The Other I

April 7, 2012

Keep Calm and Put the Kettle On

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:24 pm
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Given the kind of reflective intelligence we humans seem to possess in abundance, I think our greatest fear is not of death but of meaninglessness.  We can bear almost unlimited suffering and loss, failure, poverty, humiliation and pain, and even death if we believe it has some meaning, some ultimate purpose which they serve.  It is the despair that nothing matters that we cannot bear.

It is our myths, often our religious myths, that give ultimate meaning to so many of us.  By myth I do not mean fairy-tales like Alice in Wonderland.  I mean poetic metaphors that speak a truth which cannot be spoken in any other way.  To carry meaning for us, these myths do not have to be accurate in every detail, but they do up to a point have to be believable.  We don’t think anymore that the thunder coming out of the mountains is the sound of angry gods.  So these gods can no longer inspire us.

Unfortunately, Christianity has also been facing the destruction of its myths for the last 500 years.  But however angry it may have made those who denied it, the world was not flat, the angels were not holding up the stars, the sun was not going around the earth.  We may feel condescending toward those who could not accept this 400 years ago.  But today there are those who would rather throw science out than face the evidence that we have descended from earlier primates, that the world was not created in seven days, that the universe is not 4,000 but closer to 67 billion years old, that the resurrection of the body in physical form is impossible.

I think the reason for this seemingly irrational dismissal of science is due to sheer fear of meaninglessness.  Fear that science is taking away any value in living.  It’s a fear that if one accepts the science of today one must inevitably conclude that the universe is one vast mechanistic impersonal engine in which justice and love and sharing and all the wonderful things we humans do has no value or meaning.  In the end, we all, the good and bad equally, will evaporate into one vast dark echoing void.  That we have lived and suffered and loved won’t matter one wit.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to the meaning of the universe.  Or even of life in particular.  But what gives me such great energy from the celebration of Easter is the realization that people have been staring into the void for thousands of years.  And always, somewhere deep inside themselves they have found the courage to believe that somehow, even in the darkest hours, in the face of death and apparent total defeat, life is worth living.

What we today call Easter did not originate with Christianity.  It is a celebration of hope that has been celebrated by human communities for at least ten thousand years.  It was expropriated by Christianity because it so vividly reflected what Christians believed was the message of Christ’s return from the dead.  At its center, Easter is the celebration of life, a vindication of the hope to which people clung during the dark long and cold days of winter.  Easter is a vindication of courage in the face of what so often looks like the end of life.  Possibly even of all life as we know it.

The English, in their wonderful understated way, had a motto as London and Coventry and other major cities were being bombed during World War II:  Keep Calm and Carry On.

Yesterday I bought a coffee mug that adapted this quiet determination to keep living even in the darkest hour.

  

Have a Happy Easter.  And should you indulge in a cup of tea as well, think of it as an act of dogged trust:  Life is worth living, however it might sometimes look.

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15 Comments »

  1. Do you know what- I have done nothing but drink tea today.
    🙂
    Here’s to hope!
    *sips tea*

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    Comment by sanstorm — April 7, 2012 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

    • Yes, to Hope! Hope that you aren’t drinking tea all day because you are ill. But hope that if you are that you are getting better soon. Tomorrow being Easter would be a good day.

      I hope too that you and your family have a happy Easter. Terry

      Like

      Comment by Terry Sissons — April 7, 2012 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

      • No, I’m fine. Just on holiday from work and having a day in the house.
        🙂

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        Comment by sanstorm — April 7, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

      • Oh good. Days off at home have a lot of potential in my experience. Have a happy Egg Day. T

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        Comment by Terry Sissons — April 7, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  2. You’ve said it about well as it can be said, Terry. Happy Easter to you!

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    Comment by pianomusicman — April 7, 2012 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

    • Happy Easter to you too, Tom. And thank you too for pointing out that I perhaps did not mean to say that the world is still flat! I have now said it slightly better as a result of your editorial help. Terry

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      Comment by theotheri — April 8, 2012 @ 6:44 am | Reply

  3. Happy Easter Terry!

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    Comment by Donna — April 7, 2012 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Donna. I hope it’s a Happy Easter for you too, Donna. Terry

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      Comment by theotheri — April 8, 2012 @ 6:46 am | Reply

  4. welcome back really have missed your blogs! never thought about meaninglessness in this wqy before. the fight against it as keeping us off the edge. years ago i read a book the denial of death by ernest becker taking that concept rather than freud’s sexual drive – as a central conflict – i am thinking that meaninglessness gives the struggle much more clarity – thank you for this terry. karen

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    Comment by kateritek — April 8, 2012 @ 1:03 am | Reply

    • Well, I will admit that being put into the same sentence with Freud and Becker is a compliment of a very high order!
      Terry

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      Comment by theotheri — April 8, 2012 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  5. I think one of the uniquely human features is that we are able to give meaning to life, whether it has it or not. Of course, as you point out, sometimes that impulse goes terribly awry and its results must be painfully extracted in order for our beliefs to grow with our understanding of the real world, rather than doom us to extinction-by-ignorance, or foolishness, or stubbornness. But giving meaning to life doesn’t have to be a grandiose and dangerous operation: it can be as simple a thing as buying a mug, as reminding ourselves that, like the British in WWII, we do have a choice about how we respond to whatever we are faced with. I think the term “mean” is entwined with the idea of intentionality, and thus with motive. What do we value? What do we lean toward? What do we see from our unique hyperconscious position as both participant and observer in this world? What do we want to resurrect in ourselves and around us? What do we want to bet on?

    I’m not in church this morning listening to the hallelujah chorus. I’m home alone, waiting for my tea water to boil, unwrapping life like a gift, even if I don’t know–or care–where it came from, and wondering what all I will find inside, and what I ought to do with it.

    Your posts are always part of the package–or maybe I should say, in keeping with the theme of the day, a beautifully decorated delight to find when hunting for virtual Easter eggs.

    Like

    Comment by Barbara Sullivan — April 8, 2012 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

    • Oh thank you, Barbara. I must admit that it’s a great compliment to be included among your Easter eggs!

      I’m not sure that I understand what you mean when you say we give meaning to things “whether they have it or not.” I think we give meaning to everything we experience based on, as you say, the perspective from which we view it. Some of those meanings are destructive, sometimes they are ignorant, sometimes they are life savers.

      I also agree that meanings don’t always have to be a big deal, even when they are terribly important.

      Like a coffee cup and just carrying on. Because that is what life is asking.

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      Comment by Terry Sissons — April 8, 2012 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

  6. I’m reminded of Joseph Campbell’s observation that we don’t so much crave the meaning of life as to feel it intensely. That is, he said, what religion is about. A cerebral perception of who we are and what we are here for is only satisfying if we feel it deeply as well. Religion is largely about an experience rather than a belief, don’t you think? The belief as idea is more in the realm of philosophy. I’m thinking of those Greek mystery cults, the elaborate rituals involved, etc., as well as more familiar religious ceremonies.

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    Comment by pianomusicman — April 8, 2012 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

    • Oh Tom, I can’t tell you the hours I have spent on this question as I have tried to understand myself. I grew up with an intensely cerebral approach to religion believing that what I felt was irrelevant. I was a middle-aged adult before I began to suspect that doctrine was not the essence of religion – though as you surely know, Roman Catholics are frequently assured that not believing the infallible teachings of the church will land one in eternal hell fire. It was only then that I began to think that going to hell for what a person thinks rather than what s/he does is pretty screwed up.

      To some extent, I still remain envious of those people who from a very early age could look at doctrine and either accept or reject it in terms of whether it felt right to them. I remember the ex-Maryknoll nun friend of mine who saw herself as a practicing, believing Catholic who does not believe in the resurrection, in the assumption, that Jesus was God. For starters.

      I fear a lot of Catholics think that faith is about dogma. Not about faithfulness and love.

      Am I making any sense?

      Terry

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      Comment by Terry Sissons — April 8, 2012 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  7. You make perfect sense, Terry.

    I misstated that quote from Campbell, btw. What he said, I think, was that what we want from religion is not to know the meaning of life (whatever that means) but to experience life itself more intensely. That’s what those middle-class folks who paid so much to get initiated into the rites of Isis or Whomever were after. Having an experience of the G/god. The same reason, I guess, why people take LSD, or write fiction, or fall in love, or try to feel God’s love. Teresa of Avila & Co.

    The practice of loving our fellow human beings or anything else is a somewhat different thing, to my mind. Slogging away in a clinic for the dead and dying in an African village, literally mopping up after them at the end of the day, as someone I know observed some nuns doing in Malawi, can’t be all that exhalting unless you are a mystic. But I suppose they see it as doing the Lord’s work…which happens to be the same work some atheists are doing, simply because it seems to be worth doing and it fulfills them.

    I guess I think losing yourself in something useful is better than “experiencing God’s love” or getting off on some other religious stimulus. It seems to me the latter can be just as selfish as, say, living for pleasure. I don’t put it down; I just don’t see why it should be looked upon as better. I’m the sort of person who believes there are always people walking around among us who are every bit as good as any of the ones we venerate in the past. And I don’t mean celebrities like Mother Teresa. I mean Nobodies. And there are just as many non-religious types among them as in the rest of the population. Maybe more.

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    Comment by pianomusicman — April 8, 2012 @ 10:52 pm | Reply


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