ANSWER TO JOE
Jung once wrote a book called "Answer to Job." I once wrote
Joe asked me recently if I was “OK,” raising the question because of the precipitous drop-off in philosophical e-mails this year. Was my lack of communication on things philosophical perhaps a sign of depression or futility? I assured him the lack of writing was not associated with any sort of “problem,” that the mind was active, even though the typing fingers were mostly still.
And I would add: It’s hard to hold a pen and click a shutter at the same time. Viva Flickr!
Allow me to share some things that serve as recent touchstones in the realm of philosophy and belief, things that keep the mind active but allow the hands some measure of rest as the eyes scan Schoepfle Garden or Lakeview Park in search of photo opportunities.
During a recent Plain Dealer news meeting, Jeff Greene presented a photograph of an orthodox Jewish man swinging a live chicken over his head and praying. The activity took place the day before Yom Kippur and was enacted so the sins of the man would pass into the chicken. “Finally, something that makes sense,” I cried. I hope the irony was apparent.
I think of this ritual as the enactment of the ridiculous in hope of the miraculous, a staple of all religion. Most photos speak a thousand words – this one speaks 10 million. But I wonder: Does the chicken have to be alive or is southern fried OK? Would a side order of mashed potatoes absorb more sin? Is KFC really a church? Will we ever see the colonel on a cross? I hope.
By the way, still in the running for a good belief system are the Church of St. John Coltrane and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And I think I will start The Church of St. Milan of Kundera.
This item deals with religious knowledge and was inspired by two Mormon missionaries who visited briefly this fall. I say “briefly” because they caught me leaving for work; indeed, I was on my way to the news meeting where the chicken photo was presented! All part of “god’s” plan! That's a joke.
In our rapid, to-the-point conversation, the lead “elder” (who might have been 20!) said he simply KNEW his religion was factually correct, that it had always been true and correct, since the start of time, and would always be correct, forever, and that any reasonable person would grasp that if only they’d study The Book of Mormon objectively. That old argument! Cut to the chase: He sees religion as based in fact; I see it as primarily psychological. Experience leaves a mark on people, but by the time they notice it seems like a miracle from god, whose name may be: Yahweh, Jehovah, Lord, Jesus, Allah, Zeus, Cronus, Set, Ahura Mazda, Guru Nanek, Buddha, Vishnu, Isis, Shiva ... and so on for 84 pages and then some.
So there’s the second item, simple but powerful: Evidence strongly suggests that religion is the confusion of the factual with the psychological. It results in a confusion of faith statements with fact statements. And religion itself – taken as a whole – reveals and supports this notion, which is to say, in regards the truth of absolutes, religion is its own worst enemy. Nothing has reinvented itself so many times as religion – only to have each new set of true believers swear that their reinvention is eternal, absolute and TRUE! The irony is monumental. You’d have to laugh if it didn’t cause so much grief in the world and abruptly terminate so many quests after knowledge. I think the most common form of child abuse is to tell children that your religious beliefs are true. The confusion between fact and belief starts early and is seldom outgrown. How about the beauty of doubt!
Just because I don't know the eternal truth or the ultimate facts of life doesn't stop me from advocating further thought on such matters!
A related tidbit: Did you know that Zeus is the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea? You can look it up. If you had a dollar every time those words were printed or read, you would be rich, certainly a multimillionaire at least. But what does it mean to “know” that Zeus is the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea?
It means that you know something about a belief system – but not necessarily a fact about the world. It is easy to get confused in regards such “knowledge.” We can get things right and still have them wrong if we try to push the information past its context. Knowing about belief is not the same thing as knowing the ultimate facts of life: religion depends on denying this; religion lives on confusion between information and knowledge, whether you’re talking about Zeus, Jay Zeus and Hay Zeus. I wonder if anyone has ever researched the similarity between J-E-S-U-S and Z-E-U-S, and how in some languages they sound almost identical. Perhaps Jesus was really the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea!
THE TWO JAKES
An essential component to this new and peaceful stance toward philosophy came about this spring during two lengthy e-mail exchanges with Amazon authors.
We all know that the spirit of fundamentalism is not limited to churchgoers, but it’s amazing to see it connected to science and logic. The battle is not simply to get people to question religion; it’s to get them to see and explore their personal certainties, the world of belief in their own heads. The fault is not in religion; it is in our selves; it is in our desire to pretend that we know more than we do or can. This afflicts the high and the low, the educated and the uneducated, the Amazon author or the innocent Mormon knocking on doors in Ohio.
When science and logic become the new religion they must come under our human scrutiny. Atheists get caught up in wishful thinking just as much as twenty-something Mormon “elders.” Maybe you have to see atheist certainty-seeking played out over dozens of e-mails to get the full impact. I was lucky to have such an experience. Actually, I think one does gain something if he or she drops god and starts learning logic or science; but I think there's a lot more to be gained if you stop worshipping altogether and just ponder things on a case-by-case basis.
NOW A FAMILY GATHERING
So who has the facts? The Mormon elder referencing Jesus would be silenced by the mainstream Protestant claiming that Mormonism is a folly and a cult, who would be silenced by the kosher Christian saying church on Sunday and shrimp cocktail is totally wrong, who would be shoved aside by the Catholic referencing Mary and the Miracle of the Eucharist, who would be drowned out by the laughter of a logical atheist and his science worship; then all would be bonked on the head by a chicken-swinging orthodox Jew just before he was blown to pieces by a fundamentalist Muslim as a Buddhist monk sets himself on fire in the background. Ah, the beauty of religion! The clan of absolutism – truly a house divided – stands on very shaky ground indeed. But don’t tell them that.
So, chicken swinging believers, juvenile elders, logical absolutists, faith-filled atheists and the recognition of religious confusion swim tranquilly in my mind as the eye frames another photo and the finger presses the shutter. It’s a mysteriously satisfying existence. As I wrote this, the sun came out in all its October glory, lighting up leaves all along the lakefront. Now that’s church! Maybe Nikon is really the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea.
P.S. I would also have to add that “The Future of Religion” played a big role in this new stance. Same for the discovery of John Caputo. More recently “Freud” by Jonathan Lear – and his discussion of the transference world coming into view – has provided copious inspiration that, for some reason, does not need to be translated into endless e-mails. At least not yet.