Balboa Park Science Center

The Balboa Park Science Center

Outside the Science Center: evangelists galore! A tall red banner emblazoned with a cross speaks of human rights violations. According to the banner it is illegal in 52 countries to do what this man in black does. He shouts:  “JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY! Going to church won’t save you! Doing good works won’t save you! YOU MUST ACCEPT JESUS!”

Get Jesus

It’s hard to hear over the mariachi band, a long-haired waif playing kindergarten ditties on his guitar and another woman calling out to passersby behind a table covered in brochures. I stroll past a circle of teenagers dressed all in black, waving their arms and  stepping in time to  Radiohead.

This grimacing  bevy of stricken blackbirds has drawn a  crowd. They’ve obviously choreographed their wordless skit. But what is it that they’re getting all worked up about?

Participants switch out of this dancing, grimacing bevy of stricken blackbirds.

Are they Jesus People, too? “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” mutters a  sun-browned, wrinkly man in  banana-yellow  bike shorts. “They’re wearing the same T-shirts.” I nod and start to speak, but Bike  Shorts  has  already pedaled off on his mountain bike, taking his quizzical mug and silent opinions with  him. It’s probably for the best. I don’t like discussing religion with complete strangers anyway.

Across the lawn, a fortune teller gesticulates at a client across a round table decorated with a crystal ball and  the customary jewel-toned tablecloth. A rapt young woman nods back earnestly. How much did she pay the ball-reader, I wonder. I hesitate to whip out my camera because the fortune teller is watching me watch her.

I’m an agnostic, but I can’t help thinking that all anybody here wants on this gorgeous day is some relief from anxiety, uncertainty and doubt. We want to hear that if we studiously follow the prescribed cure, jump through hoops and submit ourselves humbly to a wiser being, no matter how silly the prescriptions may seem, things will be okay.

I know the feeling well. I came to the park for comfort, too. I found some in this:

portrait
bp-bench-shoes Niki Sculpture Outside Mingei

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Category: music, travel

About the Author ()

Zoevinly is a poverty lawyer practicing in the bible belt.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Agnostic? Really?

    You're on the fence about whether or not there is an omniscient omnipotent creature that guides and creates every aspect of our lives? Are you equally unsure about the reality of other faiths; like maybe their is a blue elephant god looking over us, or body thetans may or may not occupy human bodies.

    Generally I've found that agnosticism is a nice way of saying 'I don't believe in God in any meaningful sense, but am a little scared of pissing him off anyway so feel uncomfortable calling myself an atheist.'

    Of course we in the blue states like to cloud that in cultural relativity, and offer up something like "I can't really KNOW anything." Which while true sounds like something that Janice from The Electric Mayhem should be saying.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    As a long time agnostic, I am not "a little scared of pissing [God] off anyway so feel uncomfortable calling myself an atheist"

    It is difficult for some to understand unless you consider Robert Heinlein's concept of a fair-witness.

    In the US, there are people who are commissioned as professional witnesses, who receive a small fee to witness someone signing a contract, and as proof of their commission, apply a stamp to the document. We call them "Notaries".

    In his novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", Heinlein extended the concept of a notary, with the concept of a "Fair-witness", a person specially trained to make no assumptions about things they had not witnessed. For example, if a fair-witness was shown a piece of blue construction paper, and asked what color it was, the fairwitness would remark that the side she saw was blue, but would not assume or speculate on the color of the other side.

    Agnostics have the courage to admit there are things they don't know, and can't know. We toss the fear of the unknown aside and get on with what we can know.

  3. As legitimate as Niklaus's position is, many agnostics in my experience are just this side of Pascal's Wager, and for them it's just a way to avoid the whole subject.

  4. Zoevinly says:

    I'm a little late in replying, so please accept my apologies.

    I do not believe in one almighty God, several gods, or no gods at all. I simply don't know. As I grow older, I realize that the list of things that I don't know – or know much about, or know anything about – grows daily.

    I do not simply hesitate to proclaim that a God or gods can't exist. I do not know, and, like Niklaus, I don't spend a significant amount of time trying to figure it out. It's probably more accurate to say that I don't care enough to stake out a position.

    What I do care about is whether anyone is persecuted for believing or not believing in a God, multiple gods, a higher being, etc. I like to tell myself that I believe in people. I believe in the power of people to create or destroy, to appreciate and propagate aesthetically beautiful things, to share kindness or goods generously, and likewise the power of people to kill, deprive, maim physically or emotionally, and otherwise diminish the potential of humans individually and collectively.

    Whether or not a god exists, the mighty power of people in their words, acts and omissions is both obvious and impossible to ignore. If you ask me, we should be placing more resources into cultivating the potential in people than we, as a culture or a nation, devote to imploring to, exalting in or about unseen beings such as the Christian God.

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