It's a quiet, foggy morning here in Seattle, and I'm thinking about ontology — the philosophical study of the nature of existence. There is something deeply dissatisfying about a choice between reductionism and hierarchy, for both seem to me equally wrong. Although in naturalistic philosophy hierarchy no longer needs the divine sanction of a god to justify it, the supremacy of human culture and human consciousness remains unchallenged, the assumed pinnacle of evolution, with the masses of quarks, quasars, oak trees and elephants relegated to the same old mindlessness of mere objects, only so much stuff. But rather than go into any more detailed analysis of these dense and sometimes unwieldy philosophies, instead I want to talk a little bit about fog...
Between research and writing, there is a lacuna in which almost anything can happen. The hush is nearly unbearable. In my mental landscape, ideas rustle and nudge towards one another through the tall prairie grasses, their haunches twitching with tension, ready to flee. Eros is thick in the air. Ecology rubs up against ritual theory, playing with the hem of her skirt. Bruce Lincoln is making eyes at Lewis Hyde. The deer of my dreams raise their heads to listen hard for the hunter. The salmon of wisdom are working their way home. Any moment, I'm going to start writing. Any moment...
We want so very much to understand our gods, to know them intimately, to see how they work in our lives. It is tempting to dissect, to analyze, to categorize. And sometimes, it is necessary, even beneficial. We are categorizing creatures, we human beings. We pick out patterns as a matter of survival. When it comes to our gods, we reach for them not only with our prayers and offerings, but with our reason and our intellects — we would know them with our whole selves, in all their parts, in part so that we might know our own selves better in all our parts. The challenge is to delve into theology without killing its subject, to try our hand at analysis and critical thinking without pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives. Theology is not dissection. It is much more gruesome than that; it is vivisection.
Meeter gives Christianity a bit of a soft sell, emphasizing all of the ways that being a Christian can help you get your head right and find a more meaningful way of living. But what he doesn't do is justify, or even articulate, some of the foundational ontological beliefs on which he's based his arguments. Since the kind of god we worship affects the kind of human beings we are, let's see if we can't find out a bit more about Meeter's god by looking at the kind of human he inspires.
Timothy Morton, author of Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought, is attending the conference on Eastern and Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Florida this week and has done those of us philosophy-grad-student wanna-bees an amazing service by making the audio recording and slide show of his talk, Disturbing Gentleness, available on his blog. Morton's understanding of nonviolence resonates deeply with my own. It is not a passivity or denial of violence and death, but something that arises from and gives rise to existence itself. We are inconsistent beings, and the rift within our very selves is what allows for movement, spaciousness, beauty and death. Nonviolence is simply allowing this inconsistency in ourselves, and others, without trying to reduce it or extrapolate away from it. In this sense, perhaps the deepest expression of nonviolence is acceptance of things as they are — it is in fact the very opposite of denial.
My gods, where did September go?! Oh that's right, I got married. Woot! Then we had a fantastic honeymoon. Double woot! (More pictures soon to come of both.) And now we're home again, our days laced with the scent of falling leaves and lengthening autumn nights. It's good to be home. As promised, I'm starting a new feature on the blog where I recap some of the most interesting links and articles I've come across during the course of the week, for your perusing pleasure. I'm going to call this "Saturday Surfing" because I am, as you know, a huge fan of alliteration. So check these out!
From "Postmodernism is dead," in Prospect Magazine: For a while, as communism began to collapse, the supremacy of western capitalism seemed best challenged by deploying the ironic tactics of postmodernism. Over time, though, a new difficulty was created: because postmodernism attacks everything, a mood of confusion and uncertainty began to grow and flourish until, in… Continue reading This Is What “Ex-Postmodernism” Looks Like