Sam McGee

One o’clock.

Well whatever; screw it. I might end up being burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno, be an intellectual martyr. I can’t go back to church again. It’s wrong to go and confess my faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. I don’t believe in the resurrection of the body or the life everlasting: I don’t believe any of that. How can a body that was cremated be put back together? How can a pile of ashes be restored to life; or even worse if the ashes were scattered?

I know I won’t be popular for saying this. Maybe my skull will be bashed open and the brains spilled out and scrambled about. A symbolic murder. But it seems as though American life is going that way. We’re headed for more of the Dark Ages and resisting science and simple logic.

Is it just my mood? Am I generalizing from my personal experience with the local church? Or am I right to assume this is going on everywhere? And does anyone care what the truth is?

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Dry Brain, Wet Season

Two in the morning.

I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?

It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.

Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.

Eight thirty five.

I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.

Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.

By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.

Questions

Midnight hour.

I don’t know how to feel toward my parents now. But I’m actually kind of glad they’re gone and I’m left by myself to figure out this life. I’ve known two types of people in my experience, if it’s fair to label them one or the other. One type is the esthetic and the other is ethical, particularly religious. But it’s hard to accept that the ideas of just two thinkers, Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, should be so definitive. What if they had never written anything? Another question is, is it possible to be ethical without religion? I know nothing about John Dewey’s philosophy, so I can look into that. David Hume believed that people are moral due to feelings of sympathy for each other. He didn’t link this to metaphysics, as I recall. What he called sympathy is really closer to our empathy, where you imagine yourself in another person’s place. It’s also a little like the Golden Rule, or do unto others… Generally, I’m stuck on the problem of where morality comes from, which is a question of meta ethics. Should Christianity be the sole authority on right conduct, or are there many roads to the same goal? And, can you have morals without metaphysics? Maybe the Christian existentialists were wrong… Though the whole world feels like a Christendom, this may not be the truth anymore. It’s hard to be objective when I’m still a member of a Christian church. It’s difficult to see where we’re at and where we’re going.

“Perfection”

Ten thirty evening.

Today’s business was executed this morning, so after that it was rather restless and dull. My dog doesn’t seem very happy with me. He goes through moods and phases like anybody with a degree of intelligence. I try not to personalize it; yet it’s a mistake to say he’s just a dog with hardened heart and ignore his needs. Again tonight I feel convinced that consciousness anywhere is a rational thing, and if logic is thrown off balance then it’s an instance of contradiction: life is supposed to be healthy and sane, everything in harmony. How could we possibly get it so messed up? An acronym I don’t hear very often is “fubar,” or f—d up beyond all repair. This is probably because people get used to living with the state of things less than perfect. The condition gets quite tricky with philosophy and religion because of the elitism of the first clashing with Christian love and forgiveness. It reminds me of the terrible phenomenon of Hitler and his ultimate defeat by the Allies. Perhaps philosophy is too idealistic for a world that’ll never be perfect? Maybe it’s about loving people and things the way they are?

Years in Review

Quarter after nine.

I just had a great tasting raspberry Snapple tea. The human and social world is quiet this morning, like a desert place. I didn’t see the same homeless man outside Karen’s salon today. Yesterday the sky through my front window was gray like a black and white photograph, while objects on earth were in color. It made me think of a phrase from Stephen Crane: “None of them knew the color of the sky.” From there I pondered moral absolutes, but I was rather vague, and does anybody really care about religion these days? Do we take heaven literally? The face of reality now has totally changed when I bother to remember life four years ago. It takes an effort to call up old memories. Maybe my memory isn’t as good anymore. What is here and now has a lot more force than past impressions. I know a few people who grumble and seem very unhappy with the status quo. Some of them talk of moving to Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming for political and economic reasons. But for my part, I enjoy the diversity and only hope for more of it to show as time goes on. It’s impossible to please everybody, even in the best utopia. I count my blessings. 

Happiness

Ten fifty.

My old friends were atheists and so was I along with them, but I had such a good time when I could allow myself to drink. But now, nothing is very clear to me. I still have the same feelings about religion and God. If his existence was self evident and I could feel it firsthand then belief would be easy. But I can’t see the workings of God in the world anymore. There are no deistic proofs.

It’s a beautiful sunny morning and bitter cold outside. A variety of birds have come through my backyard: sparrows, jays, robins, and a tan species like a dove on graceful wings with a lovely sleek head. You also see a squirrel now and then. Once I saw a gray squirrel, a rare thing. Usually they’re only found on the university campus. He was big and had a very bushy tail. I haven’t seen him again since that day.

The parsimony of William of Occam is very difficult to get around. No god is necessary to explain the existence of a world; or at least, it’s almost impossible to show the whereabouts of a deity.

But it’s a controversy that gives no sign of going away very soon. Personally I feel torn apart. Some people say that happiness is a nonissue; right now I think it’s the strongest case against religion, for what could be more important than being happy? For this reason I’m inclined to stay with the tradition of philosophy rather than the church. 

Unity

Ten thirty PM.

Today I read a little from a retelling of myths from the Mahabharata and let it digest, with just a smattering of information about Krishna. It occurred to me that Krishna is a face of the godhead or a manifestation of Brahman in a way similar to Christ’s being the embodiment of God: the Word made flesh. But it doesn’t stop there. I was thinking, what if the scientific certainty of my old psychiatrist was somehow wrong for its ethnocentrism and exclusion of other cultures? As long ago as Emerson, Eastern thought was incorporated into the Romantic tradition in the West; in fact, it was Schopenhauer who opened the door for future thinkers by his reverence for Indian scripture. Then in the last century we had Jung and Joseph Campbell to expand on Eastern and Western unification, plus the efforts of Yogananda and Tagore to do the same.

We hit a snag at the beginning of the new century, as far as I can tell. Does anyone remember who Milarepa was? The Tibetan yogi was well known thirty years ago. I maintain hope that things will get better regarding progress with diversity of culture, and seeing the underlying unity of them all. 

Waiting for…

Midnight.

I did just a little reading in philosophy for the afternoon and, among other things, I encountered the word “sobriety” associated with Enlightenment attitudes. I had also found “sober” in the book by Morton White. Naturally I came to ponder the definition of sobriety in a literal and figurative sense, and now I compare it to the beliefs and practices of certain organizations for alcoholism. How sober is it to think that a god will personally intervene and take over your life?

I once had a delusion during a psychotic drive to the coast. I actually stopped the car on my way to Florence, in the stretch with the railroad on the left, before you get to the Siuslaw River. I got out and went around to the passenger side, got in and sat down, and asked god to drive the rest of the way to the coast. So I sat there for a few minutes expectantly. But nothing happened, and the car remained where it stood. There was also a moment when I stood at the roadside and stared directly at the sun, waiting for it to turn to blood like the moon in Revelation. Again nothing happened. These are the things of madness. But it’s funny how, in describing them, I seem to be building a stronger case for the religious imagination. Where do the delusions come from and why do they so stubbornly persist? What is real and what is imaginary, and can they overlap?

Sanity and sobriety are the stuff of realism and rationality, but it’s unrealistic for a human being to be other than human.

Just for Today

Quarter of eight AM.

The morning is clear and bitter cold at 24 degrees. I won’t go out in it for a couple of hours. Meanwhile I’m getting more stable on the medication. A few times this month I flashed back to being twenty again, though it serves no purpose to do so. I didn’t know any more then than I know now. I just had my youthful vitality; the rest was folly and stupidity. But still, life had more of beauty when I was younger. As I age, the appearance or the illusion of beauty tends to fade away. I keep expecting a resurrection of youth and beauty that never comes. So, I revive old memories of pleasant times and try to be happy with those… The best myths are the most beautiful ones, the ones that give pleasure, yet it was long ago that I studied Wallace Stevens. Most Christians believe that Jesus is coming back. I’m not sure I want to be judged and then either saved or dumped in the Pit. I don’t know if the New Jerusalem would be so great. “No hell below us / And above us only sky.” Maybe living for today is all right. 

The Koan of Love

Five fifty PM.

Funny how I realized how much I’ve lost my faith in Christ’s new commandment. Should I go to church to pick Pastor’s brain, or would this do any good at all? I think I just haven’t been hearing him during his sermons the last few times. Like King Midas, I’ve been given donkey’s ears for my deafness to spiritual things. If I did pick his mind, then I’d be misguided because the meaning of religion is not located in the head. It resides in the heart or the soul; anywhere but the reason, logic, or whatever it’s called. Christian love is a simple thing yet unreachable by logical analysis, as Dan has already told me. No amount of reasoning, however much and with what quality, can arrive at a conclusion like Christian love. I guess it’s something you find in your heart… or you don’t. Like the heart of the Grinch, maybe it can grow three sizes bigger. But it can’t be helped along by reason. To a rational mind, it’s the deepest mystery, a baffling phenomenon, and I’m like Mr Spock trying to figure it out— what can’t be figured about. Instead it’s to me what a zen koan is to a Buddhist beginner. Total nonsense. Perhaps if I quit making sense…?