Saturday, February 20, 2016


The amorous sky curved over the earth
        and lay upon her as a lover.

                       ~ Aeschylous, The Danaides

The best-selling author, a former monk,
has promised to speak about sex.
The end of the lecture is drawing near:
he’s still trying to define
the difference between soul and spirit.
A middle-aged, conservatively dressed
woman in the front row begins
to rock in her seat back and forth,
demanding, “Sex! Sex! Sex!”

The ex-monk blushes. He begins:
“Sex is the archetype of life.
‘I feel totally alive,’ you say
as the world wakes up in your arms.
Sex is a messenger of life,

saying despair is beside the point:
it continues, the banquet of life.
You think you want a new lover,
but what you really want
is a new life.” 

He quotes Dante:
“In the book of my memory
stands a chapter headed
Incipit vita nova:
Here begins the new life.”

Vita nova. Enter Beatrice.
The hunger for a lover
is the hunger for a new life.

“But,” the speaker cautions,
“there is the drive to couple,
and the drive to uncouple.
It’s possible to be married
and yet to satisfy the need
not to be married.” The former

would-be “father,” now father of two,
continues: “I strongly advise against
more communication in marriage.
Sex is a mystery, transgressive.
You need to invoke Aphrodite.
She is the Muse of Sex.
She’s also the goddess of affairs.
A new lover may or may not be
the entrance to a new life.”

Will we share a private language,
will we need an alibi

this is what Aphrodite sings,
faithful only to herself.

But what is Aphrodite,
that shimmering metaphor?
Aphrodite the lover of laughter,
subtle serpent and the dove?
Always faithful to herself,
Aphrodite is the soul.

A tall, skinny man in the back row
rises like a steeple:
“You are speaking totally
from a male point of view.”
“Of course,” the ex-monk replies.
“I wouldn’t presume
to speak from a female point of view.”

A tiny gray-haired lady stands up:
“Thank you for a wonderful lecture.
I also love the way you blush.”
— “Freud said that blushing
is an erection of the head,”
the speaker jokes. Laughter and applause,
then crashing echoes,

the faithful and unfaithful
filing from the wooden pews.
We walk out of the soulless cathedral
of Saint Paul, the celibate apostle,
into the blushing, Aphroditic sunset,
and set off in search of a new life.

~ Oriana, © 2016

I am reposting this poem because of the main theme of this blog — the seemingly unsolvable dilemma of marriage and fidelity. I mean fidelity in the broad sense, not just sexual monogamy, or, in the case of priestly celibacy, no sex. Is being in love, one of the most powerful human experiences, not a breach of fidelity and celibacy as long as there is no physical sex? Could verbal tenderness be more subversive than a thousand orgasms? What insanity of useless suffering have we gotten ourselves into?

The poem was inspired by attending a lecture by Thomas Moore, author of  a one-time best-seller, “The Care of the Soul.” Moore not only made more money than any other author writing about the non-materialistic needs of the soul (that elusive, undefinable, always shifting inner essence), for instance the need for beauty and deep feeling, for poetry and music and good food; the piquant thing about Moore was that he was an ex-monk who said that he was a “deep Catholic,” just the kind who renounced his vows and embraced the sacredness of this life.

The lecture was unremarkable until the very end, when Moore mentioned “the need to be married and the need not to be married.” Aphrodite was mentioned — the goddess of love, but not the goddess of marriage: more so, the goddess of affairs. Are affairs all bad? How come that those who’ve had an affair almost universally say, “I suddenly felt so ALIVE”? How come people don’t seem to regret having had an affair, even if genuinely sorry about having caused hurt to the spouse?

No answers are going to be completely satisfying. Perhaps accepting both pain and pleasure is the only imperfect solution.

Caravaggio: detail from “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”


"Hundreds of letters and photographs that tell the story of Pope John Paul II's close relationship with a married woman, which lasted more than 30 years, have been shown to the BBC.

The letters to Polish-born American philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka had been kept away from public view in the National Library of Poland for years.

The documents reveal a rarely seen side of the pontiff, who died in 2005.

There is no suggestion the Pope broke his vow of celibacy.

The friendship began in 1973 when Ms Tymieniecka contacted the future Pope, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Krakow, about a book on philosophy that he had written.

The then 50-year-old travelled from the US to Poland to discuss the work.

She appeared to have revealed intense feelings for him because his letters immediately afterwards suggest a man struggling to make sense of their friendship in Christian terms.

In one, dated September 1976, he writes: "My dear Teresa, I have received all three letters. You write about being torn apart, but I could find no answer to these words."

He describes her as a "gift from God”.

Marsha Malinowski, a rare manuscripts dealer who negotiated the sale of the letters, says she believes Ms Tymieniecka fell in love with Cardinal Wojtyla in the early days of their relationship. "I think that it's completely reflected in the correspondence," she told the BBC.

Cardinal Wojtyla had a number of female friends, including Wanda Poltawska, a psychiatrist with whom he also corresponded for decades.

But his letters to Ms Tymieniecka are at times more intensely emotional, sometimes wrestling with the meaning of their relationship."


'I belong to you'

"I think there are some serious questions about the relationship," says religious affairs commentator Clifford Longley.

"My first reaction is, seeing it from her husband's point of view, I certainly wouldn't be relaxed about the whole thing.

"My impression was that she was in love with [the Pope]. That should have been a warning for him to back off, but it does not appear that he did.”

Celibacy is not strictly only about not engaging in sexual encounters, Clifford Longley says.

Hurt and disruption can be caused as much by an emotional relationship as a physical one, he adds.

For some Catholic leaders and commentators, the story will be another example of the need for the current rule mandating priestly celibacy to change.

Celibacy is a discipline not a doctrine or dogma — religious beliefs or principles — so the Church is free to alter that practice if or when it believes this is necessary.

Jesus' surviving words in the Gospels include very little about sex, and the shift towards celibacy within Christian practice came later, in part because of remarks in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. It was re-affirmed from the Second Century as some men and women began living celibate lives as monks and nuns.

Since the 11th Century, the Roman Catholic Church has required priests to remain celibate, while other churches, including the Eastern Orthodox churches, have permitted married men to be ordained.

But some Catholic leaders and commentators have called for a rethink. Former priests have said it is not just the physical aspect of remaining celibate that they struggled with, but the loneliness.
With Anna on a camping trip, 1978


The emotional cruelty of denying a human being the possibility of love is regarded by the Holy See as a necessary sacrifice so that priests are “married to the church.” Historically, we know that, aside from the abhorrence of sex, the question of inheritance was involved, the church trying to prevent estate, if any, from going to the priest’s heirs (should he be allowed to have legitimate children).

The Reformation did away with priestly celibacy, arguing it signified a degradation of marriage and, since it also meant a forced abstinence, it was a major reason for widespread clerical sexual misconduct. I also see this as the case of what Nietzsche called “a hangman’s metaphysics”: by creating a rule that was extremely difficult not to break, the church essentially made sure that the rule would be broken, and the priest would then feel guilt and shame. Men who feel they are “fallen” are more likely be stay meek and silent, obedient to their superiors.

It’s interesting that the Reformation, which came up with “total depravity” and “limited election,” nevertheless managed to undo the idea that marriage was inferior to virginity, and that a minister would be defiled by marital sex.

A lot of scripture-based aversion to sex had to be overcome in permitting Protestant clergy to get married and thus to have sex. For instance in Matthew 19:12 we read: “Some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

The modern reader is likely to squirm reading this passage. We are not comfortable with castration, even if voluntary. To be sure, physical castration is a literal reading; it can always be softened through a metaphorical reading: let us not have sex for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

And since a loving relationship might lead to sex, it’s best to go into the wilderness and devote oneself to prayer. Except that’s just when sexual fantasies are likely to descend as never before. The desert air will undulate with naked women — sent by Satan, of course.

Against that psychopathology, it does seem astonishing that Protestants came to their senses in at least one aspect of religious life.

The Eastern Orthodox churches never fell into this insanity — only the highest ranking priests were supposed to stay unmarried because this was somehow more holy. But at least most priests were granted access to normalcy, and could experience the joys and ordeals of family life. 
With Anna at the Vatican


Lately there have been more and more protest against the Catholic celibacy rule from within the church. One high-ranking Vatican official left to marry an art historian with whom he’d already had a son. Another left for a relationship with a male partner, announcing at a press conference that it was cruel of the church to sentence anyone to a life without love. The number of priests and nuns who have left the church mainly in order to get married should come as no surprise — after all, the desire for love and connection is a fundamental human need.

St. Paul’s preference for celibacy and his triumphant claim that there is no marriage in heaven should be understood in the context of his expecting an imminent Second Coming. Two thousand years of no Second Coming has implications far beyond celibacy — but celibacy might be a place to start. 

Few doubt the benefits of having a loving relationship. The right to love seems to be an essential human right. Yet Catholicism has insisted that the clergy remain unmarried and sexless — for reasons that in reality are far from spiritual, in spite of the high-sounding official explanations.

Pope John Paul 2 certainly wasn’t about to abdicate the papacy in order to be with Anna. But he did let her know how special she was to him by giving her something very personal: the little scapular (a kind of devotional pendant) that he’d received as his first communion gift. You could say that it was like giving her the ring — symbolically, of course.

Anna’s letters have been withheld from the public — could it be that they contain verbal tenderness, simple phrases such as “my dearest” or “my love”? How sad it seems, that one of the best things about being human, our ability to deeply love another person, would be seen as needing to be suppressed.

All this could make a wonderful movie, if handled with subtlety. The pope was no doubt a major love object for more than one woman, and knew how to keep these women (especially Anna) in love while withholding what maybe both of them fantasized about, but were wise enough to know it was impossible.

Given the burden of his office, I am glad that he had the emotional support of someone who greatly cared for him. True, I wish the Catholic church would vanish from the earth, since it does vastly more harm than good. But as long as it exists, it’s better than the pope should receive love than be the kind of bitter person that a man (or woman) with a loveless life can easily turn into. Then dogmatism and lack of compassion could really flourish.

At the same time we can’t help but feel sorry for Anna — and for the many women who fall in love with priests and other men we’d describe as inaccessible. But it’s no surprise that women fall for charismatic men, and charismatic priests have always been erotic magnets. And professors, male writers and poets (it doesn’t seem to work for women), male artists of all kinds, and all kinds of other “inappropriate” love objects.

Such men are good at using language (or the language of art), which for some reason makes a woman think: This is my male twin. A delusion, of course, but it makes the heart beat faster. Romantic love is largely narcissistic in that we need to see ourselves in our love object.

One last thought: before we pity Anna for having fallen in love with the pope, and wish she’d either been a devoted wife to her husband, or else found a man who could provide a more complete relationship, let’s not forget that she did find a soul mate. She did have a rich love life— not in the physical sense, but in the sense of “mind sex.” The intellect has an erotic dimension. To a smart woman, there is hardly anything as sexy as intelligence responsive to her own.


There is a broader issue here, one that goes beyond the celibacy of priests, monks, and nuns. That issue is more explosive to the conventional mores. It’s the issue of loveless (and often sexless) marriages. We admire couples who stay together and don’t ask if each partner might be better off with someone else, or single and free to have or not to have another relationship. (The joy of being single is finally being noticed — and even celebrated.)

If we publicly admit what Edith Piaf sang about — “le droit d’aimer” — the right to love — then a closer look at monogamy is almost inevitable.

Married couples who continue to love each other and stay together for lifetime will probably continue to be the cultural ideal — and that’s fine. But should we condemn the kind of less-than-ideal marriage where the couple stay together for the sake of the children, but give each other the freedom to lead separate lives — including having another partner who is more of a soulmate? This already goes on, but with a load of guilt. What if the practice remained discreet in order to avoid the unavoidable hurt of jealousy — “Don’t ask, don’t tell” — and gained social acceptance?

This seems to be the view of Esther Perel, author of “Mating in Captivity,” who thinks it’s high time to stop demonizing extramarital relationships. There are two sides to serious affairs: the hurt and betrayal, but also the personal growth and the discovery of a new self. Perel points out a new double standard when she asks, “How come we think that when a man has an affair it’s out of boredom and fear of intimacy, but when a woman has an affair, it’s out of a deep hunger for emotional intimacy?”

And what about the unfunny joke about someone going into therapy in order to improve his or her marriage, and ending up developing a really satisfying relationship with the therapist? After all, the client wanted someone sensitive and supportive . . . someone who’d listen instead of criticizing . . . someone intellectually stimulating rather than mundane . . . 

There is the need for touch, for laughter, for escape from the crushing practicalities. The need to feel entirely oneself, to say whatever comes to one’s mind. The need to taste strange new dishes in ethnic restaurants, and see movies that one’s spouse wouldn’t be interested in seeing.

Ah, that familiar need for someone who has similar interests  . . .  But how come we didn’t marry someone with similar interests? Perhaps originally we did, but fifteen years later we may have developed a different set of interests and are no longer the same person. I’ve heard both men and women say of their early adulthood, “I wasn’t yet me.” It takes time to become more fully oneself.

Ideally, one’s need for emotional and intellectual companionship would be satisfied in marriage, and perhaps in the beginning they were. Then the partners changed. Add to this yet another factor: dailiness prevailed.

The modern trend is not brief “casual” affairs, but long-term emotional and erotic intimacy. We wish that such intimacy would persist between spouses, but reality is often different. Some spouses turn out to be excellent practical partners and good parents, but after a while all they have in common is the practical matters (definitely important!) and the children (absolutely important!). Articles on “Ten Ways to Keep Romance in Marriage” begin with the assumption that marriage is, somewhow, about romance. Or should be. Perhaps it’s time to drop the denial and the hypocrisy, and rethink marriage.

Do we hold it against Dante that he celebrated a married woman, Beatrice, and not his own wife?

Not that there isn’t a lot to be said for marriage. 

While the sexual potency of various pagan gods is seen as part of their power and glory, Yahweh — at least once monotheism was established — was presented as sexless, even though he’s unquestionably male. As I argue in a previous blog, Yahweh does appear to have a body, just as the pagan gods had perfect and immortal bodies:

But Yahweh’s body is described in a rather restrained manner. He has hands and feet, a backside, and presumably a mouth (he kisses Moses — the “kiss of death” that sucks out the breath of life out of Moses). If he can walk and talk, then presumably he has the kind of anatomy that makes it possible. In spite of the prevalent assumption about a long gray beard, there is no reference to a beard. More important, there is no reference to genitals — though if humans were created in the image of god, then both male and female genitals should be present, and breasts too. A problem, yes, but given all the confusion and contradictions that are found in the bible, this may be minor — relatively speaking.

We sense there is something more fundamental involved here. While many ancient cultures glorified sex, especially male sexuality, here we find ambivalence at best (e.g. being ashamed of nakedness, which never occurred to the Greeks). Worse: sex is unclean. It’s defiling.

Blood was defiling, especially menstrual blood of course, but all blood by association. Touching a dead body was defiling — “whoever touches a corpse shall be unclean for seven days.” Childbirth was defiling. The discharge of semen was defiling, even without contact with a woman. Procreation was certainly seen in a positive light, but sex made you ritually unclean. Obviously the deity could not engage in such a disgusting activity.

There is a lot of sex in the bible, but Yahweh has none.

Jesus, being an ideal human being, even before being deified, could not be presented as having sex either. There may be a troublesome suggestion in the person of John as “the beloved disciple.” Was Jesus gay? But that’s only a suspicion at best. The main message is that Jesus had no sex. He was even conceived without sex, through some strange doings of the Holy Ghost that did not interfere with Mary’s virginity.

So the requirement that priests (and monks and nuns) be sexless — they mustn’t even think about it — is in keeping with the negative view of sex that goes back to the remote past. If the deity is male but never has sex then this is obviously the ideal.

Angels likewise don’t have sex, though there is the strange passage describing how some angels (“sons of god”) found “daughters of men” so attractive that they did descend from heaven and have sex with them, fathering a race of giants (Nephilim) (Genesis 6:1-4). This was not something my catechism nun ever told us about. But then the bible is full of off-color stories, as I was to discover later.

Along with those stories, however, the message was clear: Yahweh was sexless, as was Jesus, as were the angels. As a Catholic, you should be too, virginity being a higher state than matrimony and parenthood. But given the fallen nature of humanity, sex — for procreation only, never for pleasure — had to be allowed within marriage. But priests represented Christ, so they had to be male and sexless. Oddly enough, they didn’t have to be Jewish.

a break for comic relief 


It’s fascinating to see one New Testament scholar after another discover something subversive while reading the text in Greek. James Tabor, for instance, confirms that Christianity is really Paulianity (not his term, but a commentator’s; still, it fits). Paul’s far-out hellenized theology didn’t quite survive in pure form. Nevertheless, having undergone its own peculiar evolution, it influenced Martin Luther among others.

~ “Paul is the most influential person in human history. I have in mind, of course, the West in particular. The foundations of Western civilization, from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics, rest upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of a single man -- the apostle Paul. We are all cultural heirs of Paul. In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure -- that is, a Jewish Messiah of his own time who sought to see the kingdom of God established on earth -- has been largely lost to our culture. In this holiday season, it is worth taking pause and thinking a bit about the historical origins of the Christian faith, and how much it depends on St. Paul.

Visit any church service, Roman Catholic, Protestant or Greek Orthodox, and it is the apostle Paul and his ideas that are central — in the hymns, the creeds, the sermons, the invocation and benediction, and of course, the rituals of baptism and the Holy Communion or Mass. Whether birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage or death, it is predominantly Paul who is evoked to express meaning and significance.

The fundamental doctrinal tenets of Christianity, namely that Christ is God "born in the flesh," that his sacrificial death atones for the sins of humankind, and that his resurrection from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who believe, can be traced back to Paul — not to Jesus. Indeed, the spiritual union with Christ through baptism, as well as the "communion" with his body and blood through the sacred meal of bread and wine, also trace back to Paul. This is the Christianity most familiar to us, with the creeds and confessions that separated it from Judaism and put it on the road to becoming a new religion.

It was not until seven years after Jesus' death, around A.D. 37, that Paul reports his initial apparition of “Christ,” whom he identifies with Jesus raised from the dead. He asks his followers when challenged for his credentials: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” equating his visionary experience with that of those who had known Jesus face-to-face (1 Corinthians 9:1). Paul's claim to have “seen” Jesus, as well as the teachings he says he received directly from Jesus, came after Jesus' lifetime, and can be categorized as subjective clairvoyant experiences (Galatians 1:12, 18; 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). These “revelations” were not a one-time experience of “conversion,”  but a phenomenon that continued over the course of Paul's life. Paul confesses that he does not comprehend the nature of these ecstatic spiritual experiences, whether they were “in the body, or out of the body” but he believed that the voice he heard, the figure he saw and the messages he received were encounters with the heavenly Christ (2 Corinthians 12:2-3).

We must imagine a "Christianity before Paul" that existed independently of his influence or ideas for more than 20 years, as well as a Christianity preached by Paul, which developed independently of Jesus' original apostles and followers.

I have spent my 30-year career as a scholar of Christian Origins investigating the silence between two back-to-back statements of the Apostles' Creed, namely that Jesus was: "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary," and that he "Was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day He rose again from the dead."

Is it not striking that this oldest and most foundational Christian creed jumps from Jesus' birth to his death and resurrection, entirely skipping over his life?

How did it happen that the way Jesus came into the world, and how he left — Christmas and Easter — came to define Christianity itself? Here Catholics, mainstream Protestants and evangelicals all agree. To be a Christian is to believe in the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, and thus to participate in the salvation Christ brought to the world as God-in-the-flesh.

Fortunately, in the letter of James, attributed to the brother of Jesus, as well as in a collection of the sayings of Jesus now embedded in the Gospel of Luke (the source scholars call Q), we can still get a glimpse of the original teachings of Jesus.

What we get in the letter of James is the most direct possible link to the Jewish teachings of Jesus himself. James is quite sure that the "Judge" is standing at the door, and that the kingdom of God has drawn very near (James 5:7). He warns the rich and those who oppress the weak that very soon the judgment of God will strike.

For James the Christian message is not the person of Jesus but the message that Jesus proclaimed. James' letter lacks a single teaching that is characteristic of the apostle Paul and it draws nothing at all from the Gospel narratives. What we have preserved in this precious document is a reflection of the original apocalyptic proclamation of Jesus: the "Gospel of the kingdom of God" with its political and social implications."


There is no controversy over this: Paul never met Jesus except in his visions (hallucinations? trance-like cogitations?). The life of historical Jesus as witnessed by the disciples did not seem to interest him, nor did the sayings of Jesus as remembered by the disciples. He was devoted only to his own personal “risen Christ” and the messages he was receiving through his visions.

It seems (though there IS some controversy over this matter) that Paul understood the Resurrection not as the resuscitation of a corpse, but as a “metamorphosis,” the soul being embodied in a new and perfect spirit body, a supernatural body, the resurrected person having become a heavenly being. In an odd way, this possibly “explains” why the resurrected Jesus is not instantly recognized — his appearance is different (if we follow Paul’s fantasy). And besides, there is reason to believe that Paul imagined his celestial Christ to have been killed by demons “in the upper realm” (in another place Paul mentions having been teleported to the “third heaven”).

And this personal “heavenly Christ” is the only Christ that matters to Paul. Not Jesus the social revolutionary, nor Jesus the nationalist  zealot, nor even Jesus the apocalyptic preacher. Only the Christ of his own visions has authority.

Did Paul suffer from psychotic episodes? Was mental illness the “thorn in the flesh” he alludes to? Anyone who has known schizophrenics knows that they may be lucid for substantial periods of time, during which they can be completely functional — even brilliant. 

So what’s left? As I said in the previous post, the principle of forgiveness as opposed to revenge — and it’s so odd that everyone’s favorite story here, the woman taken in adultery, turns out to be missing in the earliest manuscripts and was added by a later scribe — which could be called forgery, but so what? Talk about the power of a story!

And one more thing for which I am grateful: the kingdom of heaven is within you. It’s not “out there” (though being in nature may help). It’s a blissful state of mind (for me this includes the enjoyment of beauty and creative work). Others may have said in a different fashion that heaven was within, but not as succinctly (e.g. Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make / a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”)

Now, that saying may be based on a mistranslation. Some scholars say that the intended meaning was “among you”: the person of Jesus, the Messiah, is already among you. But so what? I’ll take the mistranslation any time — “heaven” is within; it’s a state of mind. Such are the ironies of helpful beliefs.

Thus, in my contemplation of the ruins of Christianity, I see at least two things that have influenced me deeply and which I find worth preserving.

Tintoretto: Woman Taken in Adultery

“When we read of ancient civilizations there are many mysteries. One perennial question is how societies with (supposedly) no technology, no system of writing, and no known system of calculating managed to develop the mathematical ability to calculate movements of stars and planets? There is overwhelming evidence that (many) early civilizations did this with great precision; we have not surpassed them until quite recently.

One question I’ve never seen asked in that context is this:  Is there reason to think those early mathematicians and engineers were autistic?

For example, Isaac Newton is widely believed to have been autistic based on accounts of his behavior, and his own written words.  Today we know Newton for setting down a description of calculus.  Some say he invented calculus, but there are many autistics (me included) who can manipulate waveforms in our heads, and the written calculus may just be a way to share that ability with others.  If that's true in Newton's case as well, then what he did was lay out for others an ability he was born with.  In that sense, he didn't invent anything.  Instead, he described his different way of thinking.

But that’s “Newton now.” In his time, Newton wrote considerably more on theology and religion than he did on science.  In his day he was more known as a theologian than a mathematician. When we go back in time, we find most scientists and deep thinkers were supported by churches.  Prior to 1800, churches were the world’s centers of logic, reason, and abstract and scientific thought.

With that in mind, we can find many descriptions of autistic behaviors alongside the achievements of early churchmen. We even find evidence of accommodation. For that, look no farther than the silent orders of monks, or the reflective orders that spent their days in cool shade.  Today we’d call that sensory-friendly. What did that call it then? It’s reasonable to ask how far back that connection may reach.  York University archaeologist Penny Spikins posits that sustainable autistic traits made their appearance in the human genome some 100,000 years ago.

With that in mind, we can find many descriptions of autistic behaviors alongside the achievements of early churchmen. We even find evidence of accommodation. For that, look no farther than the silent orders of monks, or the reflective orders that spent their days in cool shade.  Today we’d call that sensory-friendly.  What did that call it then? It’s reasonable to ask how far back that connection may reach.  York University archaeologist Penny Spikins posits that sustainable autistic traits made their appearance in the human genome some 100,000 years ago.

Archaeologists ask why early societies needed such complex and far-reaching calendar systems.  While that is a good question, a more interesting question (to me at least) might be, what kind of person could build and run such a calendar?

To find that answer, we need only turn to the autism community. Psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald has studied calendar calculating abilities and other savant skills. He’s found that calendar skills are almost exclusively the province of certain autistic people. In his experience the people with the greatest calendar skills were often quite disabled in present society, but they could tell you the moon phase or day of the week for any date 500 years in the past or present with complete accuracy.

The historians say, "there was no evidence they had math" and they may well be right. They didn’t need math. They had autistics.


While I associate religion chiefly with schizophrenia, this article opened my eyes a certain compatibility between religion and autism as well.

ending on beauty


  1. I myself am forever in search of romantic love. If I thought God existed I might spend my life in search of divine love. I spent years in a wretched marriage for the sake of a child. The woe in marriage exceeded the joy. Maybe celibates stay fairly sane because they live in a community of celibates.

  2. Maybe if we concentrated on affection and tenderness instead of "love," we'd have a chance. "God is affection" actually appeals to me more -- not that we'll ever get anywhere trying to relate to imaginary companions instead of actual (and much more complicated and problematic) human beings.

    I can only speculate on how people can stay celibate and sane, esp when young, when hormone levels are high (vegetarianism is one way to lower hormone levels, but that has not been the Western monastic practice). One guess is that there is more secret sex (including gay sex) in those communities than we dare guess. Another possibility is that in some individuals aversion to sex as sin can become so deep that a phenomenon analogous to anorexia develops. Given how powerful sex drive is, the first possibility is more common.

    It seems that creative people have either wonderfully supportive marriages or miserable ones. All gods are jealous, all gods demand sacrifice -- and being "married to art" is already the most demanding marriage there is. Perhaps "dating" rather than marriage is better, and then only if the partner is also creative and understands the other's priorities without resenting them.