+ RELIGION IN A MATERIAL UNIVERSE

July 28, 2012

Willis, Virginia, USA

ANNOUNCING:

the publication of Religion in a Material Universe. 

Author, Tony Equale, 282 pages.

Publisher: IED Press

To order: see below

Religion in a Material Universe

Existence (esse) is not a self-subsistent “idea” as Plato thought, it is a palpable, concrete, dyna­mic reality: material energy as modern science has discoveredWhat does that mean for reli­gion?  Because exis­tence is nothing but matter’s energy, we ourselves are made of it exclu­sive­ly; there is no imma­terial “thing” that exists alongside of, different from and opposed to matter anywhere.   Our love and thirst for existence is an organic function of our material bodies; it is the source of both our sense of the sacred and our abhor­rence of death, and therefore it is the proper object of religion.  Religion, in other words, is a spontaneous human pheno­me­non whose origin is in the body; it is com­pletely natural and virtually unavoidable.

“Superna­tural religions” belie this.  They insist that there is another world of immaterial things which grounds and explains our sense of the sacred and our desire for endless life.  Our world is not sacred, they say, it is in fact corrupt and needs to be made sacred by that other world that is located in another place altogether — a place of immaterial spirit, where our “souls” really belong and will live forever.  Thus these religions are hostile to existence as it really is and so distort and under­mine our relation­ship to it.  By locating the sacred somewhere other than this material universe, they separate it and us from our world, and that means they make us strangers to our own bodies, to our brothers, to ourselves. 

Assessing the significance of this disconnect, which turns out to be a simultaneous defense and condemna­tion of “religion,” is the burden of Religion in a Material Universe

A further step — an issue at the present time — is that the hierarchs, the “holy rulers” of these supernatural religions, are representatives of society’s ruling elite who have arroga­ted to themselves exclusive control over knowledge of that other world and access to it.   Catholicism is the best but not the only example of this.  On top of the alienation embed­ded in dualist “dogmas,” these overseers deified themselves, neutralized the natural power of human com­munity and replaced it with discon­nected individuals seeking “salvation.”  They intensi­fied our alienation exponentially.   Today, the aggressive reassertion of this ancient expro­pri­ation by the Catholic hierarchy is playing a role in the efforts of the ruling caste to shred the funda­mental rights and the common good of our secular society.  We should not be surprised.  The prototype they are working from, after all, is the Roman Empire.

It must be recognized that any internal reform that these religions might carry out to rectify this situation will have to address the more fundamental problems created by erroneous doctrine and a false view of reality.  Those doctrines exploit our natural sense of the sacred and our fear of death; they justify and are the instruments of the hierarchy’s power over the minds of men.  The pathos and polemics that surround the Catholic failure to stay committed to the path laid out for it by Vatican II, has to acknowledge the deeper doctrinal layers that underpin and explain it.  Vatican II did not challenge doc­trine and dogma. Our bitter experience of the recrudescence of all the worst features of mediaeval authoritarianism and dog­matic atavism was, in hind­sight, almost inevitable.  You cannot have a reform of Catholi­cism without a prior reformu­lation of Catholic doctrine.  And you cannot accomplish doctrinal re­struc­­turing using the same philoso­phi­cal tools and obsolete scientific worldview that were forged by the very doc­trin­al complex it justifies.  These circularities are vicious and must be broken before any pro­gress can be made.

Religion in a Material Universe is an attempt to make a serious contribution toward this founda­tional reform — the re-smelting of the ring of power, beating the swords of Roman Imperial Dogma into the plough­shares of Jesus’ simple Jewish message: to imitate our “loving father” from whose being we come and whose existence we share.

TO ORDER:  This book has been published by IED Press, Pamplin, VA .  Their website is http://iedpress.com/books/  Scroll down the list of books which is in alphabetical order.  The price is $19.95.   Religion in a Material Universe is also available on Amazon, in paperback for $19.95 and in Kindle edition for $5.50.  Simply go to Amazon and “search” under Tony Equale or the title of the book. 

Tony Equale

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19 comments on “+ RELIGION IN A MATERIAL UNIVERSE

  1. Harry MacVeigh says:

    I am interested in becoming a diologue blog member

    • tonyequale says:

      Harry, I am looking forward to it. Did you check the boxes under the reply box? That will ensure that you will be notified. Tony

  2. […] I recently finished reading Tony Equale’s Religion in a material universe,  it dawned on me that this idea of original sin is still more pervasive and destructive in […]

  3. Leon Krier says:

    Religion in a Material Universe, Tony Equale (2012)
    Hi!! Tony,
    Congrats on a great book!!
    Having now read An Unknown God, The Mystery of Matter, and Religion in a Material Universe cover-to-cover, word-for-word, I am formally requesting a Plenary Indulgence to wipe clean my “immortal slate” (yes, up to the point of issuance). A framed certificate for hanging in my study would be greatly appreciated and serve as a healthy reminder of my cleansing. Although your books are not officially listed in the Handbook of Indulgences, it does seem that with slight adjustments the asceticism required to complete this “pilgrimage” easily qualifies. Please waive all other requirements for obtaining this indulgence.
    As part of my “pilgrimage,” I would like to offer a few random comments, questions and itches that still need scratching regarding Religion in a Material Universe.
    Style/Format/Presentation
    The book reads more as a “quilting” of previously written essays rather than as an “organically” developed essay. There is a connectedness, of course, to these segments, but there is also much repetition especially when I got into Chapter VI… the stuff on “original sin” became quite tedious… I was saying to myself “I get the point.” Overall, for those of us who have followed the BLOG; there really isn’t much new except for the “Epilogue” that addresses John Haught’s “theology.” The book is a brilliant summary of traditional Catholicism’s metaphysical, ontological, and scientific claims made with a sanctioning of divine authority but are truly incoherent and absurd; they must be recognized as imaginative projections of the human mind and its virtual developments… they are metaphors, not empirical realities. They are fiction, fairy tales. These bones are placed in a well-deserved coffin; I could hear the nails being hammered into the lid. Let us hope that this book is also a definitive burial of this coffin and that we don’t have to go through this death, dying and burial again.
    When I was in graduate school in philosophy, I took a course on Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. The professor, Ralph Powell, PhD, told our class that the best way to understand this work is to start at the end of the book and work our way forward… and that is what he did. I believe it was successful. If I was talking to someone who was interested in your analysis and is willing to make a commitment to walk this journey, I would first have them read the “Epilogue” and work themselves backwards through Religion. I would identify those sections that are “summaries” and especially focus on those comments that are looking to the present and future explorations. I think this orientation will help capture the motivation of the reader to hang in with the presentation of the historic framework of theological, philosophical and mystical developments. At times, I become frustrated with the repetition and say “Move On, Move On.” Give me the new stuff.

    Religion and Social/Biology
    While the assertion that “religion” has a social & biological base is merited, this is an area that certainly needs further research. Identifying specific genes or complex of genes lies well into the future. However, my point is that if this can be said of “religion” or more generally, the religious sensitivity for the “sacred,” then it certainly can be said of “art” and the artistic sensitivity to the “beautiful” and the “sublime.” The recent uranium-thorium dating of the paintings of the 11 Spanish caves places these paintings at over 40,000 year ago and possibly the work of Neanderthals. I’m not aware of any evidence of religious artifacts having an older dating. Now, one might argue that the cave paintings are a fusion of the artistic and religious sensitivities; I would agree. Nonetheless, there was a gradual separation of the artistic and religious sensitivities and a degree of separate functioning. In practice, religion used art and art used religion. But the artistic sensitivity to the “beautiful” and “sublime” is not subservient to religion and its religious sensitivity to the “sacred.” In the struggle for survival, humans display other sensitivities such as the sensitivity to the “intelligibility” and “functionality” of the world in which they struggle and consequently have developed a rational, technical and scientific approach to survival. All these sensitivities are necessary for being human. One is not more important than the other; there is no hierarchy here. Why would the “sacred” be more valuable than the “sublime” or the “beautiful.” Artists have manifested creativity and flexibility in responding to the “beautiful” and “sublime” and have not been engaged in the darkness that has so characterized religionists. The future of religion and the nurturing of the “sacred” has so much to learn from the history of art and how art functions and develops today.
    Jesus
    Once Jesus is demystified and brought back to earth and allowed to be simply human, there are such few grains of gold from sifting an enormous amount of sand that I’m unable to understand why Jesus would hold such priority given that his agenda was strictly Jewish. Why would this Jewish agenda be transformed into a universal agenda? We can be inspired by other heroic people of history who have manifested humanizing values and visions of how to live that merit our attention. Outside of Christian writings, Jesus was basically unknown in the ancient world. Before Jesus, Pythagoras was so famous and influential that he was nearly considered a “god.” A PhD dissertation by Anne Bulckens from Deakin University in Geelong, Australia has demonstrated that the ratios, proportions and dimensions of the Parthenon are expressions of the musical theories of Pythagoras; the Parthenon has been consequently described as a “musical sculpture.” There was an ascetic community of Pythagorean disciples (both men and women) who were “followers” of Pythagoras; even after his death, the “followers” of Pythagoras continued to be quite influential. Their role in developing medical ethics and the Hippocratic Oath is unmistakable although not exclusive. Eventually, his influence faded when other philosophies, ethical visions/practices and scientific practitioners appeared (not the so called “scientists” like Plato). Is this not the case with Jesus? Once all the “divinization” is removed, is “Jesus” really able to carry on? If it would not have been for this “divinization,” Jesus would have faded into history. Haven’t the times passed him by? I certainly would appreciate more delineation of the phrase “follower of Jesus” in light of the “new religion” based upon matter’s energy, a material universe.
    “Happy Endings”
    It just seems that religion and its accompanying theology is thoroughly attached to “happy endings.” Traditional Christianity and Catholicism provided this in dramatic style… “In Paradisum….” The “new religion” of matter’s energy has managed to go with that same happy flow. Now through faith, we trust, we surrender and allow ourselves to be recycled into new forms of the ever changing, ever dynamic manifestations of matter’s energy. With a theological twist, this can be understood as a kenotic process, an emptying out akin to the divine process of “God.” I must admit there is certain comfort in this and I’m inclined to be attached to it, but it seems immature for me to need this type of solace. Why can we not be more hardnosed (possibly more realistic) to simply say like the Epicureans… “I was not, I was, I am not… who cares.” If “God” is based upon the empirical data of science, then the future is a cold, dark, and lonely place. Eventually, there’ll be no stars even to view. Whether this universe is a recycling singularity, no one really knows… but the future we can project based upon current scientific data points to neither a bright nor cheerful destiny.
    Additionally, philosophers like Pythagoras, Plato, Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, even Aristotle had as a major concern to address the dark, dank world of Hades that humans had to endure after death. Their goal was to provide a more positive, optimistic and realistic understanding of what happened at the moment of death. (Cf. Medical Ethics in the Ancient World, Paul Carrick). Granted Plato’s answer to this question has had the problems you have clearly delineated ever since. Nonetheless, the context is worth acknowledging. I would venture to say that the “Happy Ending” of matter’s energy is addressing that same concern today. Responses given by Democritus and Epicurus are more in line with the world of science today and worth remembering albeit not as theologically inspiring.
    “Participation-In-Being”
    If our condition is participation-in-being, that is, we come from and have our existence in matter’s energy…that eternal existence in which we live and move and have our being… and we are truly pan-en-theos, then why are we finite in our individual existence and why is death a natural course of events? Shouldn’t we be characterized individually by the same “eternalness” that characterizes matter’s energy generally? It seems we only get that “eternalness” by being absorbed backed into matter’s energy in a non-descript manner. Is “participation-in-being” vis-à-vis evolution and matter’s energy comparing apples and oranges? It seems archaic and a bridge- to-far in reconciling Aquinas with matter’s energy.
    Piaget
    During the past year while reading the BLOG and as follow-up to The Mystery of Matter, I have gone back to reading Piaget. The analysis of traditional religion would be, I suggest, deeply enriched by incorporating Piaget’s cognitive development stages and their associated traits. Granted this is not philosophy or theology but adding this perspective would stretch out the analysis and help us understand how traditional religion taken metaphysically and ontologically is, indeed, being stuck in a child’s cognitive process.

    West and East
    I agree that the violence of the West can be attributed to “original sin.” But the East has its own terrible history of violence and is not immersed in a doctrine of “original sin.” Does this possibly raise the question of there being an alternative explanation for the violence that plagues both West and East and North and South? The conatus and fear of the void is a shape-shifter that takes many forms… “original sin,” “salvation,” “monotheism,” and a “person, humanoid God” are all one manifestation of this shape-shifter. Help me identify more such manifestations… unless I’ve already missed them!!
    Roman Empire
    While I’m unwilling to defend the Roman Empire, I’m not as rejecting of the Roman Empire as you are. I do concur with the impact of Constantine promoting monotheism over polytheism and doing so through the promotion of Christianity and that this Roman imperial commitment was absorbed into the Catholic, Christian institution. Would Europe have been better off if polytheism had won out and the Empire allowed to evolve under polytheism rather than monotheism? I think Jonathan Kirsch’s God Against the Gods leans in that direction. It can be clearly shown that the fall of the Roman Empire led to social disintegration and the loss of technological skills that needed the Renaissance to launch their recovery. The history of medicine and the Greco-Roman understanding of sickness, disease and healing testifies to the humanizing elements within the Empire. Fortunately, Islam preserved the Greek tradition that was operative in the Empire and reintroduced these resources back into a darken Europe. My question is “Is ‘God’ of matter’s energy a ‘monotheistic’ ‘new religion’?”
    Well, that’s it for now. I’ve lined the football up at the 20 year line for the winning field goal. I’m sure you’ll not only kick it through the uprights, but you’ll boot it out of the park.
    As always, thanks for your receptivity and taking the time to be in communication. (There is a 500 day indulgence available for doing so).
    Leon

    • tonyequale says:

      Leon,

      As usual I am overwhelmed by your energy and insights. I am also very grateful that you have put in the time and effort to read my stuff. Yes, a plenary indulgence! All your temporal punishment due to sin is paid for. You are one of very few.

      It’s for that very reason that there is a lot of repetition there for you. I don’t think I need to explain that most haven’t and won’t read more than one or other of these books (or just parts of them) and therefore I’m trying to present the whole enchilada every time I write. Yes it’s time to move on. I do feel I have laid the foundations and marked out the boundary lines of a vision of the sacred for our time, and future efforts will not have to repeat all that. The more I read the clearer it becomes that there is really not that much “new” here. It’s a a very old world-view set in materialist terms for a materialist culture, but I see echoes of it throughout our intellectual history.

      I am going to comment on your reactions in the usual way. But I will not try to do it all at once. So I will respond to you privately in emails point for point, and when I’m done I will post the whole thing as a long reply on the blog. I think your observations deserve being taken in a developmental sense. By that I mean their implications merit being drawn out and the directions they point in should be acknowledged and a stance taken toward them. This is a communal project, as I’ve said many times, and the contributions of each deserve to be explored for their relevance to the project.

      Style/Format/Presentation

      I’ve re-read the book many times, and each time I imagine myself being some particular person I know, with different perspectives, values, commitments etc., and each time I do that I find different parts of the book emerge as either important, or awful, or tedious, or eye-opening, or outrageous. So I find myself liking or disliking reading different parts, depending on whom I’m imagining myself to be. What has consistently emerged from that exercise is that I look forward to reading the two chapters on “Original Sin” and for the following reasons. People who are not as familiar with the blog posts as you are, if they are Catholics and/or religious Christians, are generally unaware of the history of the doctrine, and especially the betrayal of the primary Jewish “theology” embedded in an intellectually unsophisticated art form — allegory — as old as the hills and clear as a bell. They never knew the almost exclusively Augustinian origins of the final redaction, the utterly outrageous implications — like infant damnation — which he defended quite explicitly and which the official church embraced and refuses to repudiate to this day, even calling the central elements of the doctrine infallible. Catholics/Christians with interest in psychotherapy have written to me about the insights they generated for themselves about their own guilt and self-deprecation from original sin taken as latent background in their own lives. It was very gratifying. If they are not Catholic/Christian/religious the two chapters provide necessary historical and ideological background for understanding the core of western Christian fundamentalism and the theocratic politics it supports (and more subconsciously, the macroo-elements of European culture) of which Roman Catholicism is the exclusive source and to which that Church remains vulnerable always. I think those chapters turned out to be quite comprehensive in that regard, giving me an opportunity to comment on such foundational topics as evil and morality, Cosmic Dualism (Satan), the Christian doctrine of redemption and the simple Jewishness of Jesus shanghaied and re-invented by Greco-Roman hieratic-theocratic needs.

      So yes, the material works because when almost anyone finishes those chapters they “get it.” Even true believers of our own acquaintance, if they are honest and open, will have a hard time dismissing the call for total repudiation. So it can serve Catholics interested in “reform” (pushing them beyond superficial “tweaking” into recognition of the doctrinal absurdities), those trying to blaze new trails, as well as those who are just looking for a way to defend themselves against the Christian fundamentalist psychosis now poised to suffocate the United States (and from there the entire planet).

      I absolutely agree that the “Epilogue” serves as an overview that helps make the rest of the book clear. In that sense it achieved its purpose as a summary and situates the “vision” in the history of our intellectual traditions past and present. I’m glad you found it illuminating. I personally think the prologue and the epilogue are the best chapters and represent the forward edges of the analysis. Thanks for your observations here.

      Religion and Social/Biology

      Art and the beautiful are not identical, just like religion and the sacred are not identical. Even if we take religion and art in their most uncorrupted sense — and we know well that each is vulnerable to corruption — they are practical pursuits inspired and driven by their corresponding uncorruptible transcendentals. Beauty and the sacred are transcendentals, and like truth, are aspects of existence itself. In this case I indentify the substrate, material energy, as existence, Aristotle’s “act,” ESSE. Truth, beauty, the sacred are all unmediated attributes of existence and characterize it for humans wherever they find it, first and primarily in themselves. The sacred is no more alienable from human perception than beauty or truth, despite the depths of alienation to which all their corresponding practical applications may descend.

      I like to present the radical inalienability of “the sacred” in phenomenological terms … as I believe we experience it … as arising from the conatus. We directly and intimately experience existence in our own drive to survive and our fear and abhorrence of death. I describe the “sense of the sacred” as emanating outward from the conatus, our own total and inalienable identity with existence, to all of those people, things and forces around us, proximate and remote, with an intensity proportionate to their existential relevance to our organismic and social survival. The “sense of the sacred” is first and foremost an existential phenomenon and not immediately nor necessarily a “religious” phenomenon, and it may very well be distorted by being inserted into that context, depending on the authenticity of the religious expression chosen.

      The sense of the sacred is a powerful force, and because it is in the realm of the transcendentals it is closely connected with truth whose practical side is expressed in the thirst for justice. The sense of justice and the sense of the sacred have always collaborated in times of the most profound social transformations. They are a volatile and virtually unsupressible mix and their constant threat to the quiet running of the status quo with its conventional injustices and statutory indignities is high on the agenda for social control. Hence it is not surprising that we very often find both the sense of the sacred and the sense of justice objects of intense manipulation by the forces of ideological control resulting in their profound distortion, sometimes to the point of utter absurd contradiction. I am tempted to point to political phenomena like the “tea party” sentiments of working people we are seeing unfold right before our eyes as a prime example.

      All that notwithstanding, these features of the human embrace of its own existence, like the sense of the sacred and the sense of beauty, are inalienable dimensions of the human being. They are not independent of one another — they are not stand-alone ad lib interests dependent upon personal whims or sensitivities for their existence, though the manipulations of social forces and the influence of lifetimes of self indulgent and addictive behavior can leave them undeveloped if not virtually suffocated. Beauty, truth, the sacred, justice, love, existence are all one thing — they are simply different ways of perceiving and speaking about what we are. We are existence. ESSE. We are that!

      That we find these transcendentals, as institutionalized, in such a corrupted condition that we need to separate them to prevent the spreading of corruption from one to the other, should not blind us to their congenital unity nor to their potential for human fulfillment personal and social when that unity is allowed to emerge and freely find its appropriate expression. Is it utopian of me to suggest that perhaps their artificial compartmentalization, preventing each from having its unique purifying and transcendentalizing effect on the others, is in no small measure responsible for the distortions each one is capable of in isolation? We are THAT. We are not social reformer, artist, revolutionary, mystic, poet, lover, mathematician — we are all that, together, and all at once — we are like the ESSE that spawned us.

      Jesus

      Existence is a communitarian phenomenon, and survival is achieved through aggregation and integration of elements. Those existential characteristics dog us through all our incarnations. My “self” is a function of a human community as much or even more than the community is a function of a multiplicity of selves. Education and intercultural experience has made it possible, as never before, for cultural opaqueness to be transformed into transparency. That means that we are relatively free of the traditional imperatives of our society and are free to shoulder others or none. I personally choose to embrace the solidarity I have with my people across space and vertically through time.

      Jesus is not “special” in any absolute sense; he is not “God.” Nevertheless he has been made the icon, the symbol, of human depth and authenticity in the lands of western Europe and its extensions. The culture in which I was reared was in large measure built around the interpretations of Jesus’ persona. The work that I do now in trying to re-evaluate our religious tradition is another attempt at such an interpretation. Jesus is the “language” with which many people in my community communicate with one another about “God.” I recognize and fully agree that I am under no obligation to accept Jesus as my guru. But I freely choose to do so as a way of maintaining contact with my people now and through time, using the words they use to communicate their quest, in their search for the sacred.

      Jesus was a Jew. That fact alone represents possibly the most iconoclastic impact that could be made in the pursuit of Christian-Catholoic reform. For the man Jesus embodies in himself the ecumenism that will terminate once and for all the arrogance of power that is the religious denominational enterprise. Not only does following Jesus make me an unoffical Jew, it opens me to a mind-blowing re-interpretation of my own Roman Catholic tradition that is nothing less than revolutionary. Besides, Jesus’ teaching re-presented the simple religious wisdom of the Yahwists … already an ancient tradition by his time … it provides me with the sufficient nourishment for my own pursuit of religious authenticity. Despite the dangers of being “sucked back in” I find that for me it is well worth the risk. I am a follower of Jesus because I want to change Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic version.

      “Happy Endings”

      Having a “happy ending” and being happy with the ending are two very different and distinct things. There is no place in any of my books that even suggests a Valhalla or Paradise. At death, we “re-enter the masterpiece” (Leonard Cohen) and take part in its endless becoming and elaborations of stunning virtuosity presaged for any but the most cynical by the astonishing and seemingly limitless achievements of evolution through the past and up to now. “Being happy” to be part of exactly the way things are can hardly be accused of proposing a “happy ending.”
      You seem to equate “maturity” with accepting life as meaningless and embracing the unhappiness that accompanies it. Since we are creatures who thrive on meaning, you would consign us to a feeling of despair every time we think about the meaning of life-toward-death (Heidegger’s Sein zum Tode). For the vision you seem to favor, death has no meaning, and life, since it ends in a meaningless death, participates in the meaninglessness of everything except the limited lifetime achievements available to the fortunate few.

      Where is the “meaning” in my “religious” vision? The transcendent meaning is “love.” I see the existential evolutionary acrobatics of material energy which are responsible for me, exactly as I am living, and exactly as I will die, as a non-personal benevolence, universal, transcendently creative and so extensive in time and space as to be virtually infinite in all but logical formality. I choose to interpret this “me” that I love so much, and the family, friends and companions to whom I am so deeply attached, as the extrusions of a raucous exhuberant and irrepressible vitality so vast and intimate that it is beyond my power to imagine or relate to … except in the most basic recognition of the valence by which I, my non-self-originating self, am here, and my unshakable trust in its benevolence. This has no future reference whatsoever. When I die I “reenter the masterpiece” of roiling existentially energized matter, available to become whatever leaf or branch or bark or acorn this oak tree exudes. If I am happy it is because in being-here I know I belong and I am “loved” (metaphorically speaking, of course, because it is not a “love” that I fully understand) and have the capacity and inclination to “love” in return (metaphorically speaking, again, because I cannot interact with nor is there anything I can give or do for this “donor.” I am reduced to sheer wordless gratitude.) In this maelstrom of self-donating vitality, it makes my “happy” to take my place as a miniscule exhuberant self-donating element in the masterpiece, part and parcel of what things are and what they do — this immense totality in which we all, cynics and simpletons alike, “live and move and have our being.” I love being-here, and being me. How can I keep from singing? I cain’t he’p it! Try to make me miserable! You can’t do it!

      Matter’s energy is “love.” Therefore the meaning of life (and death) is “love.” That makes me happy … very, very happy. I am already in heaven … I don’t need to go anywhere. I love loving, and being loved. You may not be happy unless you’re miserable. There’s nothing to prevent you from having all of that that you want, there’s plenty of it out there. But I am happy to be happy now and to be part of what happens. That ends it. I have no need for “happier endings.”

      “Participation-In-Being”

      We participate in existence. Existence, as was clearly laid out in chapter 13 of The Mystery of Matter, is endless but not eternal. I would recommend a re-read. It is fundamentally claiming that there is no such thing as “eternal.” “Eternal” is a platonic category that corresponds to the “idea” of “being.” It is abstract. It is a projectiomn of our imagination because we have never experienced anything “eternal.” It does not correspond to existence which we defined as concrete, not abstract, in contradistinction to “being.” Existence is endless, not eternal. We understand endless because we have experienced time, and endless is simply time without end. Existence unlike “being” struggles to exist, and that struggle is expressed in evolutionary development and groping through time. These are existential dynamics and they result in entities … which means things that are focused on survival in time. I am suggesting there is nothing eternal about “being,” existence is endless in time and is found only in existing entities.

      There are some similarities between existence as I conceive it, and “being” as Aquinas conceives it, but they are poles apart. “Being” is abstract immaterial idea, existence is the concrete energy of matter. They belong to two different worlds, two different conceptual universes. Your conflation of them indicates to me that you do not understand the place that I have proposed material energy occupies in the constellation.

      Piaget

      I will take your advice and check out Piaget. Thanks for your recommendations.

      West and East

      There are many reasons for violence, but what original sin does is to JUSTIFY it for Christians on hieratic grounds. Those who are familiar with Eastern cultural imperatives that do the same thing have the responsibility to confront them.

      Roman Empire

      It is someone’s theory — not mine — that Constantine’s choice was really a decision for monotheism over polytheism. I do not agree. As is histoically undeniable, the “clarifications” at Nicaea, organized and carried forward by Constantine in 325, introduced, with the doctrine of the Trinity, an ineradicable metaphysical polytheism into Christianity that made it impossible for Jews to ever consider accepting Jesus as an authentic Jewish prophet. The “Trinity” was a hybrid, neo-platonic concoction that elegantly meshed the greco-roman and Jewish notions of the divinity. It made Yahwism polytheistc, to the horror of Jews (and later, Muslims).
      Thank you Leon. I look forward to your responses.

      Tony

      • saluman73 says:

        Tony, This is the closest I’ve ever seen you get to poetry. There are many readers who miss what you say because it is too “scientific, realistic, actual, material, existential” for them. I especially liked “Happy Endings” and “Participation-In- Being”. I swear you should write those two sections in verse form and fool the literalists into reading it as poetry. For me there is almost no distinction between poetry and prose when you talk about “Love”, which is the “Final Solution” for God talk.
        ,Again, Tony, I keep saying you are the Teilhard of our generation. I take that back: you are the Tony Equale of our generation: No one is EQUAL to you!
        Sal Umana

  4. theotheri says:

    I am only now discovering the comments on this page, thinking that I would receive an email from WordPress when a comment was posted. So, thank you, Tony, for your own message. I have found the dialogue thus far unusually interesting, and am going to following your lead, Tony, and address some of the topics singly over time.

    My first comment is to Leon. You brought up several questions which I share, and several more which I hadn’t already thought of. What, in particular, fascinated me, though, was your request to Tony to look apply Piaget’s theory to “help us understand how traditional religion taken metaphysically and ontologically…” I am a cognitive psychologist well acquainted with Piaget’s theory, and I have often thought that fundamentalist religious thinking does indeed reflect concrete thinking. Children take things literally, and the ability to understand metaphor and symbol is not possible before we are capable of abstract or “formal operational” thinking. I originally thought that rigid thinking also arose from thinking unable to go beyond concrete reasoning, but that hypotheses just doesn’t fit the data, and I’m more inclined now to think that rigidity most often reflects a neurotic complex or identity problem.

    But I am wondering if you might be able to give me just a hint about what you mean when you suggest that traditional religion taken metaphysically and ontologically often reflects a child’s cognitive process. My problem isn’t in understanding Piaget, but my philosophical background stopped with a couple of fantastic introductory courses in graduate school. So in the context of these comments, I may be asking you to explain the impossible. But if it isn’t, could you send me in the direction of your thoughts? Not a full elaboration, but some indication of your thoughts that led to your request to Tony. And of course, Tony, I also look forward to your promised response to Leon’s request.

    Thank you to both of you. I feel greatly enriched by the opportunity to share in this dialogue.

  5. theotheri says:

    PS to Leon: Just after I sent this, I wondered if in relation to metaphysics & ontology, you were thinking of Piaget’s stages of moral development (elaborated, I think, brilliantly by Kohlberg)?

  6. Leon Krier says:

    Theo, Hi!

    Thanks so much for your comments and questions. I’ll try to be brief as you requested.

    My reference to Piaget is simply noting a possible parallel process and “isn’t that interesting” perspective.

    Metaphysical/ontological thinking establishes “data” that is fixed, permanent and non-evolving at least as it has emerged out of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies embraced by Catholicism. Catholics have been born and raised in this mode of thinking (dare I say brainwashed) and consequently have taken their beliefs as literal, concrete and divinely, infallibly established. These “unchanging truths” have been clung to at all cost. This has prevented Catholics from stepping back and engaging more abstract, logical and analytic thinking that addresses cause/effect, origin of ideas, history of changing ideas, etc. However, since many very intelligent Catholics have still clung to this literal and concrete mode of thinking, there must be something else going on. I appreciate your raising such issues as “neurotic complex” and “identity problems.” It’s hard to accept that it’s simply arrested cognitive development although that is a tantalizing perspective vis-à-vis religion and why I have raised Piaget. In summary, to go from “literalistic religion” to “metaphoric religion” as Tony has presented is a major emotional and intellectual revolution. I have encountered recently life-long Catholics in their 70’s who still worry about their salvation and being “right with God.” Isn’t that tragic?

    Regarding Kohlberg, he does with moral development what Piaget did with cognitive development. These works of developmental stages are tools, perspectives, to just get another angle on what we’re all wrestling with… life.

    Again, THANKS!!!

    Leon

  7. Leon – Thank you for your stimulating answer to my request. I do understand what you are saying, and it seems to me we have been asking the same kinds of questions about cognitive and personality development. I don’t think that everybody who believes in heaven or the resurrection as an actual fact or the virgin birth, etc is necessarily cognitively stunted. Many traditional Catholics of my own acquaintance can do very abstract thinking. Many have indeed thought their way right out of belief in much of Catholic doctrine. But for some fundamentalist believers, I can see no other explanation besides an inability to think on the formal operational level.

    The group that I tend to think are struggling with some kind of psychological block are those that are absolutely incapable of tolerating open discussion or exploring disagreement with respect for the value of opposition.

    I don’t want to sound too superior about this. I was born and raised as an intellectual Catholic, taught from the very beginning to think and question by my lawyer father. But I am now in my 70’s and even now I am discovering ways of thinking that are culturally Catholic – not in content, but in method of reasoning. My husband of 35 years or so is a sociologist of religion who is English as well – an experience which has given me a lot of opportunities to see the difference.

    Again, mega thanks. I am returning to R in a MU and your comments.

    Terry Sissons

  8. Leon Krier says:

    Tony,

    As the Ikarians might say: “Drink, converse and dance to the music.”

    Your comments on my reflections regarding Religion in a Material Universe are most appreciated and certainly push the envelope of my understanding of Religion. I am quite honored to be counted among those who are sharing in this “community process.” (“Thanks” to Terry for her contribution.)

    I would like to briefly respond to the points that we have now presented point-counterpoint before dedicating the bulk of my comments to the issue of “death” and “symbolization.”

    Structure of Religion In A Material Universe

    Two people who have the book in their possession have responded to our joint recommendation to read the PROLOGUE and EPILOGUE first before tackling the rest of the book.

    Religion and Social Biology

    I completely resonate with your comments in this section

    Jesus

    Here too, I affirm your understanding of “Jesus” and appreciate your contextualization of “Jesus” in history and the reform process of Christianity and Roman Catholicism.

    West and East

    It would be both fascinating and enriching to read someone who has done and is doing this project for the EAST as you are doing for the WEST.

    Roman Empire (Monotheism vs Polytheism)

    The metaphysical polytheism of Nicaea is simply that, theological sophistications, that few if any really ever understood. Roman Catholicism has always cast itself as monotheistic and knew what it was referring to in casting polytheism as “paganism.” The “reform efforts” by Julian the Apostate and the reaction to him by Christianity simply highlights this point.
    However, the true test of whether a religion is monotheistic or polytheistic especially in the ancient world but even today is how a religion relates to other religions, other gods, other identifications of the divine. Polytheism welcomed and incorporated other divinities because they were seen as an asset for cultural diversity and social cohesion. ( See Alexander the Great in Egypt and his establishment of the city of Alexandria and its evolution as a multi-cultural, multi-theistic city until the Christians took control). Monotheism has been dedicated to a strict belief in “one true god” and demanded compliance… it saw social and cultural homogeneity as an “asset” with its consequence of coerced social cohesion. Using this litmus test, there is no doubt in my mind that historically Roman Catholicism was monotheistic and still is. Since the Roman Catholic Catechism is now a designated reference, I did a recheck, and it continues to proclaim its monotheism even as it dances with its trinity.

    Participation-in-being

    Yes, I conflated “eternal” and “endless.” Thanks for your clarification. Ironically, you expressed succinctly what I wanted to express but lacked the understanding to do so. There may be a day when this “constellation” of “existence,”“being,” and “material energy” will have its “quiff popping” moment. It does remind me of one of my professors who told how one day while he was tying his shoes, he had a flash of insight and finally comprehended the meaning of the “negative judgment of separation.” I will live in hope that someday, somewhere, while tying my shoes or blowing my nose, this “constellation” will finally make sense and show forth its relevance.

    “Sucked in” versus “Sucked up”

    I am confident that you have the integrity and acuity of vision to avoid being “sucked in” although you rightly acknowledge that you are vulnerable in this regard. However, I am concerned that your “reform and reinterpretation efforts” will be “sucked up” by the Roman Catholic Church. I have recently taken a tour of the grounds of Regis University, a Jesuit institution. There are numerous sculptures of Jesuits, e.g., Ignatius of Loyola, Arrupe, Regis himself, but there’s one of James Joyce, Jesuit educated. The sculpture of Joyce is entitled “Ripples of Ulysses, a Sculptural Tribute to James Joyce” by Rowan Gillespie. It’s an impressive work of art and worthy of quiet contemplation. There is a brochure available which I brought home and pondered. Here is a quote from a commentary by Dr. Tom Staley entitled “Bronze by Star Light.”

    “Joyce’s image is not out of place here on Jesuit soil, for his departure from faith, was not an abandonment of religious obsession. There remained the embedded Jesuit strain, the Scholastic disposition, the conflicted Roman Catholic conscience, the ambivalent spiritual affinity with, and simultaneous rebellion against, the Roman Catholic Church. However wayward (italics mine) Joyce became, it was the Jesuits who helped shape so much of his thought.”

    In this quote, there is an obvious Jesuit claim upon Joyce’s genius and yet condescension by calling him “wayward.” Isn’t this typical R.C. Church modus operandi with its holding the corner of the truth market? At some future date, hopefully way in the future, I can envision some R.C. theologian or philosopher writing a similar commentary about Tony Equale. Equale was a “genius” but a “wayward son.” Yes, not “sucked in” but conveniently “sucked up.”

    Symbolization & Death

    In this section, I’m not intending to present an oppositional viewpoint but to explore an added dimension. I am very interested in finding out whether there is any resonance with this analysis among your readership.

    I would summarize the issue of “symbolization” and “death” as follows.

    Roman Catholicism

    1) Death is an intrusion caused by original sin.
    2) Death is un-natural and a punishment to be endured.
    3) Only God can correct this situation through “salvation.”
    4) Jesus, the “Christ,” is this “salvation”… “Christ” eliminates the “sting of death” while Christians journey on this earth and will be restored to their original innocent condition when all is one “in Christ.”
    5) For Christians, “death” is a “symbol,” of our moral failure and eternal doom, i.e., our alienation from God but also our current and future transformation “in Christ.”

    Equale

    • Death is natural; it is a dimension of the evolutionary process in which we live and move and have our being.
    • “Death” is the “symbol” of our “self donation” and participation in an endless cosmological process of becoming, evolving. “Death” is an “emptying out” that can be best characterized as “love” albeit non-personal and non-descriptive because it is “metaphoric” and not “empirical.”
    • This Equalean position is a) personal conviction, b) consistent with the profile of matter’s energy and c) fitting for a reform effort gifted to the community who are “followers of Jesus,” that is, the reform/reinterpretation of Christianity and Roman Catholicism.

    Krier

    A) Death is natural; it’s part of life, part of evolution. It characterizes existence, living organisms; it is a condition of being human
    B) Death needs no symbolization, no allegory, no grand historic narrative, no post-death implications. It can be contemplated as it is in all its materiality.
    C) It can be appreciated and accepted for what it is… the ending of individual existence.

    Given this summary of my position, I propose the following.

    Even though death need not be understood symbolically, this doesn’t doom one to MISERY nor CYNICISM…. It simply acknowledges that death can be appreciated, accepted and even celebrated in its NAKEDNESS, i.e., stripped of its historic or reformed “symbolic clothing.” The more one realizes that there is death and life is finite, the more one appreciates the intense goodness, beauty and sublimity of existence. The present moment is cherished, and one engages the opportunities that emerge every step of the way. One is challenged to identify what one’s moral/ethical responses will be and what range of experiences one incorporates into one’s life. This is the process of becoming human, of becoming a “self,” of developing “my self.” As Thich Nhat Hanh might say “Peace is Every Step.”

    I would contrast your perspective of the “symbolization of death” and mine in the following manner by paralleling developments in art history.

    From ancient Greek idealism and its commitment to harmonia to the Renaissance rediscovery of classicism to the Beaux Arts preservation, symbolism, allegory, grand historical and mythological narratives were essential to the standards and expectations set by and for artists. When Modernism hit the scene in the 19th century and became full blown in the 20th century, the role of symbolism, allegory and grand narrative became optional. Art and architecture began stripping away any symbolism and associations to the past. and artists started to present more direct and ordinary views of existence. Modernism gave birth to a host of styles that we are all familiar with: the Realism of Courbet, the Impressionism of Monet, the Abstraction of Mondrian, the Expressionism of Munch and so on. Each of these styles was seeking a distinctive view of existence with a necessary independence from the standards of the Classical tradition.

    To be honest, it is ironic that numbers and geometric shapes were used symbolically in the classical tradition such as Pythagorean tetractys or the Geometric meander (also Moorish art and architecture). Likewise, the same might be said of “naturalism” that was used to convey a symbolic message. It must be admitted that in Modernism, “abstraction” and “realism” and the other styles mentioned above are often ambiguous regarding “symbolism,” “meaning” or even “purpose” leaving one to ponder and wonder This is surely what makes Modernism so engaging, perplexing and even controversial. This leaves us with a paradox… one and the same work of art may be both “symbolic” and “what you see is what you get.”

    Religion in a Material Universe, even in its commitment to radical reform for the community of the followers of Jesus, remains in the tradition of “symbolism.” This seems to remain essential for the reformation of religion, namely, religion as “metaphor,” not “empirical data.” In this context, it is understandable that death is symbolized. Death, however, doesn’t need to be symbolized. Death does deserve contemplation. It is simply here. One can embrace its “realism” or “abstract” its “line and form.” Paint it as it is… no need to fear it… it’s us. Such an approach fosters neither “misery” nor “cynicism.” It has its own well-spring of “love,” exuberance and celebration. The leaves fall to the ground and are absorbed into the soil to become the future nutrition of the tree. The tree and its leaves need no poetry, no symbolization, of their relationship… it simply is and it goes on and on… it is a joy to contemplate. Consider Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters.” The people are “animal like” and the relationship between these “people” and the “potatoes” is inseparable… the “people” are the “potatoes” and the “potatoes” are the “people.” The colorization is murky brownish. This is our existence… earth to earth. Van Gogh admonished a painter friend to stop painting biblical themes reminding him that Millet who knew his Bible thoroughly “never, or hardly ever, painted biblical pictures.” Van Gogh urged his friend “to paint your garden just as it is.” Van Gogh said “If I am capable of spiritual ecstasy, I adore ‘Truth’.”

    One of my favorite lines from e.e. cummings is:

    “One naked woman is worth a thousand statues.”

    Meaning vs Morality

    I get the impression that you are saying that without “meaning” life is MISERY… void of love and all that ”meaning” makes possible. I do agree that humans are “spinners of meaning” especially “spinners of ultimate meaning.” Such “spinning” is a characteristic of human existence; however, it is problematic. There are some “meanings” that lead to devastation of our humanity; other “meanings” that ennobled it. However, I would argue that meaning is optional; at least in the sense of “meaning” as that thought system which gives an “ultimate framework” for our existence. Whether such a framework exists or not, whether it will prove true or not, is indeed problematic. What is important is how we chose to live, what pleasures we choose to experience, what relationships we choose to develop, what work and service we choose to engage and what impact all these choices make upon the world in which we are doing the choosing. Rather than “ultimate meaning,” I personally believe that the core concern is regarding the “ultimate impact” our choices have upon existence. What “lasting resonance” does this particular act of kindness or this particular experience of pleasure have upon me and the world in which I live? Is there any “impact,” any “residual” at all or is every moment experienced and then evaporated? Your comment that the poor bloke (not being one of the “fortunate few”) whose existence is nothing but a struggle for survival is burdened by my analysis. I fail to see how a poetic flourish on “self-donation” and being a miniscule contribution to cosmic unfolding will be of assistance. For myself, the last time I checked I was rather happy with my life and not indulging in an appetite for misery. I am also confident that atheists like Julian Baggini are living fruitful, loving and productive lives without a rhapsodic discourse on death and self-donation.

    In summary, there are at least two ways, the symbolic and the non-symbolic. Both are legitimate and stand on equal footing. One can choose one or the other or both— hybrids are in. Both offer a potency for living humanly in all of its diverse and rich dimensions.

    There are no dead people in a cemetery!

    Recently I watched a documentary, “Cemeteries.” It was interesting how direct or indirect references were made to “people being buried here.” “People” is a word referencing “living human beings.” So, it is an oxymoron to say that “dead people” are buried in a cemetery. When my “self” is no more, there is no possibility of “self donation.” “Self donation” is an act of living. One is living, engaging and donating one’s existence all along the way, but in death there is no “act of donation” by a “person” for that “person” no longer exists. The joy and exuberance of “love” is only here and now. Even when dying, one is living and making choices for how to live and move and have one’ being. I didn’t originate me, but I choose “me” right through to the final choice of my life.

    Tony, thanks again for the opportunity to journey along this path of being worth more than a thousand statues.

    Leon

    • tonyequale says:

      Leon, I start with a quote from your “being and existence” section. “I will live in hope that someday, somewhere, while tying my shoes or blowing my nose, this “constellation” will finally make sense and show forth its relevance.”

      You seem to imply that the distinction between being and existence does not make sense to you and that it has yet to “show forth its relevance,” I realize it might be a bit tedious to go back over this ground again, but it is so central to my view of things that I felt it was important that you should understand what I mean whether you ultimately agree or not.

      I use the word “existence” to mean an anti-entropic force of nature. It is a concrete energy and, were it not for the fact that there is no “non-existence” to compare it to, would be studied by science not philosophy. It becomes a philosophical notion by default, i.e., no science can study it qua existence, though it is being studied under other aspects as string theory, the Standard Model of particle Physics and other paradigms attempting to unify all the forces in nature. It is energy and it is not neutral. It has a rudimentary teleology — a purpose — to exist, and only to exist. It is this primitive and unidirectional teleology that gives it its intelligibility. As an intelligible function it simply comprehends an existence without end. Everything made of it is a derivative: it is driven to exist “endlessly.” But the “endless” is dynamic. It is the continuation of the anti-entropic energy to exist from moment to moment creating the arrow of time. We humans are only this material energy, and its “existential trajectory,” palpably experienced in the conatus, explains why we are the way we are including our human intelligence which opens to the conatus negating awareness of death — what I call the void. It is this paradox … death in the context of the driven, driving conatus … that characterizes the human condition, its pathos and its potential for surreality in all its forms, art, religion, politics, mysticism …

      “Being” on the other hand is a conceptual abstraction concocted by Plato and refined by Aristotle and later the mediaeval commentators, Muslim. Jewish and Christian. It is pre-scientific. It is fundamentally a logical construction used to understand all existing entities, which are the only things that exist. This “being” is comprised first and determinantly of “essence,” which gives any concrete existent its “purpose” or “reason for being” implanted in it by “God,” and then by “existence” which is imagined as a secondary factor giving things real as opposed to potential reality. “Existence” in the perennial philosophy is by far the less important factor. “Essence” in that ancient system is the source of all intelligibility. It is also called “form” and the scholastics emphasized its priority by saying “being comes through the form.” These aspects are all static. They are not going anywhere. Their perfection consists in being exacly what they are … and as a derivative of that stasis, remaining what they are opens to the concept of “eternal.” “Eternal” refers to a static condition, “endless” to a dynamic condition. We can imagine “endless,” because it is nothing but the extrusion of time which we experience, but we cannot imagine “eternal” because a static reality is an abstraction. Hence “eternal” is an abstraction — reality conceived in the absence of time, while “endless” is concrete — existence imagined in a time that never stops.

      The “relevance” has to do with world-view. The Platonic metaphysical world-view has been exposed as false by science. That means that the implications that a metaphysical system can be expected to suggest in other more practical spheres of human interest will be unreliable. They will not work without denying reality as we know it. The cosmo-ontology I propose in MM, on the other hand, is an attempt to replace it with a metaphysics that is germane to science. As we explore its functioning in the areas of human endeavor, its relevance will be tested in a pragmatic way … we will see how well it works and what, if anything, it asks us to deny.

      Next installnent: the symbolism of death.

  9. theotheri says:

    Leon – I have been thinking for several weeks that death is the issue with which I was not wholly comfortable in Religion in a MU. But given that I know just enough philosophy to demonstrate that I often don’t know what I’m talking about, I have been unsure of how to express my doubts. But your parallel from the world of art puts it perfectly for me.

    I said to Tony recently that I was worried that I am able to become addicted to meaning. I was thinking in particular about giving meaning to death, and I choose the word “addicted” with care. Like an addiction, I am constantly looking for it, and then feeling suffocated to the extent that I achieve it.

    Throwing out the fear of death because I might be going to hell or at least to an interminable time in purgatory before entering the eternal boredom of heaven hardly solves the problem. And however much I may see that death is necessary, however much I may appreciate its fruitfulness and every autumn, its flaming beauty, however much I may be clear that I would not want to be endlessly stuck with my same SELF, however much I tell myself that SELF indeed is an ever-changing reality, however much I tell myself that the opposite of death is not life but birth, I still hate the idea of my dying. I’m a little more acceptance of your dying, but that I should no longer so much as exist still approaches the point of Totally Unacceptable. The joy of entering into the mystery of a great continuing cosmos eludes me most of the time.

    The suggestion, however, that there is a value in contemplating death in its own right, as something which I as a human being do, is for me a liberating addition to my trying to give meaning to death. I think existentialism – to live fully in the present – tends to elude many of us raised as Catholics. In any case, it has for me. I’ve lived too often “in my head” to the exclusion of living “in the now.” As you say, both are possible. I believe both are valuable. And right now, I am most grateful for the reminder that I might benefit from both. Thank you.

    Tony, I have deliberately written this before your reply on the symbolism of death is posted, because I strongly suspect I would be tempted to wade into waters over my head if I did.

    But I am greatly looking forward to reading it.

    Thank you to both of you for the chance to participate in this dialogue.

    • tonyequale says:

      Symbolization and death

      Natural symbols are virtual realities. That means their fundamental intelligibility is given to them by human minds in a social context. They are not natural “stand-alone” entities like biological organisms. But while they are fundamentally products of the human imagination, they are not arbitrary; they are rooted in reality as their cause and they are expressed in reality as their effect. Society is such a virtual reality. Society does not exist alone as a “thing” out there, like an elephant or a fungal spore-colony. Yet it arises naturally because of the communitarian nature of human birth, rearing, and adult survival and is expressed in human economic, reproductive and interpersonal conviviality and its infrastructures. Hence society is recognized as something of a concrete reality in its own right with natural roots and concrete expressions like “the Adams family,” “Rome,” “The United States.” These are all virtual realities, they do not have meaning outside of human minds, and as image-concepts they are symbols.

      Death, analogously, is not a “thing” or a force. But it is a concept that arises from the experience of natural events. To identify that universal phenomenon with a word-image — death — is unique to the human species and its mental abilities. Other conscious organisms also experience the cessation of living functions in themselves and observe it in others, but they do not make it an item in a virtual world of words and concepts apt for social interaction. It never becomes a symbol for them. In us it cannot avoid being a symbol, because we see things as elements in a world of “the one and the many” and we verbalize it.

      Given the fact of the pre-historic and possibly even pre-verbal symbolic nature of the human concept of death, the word-image has always been available as shorthand to symbolize the paradox that stands at the heart of the human condition — the inevitable disappearance of the living self-identity of an organism which, like all organisms made exclusively of “existence,” is programmed only for living, for being-here. Death for us is an existential anomaly. All the core rituals of “religion” going back before recorded history are centered on this paradox, recognize it as anomalous and make an attempt at its resolution — i.e., try to find a way to “live with it.” That resolutuion has taken many forms, some sublime, some quite macabre.

      One of the most natural ways of “dealing” with death is the ancient practice of associating it with the seasons which, as humans opted for settled agriculture as their principal way of survival, became identified with the fertility cycles on which we depend for food. That rotting organisms provided the fertility on which new life was nourished: that some of the same seed that was pulverizd to make food giving us life, was “buried” in the soil to rot and die, sprouting into life, “explained” life and death quite literally as reciprocally related. The “explanation” could hardly be called “symbolic.” Modern science validated that ancient perception: the seasonal cycles of organic life between dormancy and vitality are mutually dependent and “death” is the interface between them.

      That organic matter is recycled continuously through its sequential incarnations by means of death is a simple fundamental and undeniable fact of nature. The human being who recognizes, acknowledges and embraces that cycle as authentically applicable to her/himself as a material organism is not only hewing very close to the way things are, as observed both spontaneously and scientifically, s/he is also standing in solidarity with universal ancestral perceptions and beliefs that go back beyond human memory. That dying and being buried means one is returning one’s organic matter to the pool from which new life arises and is nourished, and that taking deep satisfaction in giving back the organic matter that was so generously made available from others throughout ones life, can hardly be called some kind of mystical woo-woo forcing an arbitrary symbolization onto reality for the sole purpose of consoling oneself. Those who suggest that to accept human life as the organic fact that it is and to take joy and satisfaction in its cyclical nature is somehow an erroneous self-indulgent masturbatory exercise, reveal themselves as bound and determined to project meaninglessness as the essence of life. To insist that no one could possibly take joy in being a human organism, spawned and immersed in an organic world where one’s death is gratefully embraced as an intrinsic part of the continuance of organic life, and still be authentically human, reminds me of an infant having a tantrum of self-immolation.

      Tony Equale

  10. theotheri says:

    Tony – I found myself agreeing with enthusiasm with everything you had to say about symbolization and death. Until the last paragraph. Whatever reductionists may say, I am emphatically not insisting “that no one could possibly take joy in being a human organism, spawned and immersed in an organic world where one’s death is gratefully embraced as an intrinsic part of the continuance of organic life.” What I am saying is that more often than not, that joy eludes me.

    On the contrary, I am not a stranger to that infantile tantrum screaming an unqualified “NO!” Yes, I am going to die; I’ve written a will and taken whatever realistic steps I can to make my death easier for whomever is left behind to deal with it. I am hugely grateful to have received a life so greatly privileged. But JOY that I am going to die? Rarely.

    A good friend of mine died recently with the belief that she was being transplanted to another planet to contribute there everything she had already learned in this life. Sort of like retirement, but instead of Florida, she was going extra-terrestrial. I myself don’t think there is a shred of evidence to support this expectation, but it’s probably the version I would adapt if I had the choice. It sounds a lot better than a traditional heaven, and I would definitely take it in preference to the privilege of donating my lifeless organism to the great cosmic enterprise – however mysterious, awe-inspiring, and spectacular I experience that to be.

    Yes, I embrace your symbolization, Unless science comes up with some radically new idea about the nature of the material organism in which life and consciousness emerge I can’t conceive any other reasonable alternative. But I don’t necessarily like it. It may be an immature response, it may reflect an alienation from our material selves, and it may be erroneous, but I don’t think it is a merely, as you suggest, a “self-indulgent masturbatory exercise.” I simply don’t take joy in knowing that some day I (and yes, those I know and love) are no longer going to exist as persons.

    I personally find Leon’s suggestion intriguing – that there is value at looking at dying as something we do, rather than concentrating solely on trying to give meaning to its inevitability. I’m too much of a thinker in the Jungian sense to give up the need for meaning. But contemplating how I want to do dying is something which I suspect may be helpful in keeping me in contact with my whole self, and not just with my head. And maybe somewhere, somehow, some day, I might even actually be able to discover death as a joy, and not merely as inescapable or possibly as a relief from pain which has become intolerable.

    Again, thank you to both of you. I don’t find many people interested in having an ongoing discussion about death, and it is a joy (sic) to think that at the very least you are not rolling your eyes to heaven hoping that I will soon stop going on about this unpleasant subject. I have found your insights stimulating and enriching.

    Terry

    • tonyequale says:

      Terry,

      While the ultimate “relevance” of my efforts may overflow by implication into the area of “spirituality,” my direct labors have been focused on understanding the cosmos that is responsible for what we are, and that we are here. If no one is spontaneously happy about dying (and no one is … no one), that poses a deep “spiritual” (emotional) problem because dying, at least at this point in time, is an intrinsic part of what this cosmos has made us to be. The world’s great historic religions have focused all their energies on one project: how to resolve that dilemma — how to cope with the fact that by not being reconciled to death we do not want to be what we are. If we were to define bliss as that state of mind where “I want what I have, and I have what I want” the unaided human condition is very far from its goal. It is alienated from itself. It doesn’t want to be-here as things are because we do not want to die.

      The “resolutions” to this dilemma have ranged from the crass institutionalization of alienation as in the case of Christianity which condemns “this world” as irreparably corrupt because of Original Sin, and offers “another world” (another planet) where we will go and really live and never die … to the potential fatalism of a naïve superficial Buddhism which without the training of Buddhist reflective thought and practice may seem to be counseling the acceptance of everything exactly as it is, no matter how unjust and reformable. In all cases, however, there seems to be a general recognition that getting from where we are to where we want to be (emotionally speaking) will require an interior “journey” of some intensity and duration.

      My efforts have not been directed toward finding those mechanisms that will facilitate the journey, but rather in understanding the cosmos as science is revealing it to be and developing a philosophical interpretation that will allow for the human embrace of science and eventually, if so desired, an emotional adjustment to it. Whether the world-view I propose and the argumentation with which I support it is, by itself, effective as spiritual “therapy” is not my primary concern. And the aplomb with which I defend the positions I take is not meant to imply that the validity of the understanding is in any way dependent upon its effectiveness as emotional therapy. But it is very emphatically meant to say that were one to choose to travel that path, or make whatever arduous ascetical journey were necessary to get there, there is nothing in our understanding of the cosmos — whether from science, philosophy, psychotherapy or religion — that could discourage him/her from doing so. It is a vision of cosmic reality and us included in it that I am proposing, and I defend it against rival world-views, even when those views are only visible by implication in rival “emotional solutions.” The “emotional solution” is not my focus, but what is required — its sufficient and necessary condition of possibility — is.

      Tony

  11. theotheri says:

    Thank you, Tony. I fully appreciate your point. We’ve been struggling for as long as we have realized its inevitability to come to terms with the reality of death. And yes, the explanations offered by both eastern and western religions have been alienating, each in their own ways. There is a profound need for a different vision of cosmic reality, and I am deeply grateful that you have the ability, the energy, and the willingness to tackle this gigantic task.

    Yes, it is a cosmic world-view and not an emotional solution to the human condition, Which is why I objected to your writing that anyone who did not take joy in it reminds you of an infant’s tantrum.

    I do think we are fundamentally in agreement. But you are first and foremost a philosopher. I am first and foremost a psychologist.

    Terry

    • tonyequale says:

      Terry,

      You said: “I objected to your writing that anyone who did not take joy in it reminds you of an infant’s tantrum.“ I never said that. What I actually said was:

      Those who suggest that to accept human life as the organic fact that it is and to take joy and satisfaction in its cyclical nature is somehow an erroneous self-indulgent masturbatory exercise, reveal themselves as bound and determined to project meaninglessness as the essence of life. To insist that no one could possibly take joy in being a human organism, spawned and immersed in an organic world where one’s death is gratefully embraced as an intrinsic part of the continuance of organic life, and still be authentically human, reminds me of an infant having a tantrum of self-immolation.

      I emphatically DID NOT say that failing to take joy was an infantile response. I said that TO INSIST that taking such joy is fantasy and self deception, is infantile. This is not a quibble. The two statements are quite contrary to one another. And I repeated myself at least twice. I was defending against those who were calling my “solutuion” mystical woo-woo.

      Given that clarification, I agree that we are in fundamental agreement with one another.

      Thanks again,

      Tony

  12. theotheri says:

    My apologies, Tony. I did misread. Thank you for the clarification. And I can now go off have have my tantrum with a good conscience.

    Terry the Toddler

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