Saturday, February 6, 2016

SZYMBORSKA: SHADOW; MULTIPLE MINDS: WHY WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE “REALLY” WANT; LATEST STAR WARS: RUBBISH; THE DEVIL ON THE LEFT SHOULDER

 
Penny Hardy: "You blew me away"  

SHADOW

My shadow is a fool whose feelings
are often hurt by his routine
of rising up behind his queen
to bump his silly head against the ceiling.

His is a world of two dimensions,
that’s true, but flat jokes can still smart;
he longs to flaunt my court’s conventions
and drop a role he knows by heart.

The queen leans out over the sill,
the jester tumbles out for real;
thus they divide their actions — still,
it’s not a fifty-fifty deal.

My jester took on nothing less
than royal gestures’ shamelessness,
the things that I’m too weak to bear —
the cloak, crown, scepter, and the rest.

I’ll stay serene, won’t feel a thing,
yes, I will turn my head away
after I say good-bye my king,
at railway station N., some day.

My king, it is the fool who’ll lie
across the tracks; the fool, not I.

~ Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, tr. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh


This is a rhymed translation, so I wasn’t looking for literal accuracy. In spite of the rhyming, the translation is surprisingly accurate! until the very last stanza, where one can argue about shades of meaning. Let me provide a non-rhyming version of that stanza:

Light and easy I’ll move my arms
and turn away my head,
my king, at the railway station.
When the time comes, my king,
the fool will lie across the tracks. 

The rhymed translation is unambiguous: the speaker is in denial about dying — or possibly committing suicide like Anna Karenina (it’s not really possible not to think of Anna Karenina when reading the ending of this poem). And this saying goodbye to her king — which doesn’t exist in the original? Well, it could be saying good-bye to whoever is left to be said goodbye to. It could be saying goodbye to life itself.

I don’t really have any serious quarrel with the rhymed translation. In fact the rhyme pleases me, and the self-deceiving clarity of “the fool, not I.” For some reason my unrhymed version touches me more deeply; perhaps the rhyme lessens the sadness. And perhaps the lack of “not I” comes close to the admission: “I, the fool, will lie across the tracks.”

As for the symbolism of the shadow, volumes have been written about it. The “queen” could be the rational self; the emotional self is prone to make a fool of itself, especially if the queen happens to fall in love. It’s a classic duality, only recently questioned by some neurologists who argue that emotions are in fact a form of intelligence.

Then there is of course the meaning of “shadow” as the “dark side” — but I don’t think it’s relevant to this poem.

This is likewise not relevant to the poem, I freely admit, but my latest encounter with “shadow” was learning that in the original Hebrew of the Genesis the word translated as “image” is actually “shadow.” The literal translation would imply that a human being is the shadow of god. Theologians could really chew on that, but wisely they chose not to. It’s hard enough to try to deal with the concept of the deity without having to deal with the deity’s shadow, whether Jungian or literal.

One Polish reader (not a literary critic) suggested that the shadow is the alter ego of the speaker, who is a woman secretly in love. She can’t bring herself to tell her beloved (the “king”), “Don’t leave. I love you.” It’s the shadow that tries to prevent the train from leaving.

My king, I, your fool, will lie across the tracks — if that’s what it takes. But no, I won’t reveal what a fool I am! Let me not degrade myself, sob . . . Romantic as this sounds, it doesn’t explain the phrase “when the time comes” and the use of the future tense. It could be a reference to a future parting — possibly a break-up. But more likely it’s about mortality.

A think-positive reader might object that the queen-fool dichotomy reveals the impotence of the fool (shadow). The queen is a mature woman who won’t kill herself because of a man or for any other reason. Her less mature self may experience suicidal impulses now and then, but the queen knows we all die so there is absolutely no point in suicide — you only need wait a little. And while you wait, you might as well make the best of life. Don’t listen to the fool in you; listen to the queen.

I’d love to say that this is the self-help message of the poem — but poetry (not to be confused with “inspirational verse”) doesn’t work that way. Besides being a constant memento mori, poetry also tends to remind us of the foolish and helpless part of ourselves, the child that bursts into tears when life withholds what we dearly want. Poetry doesn’t dismiss the fool. Poetry keeps us humble. 


MULTIPLE MINDS: WHY WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE “REALLY” WANT

 
The message that I take from this article is that the brain contains multiple minds. That multiplicity makes it more difficult for us to figure out just what it is we "really" want. Yet to accomplish things we need to settle on something (Sartre: Freedom is found in commitment) and use the power of focus. Are we the slaves of passions? Yes, but by becoming more aware we can become more coherent.

“The basic problem is this: Most of us consider making decisions to be an analytical skill, a rational weighing of pros and cons. But applying intelligence is not enough because choice is intimately tied to emotion. If we want to be happy and not drive ourselves crazy second–guessing, then choices need to be attuned to context, desire, and temperament. It sounds daunting when framed this way, perhaps too abstract, but it isn’t hard. You simply learn to self–observe.

The brain contains multiple minds. Briefly, the consciousness we think of as “me”—a singular, in–command self—is not the only agent acting on our behalf. Like the Wizard of Oz, other actors are busy behind the curtain. The various and separate aspects of mind, however, are inaccessible to conscious introspection. Think of a magician’s trick: The audience never perceives all the steps in its causal sequence—the special contraptions, the fake compartments, the hidden accomplices. It sees only the final effect. Likewise, the real sequence of far flung brain events causing a thought or an action is massively more than the sequence we perceive. Yet we explain ourselves with the shortcut, “I wanted to do it, so I did it,” when the neurological truth is, “My actions are determined by forces I do not understand.”

Discerning what we want is not as easy as we imagine because motivation lies obscured beneath the surface. Ironically, the very anatomy of the brain assures that we often act at cross–purposes with ourselves. While it is not necessary to wade through the neurological details behind this strange but fascinating way our heads are constructed, it is necessary to appreciate that an invisible force exists that pushes you in certain directions. It is beyond the scope of this column to illustrate how one discerns what those directions are. But it can be learned. Once you get oriented to where your true desires lie, you can better align your choices in order to achieve them.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-fallible-mind/201302/prepared-say-no-mastering-the-art-personal-choice


Oriana:

It often takes undistracted leisure and relative freedom from stress to attain clarity about what we really want — what makes us happy in a deep way. And there is no substitute for having lived for a while. I think we need to be very forgiving toward our younger selves: we learn good judgment slowly, through trial and error.

I wonder about that expression: “trial and error.” Why not “trial and success”? Perhaps because everyone fails more often than succeeds, and not through lack of hard work. There are simply too many factors over which we have no control. The sooner we understand this, the less we’ll blame ourselves and escape that needless misery. 

As for knowing what we REALLY want, it's a rare condition, and we shouldn't blame ourselves if we don’t achieve it. The way our competing multiple neural networks work, and given the complexity of reality, if we never achieve that shining clarity, we should be able to say that’s OK, we’re doing our best as is. And we evolve: what we “really” wanted at age twenty is usually quite different from what we want at forty or sixty.

As we grasp mortality, or rather it grasps us, we begin to see more clearly what is important (at least at an older age) and what's not, and which options are already closed. It takes so many years to learn simplicity. But we have to forgive ourselves, knowing we have multiple and competing minds, so we'll always be torn to some degree.

For me, as deep desires go, only two things have stayed steady regardless of age: wanting intellectual stimulation and an insatiable need for solitude and quiet so I could process that stimulation. A passion for poetry? It came and went. A passion for teaching? Pretty much the same. The desire to write has remained, but with a dramatic shift from essay to fiction (briefly) to poetry to essay again. If that makes it look as if I never “really” knew what I wanted in life, so be it.



CAN MAKING CHOICES BE LESS STRESSFUL? REVISITING “THE BURDEN OF CHOICE

It’s one of my best and funniest blogs. Here is the opening:

I remember a small paragraph in a book created for the men’s movement. Under the heading Don’t burden the female with choice, the paragraph said:

‘A woman wants a man who is decisive. When a woman asks you, “Should I wear the red dress or the blue dress?” — don’t say, “Either one is fine.” This throws the burden of choice back on the woman. Without a moment’s hesitation, say, “The red one.” After all, it doesn’t matter.’

Never mind the patronizing tone. In our politically correct era, this kind of “male straight talk” is downright amusing. I loved the heading: “Don’t burden the female with choice.” Once done with the inner chuckling, I went past it to extract the treasure: AFTER ALL, IT DOESN’T MATTER. The man is not supposed to say those words to the poor choice-burdened female. But he is supposed to know the great secret, the secret that makes him strong and (mostly) silent. Thus he can give a decisive answer right away, sparing the unenlightened woman hours of agony on the cross of choice.

In the one minute it took to read this paragraph, I learned two revolutionary things: 1) choice means stress; 2) AFTER ALL, IT DOESN’T MATTER.

http://oriana-poetry.blogspot.com/2012/04/burden-of-choice.html

 
I can’t begin to tell the therapeutic jolt delivered to me by the words, “After all, it doesn't matter.” Being a woman means being brainwashed about so many false priorities. And that’s another reason we don’t know what we “really” want: we’ve been brainwashed since childhood. Advertising and cultural forces pressure us to want things that truly don’t matter. Don’t blame yourself for having yielded to those huge pressures.

To me, way too many things used to matter — until I understood that they didn’t. Sure, people would tell me that X or Y “didn't matter” — but did I ever believe them? No. I had to be ready, and the example had to be just right. Now I see that MOST things don’t matter . . .  finally it’s down just to a handful of priorities we truly couldn’t live without (or so we think — I bet with age even more paring down will happen).

AND EVEN WHEN WE DO KNOW WHAT WE WANT



Actually a lot of people make a secret deal with god of one sort or another — "If you do X, I'll do Y" (stop drinking, donate to charity, stay in the marriage). Graham Greene's “The End of an Affair” is about this kind of deal. Artists, often suspected of making deals with the devil, are more likely to have made a deal with god. Sometimes a deal with god involves a huge lifelong personal sacrifice — yet any lawyer could tell them the deal is invalid without the other party's signature . . .

THE FORCE AWAKENS: PURE JUVENILE RUBBISH

 
I wasn’t prepared for the badness. At least The Return of the Jedi had some charm in the second part, with the adorable, childlike Ewoks. More important, it also explained how people go over to the Dark Side: they yield to hate (which almost happens to Luke, in his encounter with the grand Old Emperor who was a bit of a Dostoyevskiean Grand Inquisitor, at least in style. Even in this much sneered-at sequel, there was charm, there was a message.

This time: no charm, no message. The only semi-interesting character was Kaylo Ren, Han Solo’s and Leia’s unlikely son who looks like Prince Charming (once he takes off the encumbering, pointless mask) and worships the skull of Darth Vader. If only his lines had even 1% the similarity to Hamlet’s . . .  But obviously the movie was made to appeal to to 12-year-old boys, so abandon any hope of intelligent dialog.

And there was an opportunity for intelligent dialog. Leia and Han have grown older and presumably wiser. They could have offered us more glimpses of that growth than Leia’s admission to Han: “Whenever you left, I always missed you.” If I remember correctly, he replies: “I know.” This is the closest we come to a depiction of great love.

And there was the huge unexplored family drama here: their son goes over to the Dark Side. A child who “turns out badly” in some way is all parents’ nightmare, and quite a few parents’ reality. But giving this more development would mean making an intelligent movie rather than a sci-fi adventure flick.

There is also another fertile plot possibility in Rey’s having been traumatized by the loss of her parents and not having received love while growing up (as for “it takes a village,” her village doesn’t seem to be nurturing). Finn likewise had the worst childhood imaginable. But they rise above their wounds with just a minor stumble or two, developing super-powers with total ease. Again, I seem to have a crazy desire for an intelligent movie rather than a mindless action flick.

I couldn’t identify with any of the characters. I felt warmth only toward Chewbacca. I suspect that’s only because he’s furry, and I love animals. The unrealistic part, however, was how quickly Chewy recovers from the death of his beloved partner Han Solo — while R2D2, a robot, remains for years (decades?) in deep depression because of the absence of “Master Luke.” Now, Luke (found in the movie’s final scenes) appears to be truly depressed, something that might be worth exploring. But again, that would be asking the movie to be intelligent and have psychologically interesting characters. Emotional depth? Even, simply, some emotional connection? No such luck.

But I admit that in this totally predictable movie, that was precisely the one thing I did not expect to see: the skull of Darth Vader. Still, I certainly could live without it. Even this was predictable in the sense that Darth Vader, like everyone else of any importance in the original, would somehow be present. I just didn't guess the form of his presence (ghosts had already been used before). Also, since we are using every cliche there is, why doesn't Rey pull out Luke's light saber out of a huge ancient oak, or, better yet, out of a runic boulder? Why does it have to be a trashy little treasure chest in a basement-like place? But what's the point . . . The original Lord Vader was indeed a "rare honor" compared to what's left of him. This could serve as a metaphor for the whole movie.

No sequels for me — no more of that doodoo. Also, I don’t want to take any chance on any slight brain damage from the endless explosions and shootouts. I felt so much better once outside the theater, taking deep breaths, recovering.

A commenter on Facebook: “Was disappointed to the point of irritation myself. The "Saga" may be emblematic of the decline of American culture in general. Increasingly superficial.”

Oriana: Other than the political correctness of having a “supergirl” in the lead, partnered with a black good guy, what does this movie offer? You said it very well: “Disappointment to the point of irritation.”

The original Star Wars had the freshness of novelty. And, perhaps because of the Zeitgeist where the myth of the hero’s journey was enjoying a rebirth thanks to Joseph Campbell, that movie had a cultural impact that we are still processing: figures like Yoda, though repackaged from earlier sages, still had emotional power. One could fall in love with Yoda, or with Han Solo, the archetypal outsider. Now we get a rehash and a Supergirl. Yes, disappointing to the point of irritation.


But the black-and-white characters of Star Wars (other than lovable flaws, of course) have provided us with good material during this bizarre political campaign:


LISA EZELL’S REVIEW OF STAR WARS

I went to see the Star Wars film last night. A friend is a big fan and we made plans go together, long before your review, Oriana (I didn't read it until after seeing the film.) We saw the 3D version, of course; that was important. There were wonderful visuals, and I liked the diminutive Asiatic tavern keeper, but it was mainly a yawn and forgettable.

The filmmakers may have diversified the cast — the Luke Skywalker of the story is played by a young woman, Rey, and they've cast a truly African-looking young black man (not a black man with the features of a Greek God) — but, I agree with you, the filmmakers failed miserably. 

Poor story, poor dialogue, and for me, one of the biggest failures was the no romantic follow-through between Rey and Finn. They are inexplicably drawn to one another - but never kiss. They've made the adventuress Rey sisterly and Finn may as well have been castrated. If we'd been given a bit of romance — there would have been more emotional energy. A few real kisses and embraces would have done the trick and suggest that more might develop. There would have been more warmth — and edge — since they'd then be a racially enlightened 21st century couple. I know it's a teen movie but they needn't have gone too far. What we ended up with was a lot of devoted infantile robots with loyal canine behavior and stilted, nostalgic one liners from the aging stars from the original Star Wars.

A lot of the movie was obviously catering to video game players who could vicariously enjoy the battles, all the shoot-em-up and drag race flying sequences. That was all pure video game play.

The music was a bit murky. It was all over the place and more John Williams-esque than John Williams. 

Another thing, even though we went to a brand new, supposedly state-of-the-art theater, it seemed the projector's lights were at about only 75% of the necessary wattage (those bulbs are expensive.) The entire film was not bright enough. I hope that your theater didn't have that problem. When the picture's not bright enough, the colors are deadened. Even the scenes in broad daylight were dark. 

Yes, Oriana — too many dark forces at play in this picture. I do not recommend it either — unless you're a lover of nostalgia and sentimentality.  



Oriana:

Basically, it’s an action movie for male teens. The lead is female, but not feminine — she’s an imitation high-testosterone young man. Don’t expect any “deeper meaning” or mystical revelation. Forget the kind of dawn-of-new-religion mystical aura that the “Force” used to have. It hinted that a calm and fearless state of mind is a source of personal power. This movie is an exercise in “pure entertainment,” aka mediocrity; it will have zero cultural impact. This matters only by contrast: the first Star Wars was unforgettable.
Maybe I would have enjoyed the visuals in the 3-D version. I walked in prepared to enjoy at least the visuals and special effects — both fizzled. When I saw the space bar and the familiarly weird “aliens,” my heart sank. Would there not be one single original thing in this movie? Having a Supergirl in the lead didn’t do it for me. I didn’t identify with any of the characters, but the Supergirl alienated me most. I just don’t take to superpowers. Luke at least slowly learned to use the Force, starting out as a reasonably normal young man. It took a long training to become a Jedi — what a masterpiece of realism that suddenly seems!

OK — the black lead. You are so perceptive, Lisa: Finn did look genuinely African rather than like a Greek god. It didn’t help. Rey looked authentic at first, but soon enough she had nice make-up, perfect even after the most harrowing shoot-outs or saber duels. As for the lack of romance, that was obviously a failure of nerve. If both leads were black — or both of them white — I bet that we’d have gotten to see at least some kissing.

The closest thing to romance here is between Rey and the new drone. By the way, I did not find BB-8 to be more cute than R2D2. On the contrary, he was tiresome. Like the rest of the movie, even the new droid was derivative and inferior, without the freshness and humor originally provided by R2D2. 


A great perception: infantile robots with loyal canine behavior. 

The bar-keeper was obviously meant as a female version of Yoda, a wise woman and Rey's mentor before General Organa (oh my! no more of that princess stuff!) becomes a mother figure to our female Luke Skywalker. But the striving for that mind-reading wise-woman archetype was too obvious. Of course by then I was already exhausted by all the mindless preceding bang-bang (you’re right-on: a movie for video-game players), so all I wanted was quiet — and that was the closest we got. Yoda had more serenity, and oh, those wonderful ears. So this time it had to be the eyes — but they ended up just weird, without being wonderful.

The score was heavily Wagnerian, but without the genius. Just pompous, grandiose, overdone. To be sure, this is not a nice quiet movie where we could have some subtlety in any dimension, some equivalent of “forest whispers.” Still, the sheer mediocrity of it . . .

Overall, the falling away from the original Star Wars and even the two much-maligned sequels, which now seem almost profound, is pathetic.


Princess Leia before her promotion to General

Postscript: BEST CHARACTER IN THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS: DARTH VADER

Seems awfully obvious and maybe everyone else thought this at the time: the real star of the first Star Wars and the most unforgettable character was Darth Vader. He seized the viewers’ imagination and has remained there.

After that, perhaps R2D2, still the most endearing robot in movie history.

Chewbacca was sweet in an animal way.

Luke was the least interesting.

Han Solo was more attractive by far than Luke. Of course it didn’t hurt that he was played by a charismatic actor.

Princess Leia was mediocre at best, memorable chiefly for her strange ear-encumbering hairdo.

In the most recent sequel, nobody was interesting, though I enjoyed seeing Chewbacca again. 


And here is an entertaining review by Steve Colbert -- based on the Vatican's review of the movie. Perhaps the most striking remark is that the original Star Wars had a Father-Son-Holy Ghost trinity. And there is something to it -- not just that Obi-Wan becomes a Holy Ghost, but that the Father (Darth Vader) and the Son (Luke) are on opposite sides, Father standing for power and wrath, the Son for not giving in to hatred (to oversimplify matters). 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kD4xfJyuR0
 



IRAN FORBIDS BOOKS WITH THE WORD “WINE” AND NAMES OF FOREIGN ANIMALS
 
 Iran’s culture ministry has decided to censor the use of the word “wine” and the names of “foreign animals” and dignitaries from any books published in the Islamic Republic.

The new rules are designed to protect Iranians from what the regime calls a “cultural onslaught” by the West.

Mohammad Selgi, the head of book publishing at the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, said: “When new books are registered with us, our staff first have to read them page by page to make sure whether they require any editorial changes in line with promoting the principles of the Islamic revolution, effectively confronting the Western cultural onslaught and censoring any insult against the prophets.”

Mr Selgi added: “Words like wine and the names of foreign animals and pets, as well as names of certain foreign presidents are also banned under the new restricting regulations.”

 One Iranian MP alleged that alcoholic drinks were smuggled into country in tankers.

“There is absolutely no control over the contents of the tanker trucks that supposedly import oil from Iraq into our country that are in fact loaded with wine and beer," said Abuldreza Messri, the MP for Iran’s border city of Kermanshah, according to Bahar news.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/12109159/Iran-bans-use-of-the-word-wine-and-names-of-foreign-animals-in-books.html

Oriana: This is so ludicrous — meerkats a threat to the Iranian theocracy? elephants? pandas and reindeer and koalas? — we may overlook the deeper meaning. These “foreign animals” speak of an existence of a larger world, one which is quite happy without Islam. It’s bad enough that the infidels look quite happy. In addition, there are millions of species outside of Islamic countries — why would Allah even create them? Why so many things that aren’t in the service of Islam? That diverse world out there that doesn’t care about either Islam, or even humans per se . . .  So by even mentioning their existence, we risk sliding down a global slippery slope where religion is no longer central, or all that important.


 RELIGIONS ARE LIBERALIZING (IN SPITE OF THE HEADLINES)

 
How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they've lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?  

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization.
And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims. 

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Daesh is to see it for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology."

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/20/the-religious-fundamentalists-are-losing.html


So . . .  let’s not live in unwarranted fear: the fundamentalists aren’t going to take over the world. They will manage to cause tremendous suffering before they are destroyed and/or self-destruct, but they won’t be taking over.

THE LITTLE DEVIL ON YOUR LEFT SHOULDER

 
"As for those who protest that I am robbing people of the great comfort and consolation they gain from Christianity, I can only say that Christianity includes hell, eternal torture for the vast majority of humanity, for most of your relatives and friends. Christianity includes a devil who is really more powerful than God, and who keeps gathering into his furnaces most of the creatures whom God turns out and for whom he sent his son to the cross in vain. If I could feel that I had robbed anybody of his faith in hell, I should not be ashamed or regretful."

~  Rupert Hughes, "Why I Quit Going to Church," 1924

Two things interest me in this quotation. First, this lets me know how far behind my hell-based church was — OK, half a century, give or take. But more important, the statement that the devil was really more powerful than god — yes! I had that feeling, but of course I never dared to say it out loud, anymore than I’d admit I thought god was a vicious monster. The nuns had us children  convinced that we were morally evil by nature so we’d always listen to the voice of Satan — specifically, there was a little devil seated on each child’s left shoulder, whispering temptations. Furthermore, MOST humanity, and that included most Catholics, were bound for hell. Heaven was for a minority of elite Catholics, and I certainly didn’t feel included. Leaving the church was above all a liberation from the terror of hell.

Alas, the good aspects of catholicism were killed for me by the obsession with sin and eternal punishment. The image of god was the eye-in-the-sky that spied on me 24/7. I knew I was sinning even while not aware of it, sinning every moment if not in deed, then in thought (see Nietzsche's "A Hangman's Metaphysics" for a brilliant explanation of why religions invent impossible commandments that are meant to be broken). Why a dossier of sins was necessary before being tossed into hell was not clear, but I did feel doomed. I didn't feel Jesus had any real power next to his vengeful father, and besides this sweet "judge-not" Jesus was coming to be the judge at the Last Judgment. I could NEVER return to catholicism because the wounds start bleeding again — this deep rejection of me as a sinner. To a believing child, to be rejected by a super-Hitler god was no small thing! (Grandmother's stories from Auschwitz, don't forget -- an indelible part of my psyche.) And the whole cult of suffering part. I reject that 100%, and the idea of collective salvation through the gory crucifixion, and more.

The only religion (life philosophy would be a better label) I could accept would be one of my own making, a kind of transformed Taoism ("no struggle" -- complete trust in the unconscious) that also uses the gnostic idea of Pleroma, "fullness," and the union with the richness and beauty and pure acceptance.

Perhaps because of my family story, I could plainly see that god does not help anyone, does not love anyone, does not intervene on anyone’s behalf. Apparently god couldn’t care less (which is perfectly understandable considering that he doesn’t exist — I'm long recovered from the enormous rage at god I occasionally did feel, even after my apostasy).

It’s other people who can — and do — come to your help. Just yesterday I experienced another beautiful example of that. As for god allegedly giving you the emotional strength to endure ordeals, that strength comes from both the emotional support of others and from within, from our unconscious mind, which draws on both personal experience and the collective psyche.

Perhaps because of my family story, I could plainly see that god does not help anyone, does not love anyone, does not intervene on anyone’s behalf. Apparently god couldn’t care less (which is perfectly understandable considering that he doesn’t exist — I'm long recovered from the enormous rage at god I occasionally did feel, even after my apostasy). It’s other people who can — and do — come to your help. Just yesterday I experienced another beautiful example of that. As for god allegedly giving you the emotional strength to endure ordeals, that strength comes from both the emotional support of others and from within, from our unconscious mind, which draws on both personal experience and the collective psyche.


I want death to find me planting my cabbages, neither worrying about it nor the unfinished gardening. ~ Michel de Montaigne

This, ultimately, is also my own unoriginal conclusion: no matter what, let’s cultivate our garden.   Let’s keep making this world just a tiny bit more beautiful.

By the way, the philosopher's grandfather bought this château in 1477 from the profits of the family salt-fish business (probably mainly herring).  



ending on beauty

FIRST DAY OF WINTER

I said of course
I will write about you

have no fear you will not be
recognized

your voice will be wind
your eyes will be clouds

your words the faint wings
of remaining light 

























photo: Mary Bonina

CHARLES:

Love what you said about the biblical definition of image that it means shadow and that humans are a shadow of God.

Intelligence tied to emotion — very interesting but how smart can a person be if they are always emoting?

All my desires and emotions must line up to who I am as an artist. Once I’m focused everything seems to fall into place.

Love the movie review; it had more depth than all the Star Wars movies.

Why would Allah create those “foreign animals” if we can’t look at them or talk about them?

Glad your article on religion had a happy ending.

Oriana:

I think that was the best part of the whole blog: that “happy ending” of the article on religion. Writing that sentence lifted my spirits: fundamentalism can’t win. Modernity has simply progressed too far.

What do you mean, Allah created foreign animals? That’s just a rumor spread by the infidels :)  Such rumors must be stopped.

Seriously, when you have to rely on suppressing information, the regime doesn’t have much life left in it — not long-term, historically speaking.

There is a difference between “always emoting” and feeling and processing emotion. The two are synonymous only in young children — and perhaps in those who don’t really mature. I must say this for growing up in an oppressed country: you learn to shut up and think your own thoughts. It leads to a complicated doubleness, but I think it also sharpens intelligence.


 



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