Revolution and Apocalypse

Let me express a simple thought. It’s about two words that are easily misunderstood: revolution and apocalypse. Both are old terms with specific histories, but I won’t bore you with too many details.

Revolution is a word that originated from astrology. It referred to the movement of heavenly bodies. From that, it became associated with predicting the future. The thing about astrology is it is a cyclical worldview, cycles within cycles. Patterns repeat. That is quite relevant to the modern era of revolutions. The idea of astrology is that the world is predictable because it repeats, even when that repetition might take aeons of time.

Astrology is grounded in ancient mindset and way of life. The societies that developed astrological systems were agricultural. These were people who were watching the patterns all around them in the world. Not just the lights in the sky but also the seasons with their shifting periods of rains and drought, warmth and coldness.

A revolution is a turning. The seasons turn. The soil is turned for planting. The whole world turns. But it always comes back around. We live a revolutionary existence, although we only notice it during certain moments.

To recognize this is to realize revolutions are natural and inevitable. Civilizations, like growing seasons and human lives, come and go. This change can be peaceful or violent, slow or rapid, imperceptible or obvious, resisted or embraced. Yet no matter what humans do or do not do, the world goes on—never quite like it was before.

Now, apocalypse is an even more loaded term. But etymologically it has a very basic meaning. It is to uncover or unveil, to disclose or reveal.

An apocalypse is a revelation. It’s only associated with devastation or cataclysm because of our limited perspective. What we knew or thought we knew is shown unworthy, false, or even non-existent. Our worldview is destroyed, whether or not the world itself follows suit

This is similar to Gnostic anamnesis. This means an unforgetting or recollection. Reality is brought forth. It’s a returning.

One might call it a revolution or revelation, but it is of the soul and mind. Even in worldly revolutions, it was noted that—such as with the American Revolution—a revolution of the mind and of the people preceded a revolution of society and government.

Much of the thinking, even during the early modern revolutionary era, was about the idea of return. Revolutionaries had an instinct to look backwards in order to find their way forward. They looked for ancient examples and wisdom. They often spoke of natural rights, as if a just and free society could be built on revealed truths. This is often what was meant by common sense, the truth that could be revealed to any who sought it.

A revolution was an apocalypse for it was anamnesis. It was a returning to a beginning point. And the ultimate beginning point was whatever created our univese and set down its laws, those laws that can be seen in the heavens and in human nature. The world was seen as an orderly place. A revolution was the seeking of a return to order, specifically a moral order. It was an attempt to realign humanity with reality and so to raise up the world to a whole other level.

Even the most radical of revolutionaries, in the end, place their hope in this same vision and aspiration. I would make one thing clear. All revolutions are radical, even when no one sees it coming or understands what happened. Radical means to go to the root, another kind of returning or inward turning, to dig down to foundations and first principles.

The most radical revolutions are those so transformative that we forget what came before. Each new order encloses the mind once again. If you’re not paying close attention, an apocalypse can come and go, barely leaving a wake. A momentary remembering at best, a few prophets crying in the wind, followed by forgetting again. That forgetting then sets the stage for some future revolutionary unforgetting.

This time around might be different, though. The potential apocalypse we face is global in scale. This means the most probable revolution won’t be as self-contained as in the past. Thomas Paine spoke of revolution spreading around the world. We might be living in an age when that prophecy finally comes true, when the truth of what it means is revealed.

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Imagined Worlds, Radical Visions

The Master’s Tools

In speaking about violence, injustice and utopias, Ursula K. Le Guin offers an interesting metaphor. She writes that, “Audre Lord said you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. I think about this powerful metaphor, trying to understand it” (“War Without End”, The Wave in the Mind). It is an interesting, albeit troubling, metaphor. It frames a particular way to think about our society.

This metaphor implies a number of things.

First, it portrays society as something intentionally created and actively formed. It is built by someone and for some purpose. A social order doesn’t just happen anymore than a building just happens.

Second, it claims that what has been built isn’t just any building, but the “master’s house”. It is built with the master’s tools and one assumes according to the master’s specifications. We can throw out the master’s blueprint. We can surreptitiously build something else while the master isn’t looking. Or we can try to tear it down. The master might punish us or we might get the upperhand. We could become our own builders for our own purposes. We could become masters in our own right. Even so, the tools we have are still the master’s tools with the limitations that those tools present.

This metaphor represents the view of the outsider, the person already standing back from the work being done and those attempting to undo it. It doesn’t automatically imply a particular ideological standpoint. But, in our society, this view is most often presented by the leftist and often directed at liberals most of all. I’ve increasingly been persuaded by the criticisms originating from the leftist perspective. I wonder what we have built and what or whose purpose it really serves.

Liberals attempted to dismantle the house of, in our case, the slave master for that is what our society was built upon. We dismantled slavery and other overt forms of oppression, but we weren’t able to fully dismantle the cultural structures that made oppression possible. This is, according to the metaphor, because we have continued to use the same tools.

 * * * *

Whose Welfare?

I’ve come to this understanding most directly from my thoughts on welfare. I’ve speculated that, if all welfare were to end instantly, revolution would happen over night. Our entire society, both the social and economic orders, is being propped up by the welfare state. Capitalism (as we know it) most of all couldn’t operate without the welfare state, without the direct and indirect subsidies of the government supporting companies and their employees in a thousand different ways.

I gained some insight when trying to make heads or tails out of Edmund Burke’s politics. Why would a supposed conservative or reactionary have been so adamant and consistent in his pushing progressive reform? An insight gelled in mind when I read a comparison of Burke and Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Burke in America by Drew Maciag). In their own words, it became clear that they promoted reform within the system in order to defend the status quo of the system. Small changes prevent big changes (i.e., revolutions).

This is why Burke took a reactionary stance when actual revolution threatened, when progressive reform became less relevant and brute oppression deemed necessary. This is also why Burke only cared about the complaints of Americans until their independence was won, and afterward it was no concern of his as they were no longer part of the British Empire which is the only social order he cared about. Burke’s concern was about the British Empire, not so much about the people who might be oppressed or otherwise affected by the British Empire. He only concerned himself about the problems of people when ignoring such problems might threaten the social order he was part of.

(My complaint against Burke here isn’t ideological. I would make the same complaint against a mainstream liberal in modern America, which is my entire point. Also, my inner libertarian wants to know where Irish Burke’s social identity and moral concern would have fallen when the British Empire violently suppressed the Irish bid for independence, a clash that caused more deaths than the French Reign of Terror he so harshly criticized.)

We focus so much on the calls for reform that we rarely stop to consider what is being reformed. And we defend what we identify with without really understanding why. We need to look beyond individual issues and parochial concerns toward a broader understanding. We need to consider what we are building as we consider how we go about that activity. We need to consider the foundation upon which our house is built.

* * * *

Tools and Blueprints

Progressive reform is one of the master’s tools, to be used or not as necessary for the master’s plans. But it’s just one of many tools, not the blueprint for what is being built.

I say this as someone whose natural impulse is to support progressive reform, slow and steady changes from within the system. I’m not a radical. It just isn’t in me to be a radical. And yet I find it impossible to deny the radical’s critique. Like it or not, I suspect leftists are at least partly correct in what they say about liberals.

The welfare state doesn’t simply or even primarily serve the interests of the poor. Rather, it serves the master(s), the ruling elite and their status quo. It is the bread part of the bread and circus equation. Does anyone genuinely think the leaders of the Roman Empire ordered bread to be thrown to the poor because of some liberal agenda to steal from the rich and spread the wealth? No, they wanted to keep the hungry masses under control by any means necessary, which sometimes meant bread and other times violence, but more often some combination of both (the carrot and the stick).

As a lifelong liberal, I feel pulled in two directions. To seek to reform the system may just continue the suffering. To seek to end the system, though, will also likely lead to more suffering. In terms of immediate options, it can feel like suffering is unavoidable. Is the only way to force change by forcing suffering to its extreme? Then what? We have no guarantee that anything good will result. Suffering isn’t a magical elixir.

A desperate people are as likely to turn to demagoguery and authoritarianism as to face up to the problems that are the cause of their desperation. The liberal’s complaint is that we might end up worse than we already are. Small steps of progress toward the public good is, as the liberal believes, much safer than risking it all on a gamble.

The vision of suffering, no matter what form it takes, too easily play into the hands of the powerful. A state of despair isn’t inspiring. It makes us feel impotent and apathetic. Isn’t there a third option, one that would offer genuine hope?

* * * *

The Problems We Create

The welfare state is just a single example among others. We could also include the minimum wage, which in a sense is another aspect of the welfare state.

If we had a society where economic (and political) inequality was less extreme and where social mobility (along with the attendant opportunities) was higher, then a minimum wage might be unnecessary. A minimum wage deals with the symptoms, rather than the disease. When you are sick, it is natural to want the doctor to make you feel better, even if it is just symptom management. You also hope, though, that the doctor is meanwhile seeking to cure the disease and will bring you back to health.

In our society, the metaphorical doctors are technocrats who have little concern, much less understanding, about fundamental causes. Their purpose is the purpose of the master, which is the building and maintaining of the master’s house: the status quo of the established social order. It would be as if doctors were more concerned about the hospital and their place within it than they were for their own patients’ care; the patients being seen as serving the purpose of the hospital, instead of the other way around. Such dystopian doctors would be mainly concerned about symptom management in the way technocrats are mainly concerned about human resource management and population control (along with economic manipulations and military coercion).

We look for solutions to the problems we create. But, as Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

* * * *

Building Something New?

The system precedes any individual person, and so the individual person by intention or default serves the system. But whose system is it?

It is first and foremost a system for the minority, a system of wealth and power. It is the master’s house. As always, the majority are the builders who build what the master(s) tell them to build. We are born into this society without choice, the house already under construction, the foundation and walls already in place. We reach adulthood and someone places the master’s tools into our hands. What can and should we do? Throw away these tools and starve? Throw the monkey wrench into the works and see what happens? Or use these tools to try to build something new? If so, how? One could argue that many have tried and failed.

We have seen the near continuous implementation of progressive reforms since the revolutionary era. Have our social problems been solved? Of course not. Even with the ending of slavery in the Western world, there are still more slaves in the world today than there were in the past and there are more African-Americans in US prisons now than there ever were in slavery. It is hard to see this as evidence of progress. Some have benefited while many have suffered.

Progressive reform, sadly, doesn’t necessarily solve problems. It can feel like a band-aid on a gaping wound. And a band-aid won’t stop the blood gushing out. Even if the wound stops gushing on its own, the band-aid won’t prevent infections and gangrene, won’t prevent scar tissue from forming. The wound needs to be opened and cleansed. It needs stitches and salves. It needs regular care until it is healed. And, if the injuries turn out to be deeper still, bones may need to be set or invasive surgery may be necessary.

* * * *

An Arsenal of Metaphors

We need to use every metaphor in our arsenal. Metaphors are how we make the abstract concrete, make the unconsidered real.

I particularly like the bodily metaphors of disease, of wounds and trauma, and of health and healing. We often use these metaphors to describe the experiences and behaviors of individuals. We speak of otherwise healthy veterans and rape victims as having been traumatized. No physical trauma may literally be detected, but it is as if there is an unhealed injury and a process of healing that can be assisted or thwarted. One of the greatest leaps of insight comes from seeing how this applies on the larger scales of entire communities and societies.

This has become clear to me in studying history. There is a reason we collectively are obsessed with past wars and conflicts. It is because they aren’t merely in the past. We keep reliving them as someone suffering post-traumatic stress disorder keeps reliving the original trauma. Some describe this as a victimization cycle, but that doesn’t do justice to the lived reality. It’s not just a cycle, a pattern repeating. It’s as if the suffering of the dead still haunt us. Borders aren’t mere lines on a map. They are still tender wounds, not just in the minds of individuals, but in the societies on both sides.

Like the welfare state, borders aren’t there for the good of the common people. They exist for the purposes of power, of enforcing social order. But the powerful are as afflicted as the rest of us. It is a psychological complex of fear, around which all sorts of rationalizations accrue. The desire for power and control is most often driven by fear. This isn’t to say that fear is never warranted, but it is to say we too often perpetuate the conditions of fear like a battered woman returning to her abusive spouse or else marrying another man who is just as abusive.

Once we realize the metaphors we are living, we are in a position to consider different metaphors and with them new understandings, new possibilities, new choices.

* * * *

Unnatural Boundaries

International aid relates as well. It is a globalized welfare system. It serves to numb the worst pain caused by the wounds of borders.

Modern nation-states are largely the result of colonialism. The borders in many parts of the world were created by the former colonizers who had very little concern for the native populations. They divied up land based on geographical conveniences, natural resources, and historical claims of power. It didn’t matter if such imagined boundaries divided tribes and ethnic groups or if they mixed together tribes and ethnic groups that were in conflict. These boundaries weren’t natural, are never natural.

The former colonizers have supported oppressive regimes for their own purposes. It is still the master’s house, even when the master isn’t living there for the time being. Local tyrants may sleep in the master’s bed while he is away, but such tyrants only maintain their position as long as they serve the master, as long as they act as caretakers in his absence.

Before modern nation-states with their borders, people traveled and migrated rather freely compared today. It is hard for us to understand that. Borders used to be much more vague and malleable human realities. They had more to do with cultural differences than political power and military force. In the past, before modern militaries, a border that was anything besides cultural didn’t tend to last very long.

A border isn’t a physical thing, permanently etched upon the landscape. It is at best a temporary truce among people who often don’t even remember what created it in the first place. It is simply where two violent forces stopped fighting, until eventually conflict breaks out once again. This is why borders throughout history have constantly shifted, each new designated border being a new wounding, scar tissue upon scar tissue forming in the shared soul of a people.

* * * *

The House of the Nation; Or a Mansion of Many Rooms

Welfare, minimum wage, international aid, borders, etc. All these are forms of social control. This what is found in the master’s toolbox.

These are various ways of mollifying the masses and dividing them into manageable chunks. When transnational corporations are wealthier and more powerful than many small countries, how can local workers even begin to unite across these boundaries that instead pit workers against one another. Foreigners and immigrants get scapegoated for taking ‘our’ jobs. Meanwhile, people in other countries scapegoat us in return for the problems they also face.

These problems aren’t national problems. They are international problems, shared problems. But the systems of control don’t let us see that. And our language doesn’t allow us to understand it.

If these systems of control were ended, it would suddenly force us all to deal with our shared problems. No longer could costs be externalized onto particular groups of people while not affecting those who do the externalizing. If people weren’t limited and oppressed by borders and governments, if people could freely choose to live where and associate with whom they wanted, we could no longer ignore the glaring problems and injustices we face. Besides, whether we like it or not, externalized costs and and projected problems always blow back, whether as illegal immigration or terrorism or worse.

The process of uniting people has happened within nations. What historically were seen as regional populations with regional problems have come to be correctly understood in a larger understanding of cross-regional challenges. The English, Welsh, Scottish, and many Irish are now all Britains (along with many British citizens from present and former British colonies). The First Nations tribes, French Accadians, and British are now all Canadians. The same process has happened in Mexico and the US. To extend this past pattern into the future, it is more than likely that one day there will be a single socio-political identify of “North Americans”.

This is what we now face with national borders all over the world. Borders, as they relate to geography, are one type of metaphor used for social identity and one of the most powerful metaphors at that for they are so easily conflated with concrete reality. That metaphor is what inspired early Americans to imperial aspirations. They saw themselves as a people of a continent, not a mere island as was the case with the English. They identified themselves with all of North America. And if they had had the power to do it, they might have gladly taken over all of Canada and Mexico. But their metaphorical imagination outran their military force. We the citizens of the US still call ourselves Americans despite our political boundaries only occupying a small part of the Americas, our imagined continental aspirations remaining unfulfilled, a minor detail that makes nervous other people in the Americas.

The problems within and between the US and Mexico have never been and never will be merely national problems. Most of the US once was part of the Spanish Empire and after that part of Mexico. There are populations of Hispanics who descend from families that have been in the US longer than when English colonizers first set foot here. There are parts of the US that have always been Hispanic majority with a majority of Spanish speakers. These people have family members living on both sides of the border. The border cuts through a historical population like a knife, divides a people and their communities, creates a culture of fear and conflict.

Yet still the borders aren’t secure and never will be. Metaphors, although powerful, remain as fictions and so can only be enforced imperfectly. They aren’t real and can’t be made real, however real they are treated. Only the violence that enforces them is real and it is only real as long as it continues, but even the most violent of societies eventually tire of pointless bloodshed and oppression or else runs out of money to support it. As human lives bleed, so does the wealth of a people. Lives are destroyed, communities are crippled, and social capital is lost.

The drug problem in the US is partly caused by the drug problem in Mexico; and, in turn, the drug problem in Mexico has grown because of the US War on Drugs which simply made it an even more profitable business by driving it into the black market. Likewise, the gun problem in Mexico is almost entirely caused by the gun problem in the US. Americans complain about the violence coming from Mexico or the ‘illegal’ immigrants. But why do so few ask what caused these problems in the first place?

NAFTA hasn’t helped small farmers in Mexico. The long history of the US government and business leaders undermining democracy in Mexico hasn’t helped the average Mexican.

After all that, do we really want to scapegoat the terrified Mexicans fleeing the horror we have helped inflict upon them, upon their families and communities, upon their entire society? We should be better than that and we could better than that, if we only were able to comprehend our own failings, the harm we mindlessly cause onto others, the endless cycle of violence and victimization. Empathy requires awareness and understanding.

* * * *

Change, the Only Inevitability

Like it or not, as Le Guin points out, “Societies change with and without violence.” Change can be beneficial for all or not so much, but change will happen. Progress, whether through reform or revolution, will likely continue to happen, however imperfectly and unequally, that is until society collapses. With a sense of hope, she reminds us that, “Reinvention is possible. Building is possible. What tools have we to build with except hammers, nails, saws—education, learning to think, learning skills?”

Le Guin then poses a set of questions, “Are there indeed tools that have not been invented, which we must invent in order to build the house we want our children to live in? Can we go on from what we know now, or does what we know now keep us from learning what we need to know? To learn what people of color, the women, the poor, have to teach, to learn the knowledge we need, must we unlearn all the knowledge of the whites, the men, the powerful? Along with the priesthood and phallocracy, must we throw away science and democracy? Will we be left trying to build without any tools but our bare hands?”

In speaking of the master’s house and the master’s tools, she acknowledges that, “The metaphor is rich and dangerous. I can’t answer the questions it raises.” As with many other metaphors, this one is dangerous because it is powerful in how it forces us to think differently. It’s power isn’t in offering simple solutions, but in opening the mind to new ways of thinking, new possibilities. Societies are built. Nations are built. Governments are built. Borders are built. Once we become aware that we are building, we can begin to ask what we are building and why. And we can look more carefully at the tools we are using.

Is it enough that the master let’s us live in his house? Should we grovel out of fear that we might be evicted out among the masses who live in shacks and on the streets? Should we build more walls and reinforce them in order to keep people out? Or should we build a larger house to hold all people? What tools would be required? Do we have those tools? How would go about building better tools in order to build a better society?

Anything we build for the master to keep others out and to control the masses can and will just as easily be used against us. When a border is built and enforced, it doesn’t just keep foreigners out, but also keeps us in (something that may concern us one day). The worst borders, though, are those built in our own minds. These internal divisions create dissociation between different parts of our experience. It is because of dissociation that we go on building oppressive systems and why individuals can do horrible things in the service of those systems. Trauma lives within each of us and within our every relationship. We live through the trauma and then relive it endlessly.

We can go on doing the same thing over and over, continually rebuilding the walls of fear and oppression, continually picking at the scabs of our collective suffering and trauma. Or we can build shelters for those afflicted, places of healing and restoration. We can rebuild our communities as we rebuild society.

But first, as the metaphor suggests, we must consider the tools we are building with.

* * * *

Imagination: Storytelling and Truthtelling

Le Guin does make a suggestion. “To me,” she writes, “the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned.

The tool she offers here is that of imagination, the mother lode of all metaphors. To wield imagination is to wield the power to create and destroy entire systems of thought, entire ways of understanding. And we are only as free to the extent our minds are liberated.

“The exercise of imagination,” she states a few paragraphs on, “is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.”

It isn’t just metaphors that matter, but metaphors given life through story, through fully imagined possibilities. It is the act of imagining that matters, the freedom to imagine. It is the tool of imagination that matters. That is the one tool that can help us build something genuinely new.

We should be careful of the stories we tell. Continuing in this vein, Le Guin laments that, “It is sad that so many stories that might offer a true vision settle for patriotic or religious platitude, technological miracle working, or wishful thinking, the writers not trying to imagine truth. The fashionably noir dystopia merely reverses the platitudes and uses acid instead of saccharine, while still evading engagement with human suffering and with genuine possibility. The imaginative fiction I admire presents alternatives to the status quo which not only question the ubiquity and necessity of extant institutions, but enlarge the field of social possibility and moral understanding. . . —the impulse to make change imaginable.”

She brings this line of thought to conclusion with a clear assertion of what is at stake: “We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”

The first radical act is to imagine, and that requires we create the conditions that make this possible. Imagination isn’t just a tool for building anew, but also a tool for creating entirely new blueprints. Even an imperfect imagined alternative has the power to open us up to possibilities yet unimagined. Imagination isn’t a destination, but a doorway.

* * * *

Revolution of the Mind

“What is a manifesto? A manifesto is a galaxy. What is man? Man is a star.”
~ Jude Edze Davids

It is hard for us to grasp the fundamental issue at hand. It goes to the heart of our sense of reality. To imagine something completely new isn’t just radical. It has the potential and power to incite revolution. Not just ideologies, but entire worlds are being contested.

This touches upon the theological. Our beliefs about reality form a hidden dogma, the bedrock of our identity and perception. The metaphorical house we reside in is our, to use a modern phrase, reality tunnel. A tunnel is yet another metaphorical structure of the mind, reminding us of the ancient metaphor of Plato’s cave and quite similar to Gnostic writings, neoplatonism having influenced (via the Alexandrian Jews) early Gnostics and Christians alike.

Religion and mythology forms the earliest reservoir of imagination, of metaphor and storytelling. It was natural for a Deist like Thomas Paine to turn to Christian language in order to express his message. He wasn’t, in doing so, promoting a Christian nation. He was simply drawing upon a shared lexicon of metaphors, stories, symbols, and imagery.

The religious language resonated with Paine’s audience. And today a metaphor such as the master’s house retains its former religious significance.

The “master” theologically refers to who rules over us or what dominates our world. The demiurge is the false god who is the “god of this world”. He is the builder of our world. He doesn’t create anything ex nihilo, but builds out of what is already present. In political terms, the demiurgic forces of power represent the human archons, the rulers of our society. They simply rearrange the pieces on the board, reform the system as they find it. They have their positions in the hierarchy and so their agenda is to maintain the status quo… or, in reaction to changing times, to build a better and stronger status quo.

The metaphor of the master’s house refers to a master. But which master? An important question. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “No man can serve two masters.” The master builder, the the greatest of masons, is still just a tinkerer, a manipulator. Jesus, on the other hand, threatened to “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus was using metaphor with charismatic force.

To understand Jesus’ metaphorical temple, you must put it into context of his preaching about the “Kingdom”. This Kingdom, as both Christians and Gnostics agreed, is near you and all around you. But, the Gnostics pushed it one step further, when it was written in The Gospel of Thomas that,

Jesus said: If your leaders say to you ‘Look! The Kingdom is in the heavens!” Then the birds will be there before you are. If they say that the Kingdom is in the sea, then the fish will be there before you are. Rather, the Kingdom is within you and it is outside of you . . . is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

To clarify this, it is declared in Acts 7:48, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.” It does not dwell in the house of the master builder.

So, where does it dwell? What is both within and outside? I would suggest, in line with Le Guin’s view, that what is being spoken of here is imagination in its purest and most extreme form, not just imagination but visionary imagination, the territory of radical possibility. The source of real power doesn’t reside within distant heavens or governments. Rather, it resides within us, around us, among us.

* * * *

Metaphors Unleashed

How do the teachings of Jesus apply today? He was distinguishing between various kingdoms and those who rule them. The lesser kingdoms are built on brute force and false beliefs, rather than on wisdom and vision. What presently are the lesser kingdoms that attempt to rule our lives and minds?

Philip K. Dick (PKD), a friend of Le Guin, gave a speech that offered a typically unique perspective, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”. He said that, “Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener.” The artificial worlds created for us are more intrusive and pervasive than ever. They dominate in a way no lesser kingdom could have in the past. “And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.”

Taking a slightly cynical turn, PKD then argues, “So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland.” Modern American society is Disneyland, an imagined world enforced onto reality, but hardly a radical vision to offer hope, just mindless entertainment and bright colorful facades. And, as globalization proceeds, Disneyland not democracy conquers the world. It is a fake kingdom of fake things, of fake experiences.

As always, PKD pushes this notion as far as it will go:

In my writing I got so interested in fakes that I finally came up with the concept of fake fakes. For example, in Disneyland there are fake birds worked by electric motors which emit caws and shrieks as you pass by them. Suppose some night all of us sneaked into the park with real birds and substituted them for the artificial ones. Imagine the horror the Disneyland officials would feel when they discovered the cruel hoax. Real birds! And perhaps someday even real hippos and lions. Consternation. The park being cunningly transmuted from the unreal to the real, by sinister forces. For instance, suppose the Matterhorn turned into a genuine snow-covered mountain? What if the entire place, by a miracle of God’s power and wisdom, was changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, into something incorruptible? They would have to close down.

What if the master’s house were transformed, renovated into something unexpected, made use for something not in the original plan? What if we reimagined the space we find ourselves in?

“Disneyland are never going to be the same again. . . [T]he birds and hippos and lions and deer at Disneyland will no longer be simulations, and, for the first time, a real bird will sing.”

If we were to love democracy enough, could the simulations of democracy’s rhetoric be made real like the love-worn Velveteen Rabbit hopping in the grass?

* * * *

Normally, the envisioning of radical possibility is described as thinking outside the box. But what if we were to radically think within the box? The shape of a box, like that of a square, is an ancient sacred symbol. This symbol represents the world. It contains. It can be filled, but it also can be emptied. We need to seek that state of emptiness so as, like the Zen tea cup, to receive new visions and understandings.

It’s not just what is within us, the power of mind, of imagination, of vision. It is the possibility that is within all things — to return to The Gospel of Thomas: “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” Imagination isn’t an abstraction. We exist in the world and our imagination takes shape through the world.

Imagination is the one tool we can all claim. It isn’t a special talent reserved for the few. It is our natural right, our normal way of being in the world… if we have eyes to see, if we have the courage to take this tool in hand.

PKD on the Golden Door

Photo: Forest portal

From Exegesis by Philip K. Dick
(edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem)

“The original display of dazzling graphics which I saw, which inaugurated all of this, were characterized by their balance, not what shapes they contained. They were, like much of Kandinsky’s abstract art, modern esthetic elaborations, in color, of the ancient a priori geometric forms conceived by the Greeks, which even in their time passed over into esthetics by way of Pythagoria, e.g., the Golden Section becoming the Golden Rectangle. * Certainly this would indicate that even the start of this contained the hallmark of Apollo: the balance, the harmony— I remember noting that in all the tens of thousands of pictures what was continuous in them was this perfect balance, illustrating a fundamental principle of art. It was that aspect which caught my attention and eye and told me they had great worth. In a sense, since all were rectangles, they were permutations of the Golden Rectangle, which I saw today in its original abstracted, empty form, so calm, so enduring, so restful, reminding me of Apollo’s basic virtue: syntonos.”
(Kindle Locations 963-970)

“The “solitary” life which both Christ and Paul speak of as an affliction, [is] in contrast to the ear of corn in which all grains are together in corporate life; it was an ear of corn that was held up at Elysius, to demonstrate the mystery: I think the mystery is, the solitary grain( s) will be sown, then will grow again in corporate life , a corporate body of which Christ is the head. Paul in 1 Cor makes it perfectly clear that resurrection is in a spiri tual body as opposed to the prior physical body 107 ; as in Neoplatonism , we can expect to ascend on to a spiritual “next ring” universe in a spiritual, nonphysical, immortal body, leaving this one behind ; it grows out of this one after this one is dead and buried , as with the grain of wheat/ corn in the furrow: what comes next is different; it is a complete misunderstanding to expect— or even want —the originally physical “solitary” inferior body back ever again; it is metamorphosis which we are talking about; Paul in 1 Cor makes this perfectly clear. The incorruptible body is not a physical body, like this only eternal, but a spiritual body. Death is regarded as a doorway, with something better on the other side, exactly like the doorway I saw in 3- and 4-74, like a Greek pylon, with the moonlight and clear water beyond, which was everywhere, here and there, that I looked. A study of the other mystery religions (all based on the dying lunar god Osiris) shows this. Of all the things (visions) I saw, none is more significant than the pylon or arch-like doorway with the Greek water and nighttime island scene, so beautiful and peaceful on the other side. That was not a transformed view of this world (as with the iron ring and later spring time and Santa Sophia the building ), that was a doorway to another world for sure. It wasn’t to death; death was the doorway , the passage , with life beyond. It was a rather narrow entranceway. (When did I see that doorway? It must have either been after my shoulder surgery, or led into that period, because just after Pinky died I remember seeing him, all healthy and full-chested, squeezed through the doorway looking into this world at us.) (It just occurs to me that the doorway always had the proportions of the Golden Rectangle .) And at first I saw it as a geometric drawing of the Golden Rectangle complete with Greek-letter markings at corners, etc., at that point not yet projected into the world, found there as doorway and 3-D, but “in my 3rd eye or inner mind or mind’s eye,” not yet fused with the landscape; later, whenever I saw it, I actually picked out the Golden Rectangle in the real world, discerned it, but saw it as a doorway, and saw the lovely quiet peaceful world on the other side, waiting. Thinking about it now I realized that the discernment of this Golden Rectangle doorway within the real world here and there was on the identical order of the iron ring, God in the trash of the alley, everything else, especially equal to seeing Springtime in 2-75; it was a major event, and not to be ignored or forgotten; it was another transformation of the landscape, another vision of the next world or the New Creation. Offhand I’d say its message was, One can get from here (this world) to there, which is to say, to the Spiritual Universe. It’s immediately at hand, if we could but see it. That which is seen through the doorway is not superimposed on our world but lies beyond it. For instance, it is nighttime there. (Although midday here.) I’m sure it’s “on the Other Side, ” and you would have to die to get there; after all, Pinky, after his death, immediately after, looked back into this world from there. It is another place, another time entirely. I don’t think it’s the Kingdom of God; I think everything else I experienced is. If it is indeed a glimpse through the doorway into the Next World, then the Next World (for me anyhow) is very much like Minoan Greece, like the Aegean and Crete (where many of my first visionary dreams were set). (Also, where Zagreus/ Dionysos came from.) All the straight john uptight rigid description and attitudes by the Christians about it are just so much a row of swords to protect it; once inside it’s lovely. You can sit down on a Grecian bench and relax in the cool of the evening.”
(Kindle Locations 4227-4227)

“at the height of despair and fear and grieving I stumbled into the Kingdom, stumbled around for a while and then stumbled back out, none the wiser as to how I got there, barely aware of where I had been, and no idea as to how I stumbled out, and seeking always to find my way back ever since . Shucks. Drat . If it wasn’t the Kingdom I don’t know what it could be, with its bells and the lady singing and the void, with the trash in the gutter glowing, and the golden rectangle doorway with the sea and figure beyond, and the moonlight. There were people living there, especially the lady. It was all alive. It had personality. It explained everything to me. Now I don’t see or understand anything. At that time I could even remember back to my origins. My real origins: the stars. What am I doing here? I forget, but I knew once. Amnesia has returned ; the veil has fallen, back where it was. The divine faculties are occluded as before.”
(Kindle Locations 4333-4339)

“golden rectangle, also golden section: Figures associated with the golden ratio or divine mean, a mathematical pattern of relationship that has been recognized since Pythagoras. The golden ratio (an irrational number approximate to 1: 618034) occurs when the ratio between the sum of two unequal quantities and the larger quantity is equivalent to the ratio between the larger quantity and the smaller . Geometric plotting of the recursive Fibonacci sequence also produces the golden rectangle, as does the growth of a nautilus shell.”
(Kindle Locations 18564-18568)

 

 

Notes on Jesus Christ, Scarab, Dung Beetle, etc

I was just remembering these notes I took a long while back. I meant to put  it together as a followup to my previous posts on the topic (see here), but I never got around to it… and I don’t know if or when I might ever get around to it. So, I’ll just present the notes as they might be of interest to some people.
“Homage to thee, Ra ! Supreme power, the god with the numerous shapes in the sacred dwelling, his form is that of the beetle.”
The Litany of Ra from Egyptian Literature, by Ephanius Wilson
“‘These creatures, like many others in the insect world, deposit their eggs in the ground, where they are hatched, and the appearance of their progeny rising from the earth is by some writers supposed to have suggested to the Egyptian priesthood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Certain it is that beetles were very common in Egypt, and one of them, thence styled by naturalists Scarabeus sacer, was an object of worship: and this fact gives strength to the conjecture that this creature is meant in Exod. viii, as the sacred character of the object would naturally render its employment as a plague doubly terrible. Besides its being worshipped as a divinity, stones cut in the form of the beetle served as talismans among the Egyptians. The under surface was filled with figurines cut in intaglio of solar, lunar, and astral symbols and characters. They were held, according to Pliny, to inspire the soldier with courage, and to protect his person in the day of battle, and also to defend children from the malign influences of the evil eye. There is little reason to doubt that the Hebrews learned the use of these things Egypt, but they were prohibited by the Mosaic law. The Gnostics, among other Egyptian superstitions, adopted this notion regarding the beetle, and gems of gnostic origin are extant in this form, especially symbolical of Isis (q.v.).”
p. 467: “The biblical terms slsl in Deut. 28.42 and slsl knpjm in Isa. 18.1 were never satisfactorily defined. A thorough analysis of Ancient Egyptian texts, classical literature, Aramaic and rabbinic sources, post-biblical texts and archaeological material suggests that slsl in the Pentateuch means beetle and Isaiah’s phrase can be translated ‘land of the winged beetle’, that is, Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian beetle metaphorically could represent a (sacred) boat and in Christian commentary, cruicified Jesus.”
International Review of Biblical Studies, by Bernhard Lang
The author writes that, according to Massey, “The beetle-headed Kheper-Ptah is Cancer, the Beetle and, later, the Crab.”
The Suns of God, by Acharya S
The author writes about Kheper-Ptah, the sign of Cancer, the Beetle and the Crab.
Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, by Gerald Massey
The author goes into detail about Khepr, the scarab, and Isis and Nephthys rolling a ball; and also mentions Ambrose.
Book of the Beginnings Part 2, by Gerald Massey
The author has some interesting thoughts about the allegorical meaning of the dung beetle in terms of Christian theology.
Who Is This King of Glory?, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
The author mentions that Khepr is born his own son.
Lost Light, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
And he mentions the motif of 6 months above and 6 months below in terms of the beetle.
The author describes the beetle in European mythology and folk rituals.
Encyclopedia of Religions, by John G. R. Forlong
An early Christian story: while fleeing to Egypt, Mary is looking for Jesus and soldiers are close behind.  When the soldiers pass where Mary had been the day before, they ask some farmers when the other had passed.  The farmers give a misleading answer, but a black beetle tells the truth and so helps the soldiers.
The Flight Into Egypt, by Henry Van Dyke (Harper’s Magazine)
‘ Saw ye passing to-day or yestreen,
The Son of my love— the Son of God ? ‘ ‘
We saw, we saw,’ said the black beetle, ‘
   The Son of freedom pass yesterday.’
‘ Wrong! wrong! wrong art thou,’
Said the sacred beetle earthy:
‘ A big year it was yestreen
  Since the Son of God passed.’
Carmina Gadelica
This is strange as it seems to show the knowledge of the Egyptian dung beetle survived into much later apologetics:
The apology for the Church of England: and A treatise of the Holy Scriptures, by John Jewel, William Rollinson Whittingham
The author quotes Ambrose: “He was crushed although He was the Word made man; and He became poor, although He was rich, that we might be enriched by His want. He was powerful, and offered himself to be despised, as when Herod rejected and mocked Him; He was moving the earth, and He hung on a cross; He covered the sky with shadows and crucified the world, and He was crucified. He bent his head and the Word went out, he was emptied out and refilled everything; God came down, Man went up. The Word was made flesh that flesh might claim for itself the throne of the Word on the right hand of God; He was wounded and the perfume flowed. The beetle was heard and God was recognised.”
In his Against Cainites, Epiphanius concludes: “After exposing the opinion—like exposing poisonous dung-beetles!—of such people, who desire what is bad, and after crushing it by God’s power because of its harmfulness, let us call on God for aid, sons of Christ, since we intend to inquire into the others.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In his Against Archontics, Epiphanius writes: “For I find even in the so-called naturalists—or rather, I observe this for myself—that dung-beetles, which some call bylari, have the habit of rolling in foulness and dung, and this is food and a task for them.  But this same filthy food of theirs <is obviously> ofensive and bad-smelling to other insects.  For bees too, this dung and foul odor is death, while to dung-beetles it is work, nourishment, and an occupation.  For bees, in contrast, fragrance, blossoms and perfumes serve as refreshment, property and food, work and occupation.  But such things are the reverse for the dung-beetles, or bylari.
Anyone wishing to test them, as the naturalists say, can cause the death of dung-beetles by taking a bit of perfume, I mean balsam or nard, and applying it to them.  They die instantly because they cannot stand the sweet odor.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In speaking about women worshippers of the Virgin Mary, Epiphanius says, “…since we crushed with the word of truth this beetle, so to speak, golden colored, winged, and buzzing about, at the same time very venomous and full of poison…” Cantharides beetle, some varieties of which are poisonous, are compared to Mary-worshipping (Isis?).  Certain beetles lick the chemical off of Cantharides in order to attract mates, and it is from Cantharides that is derived the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly but there are also other medicinal uses (diuretic, skin irritant).  Dung beetles are a type of blister beetle.  Blister beetles are also ground up in drinks.
The Virgin Goddess, by Stephen Benko
Palladius says, “So Theophilus arrived at Constantinople, like a beetle loaded with the dung of the best that Egypt, emitting sweet scent to cover his stinking jealousy…”
The Dialogue of Palladius Concerning the Life of Chryisostom, by Palladius
The author writes, “What is striking, for my interests, is the fact that John Scotus elaborates, as did Origen, naturalistic imagery for the resurrection, making full use of Clementine cyclical metaphors and of the Pauline seed.  The resurrection of the phoenix from ashes or the beetle from dung, the gradual unfolding of seeds in things, the turn of the seasons from winter to spring, all become analogies for a return to God that is transformation.”
The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, by Caroline Walker Bynum
“The “Hieroglyphica” of Horapollo is cited as an important source of information concerning the unicorn symbolism of Mercurius. According to this work there exists a genus of scarab which is unicorned and thus sacred to Mercurius. In addition to being one horned this scarab is described as being “born of itself.’ In Paracelsus, the prima materia is also depicted as “uncreated” and is directly linked with Mercurius. A further parallel found in the Hieroglyphica is the dismemberment of the scarab. Such a dismemberment was undergone by the dragon, a common symbol of Mercurius, in what is referred to in Egyptian alchemic literature as the “separation of elements.”
Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, by Carrie Lee Rothgeb

http://books.google.com/books?id=_NrBKMGUfRAC&pg=PT102&lpg=PT102&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&source=bl&ots=tndKs_gfLD&sig=947GoHvr–j6LC2Me8Op3-KAB48&hl=en&ei=mNXgSeWTGNXfnQfF04imCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#PPT102,M1

scarab images

http://books.google.com/books?id=3z8GAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA32&vq=scarabaeus&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

several pages on scarabs from above book.

http://books.google.com/books?id=3z8GAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA312&vq=scarabaeus&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

More about Kircher on the scarab including an Osiris-headed scarab.

http://books.google.com/books?id=EVQLAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA530&dq=%22athanasius+kircher%22+OR+kircher+scarab+OR+scarabaeus&ei=mDHqSYP8CYL0NPSutakB

In reference to the 17th century Athanasius Kircher, the author mentions the scarab in context of alchemy and cabala.  The author also points out the scarab being representative of the Son of God and defends this by quoting Augustine.

Roman and European Mythologies, by Yves Bonnefoy
pp. 219-20: “Athanasius Kircher (1602-82), the hero of the quest of Isis, even while attacking alchemy magnified its purely spiritual doctrine, finding it in concord with the true Cabala, which he did not condemn along with the Cabala of the rabbis.  Dazzled by John Dee’s discovery, copied by Cesare della Riviera, of the hieroglyph of Mercury, Kircher perceived the hieroglyph of the scarab as the key to the chemical art, in perfect concordance with the famous exegesis of bereshit, the first word of the Hebrew Genesis, at the end of the Heptaplus.
The scarab signifies the raw material of the metallic art: rolling up the bodies of the whole world, it produces an egg, visible above its tail.  The seeds of all the metals that hide there eventually rise up to the seven spheres of the planets: besides the five spheres of the minor planets, the head of Horus designates the sun, and the segment of a circle above it designates the moon, and inside it is the cross, natural symbol of the elements.  Between its forelegs the scarab holds a tablet bearing (in Greek script) the word phulo which signifies love.  If like doctors we dissect this hierogrammatism into its parts, we obtain this phrase: The soul of the world or the life of things is hidden in the machine of this lower world, where rests the egg fertile in seminal reasons, which, exercising its power over the spheres of the metallic planets, animates them with its heat and makes them act, so that Horus, that is, the sun and the moon, emerges through the dissolution of the elements and the separation of pure from impure things.  When this is done, each thing is linked to every other thing by a natural and sympathetic love, and this is the completion of the work.
Kircher before explaining a discourse too obscure for novices, referred to his Prodomus Coptus, in which, after analyzing the hieroglyph of the scarab, he connected it with Pico della Mirandola’s analysis of the first word of Genesis: “The father to the Son or by the Son, beginning and end or rest, created the head, the fire, and the foundation of the great man by good accord or alliance.”  “What can the winged globe in the hieroglyph signify other than the famous circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, to speak with Trismegistus, which is the supermundane abstract Intellet, first Intelligence, celestial Father.  What could the body of the scarab signify other than the Son whom his Father has constituted principle, rest, and end of all things, by whom all was made and without whom nothing is made.  Lest someone be angered at seeing God himself, who surpasses all admiration, being compared to the most vile, the most horrible, the most stinking of all beings, let us hear what Saint Augustine, the great light of the Church, has said of the admirable humanity of Christ in his Soliloquies: ‘He is my good scarab, not so much because he is the only son of God, author of himself who took on our mortal form, but because he rolled in our filth, when he sought to be born a man.’  By this son, then, eternal Wisdom and true Osiris, the world was created, this great man, whose head is the angelic world, source of knowledge, whose heart is the sun, source of movement, life, and warmth, and whose foundation is the sublunary world.  What could the character signifying love designate but this Spirit, who, ‘meharephet peney ha-maym, floating on the waters,’ gives life to all things by the fire of his most fertile love, and ties all together in a good alliance.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=GkCe6oEmN4sC&pg=PA219&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&lr=&ei=9_XgSbSNKIHANuSNhbIN#PPA219,M1

p. 22: “The beetles in the zodiac Dendera have, according to Dr. Young, much more of a mythological than of an astronomical nature.  The beetle near the beginning of the zodiac is well-known symbol of generation, and he is in the act of depositing his globe: on the opposite side, at the end of the zodiac, is the head of Isis, with her name as newly born; both the long female figures are appropriate representations of the mother; and the zodiac between them express “revolving year” which elapsed between the two periods.”

A History of Egyptian Mummies, by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

http://books.google.com/books?id=g0oZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA222&lpg=PA222&dq=%22woman’s+head%22+OR+%22head+of+isis%22+beetle&source=bl&ots=HBv0y8Mt5M&sig=4VErL9Xoj5LT7hz7RDxoKi_Fc18&hl=en&ei=DXjiSYzGDs_unQfSzaixCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=24#PPA222,M1

pp. 178-9: “Remarkably, a stylistic representation of the Rostau meteorite appears in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Hidden Chamber.  In figure 73, we see the beginning of the creation, as if it were frozen in time.  In the lower register is the body (or flesh) of Sokar, contained within an ellipse of sand, representing his ‘hidden land’.  He is about to put on his wings of transformation.  Above him, in the middle register, a pyramid-shaped hill represents the body (or flesh) of Isis, whose head is seen at the apex of the mound.  Above the head of Isis, in the upper register, there appears a dark, bell-shaped chamber, flanked by two falcons and surmounted by the hieroglyphic sign for ‘night’.  From the bottom of this chamber, a scarab beetle — symbolic of rebirth — descends towards the head of Isis in order to converse with Sokar below, but is menanced by a two-headed serpent who ‘sets himself in opposition to the scarab’.  Between the beetle and the head of Isis, there runs the rope by which the barque of Re is towed through the underworld by seven gods and seven goddesses.”

Pyramid of Secrets, by Alan F. Alford

http://books.google.com/books?id=EusI5PDYIK8C&pg=PA178&vq=%22book+of+the+hidden+chamber%22&dq=%22woman’s+head%22+OR+%22head+of+isis%22+beetle&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0

“On the central vertical band, beneath Nut with her outspread wings, are (from top to bottom) a shrine with two crouching figures of Osiris flanking a scarab, Isis and Nephthys adoring the symbol of Osiris, a scepter flanked by winged wedjat eyes, and a winged scarab above the boat of the sun.”

Coffin set of Henettawy

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tipd/ho_25.3.182-184.htm

pp. 10-11: “In one rendition of John’s Gospel, instead of the “only-begotten Son of God,” a variant reading gives the “only-begotten God,” which has been declared an impossible rendering.  But the “only-begotten God” was an especial type in Egyptian Mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  Hor-Apollo says, “To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabeus!  B this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Now the youthful manifestor of the Beetle-God was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  The very phraseology of John is common to the Inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made.  I quote verbatim.  And not only was the Beetle-God continued in the “only-begotten God”; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ.  Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the “good Scarabeus,” which further identifies the Jesus of John’s Gospel with the Jesus of Egpt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the Bringer of Peace, whom I have elsewhere shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten Beetle-God, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the Egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the Potter personified, as well as the only-begotten God in Egypt.”

Gerald Massey’s Lectures

http://books.google.com/books?id=-jRswRWRN5EC&pg=PA11&dq=augustine+beetle+OR+%22my+own+good+beetle%22+jesus+OR+christ&ei=IjreSYT5LIO-Nqms2LsO

This article shows that beetles (and in particular dung beetles) are a religious symbol older than Egypt.  As a main source of food, beetles have always fascinated humans and taken on divine meaning.  Beetles are able to fly and descend into the earth, and they emerge out of the earth when they’re growing.  The beetle as a creator and a potter is found in tribal cultures, in Egyptian mythology and even Jesus is portrayed as a potter.  In Egypt, the scarab was identified as a solar deity.  This is because the dung beetle forms balls of dung which it rolls around (and out of which it is born), and also because they’re shiny beetles who can fly (and it was believed they could fly carrying a dung ball).

Egyptians came to believe in the scarab as a resurrection deity and that it was self-originating.  So, it was considered virginal as they believed no sex occurred.  The author doesn’t note this but it is reminiscent of how Mithras was born out of a rock.  The scarab became identified in two forms that were identified with Osiris who dies and his son Horus who is born from his death, but the two forms were also identified as singular.  This dual aspect god was a central prototype of Jesus Christ.  In its role as resurrection deity and ruler over the dead, the scarab was associated with the heart (the scarab being placed over the heart of the mummified deceased).  From the Wikipedia article on the Dung Beetle:

It may not have gone unnoticed that the pupa, whose wings and legs are encased at this stage of development, is very mummy-like. It has even been pointed out that the egg-bearing ball of dung is created in an underground chamber which is reached by a vertical shaft and horizontal passage curiously reminiscent of Old Kingdom mastaba tombs.”[8]

Another interesting connection (not from this article) is the understanding of gender in Gnosticism and in the Egyptian portrayal of the dung beetle.  Despite an earlier association with a goddess, Egyptians came to believe that all dung beetles were male.  Another excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

The scarab was linked to Khepri (“he who has come into being”), the god of the rising sun. The ancients believed that the dung beetle was only male in gender, and reproduced by depositing semen into a dung ball. The supposed self-creation of the beetle resembles that of Khepri, who creates himself out of nothing. Moreover, the dung ball rolled by a dung beetle resembles the sun. Plutarch wrote:

The race of beetles has no female, but all the males eject their sperm into a round pellet of material which they roll up by pushing it from the opposite side, just as the sun seems to turn the heavens in the direction opposite to its own course, which is from west to east.”[7]

The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

Strong arguments have been made that Gnosticism (and through it Christianity) came from Egypt, and certain Gnostic texts speak of the female becoming the male.  Also, during the Axial Age, there was a mixing of gender traits as gender identities shifted.  Many gods (such as Yahweh) had taken over aspects of prior goddesses.  D.M. Murdock, in her book Christ In Egypt, argues that in Christianity’s competition with Isis worship, Jesus became identified with that which had been formerly identified with Isis for centuries throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  Furthermore, Isis’ son Horus (in his form as Harmakhet the rising sun) was associated with Khepri (combined forming an image of a scarab with wings).  Murdock points out archaeological evidence of Egyptian Gnostic merging of Horus and Jesus; and, in the Alexandrian Gnostic system, Isis is Sophia and Horus is the Logos/Word.  Early Coptic Christians mummified their dead, had scarabs with Christian emblems etched on them (The Sacred Scarabs, The New York Times), used the ankh as a cross, and even invoked Jesus and Horus together.  Also, followers of Serapis (a mix of Greek and Egyptian gods) are another example as they were supposedly described as the first Christians by Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata.  In many locations in Egypt, such as at the Serapeum (temple to Serapis) in Alexandria, large sculptures of scarabs have been found.  (Besides Murdock’s Christ In Egypt, much of this info and more can be found in Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge’s Amulets and Superstitions, the Egyptologist Erik Hornung’s The Secret Lore of Egypt, and Theologian Karl W. Luckert’s Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire; also, check out the books of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Gerald Massey, and G. R. S. Mead.)

To return to Cambefort’s article, the author mentions that Ptah the divine craftsman was connected with the scarab as the potter.  Ptah was also was at times confused with Osiris.  The wife of Ptah was Neith who was originally considered a beetle goddess before the scarab became identified as solely male and so she instead became identified with the vulture (which was considered solely female).  The vulture and scarab became a paired symbol and a word play.  In the 4th century, Horapollo wrote about hieroglyphics of this pair of deities. “He also described the scarab as “only begotten,” and the Greek word is the same used by John (3:16) referring to Christ (below).”

In Minoan Creta, horned “scarabs” crudely modeled in clay were used by peasants, probably in fecundity rites (right). Apart from these models, the scarab’s role is not obvious in archaic and classic Greek civilization. During late Egyptian periods, dwarves were devoted to Ptah (under the name “pataeci”) and many of them wore a scarab on their head. Probably for this reason, the scarab gained the reputation among the Greeks to be the king of Pygmies, although the Pygmies themselves represented the dead. In addition, we can find evidence that scarabs in a broad sense (sacred scarab and stag beetle were more or less confused) were important in the initiation rites of warriors (possibly due to the fact that warriors bring death). As a result, the scarab was consecrated to Zeus, to the same extent as the eagle. In fact, both animals seem interchangeable as favorites of the King of gods. Æsopus fable, “The Eagle and the Scarab,” is a testimony to the secular dispute between the scarab and the Eagle, or rather between their supporters. In this fable, the scarab wins, but historically, the eagle gained victory over the scarab, and remained the emblem of Zeus, carrying his thunder. The fable might also be a reminiscence of the late Egyptian periods, when the scarab and vulture (there are no eagles in Egypt) were united to write the Great Gods’ name T-N and N-T(above).

Meanwhile, the scarab became an object of derision and jokes, the most famous of them being Aristophanes comedy “Peace,” where a peasant flies up to Olympus riding a colossal scarab, whose coprophagous habits are insisted upon. Despite these trivial manners, the scarab retains his divine nature, which enables him to reach Zeus’ throne. Another clue of his importance could be the name “scarab” (greek: kantharos) of Dionysos’ cup, where pure wine is served in order to provide sacred drunkenness. Dionysos seems to be related to Osiris, who was said to have introduced wine in Egypt. As a sacred trance, drunkenness is related to shamanic powers of uniting the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Dionysos also had close relationships with Hephaistos, who was god of the fire. Since wine “burns” or at least heats as fire does, Hephaistos is often represented as being drunk. Hephaistos was confused by the Greeks with the late Egyptian scarab god, Ptah. In Germany, the property of thunder belonged to the god Thor (or Donar), who was second only to Odhin. The stag-beetle was devoted to Thor, and reputed to bear not only lightning and thunder, but also fire, in the form of embers. Thor was reputed to set fire to thatched houses, hence many names relating to fire and thunder are still frequently used in Germany.

…Coming back to Israel, the word “scarab” does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish authors probably did not want to recall the detested enemy through this Egyptian emblematic character. However, in the Greek translation of the Bible (called Septuagint,) the word “beetle” occurs once (Habakkuk 2:11):

“For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it.”

Habakkuk’s passage would not have been quoted here except for the use that Saint Ambrose of Milan made of it. On five occasions, this Father of the Church alluded to the text and compared Jesus Christ to Habakkuk’s scarab. Other Christian authors (St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, etc.) made equivalent or similar comparisons. These are the most obvious testimonies of a possible influence of Egyptian religion on Christianism. They also might have been influenced by (or had influenced on) some late Egyptian beliefs, e.g. reported by Horapollo (above), who described the scarab as “only begotten,” with the same Greek words (monogenes) as used by John 3:16 referring to Christ, and repeated by other Christian authors.
 
In Germany, where scarab worship, in the form of the stag beetle, has persisted longest, the equation scarab = Christ was widely accepted. The quintessential German artist, Albrecht Dürer, associated the stag beetle with Christ in various paintings, and produced a famous watercolor of the insect. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) did not hesitate to recall the identification scarab = Christ, referring both to St. Ambrose and Psalm 22:6:”But I am a worm, and no man,” verse which has been referred to Christ, and where (as Kircher says), “some read scarab instead of worm.” He went further to combine Christian faith with Alchemy: for him, the scarab was the prima materia of the Great Work. This idea was shared by some alchemists, e.g. Michael Maier (1566-1622), who explained in his writings that the so-called “philosophal stone,” product of the Great Work, was nothing other than Christ, resuscitated from the dead; a promise of resurrection for all human beings.
Beetles as Religious Symbols, Cultural Entomology Digest 2, by Yves Cambefort

http://bugbios.com/ced2/beetles_rel_sym.html

The author connects the  dung beetle with the vulture in opposition to the eagle.  He uses as an example Aristophanes play Peace where the dung beetle is used by Trygaeus to fly up to speak to Zeus.  This connection of dung beetle and vulture is similar to Bruno Schultz’ story “Cockroach”.

The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, by Marcel Detienne
Peace, by Aristophanes
Aesop’s Fables, “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”
The author discusses the gospel genre comparing the Christian, Judaean, and Greco-Roman traditions.  Specifically, he compares the text titled Life of Aesop.  I observed two aspects of this text.  Firstly, Aesop starts off as an ugly, mute slave.  He helps a priestess of Isis who prays for him and so Isis (and her muses) blesses him with speech.  Aesop starts telling fables which are equivalent to Jesus’ parables, and he uses his storytelling as a way of teaching and challenging authority.  This, of course, leads to trouble (similarly to Jesus, an accusation of blasphemy) and is condemned to death.  It is while being brought to his place of execution that he tells his fable “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”.  This is rather fitting as the dung beetle is a lowly creature as Aesop was portrayed.  It’s also relevant in terms of the gospel genre of the doomed hero because the dung beetle is a symbol of resurrection.  The fable could be interpreted as saying that, unlike the judgement of the Delphians, Almighty God will pardon Aesop (like Jupiter/Zeus pardoned the dung beetle)
The quest of the historical gospel, by Lawrence Mitchell Wills
“‘The Dung Beetle”: a medieval version of Aesop’s fable where Jesus speaks with the dung beetle.
The Peasants Bible, by Dario Fo
Later European fables involving themes of male pregnancy and birth and a beetle.  The way in which the beetle enters the priest or thief demonstrates a cultural memory of the birth of the dung beetle from fecal matter.
The Pregnant Man, by  Roberto Zapperi
A Mithraic magical ritual involving a scarab during early Christianity.  This ritual is the type of thing that Christians would’ve been aware of as the two religions shared similar motifs and Mithraism was very popular.
The Historical Jesus in Context, by Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, John Dominic Crossan

Richard Marsh’s The Beetle has a woman that transforms into a scarab.  The author speaks about the Gothic being relevant during times of uncertainty and change such as during the urbanization of the industrial age.  He also mentions Darwinism that created a sense of the closeness between man and animal, and theories arose of the possibility of degeneration to earlier forms.

The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, by Jerrold E. Hogle

http://books.google.com/books?id=ibKMe5iW70kC&pg=PA194&vq=beetle&dq=origen+beetle&lr=&source=gbs_search_s&cad=0#PPA195,M1

“Holland notes that beetles, unlike cockroaches, undergo total metamorphosis. Further, dung beetles are scarabs. The Egyptians venerated the scarab as an image of the sacred dung beetle linked to the sun god. Samson (Samsa) means in Hebrew “the sun’s man.” The German word for the title of the story, Die Verwandlung, means not only insect metamorphosis and transformation in general, but also transubstantiation… “The dung-beetle, then,” Holland concludes, “was the one animal that gave Kafka everything he needed: total metamorphosis from a wingless grub to a hard-working, traveling salesman-like adult plus the combination of loathsomeness and divinity”

The metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, commentary by Stanley Corngold

“The brilliant writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote of the interpretative impact Kafka’s earliest translators had made by turning the character from The Metamorphosis, Gregory Samsa, into a lowly cockroach, when in actuality Kafka had Gregory metamorphosed into a magnificently domed scarab beetle. The implications here are profound when we contemplate Kafka’s intense intimacy with the figure of Christ, and his knowledge of ancient cultures and art. Kafka was obviously aware that Albrecht Duer associated the symbolic aspect of the stag beetle with Christ. ‘Some biblical linguists have written of the aramaic word “scarab” being mistranslated as “worm,” in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, not a man.” Certain imminent alchemists considered the scarab to be a symbol for the Great Work of transformation. In ancient Egyptian alchemy the scarab beetle’s activity of making its nest out of dung for eggs to hatch from, symbolized the process of creating disciplines and procedures to bring forth spirit from flesh. The scarab is also associated in both Egyptian and Greek text with the solar aspects of the divine.”

Pushing Ultimates, by Lew Paz

http://books.google.com/books?id=dxT6HDvrEUMC&pg=PA264&lpg=PA264&dq=kafka+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+alchemy+OR+gnostic+OR+kabbalah+OR+kabbala+OR+qabala&source=bl&ots=akVfrvN1ij&sig=qAScJZvNupqGQ7LF1Decz15BwAQ&hl=en&ei=oUrgSei_C6rinQfjjvyiCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#PPA264,M1

Gregor Samsa “is “a phonetic contraction of the Czech words sam (‘alone’) and jsem (‘I am’).” Also there is the suggestion of “samson” (literally “the sun’s man”), combining the image of the lowly dung beetle with the sacred scarab linked to sun god worship, an ironic “combination of lothesomeness [sic] and divinity.” The name “Gregory” (literally “watchful” or “awakened”) strengthens the symbolism of the story by implying that Gregor’s transformation corresponds with his sudden awareness of his own alienation.”

The modern allegories of William Golding, by L. L. Dickson

http://books.google.com/books?id=boRaLhcgzE4C&pg=PA5&dq=%22james+joyce%22+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+OR+roach+OR+cockroach&lr=&ei=J17gSc_qDp3CMoGTzLEN#PPA6,M1

“In “carry, as earwigs do their dead, their soil to the earthball,” Joyce confuses (probably intentionally) the earwig with the dung beetle, the prototype of the Egyptian scarab.”  In a notebook, Joyce mentioned the scarab along with other symbols of regeneration.

Narrative design in Finnegans Wake, by Harry Burrell

http://books.google.com/books?id=6MmJgvi9jwcC&pg=PA105&dq=%22james+joyce%22+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+OR+roach+OR+cockroach&lr=&ei=FWbgScDSE4bUM4OvnKIN

Author describes Joyce’s reference to scarab (in terms of creation and generation) in a notebook that was later developed in Finnegan’s Wake.

Greek and Hellenic culture in Joyce, by R. J. Schork

http://books.google.com/books?id=v-PR2oOTjJoC&pg=PA187&dq=%22james+joyce%22+scarab&lr=&ei=0hvhSbzDEJe6M8eOhbIN

Dick writes in his Exegesis:

“Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior Jesus Christ (before him Ikhanaton, Zoroaster, et; Hefestus). When He returned we saw Him as he really is — that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like light.  The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here. (Like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).”

Mckee comments on this:

“For Dick, Christ will not return riding a white horse, but rather in the form of a beetle, a beggar, or an empty beer can kicked to the side of the road. God, though remaining all-powerful, allows himself to be made weak and to appear defeated in this world. But his moment of apparent defeat is truly his moment of final victory: Christ’s death on the cross is the moment that assures the salvation of humankind.

‘In this concept of the deus absconditus Dick’s theology overlaps with thtat of Martin Luther. Luther’s “theology of the cross” depends on just such a view of God’s hiddenness in wretched and helpless forms in our world.”

PKD’s God in the garbage is Augustine’s Christ as beetle who “has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself”.

Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter, by Gabriel Mckee

http://books.google.com/books?id=-ggCutVx5N4C&pg=PA58&dq=literature+beetle+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+scarab+jesus+OR+christ&lr=&ei=9_XgSbSNKIHANuSNhbIN#PPA58,M1

The author quotes PKD describing an event from third-grade where he was tormenting a beetle that was trying to hide itself:

“And he came out, and all of a sudden I realized — it was total satori, just infinite, that this beetle was like I was.  There was an understanding.  He wanted to live just like I was, and I was hurting him.  For a moment — it was like Siddhartha does, was like that dead jackal in the ditch — I was that beetle. Immediately I was different.  I was never the same again.”

Divine Invasions, by Lawrence Sutin

http://books.google.com/books?id=mI_n52AJcBEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=beetle+OR+scarab+OR+%22dung+beetle%22+OR+%22dung-beetle%22+%22philip+k.+dick%22+OR+pkd

Jung: “A young woman I was treating had at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab.  While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window.  Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping.  I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside.  I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in.  It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. (The Structure and the Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 438)

The scarab here can be interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, of new life, an external manifestation of an inner awakening.  The dung beetle lives in filth, the material world which the rational mind can comprehend.  And yet the dung beetle represents that which is greater than rational and above the physical, the solar disk.  The Sun of God is Logos, but this isn’t rationality.  Logos signifies an ordering principle beyond causality, which Jung termed synchronicity.

A large section that describes the context of the scarab in Jung’s life.
Who Owns Jung?, by Ann Casement

God & Freewill, Theists & Atheists

God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.

I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.

I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.

I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.

Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.

Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.

There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.

Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.

My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.

The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.

I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.

There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.

We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.

We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).

Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?

PKD’s Exegesis: 2 vol. release in 2011

For any PKD fans, there is good news. A new version of his Exegesis will be released next year.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/30/books/30author.html

It sounds like it will be a more complete version and will be published in two volumes. I have a copy of the first publication of the Exegesis (In Pursuit of Valis). It’s a very nice book to own because there hasn’t been much else available, but it only provides excerpts of the Exegesis.

If you’re interested in reading some of PKD’s Exegesis, I posted one of my favorite passages a while back:

PKD on God as Infinity

And here is my favorite quote from the Exegesis:

PKD’s Love of the Disordered & Puzzling

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences: i.e., real contradicitons, with something being both true & not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds: we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).

The Elephant That Wasn’t There

I was talking to someone the other day who was telling me about a recent family visit (by the way, her telling of it reminded me of the type of story David Sedaris writes).

It was her older sister who was visiting and they were discussing the past. The older sister claimed that she used to go for rides on a pony that a neighbor had. The neighbor gave pony rides somewhere for money and would allow the sister to ride the pony home. However, the older sister also claimed that this pony owner also owned an elephant who would also sometimes follow along. The woman I was talking to didn’t believe her sister’s story about the elephant and so investigated by asking other family members and some old neighbors from the area. No one else remembered the elephant, but the older sister was absolutely certain about the elephant’s existence. It was real in her mind.

I find that amusing. None of us really knows how much of our memories are correct. Few of us are ever motivated or capable of fact-checking most of our memories. Stories we’ve encountered over our lifetimes (especially when young) can become incorporated into our own personal story. I mean it’s logical that where there is a pony there might be an elephant. Science has proven that we literally re-member every time we recall something. The more often we recall something the less reliable the memory becomes. We don’t remember the thing itself. We remember our own retellings.

We all live in our own private fantasy worlds. I’ve been drawn to this idea. I think I first encountered it with Robert Anton Wilson’s writings about reality tunnels. It’s not just individuals but whole societies that get caught up in reality tunnels. In the case of personal memories, another person who knows us can offer a reality check. A collective reality tunnel is different because everyone within the society will reinforce the shared view of reality. Our collective retellings are rituals that remake the world in the way the Australian Aborigines remake the world by retracing the pathways of the gods. What if there is some truth to this? Maybe scientific laws and evolution are simply forms of collective memory.

This avenue of thought is explored in great detail by Philip K. Dick and by those influenced/inspired by PKD (for example: Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Lathe of Heaven). I just finished reading PKD’s Eye in the Sky. I was mostly reading that novel while at work which led me to contemplate the world around me. I work late at night and staring into the concrete interior of a parking ramp (where I work) offers an interesting opportunity for contemplation.

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In PKD’s stories, the protagonist is often faced with a true reality that is hidden behind an apparent reality. This true reality isn’t somewhere else but is instead all around us. This is a gnostic vision of the kingdom on earth. PKD had a few spiritual visions which inspired his theologizing and his fiction writing. I too have had some visions that have made me question the status quo of normal reality.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

“As long as we keep ourselves busy tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild.”
~  J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

Wonder vs the Wonder-Killers: two related thought experiments

I was thinking about two issues tonight. Both of them were thought experiments.

 – – –

The first issue is about sociopaths.

I guess I was thinking about it because I just posted a blog where I mentioned Max Weber’s Iron Cage (Self & Other in the Movies: Redemption or Destruction?). Weber was theorizing about how bureaucracy and hierarchy increases. In that post, I mentioned I learned of Weber’s ideas from George P. Hansen’s book The Trickster and the Paranormal. Hansen points out research that shows a certain type of person (Hartmann’s thick boundary type) tends to be promoted in hierarchical organizations (which would include most major organizations: government institutions, universities, corporations, etc). I was thinking about this in terms of other research that shows that sociopaths are disproportionately found in positions of power. So, I assume that extreme thick boundary types and sociopaths are essentially the same general categories. A thick boundary type would have a stronger sense of individuality and a stronger sense of disconnection from others. Basically, thick boundary types have less empathy and hence less sympathy, less compassion and concern for others. Taken to the extreme, this would manifest as sociopathic behavior.

The thought experiment was: What would happen if sociopaths were removed and excluded from positions of  power and authority? What would happen if sociopaths were separated from normal society? As it is at present, we reward sociopaths and give them immense wealth and power. All of civilization seems built on this worshipping of sociopathy. I’m willing to bet that psychopathic genetics are found most often in those of royal descent and those of old money. My theory is that it’s not just wealth and power that gets passed on from generation to generation. The genetic predispositions that lead to concentration of wealth and power also gets passed on. The question is: Are these the people we really want to be ruling us?

There has been plenty of research done on psychopathy and sociopathy. We know how to test for certain genetics. We know how to test for empathy and moral development. I think it’s only fair that all citizens in positions of power and authority should be forced to have these tests administered. If they test positive for psychopathy and sociopathy, they would be required to seek rehabilitation through medication and therapy. They would be monitored for improvement. Those who couldn’t be rehabilitated would be put into psychiatric institutions or halfway houses. If we learned how to clearly identify psychopathic genetics, those who tested positive would be forcibly sterilized.

Just imagine that. A world where only people with strong empathy and compassion were allowed to be in positions of leadership and management. This would change everything. Our entire society, at present, is designed to benefit sociopaths. If they were excluded from all important positions, all of society would restructure itself. I don’t know if it would be a better world, but it probably wouldn’t be worse than a world ruled by sociopaths. Still, I have reservations. It’s possible that sociopathic behavior (at least in its milder forms) has some benefits for society. It’s possible that modern civilization wouldn’t function (certainly not as we know it) if sociopathy was entirely eliminated.

 – – –

The second issue is about our experience of reality.

I just started Philip K. Dick’s novel Eye in the Sky. There was no particular reason I chose this book to read. I just semi-randomly grabbed a PKD book I hadn’t read. I haven’t been in a great mood for fiction in recent months, but I think my mind might be shifting back in the direction of fiction and PKD is my favorite fiction writer. I’ve read about equal amounts of PKD’s fiction and non-fiction. It was only when I started reading PKD’s non-fiction that I came to understand PKD’s fiction. PKD, of course, obsessively speculated about reality.

Eye in the Sky is a typical PKD story. A group of people become isolated in a separate reality that functions according to religious principles: magic, prayer, grace, merit and whatever else. PKD puts this all into the context of the modern world. Basically, this is a version of PKD’s idea that the Empire Never Ended. In one of PKD’s visions, he saw the Roman world during Jesus life overlaid on the modern world of California. It’s like the Kabbalah theology which interprets Biblical stories as on-going events in the world. So, the flood never ended and those who oblivious to this spiritual reality are drowning. The Roman Empire and the Nixon administration are just two manifestations of the same Black Iron Prison that we are trapped within.

In the blog I linked to above, I connected PKD’s Black Iron Prison to Max Weber’s Iron Cage. Weber theorizes that bureaucracy functions specifically by undermining the traditional religious authority. The old religious world operated according to kinship (between individuals and communities, between mortals and gods, between humans and nature). Such a society would favor thin boundary types or at least would give such people prominent positions of authority and respect (priests, shamans, healers, etc).

Thinking along these lines, I took the first thought experiment a step further. Our idealizing and rewarding sociopathic behavior has created modern bureaucratic civilization. Maybe this alters our very experience of reality. In terms of Robert Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels, maybe we get trapped in a specific worldview. It could be the world isn’t as we think it is or rather that the world becomes as we think it is. The Iron Cage not only destroys the ancient societies of superstition but also destroys the very experience of the supernatural. Research shows that thin boundary types claim to have more supernatural experiences. Research also shows that most people in general have supernatural experiences. The Iron Cage not only disconnects us from a larger context of the supernatural. It disconnects our personal experience from society and often disconnects the individual from their own experience. Maybe there is some truth to the supernatural worldview, but we simply can’t see it because we are trapped in a reality tunnel, trapped in the Iron Cage, in the Black Iron Prison.

This subject is discussed in immense detail in Hansen’s book (The Trickster and the Paranormal). Hansen explains why science has such difficulty grappling with the fundamental issues of our experience of reality. I should point out that neither Hansen nor PKD perceives science as the enemy. However, science is just one viewpoint and when we hold too tightly to one model of reality we become blind to other perspectives, other experiences. The challenge I see is that those prone to sociopathic behavior (and those prone to the thick boundary experience of the world) have personal interest in defending the Iron Cage bureaucracy that benefits them. Bureaucracy is a self-perpetuating system in that those who are promoted to the top are very motivated in defending the system and very talented in manipulating those below them. There is no doubt that sociopaths are very good at maintaining their power.

The question arises again: Is a different world, a different society possible?
And another question follows: How would our very experience of reality change if society changed?

 – – –

May the power of wonder always be greater than the power of the wonder-killers.

Self & Other in the Movies: Redemption or Destruction?

“Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched.”
 ~ Blaise Pascal

Walking through the cemetary last night, my friend mentioned the movie District 9. It turned out we both had watched it this past week, but my friend didn’t finish watching it because he didn’t like it. So, we discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of the movie as we walked among the headstones.

For some reason, I was reminded of the movie Falling Down. I told my friend that I wanted to see that movie again sometime and he asked me why I thought of it. There were two reasons.

The first reason had to do with the similarity between the District 9 bureaucrat (Wikus van de Merwe) and the Falling Down businessman (William “Bill” Foster, aka D-FENS). Both are pathetic ordinary guys. They lived their lives playing by the rules. All they wanted was the normal mediocrity that was guaranteed to them as boring middle class white guys. 

The second reason was more generally about where my mind has been focused lately. I think I might’ve seen Falling Down used as an example in something I was reading lately. Anyways, it made me think of Glenn Beck being inspired by Howard Beale’s “Mad as Hell” speech in the movie Network. Howard Beale is another example of the middle class white guy being forced out of his contented stupor. So, it seemed to me that Beck would be similarly inspired by William Foster of Falling Down.

Bill Foster: I’ve passed the point of no return. Do you know what that is, Beth? That’s the point in a journey where it’s longer to go back to the beginning. It’s like when those astronauts got in trouble. I don’t know, somebody messed up, and they had to get them back to Earth. But they had passed the point of no return. They were on the other side of the moon and were out of contact for like hours. Everybody waited to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. Well, that’s me. I’m on the other side of the moon now and everybody is going to have to wait until I pop out.

Falling Down largely puts this into a class context with obvious racial tensions. It’s not just the ordinary guy refusing to take it anymore. It’s the middle class white businessman refusing to take it anymore, the middle class white businessman who is the ultimate symbol of the American normalacy we all are supposed to strive towards. This middle class white businessman is frustrated, but his frustration doesn’t cause him to feel sympathy for all of those who have been frustrated their entire lives. No, he sees the poor and the minorities, the gangsters and other dregs of society who have refused to play by the rules, as the source of his frustration. Even the Korean shop owner is seen as an enemy simply for the perceived insult of charging too much for a soda. 

Why should these poor people and these minorities be allowed to get the better of good Americans? All the hardworking middle class white businessman wants is to be a good American and be rewarded for playing by the rules. Yet, he realizes that life isn’t fair and so he seeks retribution for this perceived loss of moral order. What he doesn’t realize is that life never was fair (even when it was personally benefitting him in the past), that life isn’t fair for anyone.

Bill Foster: I helped build missiles. I helped protect this country. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons, you know they lied to me.
Sergeant Prendergast: Is that what this is about? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? You’re mad because they lied to you? Listen, pal, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today.

Howard Beale, at least, realizes that they’ve been lying to us all… and not just to middle class white guys. Beale’s speech evokes populist discontent and righteous anger. Beale is portrayed as noble in his standing up and speaking out. Foster lacks any such noble qualities. In District 9, Wikus could’ve gone down the path of Falling Down, but eventually his sympathetic side wins out. The difference is that, where Foster clearly holds himself above all those he condemns, Wikus is literally turning into one of the aliens he had previously treated, in his role as a heartless bureaucrat, as being below him. Foster dies never doubting his own righteousness towards others and Wikus risks his own life in righteously defending the Other.

It would be too simplistic to portray Foster’s anger as mere racism. Foster has no more love for the rich white guys on the golf course than he has for the Latino gang. It’s the rich guys like them who fired him without any care for his fate. You’d think this might make him feel sympathy for all the people who have been likewise screwed over by the wealthy elite, but that isn’t what he feels. As I see it, Foster is mad not because he doesn’t believe in the American Dream of the good life but because he does believe in it and believes he deserves it. On the other hand, Beale and Wikus seem to come to some understanding that the good life they had known is not real or not worthy and so they don’t look for easy targets on which to project their frustration.

At this point in my discussion with my friend, I was reminded of A Scanner Darkly (of which I’m often reminded). In Scanner, the protagonist Bob Arctor remembers (or else has a vision) of once having lived the good life, of having  had a nice house with a perfect family. It’s in that scene he realizes he didn’t ultimately hate the momentary pain of life’s events but rather he had felt hate for how his life had once been, the life that wasn’t real and that hid the deeper pain of a world without meaning or wonder. Arctor hated what that dream of the perfect life represented. The perfect family and home weren’t as perfect as they appeared. Society and human relationships are filled with endless deception. No matter how comfortable the fantasy, it’s not enough. The realization that the dream is fake is a good thing because only in knowing what isn’t real can one then seek out that which is real.

Foster is deluding himself that if he can just get back home that the world will somehow be put right again. By tightly holding onto his dream of normalacy, he ends up hurting almost everyone he meets. As portrayed in Scanner, facing reality isn’t always pleasant… even so, there is something worthy in it. The key element is the willingness to self-sacrifice. Foster instead chooses self-destruction that achieves no end other than self-righteousness. Foster is shocked to discover that he is seen as being the “bad guy”, but he doesn’t ask for forgiveness for the destruction and suffering he has left in his wake. 

I thought of one last example of this narrative: American Beauty. Lester Burnham is yet another middle class white guy who had been living the American Dream and found it lacking. When confronted with this situation, there are many possible responses. At first, Lester responds by becoming infatuated with his daughter’s friend. So, he turns from the fantasy of career to the fantasy of youthful desire, but something stops him from following through with this infatuation. He sees the young girl as a real person and not merely an object of his desire. He seems to realize that he doesn’t want to harm another simply because he himself feels hurt by life.

Interestingly, both A Scanner Darkly and American Beauty end, after everything going wrong, with a vision of beauty. Quite differently, Network and Falling Down end on a note of almost pure cynicism. District 9 just ends with self-conscious movie cliche silliness.

However it ends, I find it a compelling story when the middle class white guy is thrown out of his middle class white world. But why is it compelling? Should we pity the middle class white guy who has been forced to face the everyday suffeing most of humanity faces all of the time? Should the middle class white guy feel sorry for himself because he has lost the sense of comfort that his socio-economic class normally provides? Why, as a society, are we obsessed with telling (and being entertained by) stories about the struggles of middle class white guys? Is it compelling because the middle class white guy as the collective symbol of normalacy represents our collective sense of self? If the middle class white guy loses his direction, will our whole society collapse? Is the middle class white guy the moral compass of modern Western Civilization?

I could leave it on the level of social criticism of middle class white guys and our fascination with them, but there is another context I wanted to throw in. The theme of the superficial normalacy of American culture has been explored in Film Noir and Neo-Noir. Starting with the first Philip K. Dick adaptation (Blade Runner), Science Fiction has become a popular form of Neo-Noir. Like much of Philip K. Dick’s work, A Scanner Darkly also has Noir elements. Important elements of Noir and Neo-Noir are memory and identity. None of the movies I’ve discussed are specifically Noir, but for all of them identity is the most central element in that the characters have their identities shaken to the core. In Arts of Darkness, Thomas S. Hibbs discusses American Beauty (p. 193):

Not technically a noir film, American Beauty does overlap with noir in a number of respects: in its use of flashback and voiceover; in its focus on a character who is already dead (D.O.A.); in its assumption that the source of American alienation is somehow connected to the infiltration of consumerism into the very heart of intimate relations; in its theme of a doomed quest; and in its setting of the final, crescendo of violence at night in rain. American Beauty is also a deeply, if not entirely coherent religious film that, according to at least one perceptive Christian film critic, can help viewers see “the world as it truly is: resplendent and suffused with a radiant, implacable love that shows itself in the exquisite beauty of the very fabric of the created world.

Hibbs, a few pages later, points out an important insight (p. 199):

A more consistent critique of capitalism as source of brutality can be found in Wendell Berry’s essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.” Berry argues that giving free reign to capitalism wipes out local communal life, leaving individuals isolated and powerless in the face of large, impersonal forces. The proper, mediating role of the community is lost and individuals, liberated from local traditions and communal expectations, are increasingly subject to the whims of national bureaucracies and international markets. One of the problems with the “family values” espoused by conservatives is that it often leaves the nuclear family to itself, isolated amid an increasingly hostile economic and social order. Family values are also quite compatible with what Tocqueville identified as one of the great vices of modern politics: individualism. Tocqueville contrasted egoism, which elevates the satisfaction of one’s own desires above all else, with individualism, which is a “a mature and calm feeling” that disposes each person to “draw apart with his family and friends” and ” willingly leave society to itself.” The consequence of this sort of individualism, according to Berry, is the loss of the sense of marriage as anything other than a contract between two isolated individuals: “If you depreciate the sanctity and solemnity of marriage, not just as a bond between two people but as a bond between those two people and their forbears, their children, and their neighbors, then you have prepared the way for an epidemic of divorce, child neglet, community ruin, and loneliness.”

This brings me back to my social criticism of the white middle class guy who is the symbol of our consumerist society. He is the head of the nuclear family and the traditional breadwinner. The role of the individual has become so constrained, so narrow that this role takes on ultimate significance. When the white middle class guy loses his job or family, the center can no longer hold. There is no larger community for him to turn to, there is no other respectable role he can take up. However, at the same time, this role that gives him the only meaning he knows also confounds any search for greater meaning. It’s what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation”.

This “quiet desperation” is often portrayed in the form of bureaucracy. In Falling Down and American Beauty, the protagonists just lost their important positions in large bureaucratic companies. In District 9, Network, and A Scanner Darkly, the protagonists are caught up in the machinations of bureaucracies. This mind-numbing, soul-killing bureaucracy is what Max Weber called the Iron Cage. From the Wikipedia article:

Iron cage, a sociological concept introduced by Max Weber, refers to the increased rationalization inherent in social life, particularly in Western capitalist societies. The “iron cage” thus traps individuals in systems based purely on teleological efficiency, rational calculation and control. Weber also described the bureaucratization of social order as “the polar night of icy darkness”.

[ . . . ] Weber states, “the course of development involves… the bringing in of calculation into the traditional brotherhood, displacing the old religious relationship.”

Modern society was becoming characterized by its shift in the motivation of individual behaviors. Social actions were becoming based on efficiency instead of the old types of social actions, which were based on lineage or kinship. Behavior had become dominated by goal-oriented rationality and less by tradition and values. According to Weber, the shift from the old form of mobility in terms of kinship to a new form in terms of a strict set of rules was a direct result of growth in bureaucracy and capitalism.

[ . . . ] Because of these aforementioned reasons, there will be an evolution of an iron cage, which will be a technically ordered, rigid, dehumanized society. The iron cage is the one set of rules and laws that we are all subjected and must adhere to. Bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage, which limits individual human freedom and potential instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free. It’s the way of the institution, where we do not have a choice anymore. Once capitalism came about, it was like a machine that you were being pulled into without an alternative option; currently, whether we agree or disagree, if you want to survive you need to have a job and you need to make money.

[ . . . ] “Rationalization destroyed the authority of magical powers, but it also brought into being the machine-like regulation of bureaucracy, which ultimately challenges all systems of belief.”

I first learned of Weber’s ideas about bureaucracy from the book The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. In that book, Hansen describes the eternal conflict in our society between the forces of bureaucratic order and the forces that are beyond control. The Trickster archetype can never be entirely removed or entirely protected against. It’s the role of the Trickster to explode the alien chemicals in the face of Wikus in District 9. It’s the role of the Trickster to create such confused self-deception in A Scanner Darkly. If nothing ever went wrong, there wouldn’t be any reason to tell stories. No satisfying story ends exactly as it begins. Some learn to accept the role of the Trickster and they hold less tightly onto the story they were telling themselves. Those who do try to hold onto their self-justifying stories typically become tragic anti-heroes like in Falling Down and tragic anti-heroes have tragic ends.

Yes, “they” are lying to us, but it also must be understood that “they” are lying to everyone… including to themselves. We are all caught up in a system of lies. This relates to Weber’s Iron Cage or, to put it in the light of gnosticism, what Philip K. Dick called the Black Iron Prison. Ultimately, we should worry more about the lies we tell ourselves than the lies that others tell us. Most of the time, we believe the lies of others because we want to believe them, because we have internalized some fundamental lie that our society is built upon. If you must, scream out the window that you’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Then, after doing so, take a look at yourself in the mirror.

Let me end this with the context of real life.

I mentioned Glenn Beck in relation to Network. I find that fascinating considering that Glenn Beck idolizes a fictional character who ends up being assassinated for speaking out against the powers that be. What is sad about Howard Beale, and hence what is sad about Beck, is that he looks outward trying to find the source of the problem. As I recall, Beale doesn’t come to any grand realization as does Bob Arctor and as does Lester Burnham. Both Beale and Arctor are possessed by paranoid visions which isn’t the problem in and of itself. Their paranoia correctly detects real conspiracies and real deceptions, but there is a difference that matters. Arctor, through profound self-questioning, transforms his paranoia into a spiritual vision.

It’s with this contrast between Beale and Arctor that I rest my own personal struggles. I can’t entirely blame the Beales and Becks of the world for ranting against injustice. I can’t even entirely blame the Bill Fosters of the world for going on their rampages. In the real world, Bill Foster in Falling Down is Joe Stack flying his plane into the IRS building. I understand how a person can feel overwhelmed by the frustration and hopelessness. The rug gets pulled out from under us (whether it’s losing your job or having alien chemicals sprayed in your face) and one is forced to respond. Most will try everything they can to make it go back to the way it used to be, but this inevitably fails. In place of what was lost, some latch onto convictions and others seek retribution. I personally prefer those who seek understanding and those who try to find a way to end the cycle of suffering. Such things as family and career won’t save you and neither will such things as politics and religion. My sense is that genuine salvation is much more personal and existential. Like Bill Foster, it’s all too easy to become the enemy that one wishes to fight against. Righteous anger is a dangerous drug which is highly addictive. I understand the allure of self-righteousness, but I’d like to believe there is some other option… beauty, love, compassion, self-sacrifice… I don’t know… something…

Nonetheless, whether or not we are able to gain something we deem a worthy exchange, it is undeniably clear that most often what is lost can never be regained. As Thomas Wolfe so famously said:

…you can’t go home again… back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love… away from all the strife and conflict of the world… back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

I do, however, hope that at least some semblance of truth can be found or else just the awareness of the edges of knowledge. I admit I’d love to experience a transformative vision or attain some gnosis about the world, but there is no guarantee about anything and I suppose that is the only truth we can rely upon. We can’t know what lies ahead and so that is why we try to hold onto past certainties. Still, I think Bob Arctor was lucky in having entirely lost his former self. It seems to me that it was because he had no past to weigh him down that he was able to see the world in a way no one else could.

“I saw Death rising from the earth, from the ground itself… in one blue field.”

God: Suffering and Longing

Posted on Dec 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
God’s Goodness is man’s suffering by which I’m not implying the good and bad as theological beliefs.  Its the ideal of Goodness (via our longing for it) that creates dissatisfaction of this world.  Even so, this tendency to idealize and to long is natural to the human psyche.  God or our experience of God isn’t in opposition to this earthly existence.

The reason that such immense ideals have an “otheworldly” feel to them is because God is the ultimate Other… which isn’t the same as saying God is separate.  This Other can also be experienced inwardly (if such a word applies), but this doesn’t change the esential Otherness.  God’s Goodness isn’t human goodness meaning it isn’t comprehensible in everyday terms nor can it be conformed to our purposes.  God undermines our entire sense of self and reality which isn’t a bad thing per se, but  its hard to interpret such an experience according to our normal beliefs and expectations of goodness. 

This world of suffering is Hell and our complicity with suffering is Evil.  I use these strong words because only they can convey the power of suffering when felt deeply.  But, by this, I don’t mean to assume any particular theological claims.  And, yet, I do mean to say that essentially both the Christians and Gnostics are right about God.  Thusly, without logical consistency and without psychological reconciliation, I accept my inability to separate my experience of suffering from my experience of that which is other than suffering… whatever one may wish to call it.

Or, anyways, this is what makes sense to me at the moment.  Unlike a pessimist of a materialist bent, I don’t deny any metaphysical possibility.  I have experienced something that felt like an Other.  Was it God?  Was it even good in the ultimate sense?  I don’t know.  It felt real… and, in this world of confusion, a glimpse of reality may be the closest one gets to the Good.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 2 hours later

Marmalade said

There is only one essential statement in this whole blog:The Good of God is not the good of man. Its just my experience and that is all.

The only other choice is to go entirely with the Gnostics and call God Evil… which Icould agree with in the sense that they speak of the god of this world. The problem with the latter interpretation is such dualism doesn’t make sense of my experience, but maybe the Gnostics didn’t believe it as a fact… instead as something like a useful means.

What I do know is that this world is filled with immeasurable suffering. Yet, when I explore this suffering, I discover something other than any normal sense of this world.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 17 hours later

Nicole said

I think too often we ignore or gloss over this Otherness and its implications.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

Part of me would say that I’m exaggerating too much, but there is a purpose for my doing so. Suffering, strangely enough, can be one of the easiest things to ignore or distract ourselves from. This is as true for me as for anyone else.

There is something freeing about simply stating that this world is hell. I spent years struggling against suffering, but I feel that struggle has become less. Whatam I freed from? I’m not entirely sure. An element of it has to do with imagination. For me, to imagine what might be is founded upon seeing things as they are. So, in allowing hell to be real, I can imagine heaven. Or something like that.

In case you were wondering, this blog actually wasn’t intended as a direct response to the guilt thread in the God pod. This is just an extension of my recent thinking. I wrote this down in my journalaround a week agoand finally got around to writing it up.

The direct inspiration of this post is the essential statement I mentioned. I’ve had that thought for a long time. The realization that the Good of God isn’t the good of man came to me during a time (which we’ve talked about before)when I had fully relented to my own experience of suffering and longing, but I also feared losing myself in this experience of Other. I didn’t feel capable (or willing) to stay with this experience. Nonetheless, the memory of it is very clear and an everpresent reality of sorts… even if I haven’t yet come to terms with it.