These fragments I have shored against my ruins

“There is something precious in our being mysteries to ourselves, in our being unable ever to see through even the person who is closest to our heart and to reckon with him as though he were a logical proposition or a problem in accounting.”

Rudolf Bultmann

“Nothing truly real is forgotten eternally,
because everything real comes from eternity and goes to eternity.”

– Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now

An impossible God

God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence.
Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.

– Paul Tillich

What a bizarre statement for a theologian to make! But once you recover from the shock of the first part of his statement, the second sentence goes some way to clarifying the first, and we see that this is not a denial of God, but a profound and radical affirmation.

(At patheos.com there is an essay by Daniel Fincke, written in some measure against Tillich, titled “The Impossible God of Paul Tillich”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2011/12/the-impossible-god-of-paul-tillich/.
Fincke finds Tillich guilty of a kind of pantheism, and I can see why. Yet the disquiet at his strange, existentialist theology has a peculiar resonance for me. I don’t claim to have read much of Tillich’s work, so my view isn’t relevant really – it is just a novice’s point of view.

I think that a Christianity which has witnessed the catastrophes of the twentieth century – the Great War and the Second World War both nightmare events in the history of the world –  and waged by so-called “christian nations” – must inevitably discover its very language has become deeply suspect. A ‘traditional theodicy’ essentially collapses in the face of the magnitude of such events. Perhaps a traditional theodicy was murdered in the gas chambers.

(WWI: estimated to be 10 million military dead, 7 million civilian deaths, 21 million wounded, and 7.7 million missing or imprisoned. WWII: Over 60 million people died in World War II. Estimated deaths range from 50-80 million. 38 to 55 million civilians were killed, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine).
Source: http://www.diffen.com/difference/World_War_I_vs_World_War_II

WORDS

When words have become the domain of propaganda and double-speak, when meanings shift and change or are perverted so radically that these meanings are obscured and destroyed, it is inevitable that another language would be sought.

The word “God” itself is so promiscuous that it means a million contradictory things. It is at once the deity of the Islamist suicide bomber, the deity of the charlatan televangelist and so on.

The designation Christian can cast you into the company of intolerant and ignorant fundamentalists in some narrow corner of Texas, or a group of kind and tolerant quakers in rural England, or into the company of Syriac Orthodox believers in Baghdad.

I read somewhere that it is no accident that after the First World War, western art turned increasingly to abstraction, as if it could no longer bear to reflect reality (or rather the “maya”, the phantasmagorical world we have made for ourselves). Tillich’s theology is, for me, like a Rothko painting. I remember sitting silently in the Tate Gallery in London completely overwhelmed by a nameless emotion before the restrained, silent grandeur of Rothko’s large canvases. I was transfixed, moved beyond words. I think this is where Tillich takes us, his theology taking the path of artists and poets. I may be wrong: perhaps it is as Fincke says, that “Much of Tillich’s theology looks like a pantheistic or pagan theology onto which a superficial layer of exhausted Christian ideology is painted. That paint peels off easily”.

images (2)

I do see Paul Tillich the philosopher and theologian as a kind of painter, and his paintings are in some sense like those of Rothko. Imagine sitting before Tillich’s mysterious “painting” – perhaps like “Untitled” above: the abstract painting of his theology. If you sit quietly enough, If you can silence the cacophony of the everyday, and suspend the clutter of received, conventional wisdom of the divine which can cloud the soul, you may hear the quiet voice of God.

Image: Mark Rothko. Untitled, 1969. Acrylic on canvas, 92 × 78 7/8 in. (233.7 × 200.3 cm). Private Collection. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. See: http://bigthink.com/Picture-This/finding-the-lighter-side-of-mark-rothko

 

 

 

 

“The enslaving of the other is also the enslaving of the self.”

Nikolai Berdyaev

“He jests at scars
that never felt a wound”

-William Shakespeare

Smoke and mirrors

All political power is primarily an illusion… Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors… If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours.”

American journalist Jimmy Breslin. In his Notes from Impeachment Summer.

my real self wanders elsewhere

“My real self wanders elsewhere, far away, wanders on and on invisibly and has nothing to do with my life.”

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

“What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”

Hermann Hesse, Siddharta

Certain books one read as a youth seem to make a fatal imprint upon one’s life, or to remain with one like the memory of a young love. Long afterwards, even as we move on with our lives and we change both within ourselves and our relationships, something of this first love remains like a lingering scent.

I discovered Hermann Hesse in my mid teens: Narcissus and Goldmund, Damian and Siddhartha were significant books for me. In one sense they reflected my own discontent with the Scheinwelt, a sense that there was an unknown path to be walked, that “my real self walked elsewhere”.

Hesse’s Buddhist sensibility was – at least to me then – free of overtly Buddhist parlance – it was expressed through beautifully told stories, an easily accessible idiom.

It was the opposite of the sort of de rigeur nonsense that passes as Buddhism in a self-obsessed capitalist-consumerist West, where even the way of enlightenment becomes one more commodity, an exercise in self-branding, a way to serve at the altar of Self.

To have been exposed to Hesse in an oppressive, late-1970’s South Africa was a liberating experience for me. In a conservative patriarchal society ruled by an authoritarian spirit, and in a family dominated by an authoritarian father, Hesse represented a window on another world for me, a world where kindness and gentleness prevailed, where the coldness and sterility of life was challenged by an altogether different spirit of peace and – for fear of sounding “New Age” – for want of a better term, a spiritual expansiveness.

I suppose that as I grew older I grew away from Hesse, much as his Siddhartha found his own way apart from the Buddha. It is not a platitude to say we are all making our own journey, even if we are unaware of it, even though it’s beginning is forgotten and it’s end beyond the horizon of our comprehension. Perhaps it is a journey to awakening, to a knowing, to authenticity. I don’t think it is a journey in any way like the journeys that the guru, life coach and motivational speaker would have us make.

As a result of your seeking you cannot find”. 

Counterintuitive perhaps, or perhaps it reflects the Psalmist’s words:
Be still, and know I am God.”

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

We are so much like the seafarers of old, insisting that we are captains of our own ships, forgetting that the wind and ocean currents may force us from our charted course. And yet at every turn we encounter the belief system- so intimately linked to the capitalist metanarrative – that we can be in control. Life’s vicissitudes prove otherwise: death (the discussion of which is practically anathema in a society which fetishizes youth and “the new” and which displaces death into movies and videogames where once again it becomes a servant of our own self-interest) is the ultimate negation of our conceit. Death scrambles our radar, eviscerates our charts.

Scheinwelt

Every weekday evening on the radio financial “experts” discuss “the markets”, confident they can turn it’s volatility to profit. Financial experts remind us how under-insured most of us are, and we feel a twinge of resentment towards this elite few with their offshore investment portfolios. The advertising industry ensures the sense of anxiety is sustained at fever pitch, constantly reminding us that if we only buy this or that we will be more loveable, more acceptable, that our worth is somehow directly correlated to our ability to aquire “stuff.”

But all of this is Scheinwelt, maya, a world of illusions, smoke an mirrors.

A BRIEF DIGRESSION

What are we to make of Christ’s words to the rich young man, “Go, and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me”?

Too radical for us, too challenging to our shabby egotism and our obsession with money, we casually ignore and explain away Christ’s words. Fetishizing money, lost in our own idolatrous phantasms, we easily pervert Christ’s teachings to endorse our own avarice. Creflo Dollar (Google him if you really want to get depressed) is but one example of such aberation: the Word of Faith movement shows us how insidiously widespread heterodoxy has become, how the moneychangers have crept back into the temple with their rickety tables, tatty doves and their grubby coins.

What if the young man had followed Jesus? What would have become of his ‘financial planning’? What of the navigational charts he’d carefully prepared for his life? We know that the Shepherd was soon to be crucified, his sheep scattered, and terrible persecution was to follow. Would the young man not have been ill-advised to follow the Teacher? And as for the aforementioned Mr Dollar: would he put the persecution of the early church down to their lack of faith?


A definition: Scheinwelt: illusory world, a world of appearance.

 

“Words do not express thoughts very well. they always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.”

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

 

“God is not apprehended by the intellect, but by life”

– Osip Bazdeyev (the Freemason) in the movie War and Peace, based on the novel of the same name by Tolstoy.

On (not) radiating boundless love like the Buddha

After an altercation yesterday with an obstructive security guard who refused to allow me to photograph the rather grim-looking SABC building in Auckland Park, (Jo’burg, South Africa), I read the following words of the Buddha:

“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.”

(The Buddha, from the Metta Sutta)

To further flagellate my un-Buddha-like (and un-Christ-like) self, I trawled through some cyberspace Bibles and found the words of Saint Paul, “Repay no person evil for evil, but be concerned with doing good before all people.”

Well, I did recently post a quote by Cioran in which he writes against Saint Paul’s “unbridled sanctity”!

Why then do I demand unbridled sanctity of myself?

I need to prod the occasionally superating wound of my own mad rage, examine what it is that festers there, which prevents healing. The issue here of course is precisely not the petty official, the simple-minded security guard following crackling orders from his unseen master on the other side of his walky-talky. It is not the rude waiter who disallows a canine companion on the terrace of his master’s restaurant. The issue is my own rebellion.  I suspect that ultimately it is a rebellion against what I sense as life’s suffocating boundaries – and perhaps a sense of impotence to effectively resist petty officialdom. My unchristian and unbuddhist response to the security guard was really a toxic amalgam of anger towards perceived illegitimate authority, obstinate and obstructive petty tyrants – their seeking to limit and diminish our freedoms believing they serve the common good in doing so. The guard is simply a sad little minion in a fallen, objectivised and unfree world. He is as much a victim as any, as unfree as a slave in a galley. I have witnessed the perpetuation and enforcement of so much illegitimate authority: in my father’s house – a cruel and petty tyranny. In the church: legalism in the guise of Christianity. At school, caned for petty misdemeanors that at best demanded a reprimand. In a society deformed by petty-apartheid: bureaucratic and institutionalised nastiness. A girl prevented from continuing attending my school when it was discovered she was “coloured”. The bus driver who prevented a black woman from entering a “whites-only” bus; the khaki-clad official who demanded a black businessman traveling with his white colleague exit the “whites-only” carriage. People beaten and arrested by policemen for not being able to show their “dompas”. People beaten and arrested for being Gay. Or for being on the wrong beach. In the wrong toilet. Using the wrong entrance. And few courageous – or foolish – enough to speak up on behalf of the voiceless. Oh there have always been those prepared to plant a bomb and run away for their beliefs; always those to shoot their enemy in the back from a safe distance. But few to face their enemy squarely with a simple “No”. So it is inevitable I react in anger at the merest hint of illegitimate authority, just as it is unsurprising that in true Orwellian irony, those who have been oppressed by petty bureaucracy, the victims of petty securocrats, should themselves manifest the same dismal characteristics of their former oppressors.

Well that’s a whole lot of anger for one wretched security guard to have to face. When I told him that his nefarious bosses in the evil tower o’er yonder did not have jurisdiction over a public street or over myself, that in fact God owned this space, the view of the building, the trees, me, and even him – well I think at this point he believed he was dealing with a lunatic, and he may not have been far from the truth.

So, reluctantly, I return to the words of the Buddha:

“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world”.

Fail. (However, The Dalai Lama said, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” So at least the Buddhists provide some hope for me.

Then there’s ol’ Marcus Aurelius:

“(Do not) display anger or other emotions… be free of passion and yet full of love.” and “Tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work to together… To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

Am I upbraided by these pearls of wisdom? Or simple demoralized by them?

Well its hard to take moral instruction from Marcus Aurelius considering he initiated a violent persecution of Christians in The Fourth Persecution of AD162 (http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/marcus-aurelius-enlightened-persecutor) – so I’ll stay with the Buddhist injunction to kindness for now.

Jesus is a little more enigmatic and hard to place. Apparently The Lord of Peace
“… went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.” He may have been a pacifist, but he was not afraid to physically confront illegitimate authority Jewish or otherwise.

But why bring Jesus into it at all?

Is He my standard, my measure?

Then I must fail, and thus  inevitably bring His holy name into disrepute!

Like the dog that has bitten and senses somehow it’s own wrongdoing,  yet which cannot but act according to its nature, I slink – ears back and tail down – back into my lupine growlery.

So much for gods and men, sages and fools.

There’s a passage from Pulp fiction I rather like:

“Jules: Well there’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.” I been sayin’ that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never gave much thought what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. See now I’m thinkin’, maybe it means you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9 Milimeter here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. Now I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.” (Source: http://movies.stackexchange.com/questions/242/explanation-of-jules-ending-monologue)

I guess I just don’t know if I’m a shepherd or an “evil motherfucker”.

*****

This tawdry meditation “On (not) radiating boundless love like the Buddha” is written with a strong sense of the triviality of the incident. The war in Syria with its millions of victims, the plight of child soldiers, the atrocities of “The Lord’s Resistance Army”, massacres in the DRC, abductions by Boko Haram, beheadings by ISIS, drone attacks by the Pentagon, the suffering caused by disease and famine and political injustice, complicity and indifference – all these cause my “altercation” to pale into inane insignificance.

But there we have it: to rummage in the rubbish of insignificance seems the fate of mortals: How significant is most – or any – of our activity on this little planet? To take myself so seriously, an altercation amidst the aeons and the infinite reaches of space! How pathetic,  how egotistical, what myopic madness!

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