“Satan” (שׂטן) in the Hebrew Bible, is used as a verb or a noun. It means “the one opposing,” in a very generic way , totally unlike in the New Testament and other late 2nd Temple period Jewish literature when a Great Satan was created as a “God of all the earth,” and was appropriated with great relish by both Jews and Christians to explain the so-called “problem of Evil” (aka “blame it on the Devil” theodicy) We all face many satans every day, from people, to circumstances, to our own inner states of mind with our conflicting thoughts. The realities of the “tree of the ‘knowledge’ (opposition/discernment) of good and bad,” which represents our choices up against all “satans,” are still with us, and we have all “bitten into the root of the forbidden fruit, with the juice running down our legs” That’s a quote from Dylan (aka Bobby Z, the Jewish Theologian) in case you missed it. But that is what life is all about, “outside the Gates of Eden.” Given “reality,” (void, matter, chaos, ordering, free choice, good & bad), and what else is there but fantasy and delusion, that is what must be. For more, from the late Prof. Frank Moore Cross and from me, see: “Reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament.”
Life brings you to your knees it brings you lower than you think you can go. But if you go just a little further, you will find love.
“Life Itself” (2018), Dan Fogelman
I love Fogelman’s 2018 film “Life Itself.” I watched it for the second time last night. The critics hate it, giving it dismal ratings. They find it trite, simplistic, sobby, vapid. I find it profound and moving to the core–and viewers give it ratings in the 90s. It has a wonderful cast: Olivia Wild, Oscar Isaac, Anette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, to name a few. Wonderfully narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and Lorenzo Izzo. That narration carries much of the punch, it is brilliantly done. Dylan’s “Time out of Mind” soundtrack runs through the whole and frames the story so movingly and profoundly. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, and perhaps other services. I highly recommend. I also love “This is Us” which is Fogelman’s 2018 series. Here is a nice interview with Fogelman and some of the actors. https://youtu.be/2msIDrPi4M8
Nietzsche said the Christian decision to make the world ugly and evil has made the world ugly and evil. Of course the Christians were only mimickers and mirrors of the neo-Platonism and Gnostic perspectives that became so influential in late Antiquity. Quite a contrast to the Hebrew Bible. Demons, Satan the Devil, eternal Hellfire, and the idea of the “total depravity” of humankind. It is not so much there there was nothing “new under the sun,” but rather nothing good under the sun. As several ancient Greek funerary prayers written in thin gold sheets and rolled up to be put in graves record the “great confession ” of Late Antiquity: I am a child of earth and heaven but heaven alone is my home!” Salvation became an ascetic denial of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Nietzsche was not so much an atheist but a rejector of the “schlechte Luft” that fouled our European culture world and its quest to stamp out every “Heresy.” As Empedocles put it–long before Plato and the Gnostics: “I was once a bird, a fish, and now a man–I wept, I wept, when I saw this dreadful place.” Rather than the “good earth” as the place to be (i.e. Frost: “The earth’s the right place for love, I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”), as the ancient Creation Hymn of Genesis has things, this dark world was a hopeless prison into which we had fallen.
I began my academic biblical studies with New Testament Greek at the tender age of 17–my freshman year of college. And I have more or less shifted to a more “Hebraic” perspective, as I explain here in this article I want to share with my readers. For more see my article “Death as Life and Life as Death: Revising Rohde.”
“There are two kinds of hunger. Little hunger and great hunger. Little hunger is needing food. Great hunger is longing for the meaning of life.”
Shin-Hae-mi in “Burning” directed by Lee Chang-dong
Amazing letter from Alfred Lord Whitehead to Charles Hartshorne, January 2, 1936. Notice final sentence on page, where he names the founders of the American Renaissance, William James (the analogue to Plato) and Charles Pierce (to Aristotle). Inspired to pull out these volumes…on top of reading Koestler, Janus (1978) and The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970 (1972). Heavy but heady stuff. Nothing better.
“To say it once more: throughout human history, the ravages caused by excesses of individual self-assertion are quantitatively negligible compared to the numbers slain ad majorem gloriam out of a self-transcending devotion to a flag, leader, a religious faith or political conviction. Man has always been prepared not only to kill, but also to die for good, bad, and completely hare-brained causes….the tragedy of man originates not in his aggressiveness but in his devotion to transpersonal ideals.”
Heisenberg’s autobiographical account of modern physics was called Der Teil und das Ganze but appeared in English as Physics and Beyond! The Part and the Whole are the cornerstone of Koestler’s take on the cosmos…a self-assertive tendency along with a Janus like opposite, a integrative tendency…in all things…from the inner life of cells to the movements of solar systems. The Part/Whole dynamic operates independently as discrete units, but at the same time as part of a greater whole…and that whole is a part of…part of, part of, and on and on it goes…physics, biology, sociology, history, our psychological states with the reptilian “self-interest” and “drives” crossing paths with our “higher” desire to integrate and merge and sense transcendence.
See NYTimes “37.2 Trillion Galaxies or Human Cells”
So in the silence of the soul I listen for the still small voice, which is God’s call to each of us to engage in the work of love and creativity, to bring new life into the world, and to care for it and nurture it during its years of vulnerability. And whenever I see people engaged in that work of love, I sense the divine presence brushing us with a touch so gentle you can miss it, and yet know beyond all possibility of doubt that this is what we are called on to live for, to ease the pain of those who suffer and become an agent of hope in the world. That is a meaningful life. That is what life is when lived in the light of God’s presence, in answer to his call”
Our deepest sense of value and meaning in this world are not an anomaly or fluke, projected onto an otherwise uncaring universe. This inner sense of self is not somehow “outside” reality, and thus unreflective of its fundamental nature. Our capacities of self-consciousness, our sense of time, our existential becoming, is emergent from the “ground of being,” that nameless process rooted in the most fundamental reality. Our best clue as to the deeper nature of nature is our inner selves, reflective of the inherent capacities of reality–defined simply as “what is.” Cogito, ergo sum is not a bad beginning, if one can excise the dualism of Western language and assumptions. Whitehead called it panentheism.
When I heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I knew there was joy at the heart of the universe.
Many of my readers know the extraordinary PBS program hosted by Dr. Robert Kuhn, “Closer to Truth.” Simply put, Kuhn explores the deepest questions of our existence related to Cosmos, Consciousness, and Meaning…
Here is one of Kuhn’s most provocative published articles titled “Virtual Immortality” published in Skeptic Magazine in 2016. I use it in my classes:
All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (original suppressed introductory chapter)