There are countless dichotomies of the human species collectively called Homo Sapiens–or if you prefer Homo Stultus.
Good and Evil; Strong and Weak; Smart and Stupid; Male and Female; Poor and Rich, and on and on it goes…
The one that I think most defines and separates us all:
“What’s it all about–Alfie Types” and “I never really think about it Types”
If you don’t get the Alfie part ignore–it’s from a movie . . .but in my limited observation of individuals this dichotomy might be the most crucial. I would not venture to even guess about percentages–and some might exhibit one type and end up another, in either direction, over the years. Taking up the Quest or Giving it up out of disappointment. I have been on the Alfie path for as long as I can remember, discouraged at times, but never for a moment able to forget the Big Question…in which the very asking puts you on one side of humanity or the other.
Most forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–not to mention more “eastern” modes of thinking, have gone down this path pretty much wholesale–that this earth is not our Home–a kind of alienation from the world. Salvation is beyond. I call this the “bad” idea that took over the world. I prefer Robert Frost’s line Birches: The earth’s the right place to be; I don’t know where its likely to go better…”
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This video lecture that I did in 2015 covers some of the most basic presupposition of an upcoming series I am doing on Youtube on “Death, Afterlife, and the Future” in the ancient Western world. See what you think. I am convinced that the core idea has permeated every facet of our culture–religious as well as philosophical. It is like it is in our mother’s milk.
We watched “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” the new version, on Netflix. It was stunningly well done, acting, script, cinematography–just beautiful beyond words–but I need to re-read Lawrence to say how close to his literal story it was. But clearly the spirit is there, and the D. H. dichotomies of the flesh and the mind, human tenderness and oppression, sexual freedom and societal duty, passionate sensuality and obligation, flight and fear, escape and resignation.
Over the decades I have heard dozens of interviews with John Crossan, listened to his lectures, read his books, and spent time together in Jerusalem in 2007 with him and his wife Sarah, in endless conversation, visiting some of the “off the beaten tourist paths” places with Shimon Gibson. He and I have our differences on getting at the “historical Jesus,” but we agree on far more than we disagree, and I am happy to stand in his shadow and continue to listen and learn from him.
I just finished listening for the second time (!) to his recent two hour free-ranging interview with Youtube host Derek Lambert of Mythvision Podcast–which includes an hour of Q & A from viewers–really great questions. I have never heard him better–a wonderful combination of his personal experience, his latest insights on Jesus and early Christianity, but also deep dives into his broader theological, philosophical, and scientific outlook on our lives and history on planet earth at the wonderful age of 88, with his characteristic graciousness to all, sprinkled with his Irish wit and charm! Pure delight. Don’t miss it.
What really stood out for me, beyond the many excellent historical points about Jesus and earliest Christianity in its Roman contexts, were his existential perspectives about the process of “Evolution”–which I would equate to my own understanding of what has been called “Process Theism,” as per Whitehead and Hartshorne. Terms like God, Atheism, Theism, Theodicy, Eschatology–easily fail in common usage to reflect much precision of meaning, skewered as they are by . But all in all, Crossan’s vision of “Reality” as both transcendent and distributively “just”–in the way he lays things out, I find profoundly moving.
I usually try to chose categories for Blog posts from a topical “drop down” menu, but for this one I come up with a thick cluster: Death, Future, God, Historical Jesus, Horrors of History, La Condition Humanine, Philosophical Musings, Religion and History, the Bible, the Earth, Time…as I said, “wide-ranging”!
Here is the link–I hope you benefit from the accumulative scholarship and life wisdom of “Dom,” as I have:
I have loved the French loanword word ennui for as long as I can remember hearing it. To pronounce it is compelling, almost like an onomatopoeia–though it is more the “feeling” than the sound. Turns out it comes from the Latin inordinare that also gave us our English word “annoy.” It reminds me in sentiment a bit of the word listless–though the meaning in English is more direct. It apparently means a lack of energy or interest, whereas ennui is sometimes defined as boredom–which to me misses its core meaning of a simple lack of interest or engagement with any kind of joy or enthusiasm. In each case one can ask–about what is one lacking engagement, interest, or energy?
In my case it would be the everyday business of human life itself on this planet with all its diverse complexities of celebration, tragedy, joy, and grief–and a thousand other contrasts, all hitting us at once like a firehose. I think even in the height of the opposites–enthusiasm, engagement, and the most intense interest, there is always listless ennui lurking on the horizon, not as a sabotage of joyfulness but as an underlying reality. It is just there. And I welcome it, lest one be carried away too much with what likely is projection of rather capricious moods or momentary diversions as if they have any kind of cosmic permanence. In a group or crowd or even with friends when one feels ennui the typical response is to ask “Are you okay,” “Is anything wrong,” as if any person’s individual failure to keep up the façade is some kind of indication that the mask might be slipping. We don’t abide well with sitting quietly, saying nothing. I think deep dives into the pools of listless ennui is as honest as it is therapeutic.
I love this one. That is you and me and everyone one of us, both the child within and the adult stumbling through many paths. I will not identify it, so those who don’t recognize can have fun finding the poet if they so choose. For those who are sticklers on the Upper/Lower case for God/gods, recall that ELOHIM is the “Powers,” i.e. the sum total of the Power of all powers…so-called forces of “Nature” and all that “Is.”
Arthur Koestler, according to his biographer Michael Scammell, was was the only significant writer to stare death in the face in the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939). This includes Hemingway, Dos Passos, Auden, Orwell, and many others who had flocked to Spain. His three months in prison in 1937, that he recounts in Dialogue with Death shook him to the core. For those readers not familiar the international efforts to oppose Franco, the Joris Evens 1937 film, Tierra Española, which Hemingway had been instrumental in bringing to the world, is available on Youtube. Day by day Koestler listened from his cell no. 40, as prisoners were being shot at midnight. He wrote prolifically, beginning to question whether revolutionary violence in the end violated the sanctity of life, and he scratched out Euclid’s theorem on the prison walls to keep his mind focused. During that period he was greatly influenced by reading Schopenhauer and corresponded with Thomas Mann. The prison’s confinement and the imminent possibility of death, plunged him deep into thoughts about the existential meaning of life. He experienced a transformative new consciousness–as he took flights of philosophical contemplation. Scammell describes it this way:
Koestler concluded that his hours spent by the prison window scratching equations had brought mystical insights into another realm of being. He was filled ‘with a direct certainty that a higher order of reality existed, and that it alone invested existence with meaning.’ Koestler likened it to a ‘text written in invisible ink; though one could not read it, the knowledge that it existed was sufficient to alter the textual of one’s existence,’ and elsewhere compared it to Freud’s concept of the ‘oceanic feeling’ an overwhelming intuition about the infinite and the eternal that was the essence of religious faith (p.150).
For Koestler, at that moment, it was deep contemplation of the nature of math, but it could just as well be art or music or love or a thousand other numinous moments of insight in our lives. The metaphor of “invisible writing” gave him the title for volume two of his autobiography, The Invisible Writing (1954)–following Arrow in the Blue which had been published just two years earlier.
I knew little of Koestler until age 32 when I encountered his most mature work titled Janus: A Summing Up, written forty years later. Koestler carried his “invisible writing” insight with him to the end. I will never forget how I read Janus in one sitting through the evening, into the night, finishing it early the early morning as the sun rose. It put me in a kind of trance. I just went and pulled the book from my shelf, reminding myself of that May 19, 1978 morning; I wrote inside the front cover, in my tiny scrawled script, the following, with a flair of youthful enthusiasm:
It had a profound impression on me and my life at that time and that influence on my thinking has endured now for forty-three years, corresponding to the beginning of my teaching career at Notre Dame in 1979. Koestler died on March 1, 1983, a day before my 37th birthday.
Freud, of course, thought that any such flights of fantasy were just that–illusion to shield one from facing the ultimate truth–namely death as the permanent cession of the self.In a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, Romain Rolland coined the phrase “oceanic feeling” to refer to the sensation of being one with the universe. According to Rolland, this feeling is the … Continue readingErnest Becker, in his profound work, Denial of Death, published in 1973, expounding Freud and Norman O. Brown–succeeds brilliantly in following that line of thought to its stark conclusion–namely our futile and illusionary attempts to imagine our human existence “matters” to any kind of higher order of reality.
Koestler had no “illusions” about his bold proposal that amounted to a rejection of “materialism” without advocating any kind of conventional “dualism.” He wrote in his opening Author’s Note that he hoped his final proposal might throw some light on the human condition and contain a “shadowy pattern of truth.”
|In a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, Romain Rolland coined the phrase “oceanic feeling” to refer to the sensation of being one with the universe. According to Rolland, this feeling is the source of all the religious energy that permeates in various religious systems, and one may justifiably call oneself religious on the basis of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one renounces every belief and every illusion.
We are all wayfaring ones, our birth, our circumstances, whether order or chaos, privilege or plague; very little is controllable in the grander scheme of things, at least from the vantage point of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. We carve out our tiny space, feel the “I” of it, but it all blends together into centuries and millennia. We call it “history.” Such a strange concept. Microbe, elephant, flea, or sequoia, seem to somehow “harmonize” with wars and cruelty, chance and necessity. And then there is that amazing grace, not the song, but the “thing” of it–the Dasein.
The Universe/God began to “talk” to me in synchronicities: coincidences meaningful only to me and individually dismissible (to a skeptical outsider) as mere hokum, but too numerous and often too striking for me to dismiss.
Nature notices neither the unspeakable sorrows and sufferings humans inflict on one another, nor the destruction and pain resulting from natural processes of cause and effect. “Chance and necessity, chance and necessity” chants Jacque Monod, with a cadence like the slow drumbeat of a cosmic mantra. “Atoms and the void, atoms, and the void,” echoes Lucretius from two millennia ago. The flowers outside the gates of Auschwitz burst forth a panoply of colors and the grass grows green and thick with the spring rains as rabbits and mice come forth to welcome the sun. And that nature itself, “red in tooth and claw” drums slowly on in ever unfolding evolutionary patterns, each entity oblivious to the whole, but ever acting within it. The same is true after an earthquake or volcanic disruption or astroid impact or a pandemic. We who have the gift of self-awareness and wonder and analytical observation bear the burden, shed the tears, cry out to the cosmos, and wonder as we move through life how and where our sense of “meaning” and “purpose” fits…or Not. Are we anomalies and flukes in a process otherwise dead to and unaware of anything that goes on—or is that very capacity we have to ask, somehow reflective of something we have yet to understand? Yes, Mr. Zimmerman, we are going down the Valley one-by-one, as only your 70 year-old voice can sing it. But is there a choice? I put myself deep into this painting done by my departed son David, I can actually stare at it and merge into it–a strange feeling. I want to open my eyes and look around and see that is beyond the archway ahead.