September 2, 2018
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I'm ashamed to say I only recently got around to watching Roberto Calasso's lecture on Rene Girard at Stanford University from 2014. It's refreshing to watch him dismantle the worldviews of those delicate Ivy League sensibilities (no disrespect to the often insightful Robert Harris). The scienceers (people who think that scientists are priests and that science, just shy of sexual satisfaction, will somehow make them happy) were quite disturbed to hear him say that concern for ecology is not enough to fix our problems, nor is neuroscience the end-all-be-all in human understanding.
The west has always been secular. It held onto a soteriological strain which often visits religions the moment they reach a peak of ecclesiastical ornamentation. Christianity internalized the Jewish law from which it descended and, thus, became a new church of ecclesiastical ornamentation. Many are well acquainted with the pairing of Buddhism and secularism, for instance. Less popular is the notion that Christ's incarnation into a body which could die, rise and then leave man alone could only ever result, theologically, in secularism.
It didn't, however, simply result in people no longer believing in God and going about their merry ways.
Ashrams, western orders of initiative magic and mega-churches all increase in volume in the most soulless of densely populated American cities like Las Vegas, Las Angeles... In places where both commodities and desires are born, spiritualities offer a form of parasitism which balance both. There are simply some sins which are worth the redemption they call for; all the better when discounted at an ungodly price.
One could think of detachment, in the far eastern sense, as being a different configuration of the commandment, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.' Only the 'Me,' in this case, could be considered the ground of being, which is the metaphysical principle behind the more hypostasisized, anthropomorphized concept we often call 'God' here in the west.
“During the winter, I had to dig holes that measured one metre [three feet] wide and one metre [three feet] deep. The ground was frozen. The mud was so hard that it took two days to dig one hole. It was incredibly challenging. My upper body was sweating; My fingers and toes were frostbitten. I also worked inside a coal storage facility, breaking apart coal,” he said.
He also described his “overwhelming loneliness” and eating “2,757 meals in isolation by myself. It was difficult to see when and how the entire ordeal would end.”
“In the spring and summer, I worked outside, eight hours a day, in the scorching sun.”
Lim said “he prayed without ceasing” during the ordeal and when not being worked to death he read books on North Korea and re-read the Bible in English and Korean five times. Source
Scale was never the Libertarian Party's forté.
Technology has provided us with endless opportunities to increase our intelligence but has severed our means of turning our knowledge into wisdom.
Utopia is nothing if not the belief that future pleasure can be purchased through present suffering.
Rene Girard saw mimetic rivalry as the constant theme of man's downfall throughout history. A devout Catholic, though not necessarily a biblical literalist, he would have equated it, perhaps metaphorically, with the work of Satan. Men mirror the desires of other men and take what they have away from them to have it for themselves.
I must not forget that at certain times when my headaches were raging I had an intense longing to make another human being suffer by hitting him in exactly the same part of his forehead
Secularism is a Christian phenomenon.
Today, many people deny the existence of any definition of the Divine or God, and yet, entertain myths like Progress, Nationalism, Identity and Freedom. I don't use the word 'myth' to denigrate these things, but to point to their porous nature; to indicate that, at the end of the day, they are interpretive variables in a configuration. These configurations are discovered (or created) toward a purpose. Sometimes the purpose comes later, sometimes it is coextensive with the project. The myth of Progress is for building culture. The myth of the State is for a certain kind of economic organization. The project of Freedom is a psychological means to reveal to people some contingent oppression from outside or from within.
Divinity, like most of these things, has changed in meaning a great deal over time. Often, it has included as part of its project the other myths I've already mentioned.
Today, the secular west has compartmentalized features of life which were once realized by one's reaching toward the sacred. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with this, it can lead to idealistic chauvinism of all kinds.
Many definitions of the divine are comprised of a representation of being and nonbeing locked in an interdependent relationship, like the spokes and circle of a wheel and the spaces between, as illustrated in the Tao Te Ching. The structure of theism in the modern sense is an exoteric interpretation of being. Atheism seems to me to be mainly an exoteric interpretation of nonbeing. There is nothing particulary special about either, as they are both susceptible to the appropriation of similar mythic configurations. The relationship between being and nonbeing, however, is largely esoteric, as it involves an ever shifting gradation in terms of the myths and projects involved. Revealed religion, which is to say exoteric religion, usually comes with a project built into it. Sometimes that project is soteriological (Christianity, Buddhism), devotional (Judaism, Islam) or any mix of the two and everything between (Hinduism, provincial religions). Esoteric religion, or what people mean in general when they say 'spirituality,' are projects which transcend dogmas attached to specific sects and organizations.
When one speaks of the exoteric domain of either being or nonbeing, there is little difference and results can be quite similar. Secular political organizations and churches have far more in common than they have in distinction. A secularist will fault a Christian for using God as an excuse for burning people at the stake and a Christian will fault a secularist for using progress as an excuse to make purses out of human skin. Both of them are simply stating the obvious: Good ideas can be used for violent ends.
Where both have been mistaken is in their absolutist view of the world. They leave no room for people with different ideas than them and consider these ideas a state of ideological/spiritual emergency. This can happen to any idea, any group of people, at any time, in any nation, with any belief. It begs the question: if one idea was supreme, or the truth, you would think it would rise to the surface eventually.
This is precisely what happens, but not the way we always think. Change is one constant truth. So are gravity and motion. But even these shift in varying degrees depending on a series of other contingent factors. The same can be said of our ideas, whether that be progress, justice or divinity.
A different relationship with the divine would, in natural circumstances, be needed in different situations.
The recurring features of divine configuration are those which unify paradoxical experiences. When enough paradoxes are bridged, there result the varying eschatologies: lions sleeping with lambs, the joining of inner and outer, bringing heaven down to earth, the merging of microcosm and macrocosm.
One hears different tones and sees different shades, and yet, many of the projects have a similar effect.