I’ve been thinking, lately, about the trickster gods polytheistic religions have conjured or otherwise discovered among their myriad deities. Tricksters like the Nordic Loki and Kokopelli, God of the indigenous tribes of the desert southwest, are known to be instigators of chaos, are blamed when life’s routines are interrupted or seen as tempters when one strays from the straight and narrow. Deceit, betrayal and treachery are the domains of the tricksters.
In contrast the monotheistic religions, who, of course, do have Satan to blame when things go awry, have the dilemma of reconciling their infallible, all-powerful Deity with the idea He would allow evil to occur, that He is unable to thwart the Satanic demons mortals struggle with.
On the one hand we have the pagans, who, keeping things simple, perform rites to solicit favor from gods they recognized as having faults as well as attributes, who may or may not perform as desired. On the other hand, the intellectual discrepancies monotheists are continually confronted with in order to sustain faith in an Infallible God must consistently be addressed.
When it comes down to it, though, I guess the real issue isn’t about specifics of belief but the mystery of belief in the unknown itself.
I’ve been reading about the religious concept ’Via Negativa’, the idea that the only way to really know God is to obliterate any association one might imagine about a supreme being with tangible realities like personhood, embodiment, even singularity, that to truly grasp the enormity of the concept of an Ineffable Other is to eliminate the limitations imposed by naming or envisioning being.
I guess the idea is, that to sense the presence of the Un-nameable, Non-entity in one’s surrounding environment and personal interactions every waking moment is to achieve true spiritual enlightenment.
I must say such an idea is intriguing and not totally unfamiliar sensing as I do, well, maybe not in every waking moment, but occasionally, something more in my surroundings and personal relationships than mere physical or psychic reality would suggest.
It’s good, I think, to have alternate ways to contemplate a personal spirituality beyond the limitations of conventional religion.
Some twentieth century thinkers spent considerable time trying to understand what, exactly, one can know about the world. They thought that the fundamental basis upon which our knowledge of the world rests is suspect, based, as it is, on imagined truths originating from cultural orientations that define reality in terms of conceptual dualisms. Human inclination was to seek a secure ground of being in God or, perhaps, science that could provide reliable answers in dark times of stress and desperation. Such grounding led to unverifiable premises that produced false assumptions about the nature of the world.
A number of these deep thinkers dismissed the reliance on the eternal and infinite as being outside the realm of finite human understanding. All that can be known for certain, they thought, are the facts that exist in this world. These guys thought a primordial ground of being as disclosed through conventional world views was not to be found. An honest search would instead reveal an abyss, a nothingness beneath the cultural veneer. To live an authentic life, they believed, one must man-up, face uncertainty, tempt fate and step away from the safety of familiarity.
Other philosophers of the time thought a subjective ground of being could be found. Realizing the freedom to do what one chose depended upon a spiritual component to lift such a person beyond causal necessity. This ground of being will be personal and dependent on a belief in an existence beyond factual knowledge.
I have to say I admire these great thinkers living as they did through difficult times, unstable finances and psychological angst, who spend so much time and energy pursing ideas that provide us all the opportunity to at least contemplate how we can live our lives authentically.
Experiencing, as I am, the self-imposed (if not state mandated) isolation brought about by the invasion of the insidious virus, I think a lot about traveling. The desire to seek unfamiliar environs is something I’ve always known but now the desire is stronger than ever. And it appears I’m not alone in wanting to be some where else these days. I understand recreational equipment is flying off the shelves and out the doors and I know campground reservation are hard to come by. It seems there’s a strong psychological need to escape what feels a bit like viral entrapment.
I suppose a lot of our motivation to get away has to do with finding alternatives to our engrained daily routines. So much of what we’re used to doing has been interrupted: social interactions, museum visits, shopping excursions, sporting events are either no longer possibilities or complicated by the need to social distance and wear masks. Now we face a prolonged societal shut-down due to the politicization of the issue, one faction convinced on the advice of self-interested parties the danger is overblown, the other side heeding the medical communities advice to mask-up, curtail the spread.
Being free to follow one’s political intuitions does have it’s downside sometimes, I guess.
I’ve been reading lately about the difficulties purveyors of religious faith have had over the centuries reasoning about the nature of the supernatural. Take early Christianity. The concept of a singular all-mighty deity the early Christians inherited from their Hebrew forebears had to be reconciled with the son as well as the Holy Spirit. How, after all, can three be one. The controversy roiled for centuries, I guess, until Augustine of Hippo settled the issue. God is one, he said, but it exists in three forms and if you find this idea contradictory, if it defies reason, then, as a believer get over it, accept it as a mystery and move on.
I guess there’s something to be said for embracing mystery; the existent unknown, if you think about it, never gets old, keeps one wondering about something that can never be fully grasped; curiosity, without a doubt, can be compelling. Which, I bet, is a significant reason so many people maintain a religious faith, not wanting to deny the existence of something mystical defined as all-powerful.
Of course, in order to be reasonably functional in one’s daily life in the real world the working admonition the devout practitioner pretty much must accept is: Just don’t overthink it.
I’ve been coming across some new terms in my readings lately that seem to indicate a bit of cultural shift or maybe potential social upheaval in the ways we all relate to each other. The term ‘woke’, I find, suggests the importance of paying closer attention to sexist or racial slights that have existed for a long time and need to be called out. These slights or ‘micro-aggressions’ marginalize minority groups and really have no place, I totally agree, in public discourse.
I’m just wondering, if, perhaps, some of us are spending too much time, looking too hard for slights and questionable behaviors , and are, thereby, bordering on adherence to ‘safetyism’ in which emotional reasoning distorts what reality actually offers, because now, I read, the paintings of Paul Gauguin, the 19th century French painter are being petitioned for museum removal because of the artist’s dalliances with underage girls during his years in Tahiti.
Considering the personal behaviors of some of the other art world notables, Leonardo and Michelangelo among them, I fear the cancel culture, given free reign, could erase a whole lot of the history of western civilization.
I’ve been reading about a phenomenon occurring within the social milieu of high school students. It appears there’s a censorial application called ‘cancelling’ that groups impose upon those they find to be politically incorrect (you, know, from a high school perspective), out of sync or in some way offensive to the group. The cancelled individual becomes persona non grata, looses any sort of identity or recognition and is ignored as non-existent, which, I suspect, among socially needy adolescents may very well be devastating.
I can kind of understand negative reaction to someone spouting racist, sexist or misogynistic commentary among their peers, those whom the offender might wish to befriend. But it seems at some point confrontation is warranted. An attempt, maybe, to understand the offender’s point of view or at the very least informing him/her that his/her comments are upsetting and inappropriate, whereby an understanding may be reached, a consolidation of views that will reasonably determine the potential or lack thereof for future friendship.
Maybe the social milieu of politicized adults could benefit from similar interventions.
So, as I understand it, a long time ago, way back, as humankind emerged from their hunter/gatherer roots, civilization developed in the Fertile Crescent (it being a place particularly conducive to plant and animal domestication) while much of the rest of the world,( save China and a bit later Mesoamerica), remained tribal people for millennia.
Before too long these newly sedentary farmers created complex societies that produced artisan craftsman and a written language. Unfortunately for those urbanizing folks they didn’t have a good grasp on the importance of environmental stewardship: deforestation and soil degradation took its toll. The civilizations of the Fertile Crescent fell into decline.
But, over the millennia, technologies developed by these folks traveled with relative ease and speed into soil rich Western Europe, where, before long, (relatively speaking), the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Dutch became the powers that dominated and exploited the rest of the world.
And so, it’s pretty clear geography and circumstance is responsible to a considerable extent for the historical dominance of the Western Europeans. One would think such knowledge would undermine the racist tendencies of our primitive minds. I fear that’s not the case.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that perhaps I’m taking some of the events of the day a bit too personally. I’m thinking my sensitive, insecure ego is causing me to become increasingly intolerant, less understanding of those with different views than mine and making it less likely I will fairly assess what’s happening around me. Occurrences, no matter the cause have little to do with my stilted sense of appropriateness, my biased ideals and the sooner I come to grips with reality the better.
At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one dealing with the evil ‘I’ which causes so much turmoil in the world. I know there are spiritual endeavors that offer direction in ego suppression, subordinating the invented Self. Meditative disciplines emphasizing focus on the now and allowing thoughts to pass through one’s mind has the potential, I think, to set me in a more healthy and productive place. I just need to start putting in the time, focus on the now, maybe practice some deep breathing.
I’ve been trying to make sense, lately, of what science, particle physics in particular, tells us is the underlying structure of the universe and everything in it. Apparently, there is a “core theory” which informs us that the sub-atomic building block of all matter is something referred to (simplistically according to Mr. Higgs) as the God Particle, which, as I understand it, is a really, really small item that has never actually been seen by anyone.
To further complicate things these incredibly tiny particles occur as wave lengths in vibrating fields which make up everything from the planet Jupiter to the fly currently resting on my living room window. The whole system is in a constant state of flux driven by energies like gravity and electromagnetism.
As mysterious as this all seems, and physicists freely admit there are many questions still unanswered, the underlying consensus is that Quantum Field Theory is sound as far as describing what kinds of things can’t occur in nature as we know it. Certain supernatural powers, such as telekinesis, QFT tells us, simply can’t occur because the energies manipulating the universe on a sub-atomic level aren’t strong enough to allow anyone’s mind to bend a spoon or send knives flying across the room while sitting sedately at the kitchen table.
I think, though, the jury’s still out on mind on mind occurrences like extra-sensory perception. Who’s to say all those quarks and things flying around electromagnetically in vibrating fields aren’t interconnecting Mind somehow. Anyway, I certainly find it all fascinating to think about. I look forward to our noble physicists finding more answers to the big puzzle.