Asked and Answered

Imbolc and the last crescent of the Ancient Moon

Shabbat gratefuls: The Socrates Cafe. Irv and Marilyn. The dark of a Mountain morning. Cold night. Sleeping through the night. Morning blessings. Fiery Joe Biden. Criminal 45. Parsha Vayakhel. Art Green. The Shema. Mah Tovu. Ritual. Lighting the candles. Choosing shabbat. Tom’s knowledge of cars. Creativity. Painting. Writing. Thinking. Acting.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Morning blessings

One brief shining: Tara pops up on zoom, her curly hair trying as it always does to escape, smiling, and we get down to it, saying my Torah portion, she has me repeat vowel sounds I flub but mostly she’s positive even agreeing with me that learning this stuff is boring.


A friend asked me a question I don’t often get. Like never. Who’s your favorite philosopher? Fair enough. I did study philosophy and it’s never far from my awareness all these years later. Over 54 years. I guess it stuck with me.

Anyhow, I immediately said when he asked, Camus. Another friend said he thought I would say Alfred North Whitehead. Well, ok. Two favorites. And there are even more.

Camus though has pride of place in my pantheon. After Philosophy 101 had dismantled for good the naive theology developed in my home church, I flopped around for a while. No oar. No direction home. Not unusual for those bitten by the philosophy bug. When I found Camus, I gave existentialism, existence before essence*, a glad embrace.

As the Stanford article I quote below says, no essence given in advance, we create ourselves as we go. There are other facets to existentialism summarized in this helpful article, but this is what caught me. Meaning and purpose come from engagement with the world.

Also, Camus had a way with words: “What is a rebel? A man who says no.” “Do not wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day.” “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” “Nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of man.” “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”

No matter where I’ve ended up in my life, I’ve always found existentialism an ally, a ground truth. Why? Because it reminds me to act, to learn my own truth, to stay in touch with the day-to-day wonder of living. I find Judaism very compatible with existentialism in its eschewing, for the most part, an afterlife, for insisting that religiosity demands engagement, for its focus on character and social justice.

That’s why I said Camus. No other philosopher has impacted my life as much.

Brief note on Alfred North Whitehead. The primary metaphysician for me. Existentialism, by its nature, ignores metaphysics. But Whitehead found a way to turn thousands of years of philosophical thought on its head when he proposed his process metaphysics. Prior to Whitehead ontologists had focused on being, a static understanding of reality. Whitehead says no, becoming is the nature of ontology. Change is the underlying nature of reality. Everything is always in the process of changing into something new.

I’ve loved this idea since I first encountered it in 1968. Seems obvious to me. But it’s radical in so many ways.

So, yes Whitehead is a favorite, too, but in a more abstract realm than Camus’ influence.


*Existence Precedes Essence: Existentialists forward a novel conception of the self not as a substance or thing with some pre-given nature (or “essence”) but as a situated activity or way of being whereby we are always in the process of making or creating who we are as our life unfolds. This means our essence is not given in advance; we are contingently thrown into existence and are burdened with the task of creating ourselves through our choices and actions. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy