Philosophy

The Many Faces of God

“God” is a dicey word.

Not only is it downright dangerous to use the word “God” at the wrong time or in the wrong place, but even when you do get it right there’s no guarantee the person with whom you’re speaking entertains the same ideas about what you mean by “God”  as do you.

Having been brought up as an open-minded Christian, I was still very surprised to learn there were so many possible definitions or images of God.

The following are just several broad images of what has over time been meant by “God” (with many variations on the main themes).  As you’d expect each has its strong points and each has its weaknesses too.  Which do you choose and more importantly, why?

  1. Deism – God created the world and then bowed out to leave us to it.  The problem with this definition is that it leaves us no one to pray to when the going gets rough – or rather if we do pray there’s no one there to hear it.
  2. Pantheism – God is transcendent and immanent – God is me and I am God (more or less).   The problem with this definition is that if God is me and I am bad, then God is bad and that can’t be right can it?
  3. Animism – God is ‘soul’ and ‘soul’ is in every rock, tree and especially in me.   The problem with this is that many are unwilling to believe that animals have ‘souls’ and if they do then aren’t they on the same level as humans?  When we throw chicken breasts on the BBQ are we really prepared to eat someone’s soul?
  4. Theism – God made the world and he’s right here by our sides taking care of it (and by implication – us).  Despite a few inconsistencies this concept works fairly well.  This could be why it’s been adopted by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
  5. Dualism (Ditheism) – God is good and he has a twin God who is bad and the battle rages on through eternity.  This has in part been embraced by Christianity in the form of Satan.  The problem with this definition is that if God is good (and omnipotent) and good is the only way, then why can’t the good God ever win?  Is it because he is impotent (i.e. not omnipotent) or is it because he doesn’t want to win (in which case he’s bad).  Either way is a dilemma.
  6. Polytheism – God takes many forms – usually like the Greek or Roman pantheon where there’s a top dog god who presides over his cabinet.  In some cases, this manifests in a coalition government rather like the one we now have it Britain.
  7. Panentheism – God = nature.  The problem with this is that when nature goes (i.e. an atomic bomb or the collision of earth with an asteroid) where does that leave God?
  8. Process Theology – God made the world and he’s obliged to stick around and manage the process.  This is an attempt to integrate evolution with God.   The problem with this is that if God is perfect, then why isn’t His creation perfect?  (which it clearly isn’t if He has to micromanage it).
Astrology

Whom does the Grail Serve? An Interpretation of the Prologue of the Gospel of John

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[i]

And so we begin at the ‘beginning’ when ‘the Word was with God’ and indeed ‘the Word was God.’

This intriguing combination of time and speech suggests a storehouse of immense cosmic energy awaiting release.  I’m reminded of zimzum, the Jewish mystical concept used by the Kabbalists to signify the self emptying aspect of the creator.

God (know as Ain Soph) withdraws his Light in order to create a vacuum allowing a single thread of his Light to traverse the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth – collectively know as The Tree of Life.  Each Sephira acts as a vessel containing some of his Light; each represents an aspect of God.

For the Kabbalist, the ‘Tree’ is not only a diagram of God’s unfolding creative impulse, but also a path for spiritual union with the Divine.  Legend has it that after the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, angels brought the Kabbalah down from Heaven to teach Adam how to recover his primal bliss.

It’s important to remember that The Gospel of John was originally written in Greek and what is translated simply as ‘Word’ was originally Logos, one of the most complex concepts of the Hellenistic world meaning nothing less than the natural order of things –  the very rhyme and reason of creation.

Rather than decanting the majesty of Logos into a single human being, a man called Jesus of Nazareth (as is often done), I suggest that John meant to focus our attention more broadly – perhaps on Adam Kadmon, the eternal image of man and God, which historically has been equated with Logos.

In John’s time, the Pharisee mystics expounded the idea of the Son of Man as an archetypal ‘Heavenly Man – the image of God.  Adam Kadmon, the archetypal figure, is the cosmic blueprint for all mankind.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him.’ (Genesis 1:27)

But Adam Kadmon is not only the archetypal image of God, but of all men.   If Adam Kadmon is the equivalent of Logos – the “Word of God” – then the awesome truth is that not only did God send his only Son to dwell among us (as the usual translations go), but also in us, as it literally says in the original Greek.

Even more awesome is the implication that it’s our job to do more than simply receive Jesus, the man from Nazareth, as our Messiah, but we must actually ‘receive’ Logos, God’s big-picture plan,  into our hearts and lives.  So how might that be accomplished?  I suggest through Tiphareth.

Tiphareth, the sixth Sephira of the Tree of Life, is also referred to as Adam Kadom – the Son of Man.  Because Tiphareth lies at the very heart centre of the Tree, it forms the balance point where the component forces of manifestation stabilise. allowing God to dwell among us.  Tiphareth, the place of our humanity, represents God incarnate in the form of the Messiah – the sacrificed God.

In the Kabbalistic world, symbols and ideas find association through correspondence.[ii] As well as its associations with ‘the Son’, Tiphareth has correspondence with both the heart chakra and the astrological sun, ruler of the zodiac sign Leo.

Many equate the astrological sun with the quest for Self, or in the words of Joseph Campbell, ‘The Hero’s Journey”, which not surprisingly is a journey of the heart.

This journey is well illustrated by the story of Perceval, who is closely associated with astrological Leo.  Although raised in isolation in the forest by his mother, as the true son of a nobleman, Perceval finds his way into the chivalrous world of knights and kings.

As a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, with his head held high he sets off to heal the injured Grail King and redeem the failing land.  But sorely lacking in compassion and understanding of the ways of the world, he fails miserably in his task.   As the result with his head held low, he sets out on the long, painful path of self-discovery.

When finally he puts aside his personal agenda and prays to God to shown the way,  Perceval is at long last able to ask the right question, ‘Whom does the Grail serve?”.  It is with this that the Grail king is redeemed and with him, the land and its people.  It is then also, that the Grail king reveals that not only is he Perceval’s grandfather, but that Perceval is to become the new Grail king.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

So whom does the Grail serve?

Perceval never got an answer.  Perhaps it’s enough to know there’s a question that needs asking.

But I like to think that which the Grail serves is Logos – The Word of God – the natural order – the harmony of all things with all things.[iii]

————————————

[i] “Prologue to the Gospel According to John,” The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament. New York: Thomas Nelson & Son, 1946.

[ii] Imagine two violins that vibrate in sympathy with each other when their strings are tuned to the same pitch.

[iii] Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Grail mystery (and the secret societies dedicated to its service, is that its symbolism seems to have no apparent connection to Christianity.  This has led some to speculate that the Grail tradition has something do with a secret teaching of Christ or perhaps an even more ancient gnosis.

Astrology

In the Age of Aquarius What Happens to God?

Today, many believe that the Christian God of our forefathers – a god distinct from and superior to man – is dead.  Astrology concurs with this conclusion.  For a preview of what might come next, read on.

For the last 2000 years, we’ve been living in the Age of Pisces – the symbol of which is two fishes swimming in opposite directions.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that one fish is moving upwards toward heaven while the other is moving parallel with the earth plane.  The underlying assumption is that the material and spiritual worlds are separate and distinct.

At the beginning of the Piscean Age, it was Plato who first formatted this distinction; the earth plane symbolising the world of the senses and the heavens symbolising the eternal world of ideas.   Early Christian theologians renamed  Plato’s eternal world ‘Heaven’ and dubbed its architect as ‘God’.   The Christians further borrowed from Aristotle the notion of God as both the ‘Prime Mover’ of the cosmos and the ‘First Cause’ of everything that exists.

Over time, philosophers have challenged these notions.  When scientific discoveries made Descartes wonder ‘what can I know for certain’, he comes to the famous conclusion ‘I think, therefore I am’.  But his matrix keeps God as the ‘First Cause’ of – and the only link between – a divided universe where subjectivity ‘(“I think”), remains isolated from objectivity (the world which ‘I perceive’).

Next comes Hume claiming that the only thing of which we can be certain is that we perceive an unbroken stream of subjective images and ideas.  Under his ‘radical skepticism’, we can’t even be certain there’s something called the mind to contain these ideas because the mind may be itself, just another idea.

Then comes Kant who suggests we can only ‘know’ the sensory world and just ‘believe’ in any world beyond that.

Finally Nietzsche announces that “God is Dead” and worse – that it is we ourselves who have killed him by scientifically collapsing the metaphysical assumptions upon which He was based.  With this comes the dawning of the Age of Aquarius where it’s no longer possible to legitimately argue that anything of substance lies beyond our earth plane.

The symbol for Aquarius is the “Water-Bearer” and if you look closely you’ll find he’s not ‘bearing’ but ‘pouring’ something to earth from the sky.  Because of the link between Aquarius and immorality giving waters like the flooding Nile, there’s reason to believe he’s not pouring ordinary water.  Some suggest that instead, he’s pouring a stream of universal consciousness – that because it’s distributed (like the internet) to everyone regardless of race, colour, or creed, will promote a deeper understanding of our humanity.  Aquarius is very democratic in thought, word, and deed.

Nietzsche suggested that man was something that must be overcome to order to allow the God who had long been projected to the beyond, to be reborn within the human soul.

Likewise, in the Age of Aquarius, man will reposition himself  vis à vis God.  The mythological symbolism of Aquarius gives clues how this might work.  Take for example, Prometheus who is associated with Aquarius because he overstepped the divine bounds by stealing fire from the gods to give to mankind.  Some suggest that the Promethean urge to transcend our humanity – i.e. to  play God –  must bring disaster.  Just look at Icarus, Frankenstein, the Tower of Babel.

Instead, I believe  that in Aquarius man will reach to the stars not by playing God – but instead by creating his reality through his ideas.

Like Nietzsche, I believe that man’s striving toward the future will result in the birth a new being who will incarnate the meaning of the universe. Look carefully at the symbol for Aquarius – two parallel lines.  Might this not represent our new status with God?

As noted above, in Descartes’ matrix, which still underlies most of our thinking, the problem of the separation of mind and body is due to a difference in kind.  In theory the non-spatial mind and the mechanistic body shouldn’t interact but in fact they do so in the human body.  Through scientific research, Descartes’ problem is being reworked so that the distinction between subject and object is collapsed.  Even now some scientists consider the mind to be no more than a material function of the body.

With such advances, humans will become both the creator and the created and – as such – will finally be free to put to rest their distinct and superior, creator God.

Psychology

Self, Spirituality, and Zen – Journey of the Ox-Tamer

The concept of ‘self’ is as woolly as that of  ‘spirituality’.

Yet today’s Western spirituality seeker must come to grips with both because now he’s so psychologically oriented, the ‘self’ is the centre of his ‘spirituality’.[i]

While both mystics and psychologically oriented spirituality seekers often speak in terms of ‘transcending the self’, I suggest they mean completely different things.  The confusion is not surprising given that the source for today’s Western notions of spirituality is found in the European mystical traditions of the 12th century.[ii]

In his book Riding the Ox Home (London, 1982), Willard Johnson helps come to grips with relationship of the psychologised ‘self’ to spirituality using the ancient Taoist parable about the ox tamer on the Zen path to enlightenment.

The story begins with the ox tamer and his missing ox.  The ox tamer isn’t sure whether his ox is lost or he just can’t see it.  Either way he’s unhappy for all the traditional things that should bring him happiness do not.  Intuitively the ox tamer knows only his ox will bring meaning to his life so he sets off on the first part of his journey, the goal of which is to tame his ox.

Traditionally, the ox symbolises the ultimate, undivided reality, the Buddha-nature that is the ground of all existence.  The ox tamer symbolises the part of the ‘self’ that initially indentifies with the individuated ego, separate from the ox.  However with progressive enlightenment, the ox tamer finally comes to realise the fundamental reality – he and the ox are – and always have been – one.

Psychologically, Johnson suggests that the ox tamer represents that part of the self that makes choices and acts in accordance with them.  At the beginning of the ox tamer’s spiritual journey,  this ‘self is immature and uncertain of its place in the world.  This nascent (and easily manipulated) self, sees everything as in service to it needs; the world is to be exploited for its pleasure.   According to Johnson, to achieve maturity we must overcome this infantile self unless we wish to die unfulfilled having known life only from the perspective of our animalistic needs.

In turn, the ox represents the ox tamer’s psychologically deeper self – his daemon or inner voice, which keeps his more immature self in check.

As with most Eastern religions, to lose one’s ‘self’ is to rediscover a deeper ‘self’ that will become his orientation to reality.  In most Western religions, this deeper self corresponds at least in part, with God of the Divine.  In the west, generally it is only mystics who achieve unification with this other dimension of self and as they well know, this requires more than just finding and taming one’s ox.

Playing his flute, the triumphant ox tamer rides home on his ox.  Having tamed his ox (i.e. his need for self-gratification) he is free to express his creative energies in the celebration of life.  He has won the battle for self-knowledge; he knows that he himself created his ox through his thoughts.  After taming his ox, the ox tamer hears his inner voice –  he has found his true home.

But the ox tamer is not yet finished.  In next part of his journey he must say goodbye to his ox and leave it behind.

In both Zen and Western mystical traditions, the goal is not just to tame the self but instead to transcend it.  This is the essence of spirituality in the ultimate sense.  I suggest this requires more time, space, and personal commitment than most spirituality seekers are able and willing to devote.  Instead, I suggest that their goal is more like that of the first part of the ox tamer’s journey – the taming of their egoist ox.

The key point is that we confuse the two at our peril.  While psychology does offer us knowledge about ourselves as human beings, it has not yet been shown to offer us any knowledge about God.


[i] For more information see Carrette and King’s Selling Spirituality – The Silent Takeover of Religion, (Routledge, 2005).

[ii] For more information see Passage to Modernity – An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture (Yale University Pres, 1993)by Louis Dupré.

Philosophy

Playing God – Religious Experience in the 21st Century

At the turn of the last century, the famous philosopher and scientist William James asserted

“….the mother sea and fountain-head of all religions lies in the mystical experience of the individual”.

James believed that the key to understanding such experience, was to be found in the manner in which our eyes and minds, together, created our world.  Quite simply, for James the varieties of religious and mystical experience were dependent on the varieties of human nature, which in turn, were dependent on the nature of consciousness itself.

Has much changed in the 21st century where we embrace anything from artificial intelligence to ‘uploaded consciousness’ – the transfer of the human mind to an artificial substrate? I suggest that it has.  We have now moved beyond human to post-human.

In the post human matrix, consciousness is a function of the entire organism – not just the brain.  As any holistic practitioner will tell you,  our minds and bodies act together; it is impossible to know the whole of something from the sum of its parts.   Interesting enough, but in and of itself, not earth shattering news.

The important point is that in the post human matrix, we now control both our minds and our bodies. We began with pacemakers and artificial joints.  We now use a myriad of drugs to control our emotions.   Soon enough, we will have computer implants that will seamlessly perform as another brain hemisphere.  In other words, in the post human matrix, man controls his experience – religious or otherwise.

Assuming we control our experience of God, does this mean that in essence, we control God?  In some sense, I believe it does.

James believed that just as a novelist plays ‘God’ by taking his fictional characters to the heart of their consciousness through interaction with their world, we do the same through our interpretation of own experience of our own world.  Our minds are the essence of our humanity.  We participate in reality.  We make our own truth.   This has always been matter of perception.    But now we control our perception.

In this way, I suggest that the post human experience will make redundant our most fundamental assumption that God is superior to man, and that man is in turn superior to nature.  The Rationalists eliminated God and the Post humanists are eliminating humans.  After that, there’s nothing left but nature.

The funny thing is – and I suggest James would agree – that all these distinctions were man-made in the first place.

Original Fiction

The Secret Book of John

Anger and The Secret Book of John

Short fiction by Debra Moolenaar

© 2010

“Tomorrow I shall have to tell them.”    Glancing down at my hands, I wince and stuff my wedding ring in my jean’s pocket.  After shuffling across the room, I practice silent arpeggios before the well-stoked fire.  A week before Christmas and even Marseilles is cold and damp as a grave.   With increased circulation comes unexpected hope.  “What shall I tell them in London, Mother?   What shall I tell them when I go home?”

“The truth, child.”   Mother Superior hands me a cup of strong china tea.  “Understand that your anger is that of all the wronged women since the beginning of time.   There’s no disgrace in that.”

“I am not angry.”

“I’ve something that may help.”  With polished confidence, the nun glides across the crimson carpet to her ebony bookcase.  She selects a thin volume.  “This is one of my alternative Christian texts, some of which have come down from ancient Mesopotamia.”

The Secret Book of John?”  I flip  gold embossed, parchment pages and wonder what in hell kind of sacred treasure I’m holding in my unclean hands.

“The bishop believes it heresy.”  She flashes a seductive wink.  “I prefer to think of it as wisdom from the time when man had direct discourse with his gods.”

I nod.   Best I understood, heresy was wisdom, just in disguise.

“I prefer a humanist god to one who dishes out hell and damnation for every mistake,” continues the mother with the hint of a smile.

The Mother is progressive.  That’s why I chose The Sisters of Saint Joseph for my little er, um, retreat.   But as I prepare to leave France, I’m now thinking she’s too progressive, too focused on sweetness and light.  Maybe her sheltered life is like that.  Mine isn’t.

“Like me, Hannah, you search for truth.”  The mother bows her head.   “Yet when you fail to find it, like most of us you will accept the lies.  In this case anger is justified.  It signals something deep within you is wrong.   This Gnostic text explains much about what I believe it means to be a woman and why we all share the same anger.  What would you say if I told you that it was man, and not woman, who was responsible for original sin?”

“I’d be extremely pleased.”  I sip hot tea and find it satisfying as my favourite Belgian crème chocolate.  Finally, this nun is saying something that makes sense.

“According to the story, original sin resulted not from Eve’s encounter with the snake, but from God’s arrogance.  The Old Testament god was very selfish.  He didn’t hesitate to steal light from the Mother Sophia to give life to his human creations, Adam and Eve.   Understandably, Eve thought this unjust and it was while trying to return the light to the Mother, that she first tasted the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.”

I flip pages again.

“Let’s suppose it were true,” she continues.  “Can you imagine how Eve must have felt to be eternally damned for doing something so noble?”

“She’d be angry.”

“Yes.”  Although near my own mother’s age, Mother Superior suppresses a girlish giggle.  “Might it be possible that if, as the Church teaches women are burdened with Eve’s original sin, we might also be burdened with her anger?”

“I’m confused.”  Sometimes the mother talks in circles like my psychoanalyst in Golders Green.

“Confusion comes when you’re unable to see things for what they are. “  The mother glances at my blossoming belly.  Her mood slips.  “But anger, Hannah, anger comes when you refuse to accept things as you know they are.  Eve couldn’t change her situation but imagine how miserable she’d have been if she’d not accepted it.  Each of us must embrace her reality.”

“Not everyone…”  I stop horrified at my accusatory tone.  “I didn’t mean to say that.”

“But you did say it, Hannah.”  She watches a pair of jet-black starlings scrounge for berries, their yellow beaks bobbing against an abundance of pine green.   “And you had every right to do so.  If I’m not honest with you, how can you be so with me?”

“That’s not all that happened to Eve, is it?”  The softness in my voice frightens me. Without anger, I feel naked.  Without pain, I’m alone.

“Eve was raped.”  Her blue eyes go rheumy.

Mine glued to the floor I nod my understanding.   The mother’s life hasn’t been sweetness and light.  She’s just like me.

“John reminds us wrong lurks around every corner, even when we think ourselves safe.”  She squeezes my hand.  “But while John believed deliverance comes from outside, Eve demonstrated it comes from within.”

“Tomorrow I shall tell them the truth,” say I.  Rubbing my tummy, I shrug away tears.  “Although I was betrayed by a man I trusted, me and his child will be OK.”

Philosophy

Selling Spirituality – where on the package does it say no pain – no gain?

Without qualification we accept that a personal sense of self (an ‘I’ that does things and a ‘me’ to whom things are done) is essential for a healthy, happy every-day kind of life.

Yet throughout history mystics from all religions have sought the opposite experience of ‘no-self’ to grasp the ultimate truth – a reality so vastly different from that otherwise experienced that the only way to describe it, is to describe what it is not.

Today, it’s more fashionable than ever to pursue such spiritual enlightenment in any number of well-marketed ways.  Wander through the appropriate section in your local bookstore and you’ll see what I mean.  Although consumers of spirituality may not know exactly what it is that they seek, they are certain that once they’ve found it they’ll have achieved an infinite love and bliss they couldn’t have afforded to miss.

But what if it isn’t like that?

I’ve just read Suzanne Segal’s biography Collision with the Infinite – A life Beyond the Personal Self.  In it she relates that rather than being joyful, the experience of ‘selflessness’ engenders such fear, loneliness, and profound disorientation that she was marked by society as pathologically ‘disordered’ or even insane.

I find it stunning in such a psychologically and spiritually progressive society as our own, that after her enlightenment it took Suzanne over twelve years and ten therapists to find anyone who remotely understood what she was going through.

As she so eloquently puts it:

“People have always looked for things they can navigate by, signs that point the way and tell them when they have arrived at their destination.  The interpretations of spiritual experiences have been managed or organised by this need to navigate and thereby lost their validity.”

Does this suggest we ought not to seek spiritual enlightenment?  I think not.  But what it might mean is that before we start down any path, we ought to find out more about it than what’s promised on the tin.

Suzanne started her own quest though transcendental meditation.  Years after she’d stopped practicing, she got more than she bargained for.  Ultimately, she found the answers she’d been seeking.  But the process was long and hard and above-all painful both for herself and for those around her who cared.  As the saying goes (and Suzanne discovered), ‘no pain no gain’.

Philosophy

Rousseau’s Social Contract & Why the Rich Get Richer While the Poor Get Poorer

My husband and I recently visited a charming 280-acre National Trust property nestled in the green hills of south Oxfordshire.  First built in the late Middle Ages, Greys Court comprises a substantial complex of sandstone buildings and walled courtyard gardens.  Enjoying coffee and cake in a long, low building said to have garrisoned Cromwell’s soldiers during the Civil War, we contemplated battles long since fought and won. With dozens of other tourists, we rambled  through the three-gabled Elizabethan house dreaming of what it must have been like to have grown up  in such a comfortable and privileged home .

But it was while admiring century-old wisteria awash in a sea of bluebells that I remembered Rousseau’s observation that the ‘fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody’.  If this were true, then why do some families flourish on 280 acre country estates while others scratch out their survival in a city slum? Rousseau suggests a diabolically simple answer:

“The first man who having enclosed a piece of ground, thought up the statement this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him…was the real founder of civil society.”

Society yes.  Civil no.  It was Rousseau’s view that the social contract devised by men to make their property secure was not in accord with the ‘natural order’, but instead was a hoax perpetrated by the rich on the poor.  In other words, the poor (majority) had been tricked into agreeing to give their right to share in the wealth of the land to the rich (minority).   According to Rousseau in exchange for peace and protection:

“All ran headlong to their chains, believing they had secured their liberty.”

I question whether such a social contract remains in society’s best interest in the 21st century.  Do we still require privileged property owners to care for us?  Or in a post-modern democracy are we capable to taking care of ourselves?

If we conclude the later, then is it not up to each one of us work toward changing the terms of the social contract?  Do we really want that in the interests of all, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer?

Or might we rather like it the other way around?

Philosophy

The (Philosophical) Demise of Democracy

Of late, there’s been much debate about the collapse of authority in the UK.   It would appear a consensus  of sorts has finally been reached this is not a good thing.  However the hope is the new government will sort it all out for us.  I wonder.

In The Republic, Plato reminds us that just as surely as Democracy evolves from Oligarchy (a system of government where the rich rule the poor), that Democracy evolves into Tyranny.  While the first transition results from an excess of wealth, the later results from an excess of freedom.  He provides some startlingly scary examples of the warning signs:

“Father and son, citizen and foreigner, old and young are all on a level; fathers and teachers fear their sons and pupils, and the wisdom of the young man is a match for the elder, and the old imitate the jaunty manners of the young because they are afraid of being thought morose.  Slaves are on level with their masters and mistresses, and there is no difference between men and women.  Nay, the very animals in a democratic State have a freedom which is unknown in other places.”

Plato then goes on to remind us that bloated with desire to do whatever we wish whenever we wish, the citizens of democracy will at last become so sensitive we no longer can endure ‘the yoke of laws’.

This is the beginning of the end.

“… for there is a law of contraries: the excess of freedom passes into the excess of slavery, and the greater the freedom the greater the slavery.”

It happens like this: because law and order have vanished, the disgruntled citizenry elect a champion to seize control.  All goes well until inevitably, the champion oversteps his bounds.  When the citizenry tries to remove him, they discover their champion turned tyrant is even more lawless than they.

I suggest that a little more respect for authority won’t kill us and in regards to freedom, a little less emphasis on our ‘rights’ might help us come to terms our  ‘responsibilities’.   Don’t leave the preservation of what you hold most dear to the government.  You might not be too pleased if you do.

Philosophy

“Know Thyself” but then what?

Inscribed over the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself”.  Certainly good advice.  But before we can follow it, we need to dig deeper into the nature of the ‘self’ that we wish to know.

This is harder than you  think.  In the West there is no consensus of what is ‘self’.  Add that to the Eastern tradition that ‘self’ is a mirage and it’s little wonder we’re confused (or should be if we took time to consider it).

For argument’s sake, let’s assume, that the following is necessary for ‘self”: (1) continuity of perception, (2) awareness of such perception, and (3) ability to recall such perception across a time/space continuum.  Further, if we are to ‘know’ this ‘self” we must assume capacity for both self-reflection and verbalisation of those reflections.

How might this all fit together to form the ‘self’ as we experience it everyday?  The fashionable narrative theory offers a fascinating perspective .   The idea is that as we become socialised, we make narratives about ourselves and how we  interact with our environment.  For example, when Mom says “you went to school today didn’t you Johnny?”, Johnny nods and adds this idea of being a ‘school-goer’ to his definition of himself.

So far so good. It’s easy enough to imagine ourselves as the product of the stories we (and others) tell about our lives.  But what about revision?

As every writer knows, a good story is the product of numerous drafts and revisions – a process, which for the sake of holding the reader’s attention necessarily alters mousy brown hair into something more exciting – i.e. the “long silken tresses the colour of freshly mown hay on a crisp autumn morning” type of thing.

Revision is good stuff for fiction.  We don’t know how good it might be for our notion of ‘self’.   However one thing that is certain is that the more we tell and retell our narratives, the further we move away from an accurate picture.

Perhaps instead of seeing ourselves solely in terms of our history, we  might acknowledge that although things did (or did not) happen to us, we can still understand ourselves as something more than a product of our past.  In other words although we may refer to ourselves in terms of what we have or haven’t done, we do not need to define ourselves by it.

This require a more detached view of the ‘self’ than most Westerners currently take.  But it is possible to change.  Instead of being so wrapped up our accomplishments that its nearly impossible to view ourselves as separate from them, we might instead learn to take a more happy-go-lucky, see-what-comes point of view.

I suggest that until we can do that, we stand no chance of meeting the challenge to ‘know thyself’ – as the ‘self ‘ that actually is rather than the ‘self’ we would like to be.

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