To Be or Not To Be, That is Not the Question (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 201)

I would say that the major religious problem today is the systematic liquidation of man’s sensitivity to the challenge of God. Let me try to explain that. We cannot understand man in his own terms. Man is not to be understood in the image of nature, in the image of an animal, or in the image of a machine. He has to be understood in terms of a transcendence, and that transcendence is not a passive thing; it is a challenging transcendence. Man is always being challenged; a question is always being asked of him. The moment man disavows the living transcendence, he is contracted; he is reduced to a level on which his distinction as a human being gradually disappears. What makes a man human is his openness to transcendence, which lifts him to a higher level than himself. Overwhelmed by the power he has achieved, man now has the illusion of sovereignty; he has become blind to his own situation, and deaf to the question being asked of him.

To destroy the illusion that man is his own center cannot be done easily. In order to understand, and to cultivate an openness to transcendence, many prerequisites are necessary, prerequisites of the mind and of the heart. However, our society, our education, all continue to corrode mens’ sensibilities. I am not optimistic; we are getting poorer by the day. To give you an example: Man does not feel a sense of outrage anymore, even in the face of crime. We are getting used to it. We are getting accustomed to evil. We are surrendering to that which we call inevitable. That is fatalism; it is pagan. The message of the Bible is that man is capable of making a choice. Choose life — but instead we choose death, blindness, callousness, helpnessness, despair.

Religion, if taught as religion, has no life. In order to understand what the Bible says, one has to understand life as seen by the Bible, all of life. My understanding of the meaning of God depends on my way of looking at this very table, at this very desk, at everything, at creation. The tragedy of religion is partly due to its isolation from life, as if God could be segregated. God has become an alibi for our conscience, for real faith. He has become a sort of after-life insurance policy.

Just as we are commanded to love man, we are also called upon to be sensitive to the grandeur of God’s creation. We are infatuated with our great technological achievements; we have forgotten the mystery of being, of being alive. We have lost our sense of wonder, our sense of radical amazement at sheer being. We have forgotten the meaning of being human and the deep responsibility involved in just being alive. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But that is no problem. We all want to be. The real problem, biblically speaking, is how to be and how not to be; that is our challenge, and it is what makes the difference between the human and the animal. The animal also wants to be. For us, it is the problem of how to be and how not to be, on the levels of existence. Now, what is the meaning of God? The meaning of God is precisely the challenge of “how to be.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel          1966

The White Nightgown Mindset (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 180)

William James warned his students that a certain kind of mindset was approaching the West—it could hardly be called a way of thought—in which no physical details are noticed. Fingernails are not noticed, trees in the plural are mentioned, but no particular tree is ever loved, nor where it stands; the hair of the ear is not noticed. We now see this mindset spread all over freshman English papers, which American students can now write quickly, on utterly generalized subjects; the nouns are usually plurals, and the feelings are all ones it would be nice to have. The same mindset turns up on the Watergate tapes, and working now with more elaborate generalizations, in graduate seminars in English, in which all the details in Yeats’s poems turn out to be archetypes or Irish Renaissance themes. It is the lingua franca, replacing Latin. The mindset could be described as the ability to talk of Africa without visualizing the hair in the baboon’s ear, or even a baboon. Instead the mindset reports “wild animals.” Since the immense range of color belongs to physical detail—the thatness—of the universe, it is the inability to see color. People with this mindset have minds that resemble white nightgowns. For people of this mindset, there’s not much difference between 3 and 742; the count of something is a detail. In fact the number they are most interested in, as James noted, is one. That’s a number without physical detail.

WIlliam James observed this approaching mindset and associated out from it sideways. He noticed the mindset resembled the upper class of Boston. They too disliked the sordid details—the hair in the ear of religion, the smells of the Irish entryway—and preferred the religion of the One. Naturally, they became Unitarians. If the “cultured people” move into this mindset, a curious thing happens; the upper (spiritual) half of life and the lower (sensual) half of life begin to part company. One part ascends; the other part, no longer connected to the high, sinks. The gaps between grom wider and wider. The educated class has the Pure One, the working class people are left with nothing but the crude physical details of their lives—the husband’s old pipe and the spit knocked out of it, the washing tub, the water and slush from the children’s boots on the entry floor, the corns on the feet, the mess of dishes in the sink, the secular love-making in the cold room. These physical details are now, in the twentieth century, not only unpenetrated by religion, but they somehow prove to the unconscious that “religion is a nullity.” James emphasized that perception, and Stevens grieved over the insight all his life. For the working class there’s nothing left but the Emperor of Ice Cream. The middle class is now the working class, and so the majority of people in the West are worse off than they were in the Middle Ages.

A Little Book on the Human Shadow

Robert Bly          1988

Money is what God used to Be (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 169)

In a crude, boyish way, he had begun to get the hang of this money-business. At an earlier age than most people he grasped that all modern commerce is a swindle. Curiously enough, it was the advertisements in the Underground stations that first brought it home to him. He little knew, as the biographers say, that he himself would one day have a job in an advertising firm. But there was more to it than the mere fact that business is a swindle. What he realized, and more clearly as time went on, was that money-worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion—the only really felt religion—that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. Hence the profoundly significant phrase, to make good. The decalogue has been reduced to two commandments. One for the employers—the elect, the money-priest-hood as it were—”Thou shalt make money”; the other for the employed—the slaves and underlings—”Thou shalt not lose thy job.” It was about this time that he came across The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and read about the starving carpenter who pawns everything but sticks to his aspidistra. The aspidistra became a sort of symbol for Gordon after that. The aspidistra, flower of England! It ought to be on our coat of arms instead of the lion and the unicorn. There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows.

Keep The Aspidistra Flying

George Orwell          1936

The Inheritance of All Healers (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 156)

“One time,” said Castle, “when I was about fifteen, there was a mutiny near here on a Greek ship bound from Hong Kong to Havana with a load of wicker furniture. the mutineers got control of the ship, didn’t know how to run her, and smashed her up on the rocks near “Papa”Monzano’s castle. Everybody drowned but the rats. The rats and the wicker furniture came ashore.”

That seemed the end of the story, but I couldn’t be sure. “So?”

“So some people got free furniture, and some people got bubonic plague. At Father’s hospital, we had fourteen hundred deaths inside of ten days. Have you ever seen anyone die of bubonic plague?”

“That unhappiness has not bee mine.”

“The lymph glands in the groin and the armpits swell to the size of grapefruit.”

“I can well believe it.”

“After death, the body turns black—coals to Newcastle in the case of San Lorenzo. When the plague was having everything its own way, the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle looked like Auschwitz or Buchenwald. We had stacks of dead so deep and wide that a bulldozer actually stalled trying to shove them toward a common grave. Father worked without sleep for days, worked not only without sleep but without saving many lives, either.”

“Well, finish your story anyway.”

“Where was I?”

“The bubonic plague. The bulldozer was stalled by corpses.”

“Oh, yes. Anyway, one sleepless night I stayed up with Father while he worked. It was all we could do to find a live patient to treat. In bed after bed after bed we found dead people.

And Father started giggling,” Castle continued.

“He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head, and do you know what that marvelous man said to me?” asked Castle.

“Nope.”

“‘Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.'”

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut          1963

Replacing Natural Community with Ritual Conformity and Persecution; The Salem Witch Trials, Nazi Germany, America of 1950, and Today (WPMY 130)

What replaces the sense of natural community in The Crucible, as perhaps in Nazi Germany and, on a different scale, 1950’s America, is a sense of participating in a ritual, of conformity to a ruling orthodoxy and hence a hostility to those who threaten it. The purity of one’s religious principles is confirmed by collaborating, at least by proxy, in the punishment of those who reject them. Racial identity is reinforced by eliminating those who might “contaminate” it, as one’s Americanness is underscored by identifying those who could be said to be un-American. In the film version of his play, Miller, free now to expand and deepen the social context of the drama, chose to emphasize the illusory sense of community: “The CROWD’s urging rises to angry crescendo. HANGMAN pulls a crude lever and the trap drops and the two fall. THE CROWD is delirious with joyful, gratifying unity.”

Alexis de Tocqueville identified the pressure toward conformity even in the early years of the Republic. It was a pressure acknowledged equally by Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, and Thoreau. When Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt abandons his momentary rebellion to return to his conformist society, he is described as being “almost tearful with joy.” Miller’s alarm, then is not his alone, nor is his sense of the potentially tyrannical power of shared myths that appear to offer absolution to those who accept them. If his faith in individual conscience as a corrective is also not unique, it is, perhaps, harder to sustain in the second half of a century that has seen collective myths exercising a coercive power, in America and Europe.

Introduction to The Crucible (Miller 1952)

Christopher Bigsby          1995

The Majority of Power and the Minority of Not; A Sick Cycle of Blame and Reincarnating Crucifixion (WPMY 128)

The majority of power most often trains the minority of not

to become as foul, overbearing, unbalanced, and oppressive

as they themselves happen to be.

Then,

the majority looks back upon their damaged and broken child,

the extrinsic manifestation of their philosophies and behavior,

the Frankenstein that they have brought to life in their own deplorable image,

and they despise the irrefutable evidence reflected so pristinely in a mirror of reaping.

The avoidance of wandering gaze and ignorance impossible,

majority sins must be shed in the undeniable burden they bear.

Upon the minority lamb they fall

in excusing demonization,

to ripen for sacrificial slaughter and bountiful fruiting distraction.

Washed in blood and its pooled reflection,

We slaughter the lamb,

We kill our enemies,

We subjugate our workers,

We destabilize our own children, our own pets, and our own mates.

We even travel to the future to conquer the rebellious robots of our creation.

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be our delusion.

Our kingdom come,

Our will be done,

In heaven as it is on earth.

Give us this day,

More than our brothers,

More than our need,

And hold us not in account for any of our Debts,

Nor any of our greed,

Forgive us our trespasses,

As we crucify the scapegoat embodiment of our own relentless madness and sin,

And let us not see nor hear nor speak of our own sick and utterly hypocritical behavior,

But deliver us from all awareness and the keeping of our brothers.

Forever and ever,

Amen.

Cribb

2016

Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 108

Jesus and the Ballot Box

Jesus would most definitely vote for:

1) Religious intolerance
2) The devout practice of hypocritical Christianity
3) Industrial parasitic and subjugative capitalism
4) American global invasion, war, and imperialism
5) The obliteration of the middle class
6) The exclusion of affordable healthcare for all
7) The poisoning of our planet
8) The removal of a social network to help and protect the retired and elderly in the latter stages of their lives
9) The ability for every individual to arm themselves with an assault rifle capable of rapid exponential lethality
10) Drone bombing to depersonalize and remove the inherent ethical restraints of the personal/individual psyche against indiscriminate killing and excessive unwarranted collateral damage.
11) Centralization of every sort, to shift the diffuse power and balance of more to the despotic monopolistic skewed gluttonous control of the few economic elite

That is definitely the Anglo blue-eyed Jesus that I have always known.

Cribb

2015