Questions for Men and Women of Faith and for Skeptics

Often when people talk about religion the discussion gets really boring because religious and anti-religious people have been arguing at each other in the West for four hundred years and everybody knows the moves and the counter-moves.  I think it’s better (more interesting, more likely to lead to a fruitful, mutually respectful discussion) to ask religious people what they do about people who are too religious (or religious in the wrong sort of way), and skeptical people what they do about people who are too skeptical (or skeptical about the wrong sort of thing).

If somebody is a Breslover Hasid and says the modern world has too little faith and the like faith, ask “What do you say to a follower of Pure Land Buddhism?”

If somebody is a religious skeptic like Bertrand Russell ask “Is there any position that if someone you loved decided to deny its truth would cause you pain, even though you can’t prove that it’s true?  If you love peace, how would you talk to your child if he said “Dad, I love and live for the thrill of war?”

Both the religious and the anti-religious have a sort of Maginot line in place pointed at the other side.  It’s interesting to creep around the flank and see how the left-side guards against its left side and the right side against its right.

At the end of the day I think this investigation will show us that “religion” (and thus anti-religion) is a poorly defined concept and we will have to seek out sharper ways of delineating what sort of propositions people are willing to take big bets on — sometimes life-sized ones.


What Would Jesus Have Been Like if He Had Gotten Older?

Would his thinking have evolved or changed?

Would his tension with his disciples — Peter, Judas — have led to them breaking away and starting their own movements?

Would he have tried to achieve political power?

If he had taken the “Last Temptation of Christ” and gone off with Mary Magdalene and raised a family, how would he regard his younger self?

With wistfulness?





The Fourth Angel

I did one time get Mrs. Quost to tell me about angels.  I don’t remember all the details — it was a long time ago! — but the basics are this.

The first Angel is you yourself. When you ask yourself a question and you answer it, that’s the first angel talking to you.

The Second Angel is the ones you love who love you who take care of you.  When somebody looked at you and you were a baby and they were like “I love him.  I love that baby.” that was the Second Angel, looking through their eyes, listening through their ears.

The Third Angel is the world beckoning you to understand it.  Some people look out and don’t care to understand it.  Those poor souls don’t have this Angel in their Lives.  Poor folks!  said Mrs. Quost. Help them!

I will, Mrs. Quost. But what about the Fourth Angel.

Do you remember Sesame Street — three of these things belong together and one of them doesn’t belong?   It will be like string, needle, thimble, and elephant, and the kids are supposed to say elephant, because string, needle, thimble you use to sew, and elephant you do not?

I do.  Is that the Angel?

No that’s what the angel is not.  The fourth angel is when you say “Wait a second!  The thimble could go on the nose of that elephant.  That’s the Fourth Angel whispering in your ear, twisting your eye in its socket.”

So that’s the Fourth Angel.

I wonder whatever happened to Mrs. Quost?


Poem by Fernando Pessoa — Good Writer!

I don’t know how many souls I have.
I’ve changed at every moment.
I always feel like a stranger.
I’ve never seen or found myself.
From being so much, I have only soul.
A man who has soul has no calm.
A man who sees is just what he sees.
A man who feels is not who he is.

Attentive to what I am and see,
I become them and stop being I.
Each of my dreams and each desire
Belongs to whoever had it, not me.
I am my own landscape,
I watch myself journey –
Various, mobile, and alone.
Here where I am I can’t feel myself.

That’s why I read, as a stranger,
My being as if it were pages.
Not knowing what will come
And forgetting what has passed,
I note in the margin of my reading
What I thought I felt.
Rereading, I wonder: “Was that me?”
God knows, because he wrote it.


Memory and Ecstasy

“You have been searching for an ecstatic experience.  But you haven’t noticed how your concept of ecstasy is rooted in a contradictory desire to escape memory.”

“Because without memory how would you know the experience was ecstatic?  Without your memory of tasting human food how would you know that the fountain you drank from was divine?  Without the disappointing human lips on your mouth, how could you say “This.  Now.  I am feeling the Kiss of God?”

“And don’t you know, that your memory of the Kiss of God — that special kiss that dissolved your ego — that raptured your soul into the seven-storied heaven — that memory is no ecstasy at all?  It is a sad disappointing limiting thought, like all your sad disappointing limited thoughts!  It propels you into your shame cycle.  The addict acts out and is ashamed of acting out and that shame makes him act out.  So it’s a fair question — is he addicted to his substance or to the feeling of shame?  So your mystic he breaks his heart, and he misses the feeling of his heart being broken, and then cries the tears that cause God to comfort him with a kiss.”





The Double Reflection

Kierkegaard thought intellectual maturity started when you made “the double reflection”.  Here’s the idea.  We start unreflective.  For example “I have got to win the football game tomorrow!  If I don’t beat that jerks it’s all over!”    Then we reflect — i.e. we look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror. We monitor ourselves.  We consider questions like “I love to win at football and I hate the other side.  But is that right?  Is the other side hateful?  Does it matter if I win or lose?”   But at some point we can double-reflect, meaning we can ask questions about what the pluses and minuses are of reflecting.  Metaphorically this is like looking at myself in a mirror as a I look at myself in another mirror.  Or to use a contemporary example it’s like using an app on my phone that tracks how much time I spend using apps on my phone.

This idea can seem pretty trippy.  How can I reflect on reflection?  Doesn’t that lead me into some kind of vertiginous regress?  And yet, we do it all the time.  We notice “Hey I’m reflective because it keeps me safe” or “I’m reflective because my mother liked me to study a lot” or “When I reflect it takes a lot of energy — it tires me out.” or “I reflect better when I’m a little angry but not too angry” or whatever.  Double reflection seems hard to think about but actually it isn’t. It’s pretty normal.

Double reflection leads us to reflect upon the best way to include thought in our lives.  And if we think that’s impossible we’re wrong, because we reflect upon it in precisely the same way as we reflect upon the best way to include love, or exercise, or watching t.v. in our lives.

If we think that that’s impossible, that it causes some sort of mind-dizzying regress, then we have to get better at double reflection!



I Am All That Was, Is, and Shall Be, and No Mortal Has Peeked Beneath My Peplum

This deity or mother goddess is not simply many-breasted but infinitely breasted (Isis Multamammia) because every living being, nay every moment, and every particle of spacetime nurses at her body simultaneously.

Who is She?  She is all that was, is, and shall be, worshiped in Egypt at the Temple of Sais.

Why has no mortal peeped beneath her peplum (or veil)?

Is it because if you peep beneath her peplum you die?

Is it because it is impossible because mortals are ensnared in time by definition, so if you looked at all that was, is, and shall be at once you would by definition no longer be a mortal?

Is it because if you peep beneath her peplum you become Divine?

Is it because of the incest taboo — she is our mother, so if we look at her naked we find ourselves aroused at our own mother, and this is forbidden?

Or is the incest taboo a dark prefiguration of the ineluctable paradox that we desire to transcend time, but the moment we do we are no longer in time, and therefore desire nothing more than anything else?

Or maybe  it is simply a threat to test us.

“No mortal has looked under your peplum, eh Dea Incognita?”

Well, I like a challenge!