I’m tired of hearing myself talk about ideas. Nature, science, politics…
Sometimes it seems like all that matters is religion. For instance, consider the soul who owns the giant company: What religion does she believe in? It can make a lot of difference.
I realize, though, that even after writing too much about it, I don’t have anything good to say about religion. Also I’m tired of hearing myself talk about things. The reason I’m writing right now is that it’s easier to pass time by typing than to honor my Lenten vow to stay away from the typewriter.
Did you know? I compose all of these blog posts on an ancient typewriter that has no key for the number “1” (you must substitute the letter “L”, whose lowercase is the same shape). That’s why my thoughts are so interesting: The quality of one’s writing is due solely to the machine that one employs to…
So is Jesus important or not? I run into this problem a lot: People still think that everything important about existence, beyond plastic beach furniture and celebrity news, remains property of Jesus. I say yes: I like his emphasis on forgiveness.
Our world overlaps with the world of the ants. What if a jogger were to beg forgiveness of each ant that she ended up stomping on? What if an anthill were to send out prayers to each upcoming jogger?
Can our community of scientists manage to avert the course of an asteroid that is hurtling towards our planet, so that the thing misses us? What is the limit of the power of our community of scientists? Can they cause the globe’s various countries’ leaders to forge peace?
When machines were invented that could automatically wash clothing, did this free up an amount of time from each person’s life?
I just don’t care about these ideas anymore. If you’re able to undergo freezing to death in the street, you’ve conquered modern society. Game over, you win.
Yesterday a baby-boomer told me that she spent six months in Africa in order to “figure out what she wanted to do with her life.” Her conclusion was that she wanted to work in the print industry. So she found a job and stayed at it for twenty years. She married and brought forth a daughter who is now attending a Christian college. This daughter belongs to the generation that we call millennials.
In some ways, I can relate to the above (my own mother is a baby-boomer, and my sister is a millennial); but the rest sounds exotic and unfamiliar. I’ve never left the U.S., and I never figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I never went to college, and I don’t go to church, and I only help children (I neither sire nor “raise” them).
What exactly qualifies as Christianity? Is it a set of rules?—if so, what and where are they? Or is it a club that you join by uttering a passphrase? Or do you have to act or dress or speak a certain way?
I could go on and on with questions, but, even if someone were able to answer them, on what authority would this person be able to claim that they speak for the religion? Why should I believe THEIR answer over anyone else’s?
Let’s assert something simple, like: Christianity means holding the teachings of Jesus as divine…
You know where this is heading. I’m going to ask: Which gospels, and why? And where does any church derive its authority to establish a canon? And do the writings of St. Paul fall under the umbrella of holy guidance, or are they separate from Jesus’s parables? And since Jesus left not a single one of his teachings in writing, then, when we say that we “believe in” the canonical gospels, we’re really avowing a belief in four human secretaries: St. Mark, St. Matthew, St. Luke, and dearly belated St. John. Again, where do these four men derive their authority? Why not believe in any other excellent author or biographer of genius?
I am preoccupied with authority because I lack authority and yet I desire authority so as to relinquish authority.
All in all, I hate this current game called life; but I can feel that if a couple of the parameters of reality were tweaked, it would make a big difference: I might love life truly.
It’s strange that one’s yearning can wax until it begins to resemble a memory. I now desire paradise so intensely that I recall having lived there. This must be what society labels the delusions of madness. One’s will joins forces with fancy to usurp one’s memory. And once that battle is won, the aim will be to conquer and settle one’s present perceptions. The Promised Land.
Here’s where my thoughts remain – please tell me where I’m wrong:
Moses brings the LORD’s people out from Egypt, and their destination is a certain good place that the LORD has pledged to give to those people. But Moses dies before entering it, and the people never do altogether inherit the good land. So the “promise” of the domain now known as The Promised Land was ultimately BROKEN: it was never fulfilled. The LORD failed to secure the land for his chosen ones – there were remnants left unsettled, itinerant. The whole undertaking fizzled out, and the people ended up suffering one or another form of chaos (captivity, etc.) as their fate. Not to mention, the fragments of the land that were successfully occupied (briefly, definitely not happily ever after) had to be wrenched from their original inhabitants via the slaughter of warfare. I don’t find this story pleasant.
The topic was on my mind because a couple members of my family were talking about a bible-study book that they are reading, which uses portions of the story of this Land of Milk and Honey to springboard into…
…into what? After years of being enviously curious about the success of the conmen who write this type of claptrap, I’m STILL trying to figure out what exactly it is that they offer people, after twisting the scriptures. That’s what these “study books” do: they twist the scriptures into a different shape – for apparently people do not approve of the form that God gave to his scriptures. (I fear that I sound like a preacher right now; please keep in mind that I am the Antichrist.) People say: God wrote the Bible. And when they try to read the Bible, they do not like it. But instead of changing their mind and admitting that God in fact did NOT write the Bible, they find a book written by someone other than God, and that new book offers them ideas that are more to their liking—pleasant words to buffer God’s scripture with, to make God’s words palatable. Like stuffing a pill inside of a sausage, to trick a dog into eating its bitter medicine.
I’m jealous because I cannot OWN these “ideas that are more to people’s liking”—for I don’t share the mob’s taste in “comforting words”; I actually like the Bible, although I would never say that it’s written by God.
I must keep reminding myself: Nobody cares what you think. Whether or not you hold the Bible as holy; or Jesus as a prophet or divine or a regular old “sinner”; or the Hebrew Scriptures as superior to the Greek: people simply do not care. And why should they? They care about the cut of clothing, the brand of clothing, the price of clothing… (all this is smart – I’m not being facetious)
People like food, money, hope, love… People want to live inside of a billboard advertisement. Here is where we agree: I also want to live inside of a billboard advertisement. Or an old Hollywood movie: specifically that scene in the rain where they’re standing under the eaves of that isolated lodge. I don’t want to live in Mexico; I want to live in that Hollywood set that approximates Mexico.
At the beginning of José Saramago’s novel O Homem Duplicado, which I read in English translation under the title The Double, a history teacher named Tertuliano is shown living what I would call a humdrum life. But everything humdrum about Tertuliano’s life excites me, paradoxically, because, as a reader, I remain beyond the reach of the necessities of that existence and can therefore appreciate its décor; I look down on the gray entirety “with side-curved head curious what will come next,” as it is written (in “Song of Myself” sec. 4), I am “Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.” My own life, subject to the necessities of this dimension of reality, is similarly humdrum yet wholly unattractive. Why is the humdrum of Tertuliano’s life GOOD while mine remains BAD? Because he is a character, formed after the image of his author Saramago, whose book I can open or shut at will: I hover over the set of his novel like God’s spirit hovers over the void of the pre-fashioned world (Genesis 1:2); I enter his apartment unobserved, thus improving on the stealth of Jeffrey Beaumont, who gets discovered by Dorothy Vallens in the film Blue Velvet (1986).
When the entirety consists of text alone, I can go to and fro, and up and down in time (not only space) – backwards AND forwards – the more movement the merrier. In contrast, my present imprisonment allows only forwards-oriented time-travel at a rate of one second per second. Sad!
What more clear than that of all things nothing is so unclear, between man and his writing, as to which is the man and which the thing and of them both which is the more to be valued…
That fragment is from Paterson (part II of “The Library,” from Book Three) by William Carlos Williams. It reminds me of a remark that I once heard the poet John Ashbery say in an interview – I have to paraphrase it because I can’t find the source – it was something like: I often feel jealous of my own books, because they get so much attention; after all, I think I’m a fairly interesting person as well.
I wish I had Ashbery’s problem, on the book side. But on both that and the personal side I am met with indifference. At least, that’s the way that it feels to me. Perhaps I’m a needy, selfish jerk who will never be satisfied, no matter how much attention I get; so anything short of constant praise I dismiss as indifference. This sounds ugly, I know: but I write it down so that I can stomp it out. What I want is to be graceful, helpful, selfless and altruistic like mothers and nurses. Fathers and doctors are always trying to wrench open your chest. What does the emperor of the Volcano God say on his death bed? He probably wishes that he had relaxed more, spent more time with friends, and conquered less villages.
There is a time when an ambitious type should fight his way through the jungle and up the mountain—it is the time when experience is rich and you can learn more than you ever will again, but if it goes on too long, you wither from the high tension, you drop away drunk or a burned-out brain, you learn what it is to lose seriously in love, or how it goes when your best friend and you are no longer speaking; it is inevitable that a bad fall comes to the strong-willed man who is not strong enough to reach his own peak.
Those words are from the first of Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself. I checked out this collection today because an essay from it was referenced in another book that I recently read: Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Here I’ll copy a passage, but it’s not the passage that led to the Mailer quote above. Frank writes:
Although the poverty and deprivation of earlier times had been largely overcome, in the “affluent society” that had succeeded those difficult decades the descendants of the pioneers were in danger of being reduced to faceless cogs in a great machine, automatons in an increasingly rationalized and computerized system of production that mindlessly churned out cars, TVs, bomber jets, and consciousness all for the sake of the ever-accelerating American way of life.
By the end of the 1950s, there could have been very few literate Americans indeed who were not familiar with the term with which these problems were summarized: “conformity.” It was said to be a time of intolerance for difference, of look-alike commuters clad in gray flannel and of identical prefabricated ranch houses in planned suburban Levittowns, all stretching moderately and reasonably to the horizon.
I sense I’m supposed to recoil in abhorrence from this vision, but the funny thing is that I am attracted to it – genuinely, I love the idea of sameness and mediocrity and plain, ordered living; for I believe that once we achieve blandness on the outside, it’ll clear the way for exuberance on the inside; in other words, a boringly secure physicality will afford us the energy to engage, with our highest spirits, in the act of CREATION (I’m talking about artworks); we’ll enjoy the calm health and time to REALIZE our imaginations.
I don’t like war. Who likes war? My guess is the ammo business: Folks who make ammo; folks who shoot ammo; folks who snatch X, Y, and Z from those who’ve been ammo’d. The reason my thoughts ran in this direction is that I was trying to think of the opposite of a gray flannel landscape. I guess I miss the way that businesspeople dressed in the 1950s. But again I mean the styles that are preserved in motion pictures and TV programs, not the actual spacetime fabric that God made.
Also a thought re apocalyptic predictions: What shall happen to this prophetic impulse in the future ages, when scientific thinking shall have overwhelmed the world? What does an apocalyptic prophecy look like, in scientific garb? Or will the all-too-human urge that as yet has been translated into so-called divine admonitions henceforward take some other manifestation (or get absorbed back into the mind of its prophet)?
NOTE: The views expressed in this entry are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.