Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?

Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?
by Ron Steelman

I never thought of Bill Murray as a philosopher. I simply viewed him as an actor, a top notch, one-of-a-kind, always surprising clown, who can morph into a serious character on a dime. I greatly admire his acting skills, particularly his later work. Bill MurrayWhat a screwball! He has evolved into a highly regarded actor, one able to create rich characters that reveal many layers of their humanity. He loves to never do what you’d expect of him, both on screen and in real life. I believe that’s what makes him unique
. . .and funny.

As my wife read aloud an article about Mr. Murray in the Sunday, December 2nd Arts section of the New York Times, we chuckled, cackled, and guffawed. A portion of it included an interview with Bill, which was revelatory. My take is that aspects of his personal philosophy seem very Humanist-like. Now I understand how he employs this worldview in his acting. In fact, it’s this sense of reality that makes him so funny and such a great success.

Is he really a humanist? I don’t know. I doubt if you could ever get a straight answer out of him. He’s a master at avoiding direct answers to questions. I do know he’s a lapsed Catholic who is reported to have said, “Religion is the worst enemy of mankind. No single war in the history of humanity has killed as many people as religion has.” Therefore, I think he is now somewhat post-theological (I’ll correct this if he calls to complain). In the Times article his philosophy reveals a gentle compassion towards others, and a belief in hope. Compassion and hope are two of the three pillars of Humanism: reason, compassion, and hope. Well, that’s two out of three anyway. We’ll leave the discussion of his view of “reason” till he calls to explain.

After reading the excerpt from the Times article, please watch the YouTube video below. As usual, Murray’s plan is to never do what you’d expect of him, while sprinkling a little compassion into his interpersonal communication skills.

(Excerpts from🙂
With Bill Murray, Just Take the Trip

Published: November 28, 2012

…”Q. That seems to be a philosophy you apply not only to your work but to your entire life.

A. Well, I’ve made some mistakes in that area too. The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.”

(describing his authentic self.)

A. …”I spoke about the first time I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and I was a big Cubs fan, and I watched all the games on TV, but when I grew up, TV was in black and white. So when I was 7 years old, I was taken to my first Cubs games, and my brother Brian said, “Wait, Billy,” and he put his hands over my eyes, and he walked me up the stairs. And then he took his hands away. [He begins to get choked up.] And there was Wrigley Field, in green. There was this beautiful grass and this beautiful ivy. I’d only seen it in black and white. It was like I was a blind man made to see. It was something.”

…”Q. There seems to be so much serendipity in your life. Are you actively cultivating these moments or just hoping that they come to you?

A. Well, you have to hope that they happen to you. That’s Pandora’s box, right? She opens up the box, and all the nightmares fly out. And slams the lid shut, like, “Oops,” and opens it one more time, and hope pops out of the box. That’s the only thing we really, surely have, is hope. You hope that you can be alive, that things will happen to you that you’ll actually witness, that you’ll participate in. Rather than life just rolling over you, and you wake up and it’s Thursday, and what happened to Monday? Whatever the best part of my life has been, has been as a result of that remembering.”

Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”?

A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.”

…”Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?

A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.”

YouTube: Bill Murray on David Letterman
This clip demonstrates some of Bill Murray’s wacky philosophy:


A couple of online comments about Bill Murray on this Letterman appearance:

“This guy is just charm incarnate. The sweetest, funniest man on earth. You can feel the shyness too, which is just like the cherry on the cake”

“This world is going to collapse in on itself when this man dies…”

Some of Steelman’s favorite Bill Murray films:

– Moonrise Kingdom
– Get Low
– The Darjeeling Limited
– Lost In Translation
– Groundhog Day
– What About Bob
– Hyde Park On The Hudson (soon to be released. . .I’m sure I’ll love him as FDR)

Bill Murray as FDR

Bill Murray as FDR – by Nicola Dove/Focus Features

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Calvin Was A Humanist

Calvin Was A Humanist (No, not that Calvin.)
By Ron Steelman

John CalvinMy ten year old son walked up to me and quoted a line from a large book of Calvin & Hobbes comic strips by Bill Watterson — all three volumes are in our home library because my wife loves that rotten little kid Calvin. My son’s selection had Calvin talking to Hobbes about Santa and God and Calvin said, “If he’s real, why doesn’t he show himself to prove it?” I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to the full scope of Watterson’s work. I was curious to find out what other quotes might be of interest to me as a Humanist. I snatched the book out of my son’s hands and told him I needed to borrow it to do some research. As he walked away, he grumbled, “OK, fine. I’ll go read my copy of ‘On the Origin of Species’.” But I want the ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ back in an hour.”

In the introduction of the book it said, “When Watterson was coming up with names for the characters of his comic strip, he decided upon Calvin (after the Protestant reformer John Calvin) and Hobbes (after the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes) as a “tip of the hat” to the political science department at Kenyon” [College where he went to school ].

I won’t digress here into an analysis of the five points of Calvinism (you should thank me for this).  However, I think it’s important to say that although Calvin (Watterson’s Calvin) often commented on and questioned various religious and philosophical concepts in the comic strip, he did not attempt to inflict upon us any of John Calvin’s five goofy theological points. When he occasionally sidled up close to any of that flimflam, it was purely a sideways glace through his bent lens of reality. The result: humor.

Here follow just a few selected Watterson quotes from my search for lines related to Humanism:

>>> “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

>>> “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.”

 >>>  “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

>>> “You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon…everything’s different.”

>>> “The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.”
(once quoted by Stephen Hawking, Cambridge University Professor of Astrophysics)

The strip ran in newspapers for 10 years, from 1985 to 1995. There are thousands of great Calvin & Hobbes lines and I discovered that many of my friends seem to have different favorites. . .usually based on their sensibilities.  My friend Bruce likes: “Why waste time on education when ignorance is instantaneous?” While I like: “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don’t help.”

Watterson is brilliant. If you buy any or all of the books of his collected Calvin & Hobbes strips, you will be happy you did. When my son came back for the book, he said, “Watterson’s right up there with Darwin, he’s just funnier.”
While Googling “Bill Watterson atheist” I discovered a variety of objections to his comics from religious folk. What sound and fury! However, I don’t think anyone knows what his beliefs really are. One blog entry told a story by a guy who was visiting with relatives when he was a kid. He had taken along his big book of Calvin & Hobbes. When his extended family saw what he was reading, they were so upset that they took the C&H book away from him. It’s just another example of how religious people hate it when you ask questions like Calvin does. Also on their ‘bad book list’ is a collection of The Far Side comics by Gary Larson. We own the two-volume set. I’d better abscond with them so I can re-read them before my 10-year-old finds them. Then maybe I’ll be able to keep up with him during a critique of Larson’s work.  He’s almost 11, you know.

The Calvin & Hobbes in question:
Click here for larger size
Calvin & Hobbes

Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election was one of John Calvin’s five points of Calvinism. Unconditional election is the Calvinist teaching that before God created the world, he chose to save some people according to his own purposes and apart from any conditions related to those persons. What about those not on his list? Oh, well. This is how “Predestination” crept in to our minds. I didn’t realize that God played favorites like this. I want to speak to my attorney!

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