• Tag Archives transcendentalism
  • A Bell That Cannot Be Unrung

    61  bar rises 29.87  0mph N dew-point 53  sunrise 5:59  sunset 8:39  Lughnasa

    New (Corn) Moon

    Outside tonight the sky has no moon.  This illustrates the paradoxical nature of light.  We think of light as illumination enabling us to see, but it has another, not often recognized property; it can obscure as well as reveal.   The night sky during the dark moon shines with stars, many invisible when the moon is brightest.  A cool night with a clear sky, a panoply of stars, ancient messages from faraway places gives a northern summer its true character.  Able to burn with heat in the daytime, the northern summer can cool down, remind us of the coming fall, just as Lughnasa, the Celtic first fruits holy day does.  A convergence of a new moon, Lughnasa and cooling temperatures make this a night made for myth.

    The research for Heresy Moves West will probably end tomorrow.  I hope I can get at writing, too, but I doubt it.  Sunday.  This is a big task, one I set for myself, but I’d like to get a first draft done, so I can set it aside for awhile.  I have Stefan’s poems to edit and the Africa tour, too.  Not to mention a firepit to dig, hemerocallis iris and lilium to move.

    A piece of this project troubles me.  Maybe troubles is not the right word, provokes, that could be it.  When Channing and the others split from the Standing Order Calvinist orthodoxy in New England, they started a cascade of controversy that has not ended.  Not long after the Unitarians had left the congregationalists behind, Emerson began writing his essays and giving his lectures.  With the strong push Transcendentalism got from Theodore Parker, there was soon a split over natural religion versus theistic religion.  The Civil War obscured this problem for the first half of the 1860’s, but it re-emerged as the Western issue as the more radical, Parkerite ministers began to dominate the Western Unitarian Conference.  This led to constant conflict with Eastern conservatives (used to denote those who wanted to retain Jesus as Christ, keeping Unitarianism’s original perception of itself as liberal Christianity).  The Free Religious Association and The Ethical Culture movement kept the Western issue alive in the east.  This split healed with a broad understanding of liberal religion, only to be sundered again in the 1920’s with the rise of humanism.  Humanism set aside theism for good in the interest of a scientific and humanistic approach to the ethical life.

    Here’s the problem.  Conservatives predicted the gradual erosion of religious sentiment if there was not at least the glue of Jesus to hold the center.  Their predictions came true as the shift away from theism took its incremental, but, looking backward, inevitable progress toward an essentially secular movement focused on ethical living.  This leaves the field free for radical inquiry into the nature of the human experience.  A great, not small thing.

    But, it can lose the faith that burns in the heart, that seeks the reality next to or beyond this reality; it can lose it in the same kind of scientistic move that linguistic analysis made, that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris make.  It is, though, a bell that cannot be unrung, so we must seek this faith that burns in the heart elsewhere than in tradition.  Good.  Emerson thought so, too.  The question is, where?

    Investigating this question will occupy some time, perhaps the next few years.

    When I went out to check the drying onions, I found one with a bit of a soft spot.  I brought it inside to cut up for a salad for lunch.  Cut open I put my fingers on the white flesh.  It was very warm, almost hot.  That drying would take place inside the onion had not occurred to me.

  • On What Ground Does Your Faith Stand?

    74  bar rises 29.92 1mph N dew-point 62    Summer, sunny and pleasant

    Full Thunder Moon

    “Think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.” – Henri Bergson

    I’ve not seen this quote before, but I like it.  I do know Bergson, however, a creative philosopher.  He proposed the snapshot theory of time.  Time precedes in discrete chunks, rather than a continuous flow.

    After sheepshead last night, Bill Schmidt and I talked outside Roy Wolfe’s house.  The air was warm and a bit stale, mosquitoes homed in on my bald head while we  talked about Chardin.  A new translation of Chardin’s phenomenon is out, Bill said, now called the Human Phenomenon.  Much better.  I said I’d look at it.

    We share a spirituality, a sense of our location in the universe, that has its roots in Christian experience, yet has long ago slipped the moorings of that more traditional way.  Both of us now search for ways to articulate this sense of wonder and awe founded not in words, but in lived experience.  Bill spoke of a moment when the trees outside his apartment came to him and he to them, “A moment, maybe.  A tenth of a second.  But I was with them, no boundary.”

    In my re-reading of Unitarian history in preparation for my UU history presentation it has become clear to me that the primary struggle in liberal religion, from the beginning down to the current day, is over what gives religion authority.  I could have seen it earlier, because I learned while a Presbyterian that all fights in the Christian community come to that, too.  In their case the issue was either biblical interpretation, the most common authority in the Protestant community, or the Catholic church’s claim that their magesterium grew from its apostolic authority in addition to scripture.

    At first, in the Unitarian movement, the new come-outers fought with the orthodox Calvinists over reason applied to Scripture.  The Unitarians said there was no warrant for the trinity in scripture, therefore they did not believe it.  But.  They did believe the scriptures had supernatural authority.  Jesus was still the Christ and miracles like the resurrection were the warrant for reasonable Christians in their faith.

    When Emerson, in his Harvard Divinity School Address, said that we should look to our own inspiration, our own revelation rather than that of the fathers what he put forward was, in fact, a new source of religious authority, personal experience.

    The  outflow from what then became the Transcendentalist Controversy was the subtle, at first, erosion of belief in the supernatural character of the scriptures, and therefore of Jesus, that proceeded pell mell to questions of the existence of God.

    Quelled in part by the accident of the Civil War just as it had begun to gather force, the whole controversy emerged again when, in the West, after the Civil War, the new Unitarian and Universalist communities began to veer away from Boston Unitarian orthodoxy and raise what would become the western controversy, that between theists and those who wanted more latitude.  The Free Religious Association, which carried the burden of those who did not want to be bound by any orthodoxy, gave a brief organizational expression to this movement.

    The result of all these questions was the gradual opening of more and more space within liberal religion for a range of perspectives from conservative liberal Christian Unitarianism to those who sought the foundation for their faith in human experience.

    This was roughly how things stood at the transition in to the 20th century.  At this point Minneapolis emerged, through the preaching of John Dietrich, as the center of a controversy, this time between the humanist message conveyed by Dietrich to audiences in the thousands and the theists of the liberal Christians.  This humanist-theist debate still resonates in 21st century UU congregations.  The content seems to be the issue, but it is not.

    As it has been from the beginning with William Ellery Channing in the early part of the 19th century, the issue is now this:  what authenticates your faith experience?  Is it some external authority:  a creed, a bible, a prelate; or, is it a matter of lived experience?

    Now we have come full circle back to Bill and me standing there on the street in St Paul, the mosquitoes buzzing and Roy coming out from his house to toss a can in the blue recycling bin.  We waved to Roy, concluded our talk and got in our cars to head home.

  • This All Sounds a Bit Woo-Woo (OK, Maybe More Than a Bit)

    42  bar rises 29.99 2mph NNE dewpoint 41 Spring

                Full Moon of Growing

    “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” – Thomas Szasz

    I agree with Szasz (the anti-psychiatrist famous for his views about schizophrenia) that the self is not something one finds.  I agree with his critique of the notion of finding one’s self.  I disagree with his conclusion though, that the self is something one creates.  Over time I have developed a personal perspective on this issue, one related most closely to Carl Jung’s work, but a bit different from his, too.

    Intuition tells me that the Self of each living thing is unique and much larger (at least in potential, perhaps in size) than the always incomplete self we realize at any one point during life.  The Self is the harmonious and dynamic interaction of all that an individual life can become.  I imagine it as an incorporeal (don’t ask me about the physics) reality, a sort of etheric entity that stands taller and looms larger than I do.  It may, and I suspect it does,  connect us to a metaphysical plane, perhaps a realm of archetypes, where our individual, unique moment in the great stream of looping time feeds from the  purest and best of its manifold possibilities.

    This all sounds a bit woo-woo, I know.  I can only tell you that after many years of prayer, meditation and Jungian analysis this is the sense I have of who and what I am and could become.  This same process has led me to conclude that every grass plant, every daffodil, every oak tree, every yew also has a Self toward which it reaches, with more and less realization in a lifetime.  Dogs, lions, crawdads and centipedes, too.  This is why the Japanese indigenous religion of Shinto, an animist faith, and Taoism, a testament to the dynamic, connected and living nature of all there is appeal to me.  

    The empirical, western, enlightenment man within me only lets these thoughts surface when I’m alone lest I be perceived either as a lunatic or a throwback to some neo-Platonic dead end of philosophical speculation.  And I may be. 

    It is impossible, all the same, to deny what the heart knows to be true.  There is more to this, too.  I also believe in cyclic, not chronological time.  That is, I find the rhythms of the universe, the whole to which we are certainly connected by as intimate a link as the very atoms which constitute our bodies, to be those of repetition, seasonal and episodic.  What goes around comes around.  Whatever will be has been (to rephrase a canard).  This idea I find deeply reassuring since it suggests some reincarnation type possibility, not a one shot and extinct life.  I say this in spite of my almost deepest conviction, borne on an empirical and existentalist raft, that this one life is all we have.  In fact, though I live my life as if that were true, my heart, again, tells me otherwise.

    In the spirit though of plan for the worst, hope for the best, I do believe the existentialist, one shot and extinct, approach gives living the most buzz, the most vitality and engenders, too, a deep sense of responsibility for each other.  It is, therefore, to me, an optimal way of being even if we get, as I suspect, second, third and even gazillionth chances to realize our true Selves.

    OK.  That’s enough of that for the morning. I have to go buy potatoes, Matzoh and cake meal.

  • The Movement Attacks the Establishment

    27  bar rises 30.38  3mph WNW dewpoint 24  Spring

                   Full Moon of Winds 

    “If a man doesn’t delight in himself and the force in him and feel that he and it are wonders, how is all life to become important to him?” – Sherwood Anderson  (women, too.)

    A good quote for an Easter humanist.  This morning I go into Groveland UU (Unitarian-Universalist) where the conversation will focus either on transcendentalism or on my presentation, Thinking Like a Transcendentalist.  I say either because I’m going to give them a choice, listen to my prepared presentation or have a free form conversation about transcendentalism.

    Transcendentalism’s connection to UU history tore at the fabric of the Unitarian break with Christianity when it emerged.  Unitarian and Universalist problems with Christianity came from the Enlightenment push of reason against the Trinity on the one hand and Calvinist notions of original sin on the other.  This conflict resulted first in the fracture of New England Congregational churches into two camps, one orthodox Christian, the other newly Unitarian.  Around the same time Universalist churches popped up here and there with a message of universal salvation to counter the notion of total depravity offered by staunch Reformed church dogma.

    The transcendentalists were of the opinion that neither the U’s nor the U’s had gone far enough in their challenge to the prevailing religious and commercial establishment.   Terming this solid front of New England rectitude, the Establishment, was an Emersonian pun, in itself an affront to the (false) notion of permanence they claimed.  Against the establishment, Emerson and his merry band of pranksters, whom he called the Transcendentalist Movement, threw charge after charge.  

    Theodore Parker, abolitionist and minister of the 23rd Street Unitarian meeting, championed the new higher criticism of the bible just beginning to cross the Atlantic from its birthplace in Germany.  This criticism placed holy scripture under the light of reasoned analysis checking translation against ancient texts, investigating interpolations of meaning from biased authors, making clear the various contradictions and conundrums the texts created rather than “harmonizing” them as was the practice of the time.

    Got back from this around 1:30 PM.  They chose the conversation about Transcendentalism.  I gave an extemporaneous capsule of the intellectual history behind transcendentalism, its history and affect on the Unitarian church and its longer lasting affect on American philosophy (pragmatism) and American literature during which we discussed the impact of Emerson, Thoreau, Thedore Parker, Margaret Fuller and Orestes Brownson.

    Whitman and Emily Dickinson were our first poets, though far from the last, to observe Emerson’s idea that a poems content should determine its meter and that matter observed in daily life was appropriate for that content.  You can even see the transcendentalist affect in some one as far away from metaphysics as Hemingway, whose stark, realistic prose works hard to recreate the lived experience. 

    A primary aim of the Transcendentalists was to create and stimulate an American as opposed to a European literature and scholarship.  They succeeded with stunning results.

  • Transcendentalism and the NFL Playoffs

    -5  61%  17%  0mph W  bar30.64  Windchill-5  Winter

         Waxing Gibbous Winter Moon

    Got out the discussion materials for the religious influence on art session with the docent book club, March 17th.  That’s one item finished.

    While I watched first the Patriots beat the Chargers and, then, the New York Giants beat the Packers, I read snatches of material I printed out about transcendentalism.  Gotta admit, I’ve had a backward idea of it for a long time, unless I learned it once and forgot it.  Always possible, how would I know?  Here’s the backward part. I thought the transcendent was about leaping the surly bonds of earth and heading for the Platonic/Gnostic heavens.  Nope.  It was about opposing the empiricism and rationalism of John Locke, et al.  Transcendental refers to the Kantian notion that there are important a priori structures in the mind that allow it to function at all.  This rules out the empiricist idea that our understanding (reason) works only on data brought to the mind through the senses.  First, there is the mind and its structures like time and space that order and create intelligibility with sensory data.  Besides, Kant believed that we can never touch  reality, the ding an siche, the thing in itself, since all we ever really know are the data our senses bring to us; in other words we (our mind) never reaches the source of the sensory data which are secondary to the thing in itself.

    There is, of course, much more to the debate and the idea, but getting this straight will help as I write a presentation on Transcendentalism for Groveland UU.  By happenstance I also read today an article about Shinto in the work of Japanese anime artist Miyazaki published in the journal, Religion and Popular Culture.  The close correlation between Transcendentalist treatment of nature and Shintoism was so obvious it took my breath away. Likewise, if we add Taoism into the mix we have a sort of triad of nature focused faiths that I think speak profoundly to our current reality.

    The Giants/Packers game had my attention the whole way. (I read during the commercials.)  The two teams played more or less evenly for four quarters, though the Giants looked better.  With the score tied at the end of regulation the Packers won the toss and elected to receive.  Favre threw an interception, then Eli Manning took the Giants down to the field for a shot at a 47 yard field goal.  Tynes, the Giants field goal kicker, had missed two shorter kicks in the fourth quarter.  He hit it.  And the crowd went wild.