A Little Bone to Pick

Three thirty in the morning.

Lead me not into temptation. Deliver me… Such strange words, hinged on the premise of good and evil, when it’s arguable whether there is a heaven and a hell. Evil is proved by its harmful effects on the individual and whoever he touches. Goodness promotes health and productivity. I only hope that the human race knows what is best for itself. As a young person, I learned nonconformity just on principle: be yourself and question everything. Later on, people like me were slighted as selfish or something that made no sense. So now it’s very difficult to know which is right, the collective mentality or the individual, and by the time you reach your deathbed, will it make a difference anyway? Whether we live together or apart, we all die alone, and you can’t take anything with you. As with everything, going with one or the other comprises a wager; either way, you bet your life… I also learned as a youngster that religious norms are fictions created by human beings in the interest of the group. Recently, someone I know opined that all people have belongingness needs, but I don’t know if I totally agree with that. I can honestly say that people are social animals because we enjoy each other’s company. But the thought of mindless obedience to a status quo still makes my hackles rise. There’s always something to be said for individual freedom— of the kind dramatized in The Crucible by Arthur Miller. John Proctor dies for the truth in the teeth of his society that has gone wrong. What is public opinion to you or me? It’s all a waste of breath. 

The Happiness Crux

I’ve been dreaming that I was reading and making margin notes in Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, trying to resolve the contradiction between Pastor’s definition of happiness and my own. Now I don’t remember how my argument went, but subconsciously it made perfect sense. In reality I’ve never read the essays of Camus, but I know how popular they are. As I begin to think consciously, there’s a passage in my ethics textbook that discusses egoism versus altruism, and then a third alternative Robert C. Solomon refers to as prudence. This is using your own judgment in different situations and acting selfishly or unselfishly depending on what is needed… For some reason this clash of theology and philosophy is important to me. I should take another look at Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill as well, because as I recall, he resolves the problem already… To explain, Pastor believes that happiness is a collective thing, and not so much the pursuit of personal pleasure. But what I learned in school emphasizes the rights of the individual, just the opposite of what Pastor preaches. This opposition forms the crux of our differences, and it pulls my brain apart trying to fix it. But I think I’ll still come away from the problem an individualist. I began to feel strongly this way as a junior in high school when we studied The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I guess I felt that way because I was a loner and a nerd throughout my high school experience. The cliquish nature of school prior to college did a lot of damage to misfits like me, and I wasn’t the only one. And looking around me today, maybe I’m not really cut out for church.

Midday Friday

Noon hour. I think I understand what Nietzsche says about purity of spirit. He’s talking about instinct. He states directly that he hates anything that defiles the spirit, including lust and lechery. Also I found in Zarathustra a precedent for Joyce’s idea that one should be prepared to die for a love. Short of this is cowardice. Wow. It would be very hard to live life by Nietzsche’s principles. But I’m really liking his stuff so far. He must have influenced a lot of people before the end of World War 2. I don’t believe that he was culpable for the Holocaust. Nietzsche was no Nazi… Some people read the Bible as if it were the only book worth reading. I recall a woman in a waiting room who bent my ear for 15 or 20 minutes about her life. She held a Bible in her hands and she said she read it all the time, exclusively. I guess it clicks for certain folks, just as for others it’s the Book of Mormon. I’ve had the experience of clicking with particular musicians, but I’m not sure there’s a single book I’d stake my life on. A few books in my youth made deep impressions on me. The Crucible was one of them. And despite its faults, The Fountainhead resonated with me for a long time. And the Bergman teleplay, Wild Strawberries.

One thirty. I hear “Sun King” in my head as the real sun comes out… It seems to me that the strongest literature features a protagonist who must undergo a severe test. A hero up against the odds, against whom the cards are stacked. For this reason maybe Les Miserables is worth struggling to finish. So many books, but fortunately plenty of time.