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Chernynkaya On February - 27 - 2011

5.

Ruin has taught me thus to ruminate,

That time will come and take my love away.

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose

But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

~ Sonnet 64

 

We are tempted to cut ourselves off from the profound depths of experience that Shakespeare is expressing at the end of this sonnet. “But the essence of being human is that, in the brief moment we exist on this spinning planet, we can love some persons and some things, in spite of the fact that time and death will ultimately claim us all,“ May wrote. To my mind, it requires more than courage; it requires defiance, an insurgent spirit.

Paul Tillich spoke of this eternal insurgency in his concept of God beyond God, which can be seen as a rebellion against an outmoded and inadequate form of God. Tillich held that theology must begin with an existential analysis of the human being. One method of analysis is to look on the political, scientific, and artistic life of our culture as a reflection of our existential situation. Also, our culture acts as a mirror of our ultimate concerns, be they worthy or idolatrous. We may insist, for instance, that “family values” are an ultimate concern but if our society does nothing to support those values, we can count on the culture to reveal what our ultimate concerns really are. Tillich’s analysis of our existential nature within our situation led him to understand why the biblical symbolism of a personal God is our only adequate means of relating to theology. He believed that the Christian message was the truth that fit the nature of humanity, but that it had to be reinterpreted for every generation. While the message remains eternally true, it must be translated to make sense for each cultural situation, and to answer the questions that are posed by each situation. The means of accomplishing this was what Tillich described as “the method of correlation [which] explains the contents of the Christian faith through existential questions and theological answers in mutual interdependence.”

In the first volume of Systematic Theology, Tillich presented his doctrine of God as correlated with the structures of human being—a being always in tension and anxiety, threatened by nonbeing but finding the God at the very depth of being and experience, God is Being Itself: The Ground of Being. According to Tillich, we humans are guilt-ridden, painfully conscious of our finitude, and threatened with meaninglessness. We are estranged from our essential selves and suffer from the anxiety that comes from the dreadful awareness of the possibility of our nonbeing. Nevertheless, he urges us to find our meaning in the face of meaninglessness and to find certainty within our doubt. For this, we need “the courage to be.” Because we can no longer find the sources of this courage in the finite God of traditional theism, our courage can only come from the “God above God,” or the power of being itself.

But how does this impersonal God provide us with the salvation, the rescue that we so urgently need? Where is the immanent God? According to Tillich, the God above God, the power of being, has appeared in the New Being of Christ, and “the courage to be is rooted in this God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

Tillich looked at religion not from the standpoint of the object (God) but as it appeared in the subject (the person), a perspective shared by William James. It should be noted that his book, The Varieties of Religious Experiences, which is the transcript of lectures delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, is subtitled “A Study of Human Nature.” What mattered to James was not the development or defense of any particular theology, but how religion served humanity. His conclusions were based on his observations of the religious beliefs in the world around him, his vast eclectic studies, insights from his work as a psychologist, and most importantly from those philological concepts that were compatible with his notion of pragmatism.

In his twentieth and final lecture, he described a religious belief as holding:

“That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof—be that spirit “God” or “law”—is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.” The positive psychological results of religion include “ a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism…An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.” Each of us has our own work to do and he maintained that each person must find his own religious path. Furthermore, the fact that there are so many religious types and creeds is a vital necessity: “The divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities…Each attitude being a syllable in human nature’s total message, it takes the whole of us to spell it out completely. So a “god of battles” must be allowed to be the god of one type of person, a god of peace and heaven and home, the god for another. We must frankly recognize the fact that we live in partial systems.”

James was correlating our need for centeredness with our way of apprehending the Divine. Tillich’s method of correlation linked our culture to our worldview, and then to our cosmic view. In this way, Tillich’s theology is the answer to our question, while James appears to be saying our question determines the answer.

“Does God exist? How does he exist? What is he? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God, but life, more life, a richer, more satisfying life is, in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.” Thus far, James is claiming no more than that a religious belief is useful. He admits that there must be an indefinable something—“the More” as he called it—that produces real effects in the world. “But that which produces effects within another reality must be termed reality itself, so I feel as if we had no philosophic excuse for calling the unseen or mystical world unreal.” This is very close to his statements about truth, that something is true if you believe it so based on your own observations. So “God is real since he produces real effects.” This is still utilitarian. It is not until we get to page 568, in the postscript to Varieties, that James makes the least ambiguous statements about his belief. I am quoting it in the entirety because there is no other way to capture the obvious struggle it reveals, or his ambivalence in revealing it:

I state the matter thus bluntly, because the current thought in academic circles runs against me, and I feel like a man who must set his back against an open door quickly if he does not wish to see it closed and locked…If asked just where the differences in fact which are due to God’s existence come in, I should have to say that in general I have no hypothesis to offer beyond what the phenomenon of “prayerful communion,” especially when certain kinds of incursion from the subconscious region take part in it, immediately suggests. The appearance is that in this phenomenon something ideal, which in one sense is part of ourselves and in another sense is not ourselves, actually exerts an influence, raises our center of personal energy, and produces regenerative effects unattainable in other ways. If, then, there be a wider world of being than that of our every-day consciousness, if in it there be forces whose effects on us are intermittent, if one facilitating condition of the effects be the openness of the “subliminal” door, we have the elements of a theory to which the phenomena of religious life lend plausibility. I am so impressed by the importance of these phenomena that I adopt the hypothesis which they so naturally suggest. At these places at least, I say, it would seem as though transmundane energies, God, if you will, produced immediate effects within the natural world to which the rest of our experiences belong.

James described his position as both radical empiricism and pragmatism, which are not identical. Empiricism bases knowledge on experience, but in James’s view it is experience that is seen realistically. His studies in psychology led him to insist that we look at all experiences– not just selective experiences. This can be seen in his empirical method of tackling religious experience in The Varieties of Religious Experience. In the chapter on the stream of thought in his Principles of Psychology he noted how thought is personal (mine), is ever-changing, is continuous, deals with things other than itself, and is selective. (In describing the non-static nature of experience, James coined the term “stream of consciousness.”) In this sense then, his radical empiricism can be described as phenomenological in character. He went on to add his theory of pragmatism to that of radical empiricism.

For James, pragmatism was not just a theory of meaning, even though in Pragmatism he presents it in that way to show that many metaphysical disputes are vacuous. His more important point was that pragmatism is a theory if truth: the truth of an idea us the very process if its verification. “Truth happens to an idea, “James tells us. Ideas are incipient projects. For example, if I am lost, finding a path back to the main road is a project that involves 1.) Finding my way back and 2.) My belief that such-and-such a path will get me there. If the path leads me to the main road, then my belief in that path was validated. The path wasn’t inherently true—it was my process of verification that made it true. If I had chosen (believed) in the wrong path, would the path I had not taken remain true? No. Truth is a concept, an idea and not a thing. An idea is a thought that arises out of a process. As I understand it, our minds are like manufacturers for the processing of ideas— a sort of factory that takes raw personal experiences, mixes them with all kinds of emotions and wants and needs, and processes these into ideas. Since a path is a thing and not a concept, it cannot be truth in and of itself. Only we can imbue it with truth in our process of trying it.

To further explain his ideas, James wrote,

In some of my lectures at Harvard I have spoken if what I call the ‘faith ladder’… I think you will quickly recognize it in yourselves as I discuss it, the mental process to which I give the name.

A conception of the world arises in you somehow, no matter how. Is it true or not? You ask.

It might be true somewhere, you say, for it is not self-contradictory.

It may be true, somewhere, you continue, even here and now.

It is fit to be true, it would be well if it were true, it ought to be true, you presently feel.

It must be true, something persuasive whispers in you next; and then– as a final result—

It shall be held for true, you decide; it shall be as if true, for you.

And your acting thus may in certain special cases be a means of making it securely true in the end.

Not one step in this process is logical, yet it is the way in which monists and pluralists alike espouse and hold fast to their visions. It is life exceeding logic, it is the practical reason for which the theoretic reason finds arguments after the conclusion is once there.

James wrote that we all want to believe in a caring universe, a universe that contains Truth. He felt that morality was meaningless without this. We can never prove this empirically, of course, nor can we be convinced of it by logic. The universe as we want it to be can only exist for us if we have faith, only if we passionately desire—only if we will it so. This seems at first such a radical notion! Is he saying that because we intensely want something to be true (perhaps need it to be true) we can make it true by willing ourselves faith? Yes, he is, but his statement only applies to ideas that cannot be proven. He is basically saying that in the absence of data, what we choose to believe is our truth. And I think we know he is right. We know that beyond facts, there is no objective truth, no Platonic Forms. But it troubles us, as if we were now on unstable ground somehow. Yet faith requires the will(power) to believe in the face of all reason. In the end, we must surrender to our yearning, and we must trust our “instincts of the heart.”

In The Will to Believe, James’ optimistic existentialism is evident. Therein he argues that when we are faced with a genuine option, we have the right to believe one thing rather than the other.  Maybe we choose that belief because it is more satisfying to our moral nature, for instance. On a pragmatic level, he believed that free will was more fruitful than determinism in encouraging us and in improving our lives. He understood, and shared, the urgent need we have for answers to our ultimate questions. We cannot wait for idle scientific experimentation; we need to feel at home in the universe now. “Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas in which we can rest,” he wrote in Pragmatism. Our daily life is full of choices we cannot dodge. We must choose, whether we will it or not. And where all is doubt, who can deny our right to believe what we need to believe? I do not think James would have characterized his theories of Pragmatism and Radical Empiricism as existential (nor have I found any evidence that he ever read Kierkegaard), but there are clearly existential themes in these concepts. William James’ examination of religious belief suggested to him that the believer “is continuous, to his consciousness at any rate, with a wider self from which saving experiences flow in.” To reconcile that ever-present paradox of evil, James contended that it is likely that the God or the wider self is finite in power or knowledge or both. To many of us this may seem disheartening, in the same vaguely uneasy way we responded to assertions that there is no absolute Truth. It is exactly this uneasy tugging that Rollo May urges us not to ignore.

May doesn’t write specifically about religion or God, but his existential psychotherapy is concerned with the same core issues. There is a vein of opinion among some concerned thinkers that psychotherapy has become a religion in itself. Those who hold this point put that religion and psychology both: have a tangential relationship to philosophy, use deep metaphor, influence our ways of seeing ourselves and others, attract devotees, and provide concepts and techniques for the ordering of the interior life. Because of the seminal role of depth psychology in determining our modern Western culture and orientation, it was incorporated into Tillich’s systematic theology, which stressed the importance of praxis and the method of correlation. In a practical sense, it doesn’t matter that the discipline of psychology would never identify itself as a religion. People turn to psychologists as they do to clergy when they ask, “What should I do? How can I be better?” And when they seek meaning. In a wonderful anecdote, Andre’ Malraux once asked a parish priest if he had any insights after fifty years of taking confession. The old priest told Malraux that he had learned that people are much more unhappy than one thinks, and that there is no such thing as a grown-up person. Our existential situation is part of the human condition, not necessarily as sign of pathology.

Why then do we need a theory of psychotherapy that rests on a universal human experience? Further, since our situation is universal, what can we do about it anyway? One answer is that each of us experiences the stress of our human condition in highly individual way. A more relevant answer is that existential psychotherapy holds that the drives or dynamics or behaviors or emotions—by whichever words are used—must be understood only in the context of the existence of the particular being sitting in front of the psychotherapist. An illustration of this unique emphasis can be seen in the way an existential psychotherapist treats the meaning of death. Instead of giving weight to the theory of “death instinct,” May explains that an existential psychotherapist sees that:

The critical question thus is how he relates to the fact of death: whether he spends his existence running away from death or making a cult of repressing the recognition of death under the rationalizations of beliefs in automatic progress…The existential analysts, on the other hand, hold that the confronting of death gives the most positive reality to life itself…Nor do we need to go as far as the extreme example if death to discover the problem of non-being. Perhaps the most ubiquitous and ever-present form of the failure to confront non-being in our day is conformism, the tendency of the individual to let himself be absorbed in the sea if collective responses and attitudes, with the corresponding loss of his own awareness, potentialities, and whatever characterizes him as  unique and original being. The individual temporarily escapes the anxiety if nonbeing by this means, but at the price of forfeiting his own powers and sense of existence.

Our ability to deal with nonbeing results in our capacity to tolerate normal anxiety, hostility and aggression without repressing them, and to use them constructively. May believed that it is clear that the neurotic forms of anxiety and aggression develop precisely because we are unable to deal with the normal forms of those states. There are myriad ways in which existential psychotherapy can help us live our lives more fully. While existential psychotherapists give importance to the role of our personal histories, they eschew the tendency to avoid the immediate, anxiety-creating issues in the present. Insight occurs in that moment when we grasp the meaning of something in the here-and-now. This is expressed as the moment of most heightened awareness, the “Aha” moment is psychological literature. Paul Tillich describes it as the moment when “eternity touches time.” It is known in religious literature as an epiphany.

 

6.

I find the question, “Why are we here?” typically human.

I’d suggest “Are we here” would be the more logical choice.

~~ Mr. Spock on Star Trek

I began this essay with the big questions, seeking answers to be found for those dark nights of the soul. In all the works of James and Tillich and May, and in each and every religious tradition I have studied, the single most transforming message boils down to this: Face the pain. We may think we can evade our existential anxiety and avoid feeling the pain, but we wind up merely exchanging essential pain for voluntary suffering. The essential pains of our lives are our normal– but most soul-shattering—anxieties and doubts. They are also the ways in which we have been most profoundly hurt and need repair, but we pawn them for the cheap fixes of addictions and diversions. In effect, we volunteer to involve ourselves in all manner of troubles in the attempt to avoid the inescapable facts of existence, or to avoid our deepest pain, never able to heal their source.

Our visceral longer for a benevolent God can lead us into a narcosis of denial, prevent us from facing our existential truths. The paradigm illustration of this is The Book of Job. After God allows Satan to put Job’s faith to the test by stripping him of all his possessions, killing his wife and children, and tormenting his body with boils, Job refuses to curse God. Instead, he curses the day he was born and wonders, “Why let men go on living in misery? Why give light to men in grief? Instead of eating I mourn and never stop groaning.” His friends come to “console” Job by insisting that there must be area son for his suffering. In a just universe, Job must have done something sinful, albeit unknowingly, to have evoked such catastrophe. So profound is our “will to believe” in cosmic goodness that we will deny our own goodness. We will blame ourselves to protect our yearning for a benevolent cosmos. This is not only destructive to us individually, but also dangerous for humanity. For then if, as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss avows, “it is impossible that things should not be where they are; all is well,” there can be no need in such a theodicy to rail against injustice or to fight evil. We will remain in the entropy of apathy. Since I can neither deny God or the facts of suffering, where should I turn? Maybe I should question the Oracle at Delphi, on whose temple wall was engraved, “Know Thyself.” Turn inward, to the internal Oracle for answers.

There is a Midrash –an illustrative rabbinic gloss—on the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. We are told that 6000,000 Hebrews stood at the foot of the mountain, cowering and trembling in love and fear: in awe. Amid the turbulence of huge black clouds and lightening, they were overwhelmed and nearly out of their minds. They could not listen to the message in their terror. And so, God speaks to each person individually, in the particular voice that only he or she could hear. To one person it was the crooning voice of his mother, to another it had the delighted voice of her grandfather; the particular voice that only they could comprehend. To me, this is the metaphor that explains the variety of religions and philosophies, the multiple truths, and the abundance of ways human beings discover meaning. We each need our answers to be in the voice that speaks just to us. In this regard, I agree with James’ theory of truth and with Tillich’s method of correlation. It is not relativism; it is relevance.

But having gotten through those dark nights we still need to know how to live in the daytime. We cannot stay, nor should we, in this place of full knowledge. Life cannot be lived in a crisis, so we must face it, then put it aside. The discovery of meaning is lifelong work; not a decision one makes, but the work one does. The process of transformation is complex, I think, and involves deeply felt difficulties. Courage and will, faith and love do not bring a sense of completion but stimulate a further reaching out. The quest never ends because the goals change. And the ultimate goal is wholeness, not perfection. I believe that the ultimate reward is the strength to go one.

***

 

The complete series can be viewed here:

Part I

Part II

 

Categories: News & Politics

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

91 Responses so far.

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  1. whatsthatsound says:

    Still sorting through this fascinating discussion! But another pearl of wisdom comes to mind, and I think it’s from Gloria Steinem. I paraphrase:
    Though an unexamined life may not be worth living, it is equally true that an unlived life is not worth examining.

  2. whatsthatsound says:

    Great article, Cher! I just got back from a vacation so am late to the discussion. I’ll read through the comments later, and try to chip in.

    I am reminded of the old adage that “God has no grandchildren”. In other words, God can’t be passed on through the religion of one’s parents. One has to come to one’s own relationship with God, or not, as the case may be.

    Ken Wilber writes about three basic types of humans: those who fall in with the religion of their upbringing, those who reject it and opt for atheism, and those who move through that to come out the other end with a more profound spiritual understanding that is like neither of the earlier periods of ones life. I really resonate with this because it has been my own exact experience. Up until about twelve I didn’t question my Catholic religious teachings much, but at the end I began to.
    Between say, 15 and 28 I was completely agnostic. A series of experiences began then that bestowed a much deeper “religious” frame of viewing reality than anything I had experienced as a child.

    Nevertheless, I have no regrets about any of these periods, and don’t really feel that where I am now is “better” than where I was before. I feel that I needed to go through all those steps and stages, and will continue to do so.

  3. chasethis says:

    To all: Have I mentioned lately what an honor and thrill it is to be among you? This is a most thoughtful and provocative group of people. Today, as I was stepping away from the computer and out onto the patio, I was giggling. When asked what was up, I got to say, “existentialism--on line.” Fabulous. Sorry to be a sap. I take that back. Happy to be a sap. Thank you all for your kindness and civility.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      “existentialism on line!” I love it chase. Who’d a thunk it?

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Chase-- I just hope you realize that YOU are very much a part of what makes this site so wonderful.

      • chasethis says:

        Cher, the brainpower here is somewhat daunting. That I can ask questions that are answered without judgment and make comments that are also received without judgment is an honor and a privilege. (More sap, but I really mean it.)

        Jump/shift--who’s got some fucking tunes? :roll:

        • Chernynkaya says:

          It is, chase. I get intimidated from time to time too. But it comes in spurts--some days, everyone seems too smart for me and on others everyone is just plain silly and goofy and FUN! (And then I breathe a sigh of relief!)

          • chasethis says:

            Cher, when I can write what I know, it’s a snap. When I can entertain, it’s much easier. You could’ve/should’ve, may soon be paid for this essay you’ve written. Or at least, you should be awarded a grade. Prof Chase gives you an A. (Check’s in the mail. :roll:)

            • Chernynkaya says:

              To be honest, I put it out here because I am working up the nerve to send it to Parabola Magazine.Now that I published it here, it gave me some confidence.

              And for that, I have to thank you and others for the encouragement.

  4. chasethis says:

    Cher, with your permission, I am printing this off for further study and discussion with a private audience, specifically a group that is a retirement community consisting of well-to-do and educated old folk who enjoy intellectual and philosophical challenges. You’d be doing angel work should you give me permission.

  5. choicelady says:

    Thank you, Cher. It’s beautiful.

  6. KillgoreTrout says:

    Cher, Yes, my contentedness has been hard won, very hard won. I survived by, continually, “putting one foot in front of the other.” I do not regret any of it. And I would certainly not recommend such a path to anybody.
    About these words, “however, my best teacher always said that when I meet someone–not a layman, but another teacher– who tells me they have reached nirvana, or have found the “answer” to run like hell.”
    I take that as referring to someone who insists that you follow THEIR path to, “nirvana.” I would never do that. I may recommend some ways I have learned along my personal path. But I would never try to make someone believe that my journey was the be all and end all to enlightenment.
    And It was never, “nirvana,” that I sought. I was simply trying to exist in this world with a certain amount of, “contentedness,” and far less strife and confrontation. I say contentedness, because a continued state of happiness is just an unrealistic expectation. But an overall contentedness is possible. It is just a point of balance in one’s life. Where there are no extreme highs and no extreme lows.
    Of course, as a younger man, that would never do. I wanted the extreme highs, both figurative and literal. But I learned soon enough that such an existence is just not possible without the lows.
    I often jokingly reply, when someone talks about the secret to life, that the secret is this, “To every action, there is an opposite and equal REaction.”

    • Chernynkaya says:

      KT-- I didn’t mean to imply that you were saying that your way was the best--not at all. And I admit that “nirvana” was a bad choice of words.

      I guess I was reacting to your very first comment on this thread--and to a similar one you made on my other posts in this series:
      “As I have said before, I think the search for meaning is really a wild goose chase.

      Let’s say that we have searched and found such a meaning. What then? What do we do with this newly discovered meaning?”

      I took that to mean you were in effect saying, “This series is just so much naval gazing. What’s the point?”

      Can you see how I might interpret that? I really hope so because I like you and value your opinion.

      I can’t deny that this series is not for everyone. But does it need to be? It sparked some cool discussions, and maybe meant something to a couple of others. That’s enough for me--actually, more than I expected.

      As I said, I too have come to a place where, as you put so perfectly “I say contentedness, because a continued state of happiness is just an unrealistic expectation. But an overall contentedness is possible. It is just a point of balance in one’s life. Where there are no extreme highs and no extreme lows.”

      So I am agreeing with you about that place--it’s a good one.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Cher, you are a very perceptive person. And you are correct about my initial response inferring that such searches are just so much navel gazing.
        For that, I apologize, and tried to correct that in a later comment where I did come to the realization that I only arrived at my current state of contentedness, by a very lengthy search for meaning.
        I, as a lay person, sometimes harbor a little contempt for intellectuals. And I know I am wrong in having contempt. But I guess the wariness of spiritual leaders is the opposite of my wariness for intellectualism.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Killgore-- thank you. I truly appreciate your comments. Heck, why write if not it get a response, right? I think you are a fascinating person whose life experiences have earned you a lot of wisdom. I harbor zero hard feelings, but just wanted to you to understand where I was coming from. And I think we are both of an age where a certain wariness is justified--be it about intellectuals or gurus.

          • KillgoreTrout says:

            Cher, thank you very much for you kind words. And I know you put a lot of time and effort in writing this series. And it really is appreciated. Once again, I apologize for my initial statement.
            I sometimes forget that for millions and millions of people, the journey is very real and ultimately very valuable.

    • BigDogMom says:

      Killgore-There is a saying, “If a Shaman says he is a Shaman, he is not, for a Shaman will never state that he is a Shaman.”

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        BDM, I get your drift. I found out, in the late sixties and onward, that someone who tells you they have all the answers is just full of shit. Either they want something in return for their sage advice, or they just have an ego that is way out of control.
        It reminds of the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song. “Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.”

  7. KillgoreTrout says:

    As I have said before, I think the search for meaning is really a wild goose chase.
    Let’s say that we have searched and found such a meaning. What then? What do we do with this newly discovered meaning?
    Through living deliberately, and facing all that such living puts in front of us, good and bad, hard and easy, joyful or sad, prosperous or penniless, I have come to a place of contentedness. A view of life and experience that doesn’t require me to have meaning.
    I think we can be moral without the answer to the question, what does it all mean. We can be moral because morality allows us to live more fruitful and pleasant lives. Morality is very spiritual in the sense that it allows us to interconnect in a positive way. It allows all the parts (us) of the whole (Nature)to exist with less strife and confrontation. If there is any meaning at all, to our existence, it has to be spiritual. And I am not referring to orthodox religion.

    • choicelady says:

      As one who leads part of a large faith organization, I agree with you, Killgore. When religion says “I have the truth” and science (a la Sam Harris) says “I have the truth” but each commits atrocities in its own name, then they obviously do NOT have the truth.

      Neither Science (Atom Bomb, Tuskeegee experiments) nor religion (pogrows, crusades) can speak in and of itself for the ground of morality.

      Morality is a third componenet. Connection to others, true compassion (as opposed to the Buddhist “near enemy” of pity) interconnection and RESTRAINT are the highest values I think. They do honor to the other person without reducing said person to an object.

      I very much like your description and think our quest in my organization is to live out what you’ve described. Being moral -- truly moral and not pissy moralistic which is fingerpointing -- is the essence of spirituality. It is also the hardest achievement in human existence because it requires total respect of others.

      Bravo, Mr. T. for pursuing that. It’s not an easy journey, is it?

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Thank you choice. Much appreciated.

        It is easier to respect others when you consider, I hate to use the word divine, that there is divinity in all of us.
        This is one reason why, in India among Hindus, they great each other with a bow and hands pressed together in a prayer like fashion. By honoring the divinity in others you honor your own, because that divinity is one. The whole, to which I refer.

    • cyrano1 says:

      Killgore: Morality in the abstract seems a great concept we all buy into. Yet the reality I’m grappling with right now is when “morality” cuts into self preservation. When a childhood friend and former small business owner made an early decision to refuse paying into social security, and is now decades later destitute, has tapped out all of his other friends, and is asking me (a friend who has occasionally been in contact) for financial help, I’ve found myself grappling with my own morality by actually facing the reality that I’m making a decision about the extent I choose to practice it. I’ve given some substantial financial assistance and have chauffeured him to doctor appointments, but am finding that his declining situation and my own declining willingness to continue rendering assistance into an ever enlarging black hole of need has left me in a moral bind -- guilt ridden but also realizing that continuing to “help” will drain what few resources I have left.

      I’m absolutely positive that many of us have to make these kinds of “immoral” decisions frequently, and they’re extremely uncomfortable for all of us who, in the abstract, believe ourselves to be our brother’s keepers.

      • KB723 says:

        cyrano1, That is a Lame predicament to be stuck in. Sadly I must say that, that same predicament has been the same with me with family that can work but refuse to…. It costs me anywhere from a hundred to two hundred a month. To help contribute to them being able to pay their rent.
        These situations are Lame cos They never really plan on or have the loot to pay back anyone who has helped them.

        • cyrano1 says:

          KB723: I know that most of us at one time or other deal with the moral challenge of pulling the plug to enable (enforce) self-help instead of simply enabling further dependency via bailouts.

          Sometimes it actually works and they will find pride in work, education, and self-reliance. Other times I think they lack the energy or motivation or self confidence (or wiring?) to make the jump. Instead they gravitate towards the streets or the welfare system or find an SSI solution to provide a bare sustenance.

          It’s so difficult isn’t it? I’m grappling now with the dilemma of the two children of my step-daughter who despite my protests was crippled by enabling well into her thirties. She finally found the means to obtain welfare and SSI benefits, and has supplemented her income by living off the generosity of others as well as her biological parents who continued to “help” until both of them died a decade apart. I had to watch as she burned through both of their separate inheritances which provided some quick cash, and now at 52, she’s the mother of second generation SSI recipients whose only experience is within the system and who are now entering young adulthood. Everyone left in the family (I’m the only one left in my generation) is now finally refusing to bail any of them out at this point. Time to break the chain of dependency created by the parents of my generation onto their grandchildren who were born and raised on it? Seems cruel, immoral and unfair somehow, but it seems to be the only recourse. Left out of this are the years of tears, frustration, and attempts to intervene which I’m sure you can relate to.

          I have no answers, just experience that tells me that the sooner we demand accountability, the better able our children will be to fend for themselves, and the longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes. And for some with difficult wiring or disabilities, the welfare and SSI systems seems to be the only recourse after all.

          Don’t our lives get more complex when our sense of morality and desire for fairness hits the wall of reality?

          I finally realized that in writing this response that my strong reaction of guilt through the dilemma of my friends was the result of shock. The realization that my decades long image of their stability was suddenly replaced by their destitution and helplessness -- in the elderly -- my generation.

          • KB723 says:

            cyrano1, Glad to have been of some help. 😎

          • KB723 says:

            cyrano1. I Greatly appreciate your reply. Sometimes, there is No Easy road home.

            All I can say is: “Breaking up is Hard to do.”

            “Best Wishes cyrano1”

            • cyrano1 says:

              KBy23: Thank YOU!!! I’ve so often realized that through dialogue with intelligent people we find out what we really think by struggling to put jumbled thoughts into words. You helped me very likely much more than I contributed to you!

              No easy road home says it all!!:)

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Cyrano-- I fall back on Maslow’s Hierarchy. I totally understand your dilemma, but when it comes to matters of survival, it seems to me that survival trumps morality.I think you have already done a lot for this man. And as you point out, your resources are not infinite!

        Maybe the last and best thing you could do is to help point him to any agency who can provide assistance. If not a government agency, perhaps a religious one. It sounds to me that this man will continue to rely on you unless you find him some other source of help. Believe me--I know it is very hard to say no, but there is a limit to what you are capable of doing.

        • cyrano1 says:

          Cher! Thanks for the reminder! Maslow’s Hierarchy definitely is in play here. I did some ground work in trying to point them as you suggested, but they’re definitely self-directed in continuing as they are now.

          The latest planned income source is selling “stuff” on e-bay, which involved having someone else set up the account under another name since my friends were blackballed by e-bay for some previous “activity”. I stopped inquiring further. Didn’t want to know.

          I gave them a set of sterling flatware to serve as a nest egg for this new venture; and given the price of silver lately, they should have realized maybe enough to pay up some back rent.

          I guess we can’t fix stupid can we? But our government, at the very least, should ENFORCE contributions into our social security system. My friends actually made a pretty good living when they were in business. I’m actually really quite angry with them for making me feel like a calloused heel -- until I finally realize it’s I who’s making me feel that way. :)

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        cyrano, I would say it is a certain lack of morality on your friend’s part. Contributing to the whole, by all it’s parts is absolutely necessary, or the whole is never complete.
        But I realize, that not everybody contributes to the whole. At some point you have to draw the line when someone is trying to take advantage of your good nature.
        But I would like to add, that the more people who contribute to the whole, the better off our lives would be. And I am not just talking about money when I refer to contributions.

        • cyrano1 says:

          Killgore: Thanks! I’ve also had friends and family trying to help me get past this, but the nagging guilt just keeps my head spinning.

          I’ll now add further ammunition on my side of this which I felt was taking unfair advantage in the first post. My friend’s wife who is much younger and still able to work chooses not to. And when they called to request a chauffeur, they make sure I brought them a pack of cigarettes along with the other goodies.

          That they were virulently life-long anti-government Republicans never did sit very well with me, yet I honestly don’t think their political ideology entered into my decision to pull the plug. Thanks again!

    • chasethis says:

      Killgore--Continuing the search is the lifelong process. And darn well worth it, one hopes. We’ll never find the definitive meaning, will we? I suspect not. And, as cher states, the goal or meaning keeps changing. (That’s the way I understood it.) I love your “living deliberately” and “being moral without the answer to the question” points. Works well with my agnosticism.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Thanks chase. I am a Taoist. And since many consider Taoism to be a religion, James and Tillich are correct about the necessity of religion.
        But to me, I don’t see Taoism as a religion. To me, it is more of a philosophy than a religion. There is no supreme being, no rules or religious dictates, no reward or punishment at the end of life…..etc.
        In this sense, I am an atheist. I don’t believe in a supreme being, yet I believe very much in living a spiritual life. I believe in the maintenance of the whole through the action of the parts that make up this whole.

    • ADONAI says:

      KT, well said.

      I think we see the “meaning” to it all everyday. Life is what you make of it.

  8. chasethis says:

    Good lord, cher, you are so good.

    “Courage and will, faith and love do not bring a sense of completion but stimulate a further reaching out. The quest never ends because the goals change. And the ultimate goal is wholeness, not perfection. I believe that the ultimate reward is the strength to go on.”

    That’s a meditation in itself--and that’s just what I’m going to do with it. First, I’m going to pour a goblet overflowing with the blood of Christ. I’d love to share with you.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Thanks, chase! I would love to share a goblet, or a flagon, or a vessel, or even a jelly jar of any brew you dish up!

      • chasethis says:

        Mi patio es su patio!

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Cher, by the phrase, “further reaching out,” does that mean analysis?
        J. Krishnamurti once said that analysis is never complete. Is that we we are talking about here?

        • Chernynkaya says:

          No, KT-- thanks for asking. Not necessarily analysis--although it could. I just didn’t mean it in that sense. It means further connectedness, further growth, and further searching as we change and want other answers.

          • KillgoreTrout says:

            Cher, I don’t mean psychoanalysis. But an individual analysis of our lives and the world around us.
            I should clarify to an extent. I don’t think the search for meaning is without value. Quite the opposite. But, that one could endlessly search and not find.
            I guess, when I say I have reached a place of contentedness, that it was the search for meaning that made it possible.
            Maybe I have just found the meaning in my own life and don’t necessarily need to continue the search. It may sound a bit arrogant of me to say that, but I really feel no more need to go on searching.

            • Moist Robot says:

              *Curtsey*, Mizzy Cher.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Just exactly so, Ms. Moist.

            • Moist Robot says:

              Searching is different from finding and wonderment. I think you search to reach the place where you can start discovering with a certain amount of wonderment and ability to withstand attendant pain and joy.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Oh, I see what you mean now, KT. I am, of course!, very happy for you that you have found serenity. I would guess that those lessons were hard-won.

              And knowing you the little I do, I am pretty sure that you would not suggest that your path is the one for everyone. And neither am I. I am only providing some ideas.

              I don’t think you are being arrogant at all! However, my best teacher always said that when I meet someone--not a layman, but another teacher-- who tells me they have reached nirvana, or have found the “answer” to run like hell. The most spiritual people I have met and have studied about were the ones with the most doubt.

              There have been a few times in my life when I thought I had figured most things out and was content. Those times were great, but for me anyway, they didn’t last. You can’t step in the same river twice, is more my motto.

              All that being said, I understand what you are saying completely. I do think that we have phases of our lives when we need to just be, and I am in one of those now. I don’t need to search—for now.

  9. ADONAI says:

    If I don’t really exist, then doing this shouldn’t bother me at all.

    …… OH GOD THAT HURT!!!! OH MAN, I WAS SO WRONG!! I TOTALLY EXIST!!!!! JESUS CHRIST, THERE’S BLOOD EVERYWHERE!!!!……

  10. Artist50 says:

    Thank you Cher -- I will go back and read your older posts. One thing that bothers me is the assumption that all left leaning people are atheists, and I’m sure the poor Methodists are appalled that they are being grouped in with Sarah Palin. Christianity does not have a very good historical reputation and the TV preachers and evangelicals have been their worst PR agents the last thirty years IMO. That’s the politics of religion.

    Deep in my heart I know I need my spiritual side -- its the part of me that makes me a better woman. One of the first things small western towns did was build a church -- I don’t know if that many believed in “God” but they did have a need for community that I think is missing in our lives (might be why we come here). I don’t personally care what god you look up to because I don’t have the answers anymore than the next guy whether there is a heaven or hell. I just know that I’ve had some pretty tough losses in my life ( including a grandchild ) and I have to believe that baby is in a better place so I can go on living. I also know I have met evil people in my life -- you know that feeling when someone just gives you a bad vibe) and I believe it’s an absence of good. You might read Scott Peck. I believe we are hardwired to surround ourselves with goodness or to try to fix the badness and I believe strongly in right and wrong and the serenity prayer. That’s incredibly simplified doctrine but it kind of gets to the point. You have to be able to accept the things you can’t change or you can’t go on with your life. That’s why we pray and why we need a community.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Artist, I agree with you about the Serenity Prayer. There is great wisdom in that little prayer.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Artist--Thank you, and it’s much appreciated!I think you are spot on when you speak about community. It makes such a difference and it is hard to explain to people who have not been a part of one. It is really how we are hard-wired. It can be so difficult at times to stay in a community--people are trying, and they press our buttons, and we annoy them. But the growth and sense of fullness that comes from community are more than worth the effort. I owe so much of my growth to my community.

  11. Moist Robot says:

    I love how Cher casually drops a crisis in our midst and then says “ta ta” 😉

    • Chernynkaya says:

      😆 What more can I effin’ SAY! I spent DAYS typing this mother! (Let alone thinking about it.) I’m pooped. But I love what you guys are talking about--and to think I almost didn’t want to publish the last part.

    • PocketWatch says:

      I have a feeling that was the point… ” alt=”Emoticon” border=”0″ />

  12. PocketWatch says:

    Bringing the conversation of objective versus subjective reality back up top…

    I will concede that what I refer to as “objective” reality is limited by our senses and what can be measured by instruments we concoct.

    Consider a star… What is it? Is it an object that is a condensed continuous thermonuclear explosion? A gravity well? Part of a group of such objects? Or is it a beautiful twinkling soul of one of our ancestors?

    Any of these answers are literally true. Which one we want to believe or think upon depends on the context.

    My sole point is that we need to ask the right question to get the answer we need for the problem at hand.

    • cyrano1 says:

      PW: Love your posts! That you’ve used the word “we” instead of “I” in your last sentence says it all. Our search is a shared one -- yet we live in a world full of humans who don’t search and think in terms of “I”. Too many of our fellows have the answers already canned and ready for instant delivery, and their “we” is too often confined only to those who share their unquestioned beliefs.

      The belief that stars are the “twinkling souls of our ancestors” is a lovely thought to contemplate, as well as researching the fascinating myths that gave it birth; but not likely to contribute to further unraveling of the mysteries of the universe from a scientific standpoint.

      Asking “the right question to get the answer we need for the problem at hand” demands that we face our temporal existence and that parties trying to solve the problem at hand aren’t so fully entrenched in their own unacknowledged blinders that viable solutions requiring pragmatism, acceptance of diverse opinions, and what we know of science are excluded.

      Many of us understand that the separate lenses we each use to view life is severely limited, and that we’ve only scratched the surface in our capacity to even ponder about what more there is to begin to understand; but we also dimly realize that these are the only tools available for us to continue trying to make our shared existences more meaningful.

      The commonly held view (belief) here at Planet that a meaningful existence includes the endless struggle to include equity in the lives of our fellows is definitely not universally shared is it? And do those who spend their lives scratching for the basic necessities needed to continue their existence for another day have the luxury of time to ponder on what it all means?

      • PocketWatch says:

        The belief that stars are the “twinkling souls of our ancestors” is a lovely thought to contemplate, as well as researching the fascinating myths that gave it birth; but not likely to contribute to further unraveling of the mysteries of the universe from a scientific standpoint.

        Ahhhh…. This is actually interesting to me… Myth versus our current scientific understanding and how the two always seem to converge. Did our ancients really have something, or did they just stumble onto it?

        Consider the following facts (as far as we know…):

        Our Sun is thought to be a third-generation star, that is, it was not created in the first bunch of stars after the Big Bang, or the second, but the third.

        How are stars formed? The answer we currently understand is that when a star goes supernova, the shock wave spreads out and if there are any gas clouds in the vicinity, they get compressed. That compression accentuates the gravitational attraction of the gasses and particles, and things start to coalesce. After a time, a mass of gasses and elements gets large enough to ignite, and a star is born.

        So, if all that is true, sometime billions of years ago, a star became a supernova. It could have had a civilization on a planet circling it for all we know. Maybe a sun near the supernova did. All that got vaporized and became an interstellar cloud of gasses and dust.

        Billions of years later, a star created by that first supernova itself went supernova, and the process repeated itself, along with the same possible extinguished civilizations or life. There’s no way to really tell, but we are talking billions of years here.

        Anyway, that second supernova pushed on the gas cloud that became our sun and planets, and here we are.

        And thousands and millions of other stars that were created by the same processes.

        Are not the current stars possibly the beautifully twinkling souls of our remote ancestors in that context?

        I submit that they are, and that we are all connected to everything more deeply because of it than we know or can understand.

        • jkkFL says:

          Not sure where I fit in.
          I, like others prefer to think stars are the twinkling souls of our ancestors, and I believe in a greater power- but I don’t actually know what that power is.
          I am a very strong person, but I don’t delude myself into believing I am all I need- or all I have.

        • cyrano1 says:

          PW: Thanks! Our interconnectedness in what we understand of our “universe” is undeniable to me, as well as the incredible history and possibilities of history which we only faintly grasp. The only “tangible” proof seems to lie in our shared elements -- about which, of course, the full results aren’t in. That our stars twinkle with the ancestors of previously existing lifeforms makes perfect sense!

          That we live in a time when enough is known to allow our minds to wonder at the vastness and complexity of it is a gift isn’t it? And that we can imagine our expanding universe as the size of a molecule in an even larger universe is quite entertaining and not without reason.

          I believe the reality that we’re insured of eternal existence is beyond any doubt on my part. We lifeforms along with borderline and inert ingredients get recycled, no matter what form the elements take and wherever they endlessly travel into the future. We can assume that eventually we’ll join the twinkling ancestors of others as new stars are born.

          And I do buy into the conceit that those of us who truly realize what specks we are in the space-time continuum have a better grasp of the reality that our legacy in life is confined to the brief period we’re alive to interact with our planet and the beings on it. With such a perspective, amassing great wealth, owning a bunch of stuff, and fouling the air we breathe just doesn’t seem to make much sense somehow.

    • Moist Robot says:

      PW, the subject of this piece is also what is the answer to a larger question, not only from the standpoint of how we choose to see something, but how that seeing may change us in non-quantifiable terms.

      When asking the right question for the problem we may also see how the nature of the problem and the momentary solution changes us to see it differently. I don’t see it as static. There is no “right” question really, unless one is dealing purely with a Cartesian world. Cher writes about the emotional, the yearning, the irrational impositions upon our perceptions of the world and how those elements bounce back upon us in a dynamic while we try to “make sense of it all”.

      • PocketWatch says:

        Moist -- I know. I focused on this one thing because it made little sense to me.

        I think there IS magic in the universe in that I know there are things that can’t be explained, that there are phenomenon that are beyond our understanding or ability to measure.

        I simply think that we (or I, really) don’t have to attribute those things to a “god” or anything else. I attribute it to the fact that we have limited senses and understanding of the entire universe or our place in it, and never will have a full grasp of what we are really a part of. It’s impossible.

        Science says there may be 11 dimensions, and maybe more than 20, yet we are stuck with 4. There is so much more to this place than we can know or sense. THERE is the “More,” not a list of rules, ceremonies, or a system of thought, or a sense of purpose.

        At least that’s what I live by. I try and be open to those few little moments that are magic, and accept them for what they must be… a glimpse of “more.”

        • Moist Robot says:

          PW, you may have fun with this:


          • PocketWatch says:

            Moist -- Nice! I was referring to time as the fourth discernible dimension. I know there is some question as to whether time is actually just a perception or a real dimension. In the math surrounding QP, time can go either way…

            3D objects moving through time… are we really time-tubes of protoplasm?

    • david p canada says:

      Or we need to ask the question of someone who really knows what we are asking.

  13. Moist Robot says:

    I think Sarah Palin would say: “You’ve been lyin’ when ya shudda been a truthin’…and we were meant for shootin’ and that’s just what we’ll do, and one of these days we’ll be shootin’ til the Rapture’s takin’ you”.

    duh-duh duh, duh, duh-duh duh, duh….

    • david p canada says:

      She gets a lot of press.

      And doesn’t give a damn what people are saying about her, as long as they are talking about her.

      Can’t figure out why the Left gives her so much free publicity, other than possibly she’s just low-hanging fruit.

  14. Moist Robot says:

    Can’t we say people had the courage *to be* when they thumbed their noses at entropy and became the liquid envelops of negentropy they are with a sweeping consciousness able to contemplate things like *God*? Being a life form that harnesses the laws of thermodynamics to simply exist is enough *courage to be*. But what about the *More*?

    From what I can gather, what James is saying is that the religious impulse is the antidote to living in existential guilt, living a life with no meaning. If that is the rescue and salvation, then God and religion is the impulse to idealize the self in accordance with what may be seen as variations on hardwired human values: faith, hope, charity, etc… but those things mirror what is hoped also to be a *caring universe*. What if the universe has no opinion? We can either shoehorn our subjective truth that the universe is caring or not and live accordingly.

    That psychology, psychotherapy and religion occupy much shared space on the Venn diagram is not surprising. Losing one’s pain in the collectivity of religion and hope, or in the collectivity of shared blogging, is normal as we are social creatures and that is hardwired, along with the values aforementioned. But when we are alone, what then? That existential crisis can be mollified by either losing the self in the collective or losing the self in something else. That something else, I think, is not only the courage to be, but the courage to create.

    If God created, then to be more divine, we must create as well. God is the monistically projected representation of the existence of our own consciousness and the consideration of it’s own demise. *God*, therefore, is the mergence of the particulate and anti-particulate held within an entity which can only exist because of a mutual allowance of the other; but with the addition of something beyond the aspects of being and non-being. That is the creative impulse, as well as the pro-creative one.

    Death is not only the muse of philosophy, but the muse of creativity as well. Just look at what Shakespeare did in the opening sonnet. He created in the face of death as the ultimate response.

    • Khirad says:

      One of my favorite quotes on death:

      You know, what’s so dreadful about dying, is that you are completely on your own.

      -- Dolores Haze in Lolita

    • kesmarn says:

      You, my dear Q, have just described the Holy Trinity:

      *God*, therefore, is the mergence of the particulate and anti-particulate held within an entity which can only exist because of a mutual allowance of the other; but with the addition of something beyond the aspects of being and non-being. That is the creative impulse, as well as the pro-creative one.

      Hope to comment more later on Cher’s wonderful final chapter in this series, but that intrusive fact called real life is tugging at my “raveled sleave” once more…


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