Archive for the ‘Logic’ Category

Spiritual Journey Resumed

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 I want to make it clear from the outset that the ideas expressed in what follows are my own. Sure, some of them might resonate of past writers, for I cannot claim that any of my ideas are original; to do so would be patently absurd. After all, I am seventy-seven years old, I have read much during the past decades, and I have no photographic memory which might enable me to cite sources for every sentence. I have read theological and mystical works from the Hebrew, Greek and Chinese traditions, much of which has certainly affected my thought. Nonetheless, I feel impelled to indite here what I now consider my own perceptions and insights, regardless of how hand-me-down they might seem.
¶Incidentally, I will be committing a modern sin by reverting to the old practice of using masculine pronouns even when I am referring to all persons, regardless of gender. When I began writing this essay I used the forms “(s)he” and “him/her”, but it looked so sloppy and distracting that I changed them. My apologies if the changes offend any readers.

I. Religion and Spirituality
¶I doubt that many educated readers will fail to recognize the differences between religion and spirituality without my having to underline them. Still, for the sake of clarity I will here note the most salient contrasts.
¶Essentially, religion involves an established system of beliefs accompanied by a corpus of sacred writings dictating theological and moral dogma. It, naturally then, requires a community of adherents — people who consider it worthwhile, at least for the sake of companionship or fellow-feeling — to accept the dogma and rituals which have accrued around their religion.
¶Spirituality is more individualistic, although the spiritual seeker will not necessarily reject communion with another after “enlightenment”. Still, he most likely will be conscious of the differing tangential and ephemeral qualities of such contacts; for, like fingerprints and snowflakes, each person’s spiritual journey is unique and cannot be matched, either favorably or unfavorably, with another’s. Also, while the seeker might use the spiritual writings (particularly, biographies) of esteemed theologians, both ancient and modern, as guides, succorers, and encouragers of his own sojourn, he must still face a long, dim and paradoxical path with no assurance of a positive and final conclusion. For him there is no dogma or ritual, although he probably will cling to some of the moral teachings learned in earlier years under the tutelage of some religious teachers, notably the very general “Golden Rule”.
¶I am not going any further with profiling religionists, or in any great depth with the spiritual seekers. However, the bulk of this essay will be about the seekers’ paths in general. Essentially, it will be based upon my own search for teleological meaning.

II. The Idea of God
¶If we hold onto the concepts of “meaning” and “purpose” in life, we usually start our search with the idea of a personal god: I did. Despite multiple mystical experiences, however, I found it difficult to reconcile what I learned from those events and reading with a personal god as generally conceived (a sort of abstract Santa Claus). What was truly odd about my searching, though, was that I felt more inclined to give up the noun than the verb: my charisms led me to accept the personal relating while eschewing the personhood of my deity. Most Christians are theologically educated enough to be aware that their god is depicted as having three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Over the lengthy period of my spiritual growth I came to the realization that the “Father” was too abstract for me to recognize; the “Son” (Jesus) was too human in his ambivalence and longing for definition from others; but the Holy Spirit, although invisible and silent, was frequently present to me.
¶Some might insist that the Holy Spirit is always present; I cannot dispute that, nor do I even want to, but I can claim only that what I call the Holy Spirit has made its presence known to me at certain times through charismatic events. Something was tugging at me, nudging me forward, and rewarding me from time to time with provocative insights or charisms. Every time I tried to attach such experiences onto a “higher power” of any shape or form the whole effort fell from my mind and shattered; there were too many unfathomable paradoxes with which to contend. I decided to let the personal god go, let Him do his own thing and I would do mine. If our enterprises met and joined occasionally, then so be it; I wasn’t going to fight against such junctures, but neither was I going to push for them; for there are times when the Holy Spirit, when he is concerned about my situation, seems to have a different goal in mind than I do, and there are times when I doubt that he is even interested.
¶I do not deny that I am exceedingly curious about what I perceive as an inchoate aether with weight to it of some sort and seemingly some secretive intelligence within it. Such had to be there for any sort of “nudging” to occur. Now some exertion is required to keep myself from trying to impose a humanlike form onto the aether. Yes, there is something “out there” or “within me” that yearns for and pushes for meaning. No point in denying it.

III. Answering the Atheists
¶Several prominent cosmologists and other scientists have postulated that, since everything about us and about Nature can be explained without the god premise, there is no need for a First Cause: god. The Idea of God is irrelevant, they claim. I am perfectly willing to accept their postulate — for them — but I do not see why it should affect me any more than the declarations of the preachers in their descriptions of God should affect me. If they do not experience the supra-natural, then that is a “truth” for the scientists.
¶Actually, there still remain some important aspects of Nature which baffle the scientists, the most significant being “Dark Matter”, an invisible substance that occupies all the space between the objects we can see. British logician Bertrand Russell took umbrage at his favorite student, the German logician Ludwig Wittgenstein, when the latter claimed that his studies had led him to conclude that there is a point at which symbolic logic cannot answer our questions, a mystical point.
¶For their part, the preachers never tackle the subject of Jesus’s injunction to put out your eye if it sins, or his advocating love of enemies on one occasion and enjoining his disciples to carry swords on another day. Nor do they satisfactorily answer the question of why the “Trinity” does not constitute polytheism and why statues of Jesus and Mary are not idols. The story of Jesus was written by several different people and then complicated by a multitude of annotators during the following centuries. It’s a muddy amalgam from which many of us have chosen to “cherry-pick” what we will believe. Whether we use those sources or not, we still have to evolve or design our own religion or our own spirituality.
¶Really, I prefer to leave God out of any discussion of scientific research or how we treat each other. Yet I try to understand the relationship between me and the Presence (a term I prefer to “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”). I think I have researched the Presence too much, intellectualized Him nearly into oblivion. The Presence, I believe, prefers feeling over thinking. He seems removed from me now, and I yearn for his return; I don’t need to understand Him; I need to feel Him. If only I can restrain myself from trying to understand our relationship and how He performed the little miracles I have experienced . That’s hard.

Finis

Shade and Shadow

Green park

A scene where both shade and shadow are equally illustrated.
Photo Credit: Bing Images/ciis.edu

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS:  Formerly, as an instructor in rhetoric at a community college, I assigned the students a weekly essay topic.  Each subject was intended to be an exercise in some aspect of communicating through the written word, e.g. describing a house or a room, interviewing someone about their vocation and then writing about it, explaining how to perform some fairly complex task. The first exercise I imposed on them was to describe the differences between shade and shadow; the point of this one was to acquaint them with an exam type they were likely to encounter in other humanities courses: “compare and contrast”.  I eventually developed a slight guilt complex about this assignment, since I had never written about shade and shadow myself.  The following essay is an attempt to assuage that guilty feeling.  I believe it is timely to publish it on my blog today because Halloween is just a few days away. While there is nothing “spooky” in the essay, I am sure most of you can recall or imagine times in your past when some shadow made you shiver. So, happy Halloween!
—BL

¶Shade and shadow, although at first glance apparent synonyms for each other, are in fact nothing of the sort. They differ not only denotatively but connotatively.
¶Shade and shadow are alike only in one particular: they are created by the obstruction of light in its journey toward a final destination. The first and most definitive differences, indeed, derive from those light sources. For shade results only from sunlight, despite what one might suppose from such a misnomer as “lampshade”; while shadow results from artificial light as well as sunlight (including that reflection of the sun we call “moonlight”).
¶Shade and shadow also differ in that the former can serve as an aid, as is implied by its name: It can protect something from the annoyance or even harm which too much sunlight might inflict. Here we also note that shade moves—or rather changes position—as the light source moves; while shadow moves according as the interfering object, such as a person walking at night under a lamp-post or a plane flying overhead on a sunny day, moves. Nor is shade as sharply delineated as a shadow; the shade created by a tree in full leafage is a diaphanous phenomenon with bits of faint sunlight jostling with the spots made by the leaves on the ground. Shadow, on the other hand, occupies a more outlined area, which might be exemplified by the tree’s trunk as opposed to its leaves. While I suppose it is comprehensible to speak of a tree’s canopy at night as providing “shady protection” for a pair of lovers on a park bench, who have sat there in pursuit of privacy, actually at that time even the leaves are creating shadows, because lamplight does not move around or even penetrate a leaf the way sunlight does.
¶Again unlike shade, shadow is not limited to the daylight hours. In fact, with “shadow” the connotative contrast becomes primary. We have invested that word with mystery; I won’t insult your intelligence by specifying the ways we have done that. Suffice it to say that while, when we hear of a shadow during the daytime, we imagine the darker grayness left by an object, such as a building, on the sidewalk or of the undulating gray trail left by a plane as it passes over some hilly landscape; and when we hear the word “shadow” at night the image that passes before our mind’s eye is that of a skulking figure with a dagger in its hand moving against a wall. Obviously there is nothing inherently sinister about the word “shadow”; the connotation which has become attached to it is just another example of how our language is impacted by our emotions.
¶Shade, then, is a comparatively static phenomenon that is often thought of as beneficial. It is a product of sunlight and some interfering non-mobile object. Shadow is a denser darkness which may appear either during the day or during the night, and is created by either the natural lights of the sun and moon or by artificial light. Also, shadow is not restricted to static objects; it accompanies mobile objects just as frequently as does shade and, perhaps for that reason, has developed a slightly sinister reputation.

Finis

Acorns, etc.

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 — Luke 2:19

The fairies’ berets

Well, it’s the first week of October, although you can’t tell it by the daytime temperatures around my town; it is already scoring 92 degrees today (10/01/15) at 3 p.m. I don’t recall it getting that warm in July and August, maybe last June, which for some reason I can’t fathom has the reputation of being our hottest month. I know the steering wheel in my truck told me on several June days that hell was nearby. But we have only ourselves to blame, what with our carbon emissions history since the Industrial Revolution started.

Still, we always expect October to be a kinder month, even a time when donning a windbreaker is ordinarily the normal thing to do. In spite of the broiling heat, though, there are a few signs by which Nature is letting us know that Fall is nigh, such as a slight hint that the leaves want to change color from green to yellow, scarlet and purple. In our case here, however, the most telltale sign, that I have noticed, is the drumming of the acorns on my back porch’s metal roof. I see those nuts on the grass and sidewalk when I leave each morning for the coffee shop: they seem unusually large this year. And why have their loud tumbles never drawn my attention in the past twelve years? Yes, they simply must be larger this time.

As a child, influenced by some illustrations in fairy tale books, I would wonder if there were any “little people” around wearing parts of acorns for their caps; I was entirely ignorant at the time that what I was looking at was called a “cupule”. That was way before the age of the Internet, and my curiosity was stifled by a sense of futility until today.  I also used to occasionally wonder why we don’t eat acorns as we do pecans, walnuts and other nut delicacies. I assumed that acorns must be different from other nuts by being poisonous, but somebody told me that, no, the acorn is just bitter to the taste.

I read in Wikipedia today, though, that the ancient Greeks ate them after pounding them into a grain and that the Native Americans and Koreans still do favor certain dishes prepared using acorns. The processes involved, however, look formidably complicated and time-consuming to me. For the rest of us, grains have superseded any comparable meal ingredient. One would have to be near starvation, I suppose, to gather acorns. Yet, some of our media sites are recommending that we consider munching on various insects for sustenance: a hardly subtle reference to the likelihood of famines if climate change develops to its greatest extent.

But we want to believe that Fall is imminent, even though there seem to be no “four seasons” any more, only Summer and Winter. Autumn, like Spring, is being squeezed down to a week. Why is Fall also called “Autumn”? I wonder.

Out of balance

A Methodist minister told me, when I was about sixteen, “Life is going to be hard on you, Bob, because you are mature beyond your years.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, and I have pondered his assessment often since then. I now do not believe he was saying that my IQ was above average or that my store of common-sense was abundant: both of those qualities would, I believe, be very useful coping skills, not stumbling blocks. No, I think his point must have been that I do not have much tolerance for ambiguity, ambivalence, and the smaller details in life. I expect the world to be much more plain and decipherable than it is. The pastor’s remark was uttered not many days after I had opined, during a meeting of our church’s governing board (of which I was an ex officio  member), that I believed we needed to do away with Santa Claus. I won’t expound on the Santa Claus issue here any further than to explain that the persona of Santa I perceived was that of a caricature of God — an image that I thought confuses children and might eventually lead them spiritually astray.

No, the issue I wish to dilate on is what personality characteristic my comment reflected. My intolerance for ambiguity and small fictions became, I think, an obsession within me, an obsession that cannot be contained now, if it ever could, even though I am aware of the discomfort it causes for me. When (at age 20) I started reading philosophy, particularly Bertrand Russell’s discussion of Zeno’s paradoxes, I sententiously declared it my ambition to resolve all paradoxes; I wasn’t going to leave any room for an ounce of doubt.

Of course, most of my readers will be aware of how naïve was my goal. As the years multiplied, so did the paradoxes and dilemmas. Even Bertrand Russell, I read later, retreated into symbolic logic to discuss rather basic matters because he saw the plain old vernacular as being the cause of many philosophical rabbit trails¹. I did not have the mathematical ability to follow his lead, so I simply gave up and tried to close my eyes and ears to insoluble problems.

But the questions attacked me anyway, very surreptitiously via my observations of Nature and the people I encountered — nay, viewed, even if I did not meet them. Why is that young man, for instance, wearing a ring in his nostril and two rings in his lower lip? Why do two people not get to know each other better before they get hitched into a relationship that leads to an acrimonious and expensive divorce? Why does a group scream, beat loudly on drums and guitars, set off explosions and claim they are making music? Why does a season of the year have two names: Fall and Autumn? All such questions invade my mind unbidden, and I don’t think I have enough life span left to research such matters. (I know, by the way, that “fall” and “autumn” are not usually capitalized, but I prefer to capitalize them for two reasons: (1) Since “fall” has two meanings, the capital “F” prevents confusion; and (2) since the words are names for seasons of the year, I consider the capitalization better etiquette.)

Subtle biases in our vocabulary

The turbulence in my brain, however, is not all perturbing; sometimes amusement results from the roiling. I often find in it fodder for my teasing humor. One evening, for instance, when I was a guest in the home of former friends — a college professor and his wife — I mentioned, almost as an aside, that I thought it peculiar there are no terms for a hectoring man (except of course “hectoring man”), while there are several for a hectoring woman: harridan, shrew, termagant, virago, harpy, vixen, and nag. Whew! I half-expected the wife to jump out of her chair and attack me, but she disappointingly remained calm, recognizing, I suppose, that I was simply being impish, not sardonic.

And then, returning my spotlight to Nature, it occurred to me this morning, as I was driving to the coffee shop just before the sun rose above Hancock Hill, when the sky was just beginning to glimmer, that we have only two words for the sun’s rising: “sunrise” and “dawn” (basically the same stage), but three for its different stages of setting: “dusk”, “sunset”, and “twilight”. There is something poetically disconcerting about that imbalance.

Many other odd imbalances have occurred to me over the past half century, but I don’t recall any of them right now, which is a good thing, because enough is enough, for the time being. It is time to say good night, dear readers.

Happy pondering.

¹”Rabbit trails go here, there, and everywhere, and pretty much tend to lead nowhere. (Have you ever watched a dog sniff out a rabbit trail? It wanders in small then wider circles, around and around, feverishly looking for the rabbit – literally, a meal and, figuratively, the point of one’s argument.) No one knows what’s at the end of a rabbit trail (the point of one’s argument). Is there even an end to it? It’s a confusing maze of pointless leads. In short, a rabbit trail leads (us) nowhere. It serves only to confuse the prey/the reader. It keeps them preoccupied and confused.”  (“Cassiopea” at UsingEnglish.com.)
²Of course I recognize that “curmudgeon” can be used to describe a man, as can the colloquial “grumpus”, but they are not gender-specific, being applicable to a habitually complaining woman as well.

Finis

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