After a long trip from Stoughton to Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ruth and I found ourselves in Fort Oglethorp, Georgia, an army post, now in civilian hands, that housed the 6th Armored division during World War II, but had a history that stretched back to World War I and beyond. The Fort surrounded a large green, which had served as a drill field in the past. Officers housing that rimmed the green reminded me very much of the quarters our family lived in in 1941 at Fort Niagara, New York, when dad was stationed there. Since I grew up on army posts, the view of this place was immensely nostalgic. Many of the officer's quarters had been restored into private residences and Bed and Breakfasts. Our residence for the duration of the reenactment was one such a place, called The Captain's Quarters. The Journal of events follows.
The following speech was given in the dense woods where the Wisconsin 15th had done most of its fighting by Mr. Bye at a memorial service held on September 17, 1999, at the Chickamauga National Military Park near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The service was conducted for the descendants of Colonel Hans Christian Heg and the soldiers of his 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, the famed Scandinavian Regiment:
"We are told that there are still human societies on this planet who, believe it or not, do not have a single word for "WAR," let alone "Civil War," in their vocabulary. We are accustomed to calling such people "primitive." Some of them are said to live in remote arctic areas, and their daily battles for existence are so demanding that they would find it absurd, if not downright ridiculous, to brandish their hunting weapons against human neighbors. Neighbors are needed. They are there to help or be helped, to share to be shared with, in short, they are there to ensure communal survival.
Perhaps, some day far into the new Millennium -- which we are about to enter with much pomp and circumstance -- the rest of mankind might evolve to the same level of common sense, practicality, and civilized behavior as our brethren dwelling among the ice bergs.
For, as we know, except for the two polar ice caps, this globe on which we live has been literally pockmarked with battlefields since time immemorial, and we know all too well that this process of disfigurement continues every minute in many parts of the world as we assemble here at Chickamauga.
With such a profusion of "killing fields" -- old and new -- one might ask: Why do we come here? One answer is simply: Why NOT here, as well as anywhere else?
Chickamauga is a sad place, a tragic place, whether we look at it in retrospect or as part of a pattern that repeats itself throughout human history. We have learned that civil wars are notoriously more fierce, more brutal than other conflicts, with national "families," so to speak, being unable to resolve their domestic differences without drenching their own backyards in the blood of their youth. Most wars that have been raging around us recently, and are still raging as we stand here, in Europe, Africa, Asia, are civil wars, and as in all modern wars the real victims are innocent civilians, old people, women, and children. It is safer to be a soldier than a toddler in any war today, as we approach the new millennium. Today it would seem to make more sense to hand out medals for bravery to grandmothers rather than to generals!
However, it was not safe to be a soldier on either side at Chickamauga. He had no "smart" weapons, no push-button rockets that could hit the enemy from a safe distance, no generals who could fight battles while keeping their own troops out of "harms way." It was dirty, bloody, hand-to-hand combat, more gruesome to the combatants than any entertainment industry can depict for us, or any "reenactors" reenact.
The American Civil War was in many ways a war between Europeans who had brought their problem-solving techniques and traditions with them across the Atlantic. It is safe to say that many of the men on both sides who fought here had left Europe, or hailed from ancestors who had left Europe, for the very purpose of getting away from the endless squabbles and wars and bloodletting on the old continent. They knew full well how young men had been forced -- many of them "shanghaied" by brutal "press gangs" -- to march into battle upon battle for various emperors and kings and rulers and causes of which they understood little or nothing and cared less. What an unexpected surprise and shock it must have been to many of them to have to march into the gunsmoke on fields like this, here in the new, the promised land, where they had wanted to create a new life, in peace for themselves and their families.
That is not to say that the participants were oblivious to the cause for which they were fighting, on either side. Col. Heg certainly had clear ideas about what he was doing, and anti-slavery sentiments were strong in Norwegian and other Scandinavian communities, although there must have been many amongst them who had never seen a slave, or even a black person, for that matter. Many of them, however, may indeed have felt like "half-slaves" at least, well acquainted as they were with the bondage of poverty in the land they had left.
As you know, Col. Heg realized that many of the newly arrived immigrant boys in Wisconsin had little or no mastery of English, and therefore might hesitate to volunteer in the Union Army unless they knew they could march off to war with friends and neighbors of their own background and be commanded by officers who spoke their language. And they did enlist in Heg's regiment, and often gave their companies names after their home districts in Norway, "Valdres Kompani," Vossa-Kompani" and so forth, and chose to have their regimental slogan emblazed on their banner in their mother tongue: For Gud og vort Land" -- For God and Our County," the "Land" of course being the new one they had chosen to live in. In all these years I have felt that I knew these boys and shared their thoughts. They must have looked like the mountain people I meet today in Voss and in Valdres. But in remembering the 15th, we must also realize that thousands of Scandinavian immigrants, or sons of immigrants, enlisted in many other Union regiments.
Most soldiers of Nordic background fought in the Union Army, one reason being simply that they had chosen to settle in Northern territories and states. But there were indeed Scandinavians on the Confederate side as well, Norwegians serving mainly in Texas units. I do not know if Norsemen faced Norsemen on this field; I know they did on other battlegrounds. But it is quite possible that a rebel yell or two may have been emitted somewhere along the lines here as well, in an unmistakable Scandinavian accent.
But we have not come here to glorify war or romanticize an already over-romanticized tragic conflict. We have come here to remember people on both sides who were drawn into momentous events in history, events more often than not far beyond their individual choice or control, or even full comprehension. They were swept into a whirlpool, but did their duty as they saw fit in the time in which they lived. And died.
We have come here because history is important to each and every one of us. For us Norwegians, the story of our countrymen and women who migrated to other lands, is an important and integral part of our national history as a whole. The first great wave of migration to the United States started 175 years ago. But the mountains remember those who left, just as people of Norse heritage here have remembered the "old country." These bonds have been exceptionally strong all these years, perhaps because Norway is a small nation which lost, or contributed, more than 40 percent of her population in the great waves of emigration. We cling to those bonds perhaps more ardently than bigger nations who certainly have far more descendants numerically, if not proportionally, on this continent than we do.
We think today of all the lives, from the South and the North, that were lost on this field of sorrow for so many families all those years ago. We honor Col. Hans Christian Heg and his 15th Wisconsin Regiment. They were volunteers, and indeed we shall be in need of volunteers in the times we are about to enter, volunteers of the same mettle but another outlook, ready to combat poverty, intolerance, racism, violence, greed and indifference, if we are to survive and ultimately be able to erase the word "WAR" from our modern vocabulary. In honoring the Fifteenth we need not indulge in any heroics or lofty oratory, which would only embarrass good people who did what they thought was right. All we need to say is...
Hvil i fred. Rest in peace.
Fjellene minnes. The mountains remember."
About the Author
Erik Bye (pronounced Bee) is an internationally known author and veteran journalist from Norway. Now retired, Mr. Bye's 45-year career earned him the title "the Father of Norwegian Broadcasting." American-born, he has close personal ties to this country and to Wisconsin, where he came as a young student and earned an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which named him one of its Distinguished International Alumni in 1999. Throughout his career as a writer and radio and TV journalist, Mr. Bye has had a keen interest in Scandinavian-American history. He has produced numerous articles and TV series on this subject, as well as on modern American society. One of his books, "Blow, Silver Wind," was written with the late Eric Sevareid, the legendary CBS Television reporter and commentator whose ancestors came from western Norway. In recognition of their careers, both men were awarded Norway's highest honor, the Knight's Cross of the Royal Order of St. Olav. Mr. Bye, who was a member of the Norwegian resistance movement against the Nazis in World War II, has a life-long interest in the history of the America Civil War and the role that Norwegians played in it.
I have a penchant for clergy. I like them. At one time I envied their vocations. I once even started to train myself to be one of them. (Luckily I found my own scepticism before it was too late and terminated my theological career.) I sympathize with their dilemma in this age of unfaith.
My habit, when I can engage one of them in serious conversation, is to catechize them informally and in confidence about the status of their faith. On more than one occasion I have found that a substantial number have enduring problems with the Christian confession. Many of them have rationalized their beliefs to such an extent that in private their faith is hardly normative. One confessed himself an atheist. One priest used me as a sounding-board for his concerns. After a series of conversations with me I read in the newspaper of his later apostasy, and marriage and career as a union agitator and public school music teacher.
I regard pastors like these with a genuinely heartfelt compassion as nearly tragic figures. Here are men and women with a profound spiritual giftedness (if there are gifted people in mathematics and music, there are most assuredly those who are gifted in the spirit); they do not belong in a normative Christian denomination. Because the classic Christianity as we have known it historically, the Church of the Creeds, in the Age of Comparisons is simply not credible, these people of gifts have, simply, no place to go! The Unity Church is too restricted to one tradition and has the texture of pablum. New Age is Orange Juice. The Unitarian Society is hung up on Emerson and Channing far too much and pretty exclusive at that! (Though I know some people who are finding a nice home there, it's too beige for me.) Some of the Eastern traditions require a rather strenuous leap into alien territory that not everyone has the nerve to take, or once there how to assimilate into western i! nflections. So what's a guy to do? There's no deliberate bad faith here. Most in my study have simply evolved away from their nurture. But they are trapped in a difficult situation. The trilogy of novels I've written are a meditation on this subject.
In Karen Armstrong's fascinating book, The History of God, among many other things she discusses Islamic mysticism. I've had a real struggle dealing with my prejudice against Islam, particularly it's recent manifestations. And I have to admit, she helped me out a great deal here. She has a chapter on mysticism in which she examines a variety of them, Jewish and Islamic, particularly. There is some mention of Dionysus Areopagitica in the Christian camp. Her account of these mysticisms, among which the most sophisticated, apparently, are the Islamic, is that they have one similar outcome--an understanding of God as Nothing. No Thing. Beyond all categories and so forth. She mentions both Hinduism and Buddhism in this context! This part of her essay is crucial.
An interesting point emerges here. If much of the most sophisticated in religious tradition ultimately gravitates toward this Nothing, one can certainly see the connection to the Mahayana, and the Vajryana to Emptiness, which, by the way, I think of as the ultimate in the uncertainty principle, and human liberty, and the only proper human response to mystery. There is a connection here, and the post-Nagarjuna Hindu and Buddhist scholastics explicate this to the limit. I remember my own dark night of the soul at the Lutheran seminary I attended. My problem was to reconcile the great chapter On Miracles in David Hume's The Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding with the ringing declarations of faith I was hearing. I failed in this attempt, dimitted, and decamped. It took me nearly twenty-five years to master the confusion Hume left me with. Had I read Nagarjuna at the same time it would have shortened my anxiety immensely.
It took the West until Hume to get to where Nagarjuna started in the first century. We still haven't achieved the sophistication of the 10th Vedic hymn. We're just getting to the Chandyoga Upanishad after three thousand years. I only wish I had read the Mahabharata in college along with Kierkegaard. It would have helped to know, for example, that in the East doubt was an essential center of the mythology. Philosophically we're still light years behind. Even now there are still Realist mathematicians working in France (where else?) attempting to determine whether or not numbers are real and not merely arbitrary signs. Even out of the formal academy (I was a proud high school teacher for 31 years) I knew the distinction between Realist Theology as opposed to nominalist philosophy. Occam rather than Thomas. Normative Christian Theology is realist historically. Ie. that words are real. A kind of platonism. The word God refers to something real and objective history contains h! is redeeming activity.
In the midst of this I discovered the wonderfully healing properties of polytheism. I became fond of the Greek Pantheon. And other pantheons as well. And I learned through Eliade and Campbell to do comparisons. Do polytheisms. I rejoiced in all of them. But I also refused to cathect to the various gods and goddesses that joke up out of F.S.C. Northrop's undifferentiated aesthetic continuum. To make an idol out of anything. Behind all the gods, however, lies the silence. It's what happens when you see through seeing through. One must avoid attachments at all costs and hold to emptiness. It's not possible to be attached to nothing. But if you get stuck on the gods you wind up like those Sri Lankan village priests who spend their time exorcising demons and ratifying good possessions and reading fortunes and the like. Or a fundamentalist getting stuck on Jesus. Or an inerrant text.
We must be about the business of creating new institutions. This could be an interesting experiment in building. But a new religious institution as exoteric as it must present itself to be, must have an esoteric release that the intelligent among us will not be embarrassed to defend. One of the reasons so many intellectuals gravitate toward Buddhism (and the Hinduism that surrounds it, the Taoism to which it is neighbor) lately is that not only because a robust mysticism is at the center of its praxis but that it's scholastic tradition is equal to or greater than (I think greater than) our own Christian, Jewish, Islamic scholastic tradition. It is very demanding. And thankfully enough much of it is beyond us. Which means we still have much work to do. Without this it's very easy to become intellectually lazy. And slip into the Maclainite orange juice that Harold Bloom finds so silly.
We must dethrone the polytheisms and the monotheist tyrannies by using Huston Smith's definition of Ego: a provisional strategy of considerable utility. All the gods can be used for various purposes but must be seen through. Not only, as they say, are they members of the archetypal community as Buddhism and Hinduism, and that they must, however be exorcised...cleansed of their tribalism, but the very process of seeing through them is to sense the emptiness of them in anything but psychological or metaphorical terms. If you see any of the gods on the road, to attain perfect liberation, you must kill them! Not only the Buddha. Or Christ. All of them. To cathect to any item or items on the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum (Northrop's phrase for the Void) is to risk idolatry. I have always advocated this progression: 3) the tangible universe; 2) the archetype; 1) the Void. You can describe 3. You can poeticize 2. You can't say anything about 1. That's where language stops! and silence in the face of mystery begins. It is this only that stops the balkanization of the silliness of multiculturalism.
True multiculturalism begins with comparing "the primary sources" of the ancient axial age; that is to continue the Renasissance by extending our examination of not only Greek and Latin and Hebrew texts but the texts in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese and the documents of the rest of the world as well: a 'vertiginous widening of the historical horizon' as Eliade puts it.
The overwhelming testimony of all the mystical traditions, and all the current literature, and all the current science in its hardest phases, plus every strong instinct each human being cherishes in his relationship to the world, suggests, no requires, that our knowledge of this is inevitable. In fact the only allowable dualism is a provisional one, a bhakti, for the expedient intensification of religious emotion. The Hindus know that. And probably even the most unsophisticated among them, however dimly, understand that what they worship in a concrete form is an illusion. Useful perhaps. But still illusory.
In the non-dual world view polytheism is only a provisional key. The real key is the emptiness behind all the gods. None of the gods are real. They are metaphors. Deep metaphors, yes, but metaphors none-the-less. If getting stuck on one metaphor is bad, I can't see why getting stuck on all of them is any better. To dethrone the terror of one god requires that you dethrone the terror of all them. To unify rationality and emptiness is probably the best hermeneutical tool.
Let him use all the autogenic devices available. Underlining pages. Fishing. Gardening. Sitting. But from a political point of view central to whatever liturgy (yes liturgy and ritual are of terrific import to an exoteric institution working with ordinary folk) is twenty minutes of silence. Not twenty minutes of talk. Too goddamn much talk in Christianity. It's the silence that sets the tone.
I refuse to be trapped into the subjectivity rampant these days. Subjectivity is not truth. The fossils are out there. The comparisons are out there. There are differences in opinions. Between ignorant opinion and informed opinion. There are even warrantable assertions that have a quite high statistical validity. Because you cannot achieve what used to be called absolute truth is no reason to give up the game. Subjectivity is Truth is a program for fanatics, that kind of subjectivity is precisely what Heidegger thought so poisonous. You can't call yourself anything the hell you want because that is what has created our hells. Particularly: Wisser: Do you see a social mandate for philosophy? Heidegger: No!--In this sense, one cannot speak of a social mandate. If one wants to answer this question, one must first ask: "What is Society?"; one must ponder upon the fact that today's society is only an absolute image of modern subjectivity; therefore, a philosophy which ha! s overcome the standpoint of subjectivity may not join in the discussion at all. Martin Heidegger in Conversation, p 39
Kierkegaard said: subjectivity is truth. I say: subjectivity is ignorance.
All experience must be carefully observed, compared, tested, rationally assessed. Faith, as has been pointed out, is "confidence born of experience." Unless rational principles are introduced into this discourse "your opinion is as good as mine." That is hopeless! (With the rise of intellectually disciplined non-squares, non-puritans who would absorb and transmit the primary sources unsanctimoniously... there may well come a time when rational mysticism is generated by modern people.... A rational mysticism is not a contradiction in terms; it is a mysticism whose LIMITS ARE SET BY REASON: a quest for the zero experience without any concomitant claim to world-knowledge, special wisdom, or special morality. These latter three must be directly generated by reason, and reason only. Leopold Fischer, Light at the Center, p 234 (emphasis added)
There are such things as ignorant and informed opinions. Without rational controls the horrifying subjectivity that Heidegger warned against will engulf us. That's the sort of thing that occurs in all ideological camps--think of Nazi Germany. Ignorance is NOT bliss!
The carelessness with which people today cherish private untested opinions about very nearly everything can't be tolerated in the spirituality of the future. Names are referents. They point to things we can agree upon. They are useful in that sense. Don't fret about invoking the Uncertainty Principle in language. That's a given not to be feared. There's an awful lot of very hard-nosed thinking that must be employed. Particularly in the coming ecocosmos (that cosmic vision in which all things are interconnected) needs not only the intuition of paticca samputpada, but the whole scientific and literary enterprise carefully understood in all its complicated methodology and detail. You can CALL yourself a turkey or a unicorn but that won't make you be one.
The empiricist 'roots out' the etiologies and take 'no half-way measures' in doing so is only to apply rational rigor to religious discourse. Try Eliade here: "to what degree can the 'profane' become 'sacred,' and to what degree is a radically secularized existence, without god or gods, capable of constituting the point of departure of a new type of religion?" I think this means that cathecting on the totality of polytheisms is confusion not freedom. Realizing emptiness means not the death of religion, but a freeing oneself from all authority, including religious authority. A scientific approach that. Rationality is also a provisional tool. Damned useful one. The liberation that realizing emptiness evokes connections with rational processes negates the confusions of polytheism. In that both Luther and I call Wm. of Occam 'my father Occam,' one may call me Lutheran, but Luther and I part company on the definition of faith. Not Grace. But Faith (I've already indicated my favorite definition.) Faith can be understood to be rooted in the grace of the zero event . Faith, Grace, reason, and ecstasy exist on a continuum. Grace also indicates that the zero event often happens by accident and underlies all experience whether or not it is recognized. Everyone is a Buddha but not all people are awake. Emptiness is Grace without language.
I also am a Jefferson democrat, a Tory Liberal, a populist-progressive, a libertarian Democrat. For the same reason that Jefferson was. He compared mythologies. Emptied them of ideology. All with wonderful Jeffersonian Enlightenment reason. I can certainly tolerate without espousing the radical wing of the Democratic party, because even feminism in its bad forms has some persuasive argument, but must be ultimately rooted in the tolerance of the Bill of Rights. So I can tolerate the occasional ignorance on the part of the Buddhist ungifted at the exoteric level because I am confident that all of Buddhism is rooted in Sunya and Karuna. Emptiness and Compassion. So Geshe Sopa is foolish. The Dalai Lama is not. So the Tara is just a part of the story as one of the many Bodhisattvas, and that even the Sakyamuni Buddha is but one emanation of the Heruka Buddha. It's enough to counter our worst ideological impulses. To begin with the uncertainty principle as the Voidness of lang! uage demands (which is solidly grounded in what we know as the scientific method) is a perfectly marvelous way to empty ideology of all sorts of its terror and create a perfectly lovely set of political conclusions. I think, moreover, true democracy that like ours at least attempts to diffuse and balance power depends on it. So far I have not seen anything in these arguments that is superior to the radical methodology of the Buddhist thinkers (which, by the way, includes and envelops exoteric polytheism on the esoteric level). And don't we need the intellectual contexts that are not an embarrassment to the Greeks? If there is to be a radical reform, certainly.
Another way of saying Truth is One and knowable (Mortimer Adler quoting Aristotle) is that Mystery, the Unanswerable (why is their something rather than nothing?) pervades everything. All the time. Not just on Tuesdays. That's why silence in ritual is essential. Truth is one and knowable but not entirely speakable.
I may also be a Lutheran in that I have a taste for grand liturgies. That's why, I suppose, I am fond of the Tibetans. That is why, I'm sure, my ABC Center in the Maitreya is so formal liturgically. Actually the ABC Center is Episcopal. I knew that when I was writing about it. I stepped back from my own invisible mythologies long ago!
As to the Christian mythology. Monotheism has been killing us psychologically for twenty-five hundred years! A plague on all their houses? The tragic flaw of our western monotheisms has been to abolish the unconscious. Noah floats in the ark of opposites and never, like Gilgamesh, plunges into the abyss. That's why Noah turns into a drunk and curses his children. In its Latin version. Mystics have always been persecuted by the orthodox in the West. The zero event is normative in the East. By their fruits ye shall know them. Early Christianity? With the Thomas material? With the Q documents? With the Jesus Seminar? No one has the slightest idea what Jesus was all about. The so-called early traditions and their communities of faith all had their special agendas. It's a pity that the gnostics didn't win out. But given the way humans are in the West they had no chance. That's why it's so important to quash the ugly tradition of Realist theology. It's been killing us. The holo! caust is the logical out come of Christian Sacred History. You can SEE it in Schindler's List. We desperately need alternatives to survive. That I know.
Kunze's HIGH ROAD TO THE STAKE describes the witchcraft trials in Bamberg from 1601 and on. The language to describe the witches, their demonic possession as the minions of Satan, their danger to Christian Europe is exactly the same language the anti-semites used later against the Jews. The Nazi's picked it up in the name of the purified Aryan race of Europe. Unfortunately the Slavs and Gypsies and homosexuals also lost out. And prophet Hitler (one of the great shadow-christs if there ever was one) as it has been argued may in fact be the one single man in human history who has caused the most in human suffering.
The 4th Sura of the HOLY KORAN uses that language also to condemn the Jews, though there have been moments in Islamic-Judaic history of mutual accommodation. Not now, however. This time isn't one of them.
And, irony of all ironies, the Hebrew condemnation of the native cosmic and mother rite religions of the Palestine they destroyed once before:
And he said, "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with you. 'Observe what I command to you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither you go, lest it become a snare in the midst of you. You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their groves (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a Jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they play the harlot after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and one invites you, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daugh! ters for your sons, and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make your sons play the harlot after their gods. Exodus 34: 10-17
A sentiment that Bernie Goldstein and my former student David Ramati would enthusiastically endorse. (A fact remains: that the Palestinians on the West Bank have to this day have suffered more fatalities than the Israelis, the reprehensibility of their own brand of Islamic fanaticism notwithstanding.)
Mircea Eliade meditated once on the source of religious intolerance. He describes the God of the Abrahamic faiths as having been modeled after the High Kings of its own time, sitting isolated in his heaven having banished the multiple divinities of good psychological health and nature, ruling with a single arm the details of the cosmos: Yahweh is alone....The intolerance and fanaticism...of the prophets and missionaries of the three monotheisms have their model and justification in Yahweh's example. HORI I, p 181.
As I watched the Schindler, my Lutheranism and my apostasy toward the Buddhist method was centered somewhere in my flesh and I didn't THINK about these matters, I saw them. I SAW them as clearly as I have ever seen and felt anything in my life. Since I saw the film it has been impossible to shake the images it left me with even at this distance. I don't think any of us will ever get over it...nor will I ever erase from my own living memory of what the cities of Europe looked like even after two years in 1947 as a ten year old child when from my train I contemplated the empty bombed out buildings of Heidelburg and the fire-puckered mutilated hands and arms of a shepherd boy pulling out cigarette butts from the floor of our army bus in Schweinfurt. (All tobacco was a precious black market commodity in post-war Germany. Until Erhard's currency change in the wirtshaftwunder in 1947. My chaplain father paid the string trio with cigarettes for their work in his chapel. They w! ouldn't take money.)
Why do I see the holocaust in religious rather than power terms. I don't. I see it as both. Since power in the West has almost always been connected with ideology. I think you'll find that Hannah Arendt agrees with this. I think it to be true. I know viscerally. Three cheers for Gregory of Nyssa and all the Moores. Like I say, I wish they had won. However if you forget about the creeds as containing absolute truth and regard them as summaries of the Old and New Testament, they're pretty accurate. As summaries. The Bible is a pretty orthodox book. Let's not fool ourselves. It would be lovely if the whole church were like gnostic Christianity or the Unity people and follow Origen's lead in symbolic interpretation. But alas. The valorization of history is in the Bible, normative to the Bible. But no single symbol system is adequate to describe, or suggest the ultimate Nothing. The quarrel I have with Christian myth is central. The way its single song is played is that it is! uncomplemented by the rest of the symphony. The atheism gnostic Christians and I refer to about is qualitatively different than the so-called atheism of the early Christians. Zeus, Rama, Yahweh, do not exist. That's our atheism. These are characters in books. If you think of God, however, as the name for the ultimate mystery of existence itself, then I don't BELIEVE in god. Like Jung I know. We stand in the midst of that mystery every millisecond of our lives. But so does the death of the Buddha of old age. I see flaws in both of them taken singly, the Christian bloody valorization of violence probably the most serious. Why isn't it possible to regard that one set of myths in union may have a greater adequacy for these troubled times as over against another. I think of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and the Hopi way this way and can find no fault in this. In plain terms Christianity taken alone whether in myth or history is not adequate to these violent times. I'm surprised anyone would use defensi! ve arguments against tha t essential idea.
This applies as rigorously to the Theosophists. There is nothing so annoying as reading the hopeless orange juice of any theosophical treatise. There's no rigor there. None in any of the Maclainite style. Of course we can "admit our spiritual poverty...." OUR MYTHOLOGY IS INVISIBLE TO US. Step back. Look. Do we think of our scientific cosmologies as classical cosmologies? They are. Do we think as the history of literature and art since Gilgamesh as dissections of Maya, as Eliade calls it? That's what it is! Is this a poverty? Dante, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Melville, Joyce, Eliot, Mann and all in between a poverty? By no means! Is the western discovery of Buddhism a poverty? Absolutely not, particularly by those isolated, alienated individuals who know the western ideologies have carried the idea of individualism to the point, literally, of madness, and are seeking interconnection, community, a modest objectivity. Remember that there is ! no mythic content to Buddhism at its highest level. At the exoteric level, well that's another story.....
This is why with all the passion I can muster if we are revolutionize the spirit of the west, all the etiologies described above must be rooted out. No half way measures will do. Why do we confine ourselves to just these stories? Why not Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist texts indeed? Well, there you have it.
KEEP IN MIND THAT IF WE ARE TO BUILD AN INSTITUTION CERTAIN POLITICAL DECISIONS ARE IN ORDER
In part that means to keep it's identity clear and do it by name. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone makes Buddhism into 'one tradition.' Buddhism as I understand it is the religion before religion. It the religion of no religion. It is the religion which supersedes and abolishes all Religion. It is the religion which abolishes all religious authority. Just the ticket for individualistic Americans seeking community. Don't be afraid of the name.
If a new community is to be formed it shall have to be rooted in Nothing and Compassion, with a challenging scholastic tradition (just to keep things interesting), with all the metaphors of the total religious tradition available for various counseling and therapeutic purposes and pretty damn universal to boot. Eliade has invalidated all parochiality. Part of that scholastic tradition, by the way, is Eliade's own History of Religious Ideas. That should keep us busy enough.
Political conclusions are inevitable. To use the phrase 'intellectual tyranny' is another example of name calling and therefore another logical flaw. Is it intellectual tyranny that experimentation and observation in science impels rational people to come to some agreement (even if one invokes the uncertainty principle) on how the world works? How can there be any intellectual tyranny when one is focused on the Void. On Mystery. On what that from which language (here's your real source of tyranny!) turns back. There's no danger on describing what philosophers like John Dewey call warrantable assertions (ie tentative and correctable utterances) on Darwin's evolutionary model, or Newtonian Mechanics, or the newer standard model in physics. Indeed that's health.
If the name offends you, change it. Buddha means one who is awake. So call it the Awakener's Society. Or something. (Enlightenment Society won't do. It smacks too much of the German Friegemeindt) The question as to whether or not the west can become Buddhist can be answered by another question: Can a westerner meditate? I like Academy. But I also like Retreat. One of the things I dreamed about last night--and a very curious dream it was, having to do with a Center such as we have been discussing with monkish cells in a locale not unlike Jefferson's Monticello (a perfect synthesis, when you come to think of it)--and Hillary Clinton and Chelsea taking a Balloon Ride! Over Appleton yet. (You figure it out, I can't)--was of the political necessity to create a global synthesis and not to just pull something out of the hat of Western cultural history. Because if you do that all you do is to ratify again the western ethos. That simply will not work. Not if we are to create a w! orkable ecocosmos that d oes in fact create a radical departure from the western barbaric way of doing things. If we don't do that I think the planet is doomed. I mean that. The Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Abrahamic Technologies are killing us. How about Western Retreat Academy? It has the smell of cowboy adventure about it. You don't have to Call it Buddhist. But if realizing emptiness is the religion before all religion it will be Buddhist in practice.
There is a giant poem called All Poem. Each separate language participates in that poem. Within it each language has its giant poem called English Poem or German Poem or Japanese Poem. Within each of these poems are the poems you or I or Faulkner or Shakespeare or Homer or Dante write. I have a giant Fortney Poem. Each poem I write is a part of that Fortney Poem. And the Fortney Poem is a part of the English Poem which is a part of the All Poem. And I never get it all down. That's why I write so much. Because I never get it all down. In the same way each generation of writers do not get the whole poem of the language down because that poem is too immense. But each generation must rewrite Shakespeare, Dante, Aeschelus over again for each generation and its place. Myth is metaphor. All myth is indeed true as all poems are true--in their contexts. An old myth must be rewritten; but now we have access to the myth or the poems of the All Poem. Ignore that Eliade fact at our! peril! (There are poems , myths, literature, by the way, which history has departed. In that context only all myths are lies!) All of us speak, in our present, but our language and places differ. What we reach for now is the age of comparison taken to the limit. That places a greater responsibility for those who sing. We can't ignore that either.
I think there is a misunderstanding on my relation to the exoteric. The creation of a new institution is clearly a POLITICAL act. I could not have a careless relation to the exoteric and seek out lyric images for poems and event metaphors for stories. There's a delicate balancing act here. A new institution which will attract those which hunger after eternal blessedness (Kierkegaard was fond of that phrase) must in fact begin exoterically. Particularly if one is alienated from one's natal orthodoxy. (Why would anyone seek otherwise?) So it is essential to begin this Academy of Buddhist Chatauquas with something concrete. The Greek Pantheon can be part of the enterprise. However it cannot, must not stop, there. The disaster of Christian history is it's systematic denial and brutal suppression of its esoteric potentialities. (As Eliade says (HORI III, p 45) "...The definitive condemnation of Origen deprived the church of...opening Christian Theology, with other systems of r! eligious thought....With all its audacious implications, the vision of Apokatastasis (the restoration of all things in a return to original perfection) ranks among the most magnificent of eschatological creations." ) Conversely, The strength of an esoteric tradition is its exoteric function. Christianity, which has suppressed its esoteric function, has numerous fanatical and ignorant defenders, without the safety-valve of a secret tradition. The only way to health for this Academy is to place the exoteric function solidly within an esoteric matrix. Indeed most major religions on the planet have an exoteric function for the laity, and an esoteric function for its mystics and for the especially adept.
(Except most Christianity because central to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history as its central mythological truth is to valorize the events of history. History at its very outset is to be taken to mean that historical events are not to be understood for their esoteric potentialites but as literally the revelation of God A truth? All interpreted myth is invalid myth. A warrantable assertion. To broaden the word Christian to include Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics and Jews simply won't do! A Muslim would be deeply offended. I would be deeply offended. A Buddhist is not a Christian. The logic is there and can be diagrammed. However if I were to sit down with the mystics of all those traditions and focus on the zero-event experience, I'll bet you a dog and a pony that the conversation would be lively and utterly non-defensive. And since The Buddha was a Hindu. Hinduism happens to espouse a theology in which the mystical experience is doctrinally crucial and orth! odox, one would find a f alling away of all exoteric mythic exclusivity and perhaps the God above God who may just be Brahman or the Void and who cannot be rendered into language would finally have a chance.)
Like Joe Campbell. I hate the religions of the Book. I hate what they have done to us. That is an essential part of the politics of God's funeral, the politics of the new synthesis centered in silence and mystery.
Buddhists as a rule tend to be more tolerant than doctrinaire Christians. Or Jews. Or Muslims. One of my former students is a guy named David Ramati (his real name is Tim Bratvold) who has been on TV many times in the last weeks as one of the radicals of Kiryat Arba and has gained international fame these last few weeks as a Jewish Convert who wants to kill Palestinians. His friend, David Goldstein, did. Thirty Nine of them. Tim, who runs a shooting range for a living, trained his friend, the good doctor, who has been made into a saint....for killing Arabs......yes. By their Fruits Ye shall know them?
My antichristianity screeches very loud.
That means that all Exoteric Mythologies--the whole library of exoteric metaphors have hidden behind them the mystical rapture. But: One esoteric truth is more precious than innumerable exoteric doctrines. Rosary XX (4); and For one of superior intellect, the best thing is to have thorough comprehension of the inseparableness of the knower, the object of knowledge, and the act of knowing...the best meditation is to remain in mental quiescence ...knowing that the meditator, the object of meditation, and the act of meditating constitute an inseparable unity. Rosary XX (3), (6), (9)
The true meaning of the alchemical quest embodied in the attempt to transform base metals into gold is to find the gold of the Spirit in the base metal of the Flesh. That is the quest is the quest for the eternal. It is a spiritual quest. However many medieval alchemists didn't see that. To them gold was gold. Material riches obsessed them. They experimented. Accidentally they invented chemistry. And then gunpowder. I have no problem with symbols. Even Christian ones. Since there are really no such things as purely Christian symbols. That would be to make exclusive claims again. And that has already poisoned our history enough. We agree on the power of Lenten Symbols. They are a useful way to note the pilgrim's progress. The dark night of the soul. But so also are the 10 Ox-herding pictures. And others I'm sure. Do you REALLY believe that an ecuminical dialog is possible? On the level of agape-caritas-karuna, yes. Cooperation in good works, of course. But the post-wittg! enstein, buddhist, hindu , taoist understanding of the referential nature of language in creeds and the normative christian belief in them is absolutely worlds apart. I had an argument on this very subject with my Zen priest in Miharu, Sokyu Hashimoto. He at first said all the usual polite things about international understanding and ecumenical dialog. But as we got into it he became candid. Of course the way Orthodox Christianity (and I'm not talking about just the fundamentalists here) uses doctrine is antithetical? Modern's can never buy into the process. That's why the Church is dying. There's a wholesale exodus of intellectuals embarrassed by its literalism. And a Church cannot survive without its intellectuals.
If this Academy (yes, I recognize the Aristocles!) is to flourish it must keep a clear focus on both its esoteric and exoteric functions. To decide on some vehicle (Alex Comfort's Navayana) of Buddhism is therefore an essential political strategy, however provisional it is. If the esoteric is diminished or neglected, the way to fundamentalism is opened. That is, to become too attached to the metaphors of world religion. That is a peculiarly Western problem. With an esoteric outlet that stuff can't happen because all things become metaphors again. Therefore potentially helpful. The Quakers aren't Christian. If anything, they're zen christians. And even some of them talk too goddamn much! The function of poetry: transparency to transcendence is to MAKE you silent. To point to the unspeakable. In any case the outcome is silence. At the center of all real liturgies is meditation.
And it is quite impossible to become attached to the esoteric. Attached to No Thing? Attached to nothing? The Void? Lovely isn't it, the absolute liberty of that. It's the perfect religious abolition of religion that the best in Buddhism does so well. There aren't any doctrines. In the same way that the ego is a provisional tool so is nondualism. I would rather use the zen term. Nondual. Monism is a THING. Nondualism is the helplessness of language pointing to no thing.
A doctrinaire buddhist in the esoteric sense is a contradition in terms. An esoteric christian is no longer a christian.
The way is open for us to write the Fortney Poem to accurately embody in part the All Poem. Truth is One and Knowable (Aristotle and (angels of mercy defend us) Mortimer Adler), but not entirely speakable (my addition). We'll never finish this work.
The only decent cosmologies are scientific ones. And when faced with the question: Why is there something rather than nothing? are also reduced to silence. Science is a finger as scriptures are fingers. Why would anyone want me to worship fingers? I can't even WORSHIP anything when in a state of ecstasy, in the silence awe brings. There's just an incredible....openness.
"You have but one choice," he (Abbot Redenius) said mildly but firmly. "Psychologize or abandon this primitive thinking. Throw it away. It is dangerous and harmful. But I know very well you won't do that.....Judging and condemning the heathen is worked into the very fabric of your world-view. Can't you see why our mission has become so important lately? If you have any sense of this at all, you might just as well," (here he paused and smiled sardonically), "pitch the whole mess out, and come on over and join us!" Maitreya, Chapter 11.
But on the long ride home later (after a long sojourn in England), I have occasion to think seriously about this experience. Time is the air we've gone a-flying in. The puzzles about time occur to me: When I think about time I don't understand it; when I experience it I do. The artifacts and places we've seen certainly evoke it: the wonderful ancient houses, the Vigeland statuary, the beauty of eastern Norway, the incredible rocky verdance of Fortunsdal--everything we saw testifies that there existed in some mysterious way a past that innumerable ancestors once lived with, though where it has gone we don't know. Time may be a function of our own inner life. So as I stood with Tom and Ruth Ann in the Fortun Stavkirke in Bergen, or tried to mentally photograph forever the old farmstead in the mountains, I descended into myself somehow and found resonances there enhanced by learning--the books I've read, the music I've heard, the art I've seen, the stories....
But I still don't know what Time is. I do know this, however. Even the place names we came across in our new homeland, Norway, are evocative of the uncanny layers we've been traveling through: Jonsrud, Lund, Smestad, Bjornstad, Hagen, Lerdahl, Bjerke, Moen, Borgen, Hvam, Strommen, Berge, Kaupanger, Ylvisaker, Bergum, Dregne, Fortun, Peterson, Berkeley, Mennes, Eide, Bjordahl, Aurland, Slinde....
We're on the way from that Norway to the little Norwegian town in America we've lived in most of our lives; and those names we've grown up with are in its telephone book and are even friends, some of them. It appears we have gone home on two levels simultaneously, separate but interlocked....
3:49 Chicago time. Smooth flight.
4:20 Chicago time. Just had tea.
Descent to Chicago: 4:55.
On the ground at 5:30. We missed the first Alco Bus and will have to wait until 7:00. At 9:30 we are in Janesville. Brother and sister-in-law David and Betty Covington pick us up and we talk as rapidly as we can (fearful of forgetting anything?) about the trip on the way home. We've been gone for thirty-three days. Every minute of the trip has been exciting but I noticed a few flashes of fatigue on the last leg. Even the journal writing gets a bit hurried now and then.
We enter Stoughton. We are tired. We are home. This has been a glorious trip.
We were happy to go. But glad to be back in our own house. To be home: it was about time,
to be back, I think.
In my first year as a student at the University, the month of March brought an epiphany. I remember that I was walking down from Bascom Hill toward the Union and was on the sidewalk that curved around Science Hall. It was a cool, cloudy day. I hit a certain square of sidewalk and the flash came: How much I have changed!
I had entered the University at Madison as an undistinguished high school graduate from Muskegon, Michigan. But by March I had had enough experience with the University to have been deeply affected by the learning offered by courses and professors there. And that day I became aware that knowledge changes one. I had changed.
The following years at the same time in March as I walked toward the Union on that same stretch of sidewalk, without having thought of the past and on that same square of cement would come much to my surprise: "How much I have changed." Again. When I was a senior, came the gift again. But this time the experience was particularly intense, since again when out of the blue the memory came, but for four years rather than just one. I regarded these surprises, these revelations with a certain deep gratitude. Education changes one. That was clear. Sensing the common experience of that wonderful community of scholars who through their various disciplines seemed to have common assumptions. Rationality. Science. Literature. Openness. A solid sense of Time in history. A world scope.
My wife and I recently spent a month in Greece and Turkey. This was a classical antiquities tour. And food. We ate a lot of really healthy Mediterranean food. We also visited many ruins from the classical period. Sounium. The Acropolis. The Ancient Agora. Mycenae. Olympia. Delphi. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Ephesus. Many more. When one has read so much of these places all one's life, the actual experience of them is that much more intense. Here are two examples. In the ruins of Ephesus, at the theater there, I was able to stand in roughly the same spot that St. Paul stood 2000 years ago as he addressed the townspeople of that city. His mission failed there. He was shouted down by the silversmiths, who could tell that the Gospel Paul was preaching would be bad for business (see Acts 19:21-41). I thought, so unlike our time, when the faith has been debased to serve as the handmaiden of the Market, and the absurd unity of Christ and Capitalism in modern C! onservative politics is almost complete.
Even more intense was our visit to the Ancient Agora of Athens. An agora is an open market that serves as a place of gathering where the men of the city discuss philosophy, politics, drama, poetry. This was the university of the ancient city. My favorite philosopher, Socrates, spent almost all of his time here. As Ruth and I, with our friend Sandra, walked through the place, savoring the fabulous ruins of the Temple of Ares, the Stoa of Attalos, the Library, and the nearly intact Temple of Hephaestus and so many others, we could almost see the ancients walking, discussing, establishing those ideas that changed the Western world. I could sense the presence of Socrates himself. In my mind I greeted him at every corner. When in our minds with the help of schematics we rebuilt the ruins to their original shapes here and in so many other places in Greece and Turkey we could begin to sense how utterly magnificent this classical culture was.
In Seluk, after having visited the wonders of Ephesus, our tour guide took us up Bylbyl Mountain to visit the Chapel of the Virgin Mary. We were told that St. John (who is supposedly buried in a cathedral ruin here) brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, here. She lived until she died in a small stone hut, on the foundations of which had been built a small chapel--which, since Pope John Paul II has visited here twice, is a major pilgrimage site for devout Catholics. Besim Amado, our guide, a non-practicing Shephardic Jew, told us to expect to visit a holy place. Both Christians and Muslims venerate Mary. We entered the small chapel. The place was packed with worshippers on their knees. We lit our candles. Faced the small altar which had a statue of the Virgin on it. The feelings of piety was intense. People of all kinds, men and women, young and old, on their knees, crossing themselves, in rapt adoration of the Virgin. One could not help but be deeply affected in a place lik! e this.
I happened to know that Ephesus was a major site of the goddess Diana. There was a great temple here. In 432, a Church Council at Ephesus declared that Mary was the mother of God and had been taken bodily into heaven. In that same year occurred many instances of the overthrow of paganism, the announcement of The Great God Pan is Dead! sounding loudly out to sea from Capo Circeo in Italy, St Patrick expelling all serpents from Ireland. And others. And the destruction of the Temple of Diana in Ephesus and the establishment of the cult of the Virgin. The Goddess is overthrown. And restored. As a Christian Goddess.
I knew that Mary had probably never come here. These are myths. Helen, the mother of Constantine announced this some 300 years after her death. She also identified many sites in Jerusalem as holy to the Church. There is no evidence that Mary had ever lived in a stone hut on this site. That the Ancient Latin Church announced these things to co-opt the cult of Diana and assimilated it into the Cult of the Virgin. But none of this mattered to the pious here. I left the Chapel at the front of the the narthex. I turned. I caught the eye of a woman on her knees as she was crossing herself. She looked away. Self-conscious. Piety of that kind doesn't need reason. Doesn't need history. Reason doesn't matter.
In Athens I sat on a stone wall in front of the Temple of Apollo Patroos. My feet were sore. I was tired after much walking. Some of the attendants in the Agora saw me, and asked me to move. To not sit there. I finished saying hello, to Socrates, to Plato, to Pericles, to the great tragic playwrights, all the sophists whose pretensions that Socrates destroyed simply by asking them questions. I clambered off that stone wall. I didn't want to disturb those ruins any more than necessary.
And then I remembered stepping on that square of sidewalk at the University in Madison. Our Athens. And as I exclaimed, How much I have changed! I sensed that I was surrounded by Greeks! The two hard surfaces were united.
Our modernism is Greek. It does not need the kind of ignorant piety that invents a past for the mother of Jesus, or treasures the relics of the Prophet, the staff of wood that was supposed to be the staff of Moses, the leg bones of John the Baptist we saw in the Topkapi in Istanbul, assigning to Saddam a threat far in excess to reality as a Satan of the Axis of Evil, and the mad impulse toward war we should not fight, and the invention of a past for our founding fathers who have falsely been given a devotion to a fundamentalist Christianity that they most certainly did not have.
Reason. Evidence. Rational History. World scope, the Greek and Modern intellectual life are infinitely preferable, even if these suffer the contempt of the pious, ancient and modern.
And how much that changes us!
I've always said that I never know how I feel until I write a poem; or how I think until I write a novel. In this note I am working out for myself a perspective that I think is important for the understanding of the Passing of Shadows Trilogy. How I think. This essay has been a difficult and complicated undertaking. But worth it to me as I do not know when I have enjoyed myself so much in the making of stories.
My father was not a presence in the upbringing of his three sons. He was off fighting our Nation's wars in both the Eastern (Pearl Harbor) and Western (Normandy, Belgium, and Norway) theaters, earning battle stars in both, and decorated by King Haakon with the Norwegian Medal of Honor for his part in the liberation of that country (he was Chief of Chaplains there). I remember much of this. I am that old.
All three of his sons in his absence in different ways became bookish. We read till our eyes fell out. After he returned to civilian life in 1949, the church offices in his parsonages (including our houses in Germany and Austria after the war) were filled with books. We had upper class advantages (though while Europe as part of the occupation army because of his army rank we actually had servants), in a working class household economically. As a reader I was particularly obsessive. My mother, who died some twenty eight years after my father's death in 1968--his death I think of a broken heart at the death of his youngest son in Viet Nam--told me that if I read so much there must be a time when I must give back what I have learned. She also occasionally became troubled at my rather constant veering to polemic and satire (Why do you laugh so much at everything?), though she herself had an exquisite comical bent and laughed at almost everything herself. She was one of the m! ost wondrously satirical women I've ever known. She also used to say, It's one thing to criticize but you must be positive too. And then she, as the daughter of a Lutheran Scholar, sister of a Lutheran Pastor, and the wife of a Lutheran Pastor and Chaplain would quote Luther: You must put the best construction on all that your neighbor does, from the Small Catechism, out of which my brothers and I and our sister were confirmed. This comment on my Trilogy attempts to satisfy both of her conditions regarding my intellectual life.
There are several leitmotifs involved in these three books. Among them are God and Goddess mythology, the battle between, and the reconciliation of, the male and female principles. The imaginative possibility of having a Buddhist rather than a Christian underlayment to our national life is also imagined. There is an earnest desire on the part of these characters to redefine the human religious experience as an all out war against dualistic thinking in favor of a non-dual world view. Part of this is a serious polemic against the conservative weltanschaungs (all dualistic and exploitative) of normative and fundamentalist Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths; and the politics and economics they have spawned. (It is pointless to try to understand a culture without uncovering its religious presuppositions.) Deconstruction won't do because no one reads or cares about those texts at the popular level. Well, few enough will read this trilogy because it is difficult and works in! such large themes, but the polemic may bring welcome unwelcome attention. (My real target audience is those bright folk both in and out of the academy who might have been tempted by a conservative world view but have felt that the old Liberalism with its offshoot Political Correctness either too weak or too foolish to adopt without embarrassment. Reimagining and valorizing Buddhism as a larger presence in our national life is a third way.) Polemics and satire are after all a more effective literary technique than deconstruction because it is more more confrontational and therefore more polarizing. I have already been publicly slammed for my novel The Thomas Jesus. Journalists love to do that sort of stuff.
The characters in these books are all alienated, deracinated, individuals--Strangers in Campbell's term--who are nevertheless earnest seekers after new symbols of transformation, new avenues for an action, a warrior, a more soul satisfying faith. They try to transcend the postmodern world and enter what Harold Bloom speculates to be a New Age of Faith with its gnosis firmly rooted in science, literature, the history of thought. This is the antithesis of the Age of Doctrine and the Doctrines of Deconstruction and its silly spawn Postmodernism. We may not know exactly where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, but we can assume it was at an actual concrete place. That we find it difficult to know exactly where he spoke is no reason to assume that all investigation is pointless, and therefore that we can know nothing at all except to critique the language so called knowledge is inset. This can be called the solipsism of language. I believe it was Arthur Schopenhauer wh! o said that Solipsism wa s like a large undermanned fortress on a frontier: too strongly defended to be taken, but too weak to prevent an army to simply ignore and by-pass it.
By the same token the works of such groups and scholars as the Jesus Seminar attempting to tease out of the sources some notion of what the historical Jesus might have been like is a perfectly legitimate project scientifically grounded in the disciplines of textual criticism, in spite of the fact that we may not gain very much about that for sure either. The Jesus Seminar, of which I have been an Associate since 1995, is the Christian version of the struggle toward a new Age of Faith. The scientific bias of this group lies in the fact that it can tolerate uncertainties about its exegesis and hermeneutic. A gnosis united to the scientific method permits us to embrace the Negative Capability of Keats: "that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Negative Capability is the Uncertainty Principle of Literature. The scientific method thus proclaims that its findings are always tentative (tho! ugh in some areas with a high degree of probability) subject to experiment and correction. Science is a large, self-correcting mechanism that inches closer and closer to the truth. Its Buddhist inflection is an agnostic proclamation in the face of the mystery of Being: "Don't know," in the words of the late Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki. Embracing the emptiness of language. The enlightenment experience is a datum. But not much in ordinary language can be said about it. Nature does not speak English. The language of the Spirit in poetry and art is at best transparent to transcendence. Faith and Liberalism grounded in both science and gnosis (which Mircea Eliade identified as the Princeton Gnosis) with a healthy respect for the wickedness, alienation, and sinfulness of man and the Terror of History is a third option. This is the shape of a New Age of Faith.
The heart of The Gazebo is its Chapter 9. And the interplay of characters that lead up to it. The story begins with a group in rebellion against their orthodoxies, experimenting with the gnostic underlayment to all they do and that they have become sensitive to. They discover that a skeptical mysticism, gnosis, is as American as apple pie, traceable to our Native American roots, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson and all who follow. (Contemporary literature is full of such stuff.) Though these figures are not mentioned directly, the focus on The Wizard of Oz which can be read as a Buddhist tract, and The Christmas Carol, (both exegeted in The Gazebo) which can be read as the biography of the Buddha, the language of this kind of subversive spirituality is deeply imbedded in English speaking and American experience. This is not to mention that Eastern ways of thinking since WW II are part of the air we now breathe.
The heart of Chapter 9 is a Chautauqua (with Theodore Christofferson as it's mystagogue) which is the fusion of the mythologies of Christ with those of Kali. Kali is asserted to be the shadow of Christ. This has heretofore been a neglected insight to the evils of Western history generally and Christianity in particular. One can trace the language of Hitler's anti-Semitism directly to the words used in the Bamberg witch trials in 1601 (see Kunze's High Road to the Stake), wherein the language of anti-Semitism has its origins in the lethal misogyny of the witch hunts), and following, to the pogroms of the Medieval Church, to the Crusades, to the often bloody doctrinal battles of the early Church (read Book VI of Gibbon, his history of the trinitarian controversies, for that full story), to the Gospel of Matthew--wherein the Jews are fatally labeled as deicides. The historical Jesus according to the majority of scholars uncaptured by the restrictive dogmas of the Normative ! Church hold that Jesus n ever identified himself as the Christ, as the Messiah. Jesus is blameless. The Church of Christ is not. The Church is the primary agency of this horrendous calamity. The power of Kali in this chapter is an attempt to uncover the power of the Goddess in its most horrific aspect and that it is the unacknowledged demon of the Christ mythology. A separate Satan is not needed, since Satan in the view of the non-dual thinker is already fused with Christ.
The interplay of the characters of this novel consists of a long dance of the relations between men and women culminating with the adulterous lovemaking between Theo and Hannah. For men, the power of women, of Woman, has been approached with fear and trembling. With dread. Much of the hostility of the War between the sexes has it's origins in the frightened male psyche. That, as Robert Bly has said, is a disaster.
At the end of this book, Suzuki, the Zen Priest, has run off with Theo's wife. And a Buddhist chapel is about to be built, with many women holding positions of power. The leader of this movement is the mystical physicist, Karl Redinius, who will figure in Book II and is a gay man.
The Passing of Shadows, Book II, The Maitreya was published in the spring of 2003. The Gazebo contains the statement of the major motifs. The Maitreya is the body in motion, the first movements of the symphony. The Party, Book III, contains a casuistry of first principles that leads to the final resolution of this music and sounds that final tonic chord that concludes the work.
The Maitreya introduces a new character, Martin Butler, an ex-naval officer, an upper peninsula Michigan lumber man who deserts his home, his father and uncle, wife and son and hits the road. He is unsettled. He is a quester, a pilgrim. The Buddhism he has been raised in has suddenly become empty and stale; this is due to a profound depression that he seeks to cure by the life of a vagabond. He winds up living in a refrigerator carton and under a bridge in the town of Dunkirk, Wisconsin companioned to by a set of alcoholic rascals who at the time are the only friends he has.
One day he tours The American Buddhist Communities Research Center and meets Irene Jackson with whom later he will fall in love. A restorative cure begins. The action of The Maitreya occurs some decades after the events novelized in The Gazebo. The setting of this work is the area around Dunkirk, Wisconsin, a little town south of Madison, which was the setting of The Gazebo, but most of the action occurs at the American Buddhist Communities Research Center near Deer Park, the Dalai Lama's American headquarters, located in the countryside between Dunkirk and Madison. There are some additional adventures in the northwest wilderness of the state on and around the Brule River close to where the Butler family has a cabin. The time is some time after the 2015s or later. One cannot be sure.
Of the characters from The Gazebo, two remain: Karl Redinius and Margaret Christofferson. They are in their eighties now and are the chief administrators of the ABC Research Center. As traditional Religious they have dispensed with their names, and are known only as Ma'am and Sir. As neo-agnostic Americanized Buddhists the two over the years have superintended the building and maintenance of the huge complex that is the Center; they have recruited a number of scholars and artists whose duty is to ferret out and celebrate the hidden gnostic trends of the American experience (those better angels of our nature); they have sponsored a teaching mission to create viable parishes whose existence is to challenge many of the orthodoxies of the dark side of the American experience, which has come very near to destroying the country, devastated the spiritual life of the people, and threatened the economic and ecological stability of the planet. Their effort is to marginalize those ! orthodoxies in order to save the Nation, the American people, the humans of the planet. It is their job to create a numerous and powerful parish American Buddhism in their native land as a leaven and bulwark against the destructive forces that threaten it. The very religious foundations of America are thought to need radical change. It is a confrontation the beginnings of which are dramatized here in The Maitreya.
At a certain point a mysterious figure, who is Martin Butler, arrives outside the Center and loiters there. Those inside, encouraged by the prophesies of the often clairvoyant Ma'am, are led to believe that he is the Maitreya: traditionally the last and richest incarnation of the Buddha, who by tradition is said to come out of the West. Butler finally enters the monastery--the ABC Center is also a retreat haven--and being taught by its residents--two crazies, Fat Jack and the Singer, in charge of the two scriptoria, Letters and Science, the beautiful black musician with whom he has an affair, and the terrors of a mysterious place called the Closed Area guided by four frightening figures called the Masters of Revels--and trains for his work as the agent of the mission of the Center. Included in these adventures is Marty's responsibility to properly stage Lear (which as a tragedy supercedes Christian Medievalism and foreshadows modern despair), and his organization of a spring ecumenical council with many liberal religious invited. A Bishop of the Consolidated Christian Churches, David Leisler Swanson is also invited. Sir, Karolus Magnus Redinius, delivers an harsh valedictory critique of the very heart of normative Christian theology: the doctrine of the blood atonement. One of Swanson's disciples, David Hein, at this point leaves the Church and joins the work of the Center.
After many desperate, nearly fatal initiatory adventures while in residence, in observance of the Sanskrit motto of the Center: kim kada tvam gamishyasi: it eventually has become time for him to leave. Adhuna maya gatavyam eva. Now I must go. The center is not a permanent safe harbor. It is merely a way station. He cannot hide here. No one can hide anywhere. He must return to the city with bliss bestowing hands, the title of the 10th Ox-herding Picture of Zen. He tells the Companions of the Center that he is not the Maitreya. The Maitreya is simply the establishment of the Dharma in Europe and on this continent. In the West. What he does after he leaves the center and embarks on his eccentric and comical pilgrimage will be the subject of the last and forthcoming book of the trilogy, The Party.
The third book of this trilogy, The Party, finished but yet to be polished, is scheduled for publication some time next year. This book takes place in an undefined, perhaps mythological time. The model for this story is Dante's Inferno. Wrestled with here are the lengths to which humans can go in the infliction of pain, and sadness, and death and terror on their fellow men. Martin Butler, in his late sixties, is now a Country-Western Bluegrass singer, whose mission in life is to create concerts and chaos wherever he goes. He is a trickster. His targets are the Stuffed Shirts, those opposite of the Stranger. His enemy, the President of the United States and Leader of What is Left of the So-called Free World, the greatest stuffed shirt of them all, is Courtland N. Tarbox, who in the best tradition of Nietzche's notions of die welt untergang, national and self-destructive behavior (very much like the Christ of the Latin Gospels, Ahab in Moby Dick, then Hitler) is fixated on! certain passages from Ephesians and The Book of Revelations who does his best in order to cleanse and to stamp out and purify the nation of all dissent in general, Butler's group of musicians and the gigantic armies of the third world people of color led by two charismatic generals, Johnna the Lion of Africa and Spider Woman.
Butler, accompanied by twelve divinities visible only to himself, but occasionally to others, is taken to awful underground places and dark caves by the very, very old (he must be well over a hundred by now) Theodore Christofferson who resides in the Old Peoples Home in Dunkirk, whose connection to life in his superannuation is so tenuous that he is able from time to time to detach himself from his body and travel through time and space in his ancient function as mystagogue, teacher of the mysteries. They travel together and descend into the caves beneath Cleveland to witness Dantesque horrors. Marty is shaken. The gods weep. The second climactic scene of this novel is the confrontation of two huge armies of 666 divisions each on the frozen plains of North Dakota. Before that fatal confrontation, Butler, who is also the Overseer of the world armies and who may in fact be the mythic Maitreya after all, though he emphatically denies this, (I'm just a guy!), takes his two g! enerals Krishna-like through galaxies to behold the mysterium, tremendum, et facinans of Being found in Job and The Song of God, the Bhagavad Gita. This ecstasis will be reemphasized later in Marty's retirement commentary at the end of this book.
Meanwhile there is a battle to be fought. The tactical lunacy of this war is based on an old vaudeville song, Ticklish Reuben, which was played on scratchy 78s to me as a child by my grandfather, Carl Johannes Sodergren, Augustana Synod poet, professor and pastor whose modernism (he published many notorious books on the modernist-fundamentalist controversies in the 1920s) was based on the mysticism of the Swedish physicist, Emmanuel Swedenborg. The shape of this battle I will leave to the readers of that novel to enjoy when it comes out....
As a teacher, given the nature of the subjects I taught, comparative mythology, the history of religious ideas, comparative literature, I was often asked by my students whether or not I believed in God. This was not a legitimate question, pedagogically. I did not often answer. But they were curious. When I did respond I would in the following way. If by God you mean the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Yahweh of the Bible, and the gods of the mythologies of the world, I am quite sure that none of them exist. So as regards those of the Books, as Yahweh, or Zeus, Siva, or the Tao, I am an atheist. But if you mean by the word God to refer to the ultimate mystery dimension of the universe, why is there something rather than nothing, ti to on, what is being? The Tao that cannot be uttered. That reality from which all language turns back, I do not believe. Like Jung, I know! I stand within and bathe in that mystery, within that sacred presence, every second of my life. Ev! en now as I write these words. That s at the end of that word and all the instant letters that are following.
Faith according to the Buddhist way of thinking is the confidence born of experience. Courage. Gumption, as Pirsig in The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance (which owes as much to Martin Heidegger as to the literature of Zen). The Finns of northwest Wisconsin call it Sisu. Guts. This courage arises out of meditation, study, the Zero event, that primordial mystical experience described so wonderfully by Aghenanda Bharati in his Light at the Center, the Context and Pretext for Modern Mysticism. That is a book. It means nothing to me. Except for the fact that this writer from childhood has experienced one mystical event after another. Joy all the time.
I was raised in an intensely Lutheran household. Parsonage. From childhood I was saturated with images of Jesus Christ, the Reformation Theology of Grace, Liturgical Practice. Both Albin, my father, and Arthur Carl Piepkorn, my uncle, celebrated Missouri Synod scholar were intensely liturgical. That is why, I suppose, I gravitate to Episcopal, High Church Lutheran, and Tibetan Buddhist worship forms. With my upbringing, in the Zero event I, of all people, should have had a vision of Jesus. But I did not. The Hindus, perhaps the most astute psychologists of religion, divide religious events between what they name experience with form, and without form. Religions without form are all based directly upon the Zero (Zen and the best of the Quakers). Religions with form are all religions tied to a specific culture. The major world religions. The two modes of realization are called saguna brahman (the qualified absolute), and nirguna brahman (the unqualified absolute). The two ! related orders of meditation are savikalpa samadhi (discriminating absorption) and nirvikalpa samadhi (undifferentiated absorption). Deliverance through the first is by direct insight. It has no content. Deliverance through the second is accomplished through the mediation of creed, saint, avatar, or savior, contents the faiths of the world have supplied. Every single Zero event, enlightenment experience that occurred even before I knew anything about Buddhist practice, radically contrary to my nurture, was without form. The last of these was expressed in astronomical images, comets, novas, galaxies. In other words whatever the Zero event actually is deeply, it was through the language of science that it was for me most powerfully expressed. Fritjof Capra describes a similar experience in his Tao of Physics. Those were the effect of my most passionate concerns, my ultimate concerns. What the Zero event behind and beneath them is I have no way of knowing.
So I am faced, as are all the characters of this trilogy, with something of a dilemma. Through my scientific eyes my picture of the universe is one of chaos, power, fire, randomness, inconceivable violence, unutterable dimension, accident. I accept this. My senses augmented with mathematics and the instruments of science make this vision of the world a warrantable assertion of a high degree of probability. However my mystical eye sees...I don't know what. The words fail. Words like Sacred. Holy. Numinal. Are pale, near to useless. Why is there something instead of nothing is a question science cannot answer. Neither can the mystic. But he holds that question in tension, in the constant forefront of his thinking, and thinks it of crucial importance to do that. Master Tokusan, a great Zen teacher, burned all his philosophic texts, declaring: "All our understanding of the abstractions of philosophy is like a single hair in the vastness of space." St. Thomas, thunderstruck! as he was reciting his last mass, said: "Everything I have written, all my works are as worthless as straw, compared to what I have just seen." But the two, rigorous science and the surrender of the mystic, exist together in utterly inexplicable ways. I hold them firmly in mind and worship. Both. One cannot overemphasize the importance of this. The tension between them cannot be resolved. God shoots craps with the universe, but the dice may be loaded.
The foundation of all this is good hard-nosed thinking. The Dalai Lama says if science invalidates some aspect of Buddhism, throw that Buddhism out. Imagine the John Paul II or Charles Stanley saying something like that. So this tension infiltrates the history of literature. Traditionally the Romantic movement was thought to be in rebellion against Enlightenment, encyclopedic, scientific thinking. That is wrong. Romanticism is the religion of the Enlightenment. That is the consolation of poets. Shelley's hero was Benjamin Franklin!
And the Reformation is still with us. The efforts of the Jesus Seminar assure us of this. They describe what they are doing as the last Reformation of the Church. And if one has embraced Buddhism, that too is a reform movement within Hinduism. Its institutionalized caste system in particular. In my sillier (but secretly serious) moments I describe Buddhism as the Lutheran Church of the Far East. I seriously explore the taxonomic congruencies between the Theology of Grace, and the Doctrine of the Sunyatadavada, Emptiness. Emptiness can be understood as Grace without God. And the compassionate heart that arises from both.
The last book concludes musically (I do not plot these stories, I orchestrate them) the point counterpoint of this kind of thinking in the bodies and souls of its characters. A series of Images to look for. The book begins and ends with spring. In The Gazebo Theo Christofferson is introduced raking away winter trash from around his gazebo, and The Party ends with the elderly Martin Butler doing the same with his upnorth cabin. Theo appears as a guide and mystagogue in the beginning and at the end of this epic. The the God-Goddess motifs are carried all the way through the three books and ends with the Lion and Spiderwoman cosmically declaring their absolute equality with one another, and with the sweet marriage kiss between Marty and his wife Jessica during their last show. All reconciliations are completed.
In all three cases: the chautauqua of chapter 9 in The Gazebo; Sir's valedictory in The Maitreya; the laughter in The Party is what has devastated the orthodoxies. Marty becomes a perfectly integrated fully realized man by the 12 divinities of the Pantheon, the Christ and the Buddha diving into his body. Only then can he preach.
The deadly warfare, the psychological inferno, Marty in the Closed Area, which hides in our own society are the tragic confrontations authentic forces in collision. That tragedy is juxtaposed with the optimism at the end of The Party with the belief that happiness somehow wells up in spite of it all, particularly if one is a cock-eyed optimist. Perhaps.
Nevertheless, the Trilogy ends, though Shadows Pass, sounding a word of triumph.
Meanwhile, he gardens, bird watches, fishes, loves his wife, holds his children and grandchildren gently by the hand, teaches, as Gilgamesh says he should; becomes political, even gets elected, agitates, agitates, agitates, rules justly, believes that Liberty and Union--freedom and justice--must stand together, dwells rejoicing in the middle of storms, and is happy in icy Wisconsin winter days, endures the heat, eats sensibly, enjoys the wine he himself has made, eats the food he grows, and sleeps well. He tries not to fear death and pain (though it's hard sometimes, especially when getting a root canal....) and, rejecting the gods found in the books, senses somehow the sacred in every single day of his life.
Our current President, apparently now one of the Blues Brothers, believes he is on a mission from God. How dangerous that is. But he is not alone. Harold Bloom rightly shakes his head in astonishment that we in this country are so religion mad. Most of Europe is agreeably skeptical and secular, but the United States is not. It is the traditional societies of world Islam and Hinduism (itself having turned intolerant recently), that brook no doubt, no skeptical investigation.
Those of us who are children of the Enlightenment find our place in all this somewhat difficult. Are we to chose among Christian, Jew, and Muslim? Between Liberal Faith and Fundamentalism? Protestant and Catholic? Affirmation and Nihilism? Are we forced to choose between religion and irrelgion? Has the Secular Liberalism of our classical upbringing, out of its systemic modesty, finally failed us? Liberal radio always tanks; right wing airways are sexier if lunatic. Ranting is more fun than calm, rational discourse. As Twain has said, A lie has run halfway around the world before the truth can get its socks on.
Fundamentalism is clearly discredited. In any one of the three monotheisms, the fundamentalist stance with its insistence on a literal reading of sacred texts cannot stand up to the advancement of scientific thinking. The earth is not 10,000 years old, there wasn't a universal flood (to try to find the remains of the ark on Ararat would be like locating Buster Kilrain's grave at Gettysburg); the sun didn't stop at the command of Joshua, there is no such thing as a virgin birth, a resurrection of the dead, or bodily ascension of a risen Jesus; there is no such thing as a people specially chosen, or a One True Church, or special revelation given to the few; there is no such thing as an inerrant text whether Torah, Bible, or Qur'an that is taken to be God's ineluctable and absolute word. The Qur'an's assumption of the historicity of Noah and other Old Testament figures has been compromised out of existence by textual scholarship and recent archeology, and its claim to be th! e literal unvarnished wo rd of Allah ignores the fact that the text of the Qur'an, as with the Bible it depends on, were composite and edited texts, clearly from different periods. Its claim to be merciful applies only to the believer--all else belong to the Realm of War and have become fair targets for the current crop of terrorists.
Show us the straight path, The path of those whom Thou hast favored; Not (the path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray, Sura 1.
To omit those words on the anger of Allah, as so many do in a foolish act of political correctness, is a serious deception. In the name of what must have been thought to be charity, it is an astonishing lapse on the part of our current commentators on Islam that traps us into an incomplete understanding of the anger, fear, and suspicion with which most of the Islamic world regards the West.
And thinking grounded in science, the skeptical way, the way of the open mind, tolerance, compassion, has proven a still small voice often drowned out by the deafening rantings of the ignorant faithful. We feel forced to say, a plague on all three houses!
What are those, who in spite of it all has what can be only called spiritual impulses together with a resolute skepticism, to do in the midst of all this religious chaos?
There is a third way.
This is what it looks like.
It consists of two parts: gnosis and science.
In the first place, the Third Way is Gnostic.
A definition is in order here. For this material I have consulted the Encyclopedia of Religion Vol V pp 566-577 and some of the primary sources referred to in this article.
"Gnosis...is a Greek work of Indo-European origin, related to the English know and the Sanskrit jĖčna. The term has long been used in the study of comparative religion to indicate a current of antiquity that stressed awareness of the divine mysteries. This was held to be obtained either by direct experience of a revelation or by initiation into the secret, esoteric tradition of such revelations....(566)." A key to this way of thinking is a statement from two ancient writers: ...."He who knows himself, knows the All." (Hermes Trismegiststos commonly identified with the Egyptian God, Thoth)..."Let spiritual man know himself, then he will know that he is immortal and that Eros [desire] is the origin of death, and he will know the All...."(from the Poimandres, another important ancient text).
"...Today Gnosticism is defined as a religion in its own right....spiritual man, is alien to the natural world...and becomes conscious of his deepest self when he hears the word of revelation. Not sin or guilt, but unconsciousness, is the cause of evil (567).... Alexandrian Jews...were familiar with Greek philosophy and...considered the human soul to be part of the deity....The Wisdom of Solomon" (composed in Alexandria by a Jewish writer in the first century found in the Apocrypha and still included in the Catholic Bible) "...declares explicitly that God's incorruptible pneuma [spirit] is in all things (569)...."
From the Thomas Gospel, though not a pure Gnostic text, these loggia among many others not cited express this way of thinking. For example: Jesus said, "it is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there. (Thomas, 77)....Jesus said, He who will drink from My mouth will become like Me. I myself shall become he (108)".... And arguably the most famous of all--made so by Joseph Campbell's use of it- His disciples said to him, When will the Kingdom come? (Jesus said,) "it will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it (113)."
Elaine Pagels, a recent scholar of Gnosticism, in the introduction of her celebrated book has this to say about the subject: "The recent discoveries in Egypt of the Gnostic library of Nag Hammadi show that there was a strong tradition counter to the orthodox gospels that may have been just as vital and distinguished as orthodoxy. The Gnostic Gospels have these three traits: Orthodoxy posits a chasm between man and God. Some Gnostics assert self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical. The Jesus of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance. Instead of...saving us from Sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding....when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus no longer serves as his spiritual master; the two have become equal--even identical. Orthodoxy believes Jesus is Lord and Son of God in a unique way: he remains forever distinct from the rest of humanity ....Yet the Gnost! ic Gospel of Thomas relates that as soon as Thomas recognizes him, Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source: "Jesus said 'I am not your master. Because you have drunk you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out...He who will drink from my mouth will become the same as I am; I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.'" Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Introduction, xx-xxi.
Pagels in a recent address to the Jesus Seminar at Rohnert Park, California, also compared The Thomas Gospel with The Gospel of John and convincingly demonstrated that the two texts were in fact the record of a controversy between the Johannine and the Thomas Communities.
To return to the Encyclopedia. In the early Church, prominent Gnostics were Marcion, Basilides and Valentinus. "....the greatest Gnostic of all time was the poet Valentinus...a Greek born in the Nile Delta around the year 100 and educated in Alexandria. He and his followers did not separate from the Church...but created an academy for free research...within the institutional religion....he described how the All emanates from the ground of being....and experienced the wholeness of the All, the fullness of being..... "
"The gnosis of modern times...Jakob Boheme (c 1600) was generated spontaneously as a result of direct experience....It differs from ancient Gnosticism in that it derives not only light but also darkness (not only good but evil) from the ground of being....William Blake (1757-1827), is the only authentic Gnostic of the entire Anglo Saxon world...(573). Among modern scholars are Adolph von Harnack (1851-1930), Hans Jonas and Carl Gustav Jung. (574))....Gnosticism has been a source of inspiration for a few modern writers...Anatole France...Alexsandr Blok...Herman Hesse...Mikhail Bulgakov....C.G. Jung was very impressed by Gnostic imagery and produced in 1915 a Gnostic work, Septem Sermones ad Mortuum [Seven Sermons of the Dead] inspired by Basilides....(577)."
So this tension infiltrates the history of literature. Traditionally the Romantic movement was thought to be in rebellion against Enlightenment, encyclopedic, scientific thinking. That is wrong. Romanticism, where it is not nihilistic, is the religion of the Enlightenment. That is the consolation of poets. The alliance of much Romantic poetry and Gnosis is plain. At one level, Shelley's To a Cloud can be reduced, if ridiculously, to a poem about the water cycle. But that interpretation doesn't come close to touching the poem's ecstatic lyric. Shelley's hero, after all, was Benjamin Franklin! And Wordsworth's famous lines from Tintern Abbey,
....and I have felt ...a sense sublimeare clearly Gnostic in character. In America, among many others, Emerson's little sermon on the "Transparent Eyeball" can be included: " I fear to think how glad I am....Standing on the bare ground,-- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God...." In Nature.
of something far more deeply interfused....
in the mind of man, a motion and a spirit
that...rolls through all things.....
In addition to Valentinus, Heraclaeon, Dionysius Areopagitica, and others, as Gnostics entire or in part can be counted Nicholas of Cusa, St. Theresa, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis, Meister Eckhart from the middle ages. In Europe, Ruysbroeck, Swedenborg, Boheme, George Fox, Blake, Rembrandt, Spinoza of early modern Europe. Among the recents: Whitman, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Emerson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Thoreau, Eddy. Graves, Campbell, Eliade, Huxley, Casteneda, Alan Watts, Theodore Rozack, Ram Das, Gary Zukave, Doris Lessing, Fritjof Capra, David Suzuki. This list is not exhaustive. All of these Gnostics and semignostics had some difficulty with orthodoxy. Few of the moderns have any commitment to orthodoxy at all.
In summary: at the most fundamental level, Gnosticism may be defined that the All, Cosmos, Being cannot be separated from human and natural existence. We are beings within Being. A cosmos within Cosmos. A soul within the divine totality. Atman in Brahman. A Buddha within Buddha Nature. That the One is neither being nor nonbeing; and, that whatever the One is, our own essence is not discontinuous with it. Life is taken to be whole in spite of what our reason perceiving the separation of phenomena tells us. And that one achieves full knowledge of this by an inward way, reflection, meditation, even solitary prayer not meant to be petitional but addressed to one's Higher Self, by knowing oneself. Each separate personality is of the same substance with the Cosmos. Each of us has our source in and arise out of the unbroken whole of Being. Tat tvam asi! Thou art that! To understand ourselves is to understand the Cosmos. To understand Cosmos is to begin to understand ourselves! .
There is a divine reality (as Aldous Huxley summarizes it brilliantly in The Perennial Philosophy) substantial to the world of things, lives and minds. That is its metaphysic. The psychology of the Perennial Philosophy finds in the soul something similar to or even identical with the divine reality. The ethic places Man's Final End in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all Being: man's duty is to know himself in this highest sense.
Coupled with this is a robust understanding of the sinfulness, wickedness, alienation of man. That the world is fallen. The Terror of History, in Eliade's words, is inescapable.
Here Liberalism grows mature.
And finally our own great American psychologist of religion:
"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there are potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality." William James Varieties of Religious Experience, XVI, VII, emphasis added.
The Third Way is also grounded in science.
"I assert," Albert Einstein once said, "that the cosmic religious experience is the strongest and noblest driving force behind scientific research....the only deeply religious people of our largely materialistic age are the earnest men of research."
Let us begin with how the physicists think about subatomic space, here rendered somewhat poetically. (The following material is adapted in part from Marty Butler's oration at the conclusion of The Party, Book III from my trilogy The Passing of Shadows. Butler is a Bluegrass singer who happens to be a Buddhist monk):
Deep inside our atoms. Sub-atomics are governed by something like mathematics, points of arithmetic, particles and strings transformed into flashing existence itself, its illusion, and shadows, a butterfly emerging from a worm. When the conditions are right the sub-atomics appear and do their little dance; when, whatever the equations actually are, they change, they disappear and reappear in different forms. Matter may be not be material at all. It may be mathematical. Imaginary. Mental. And deep inside when the conditions are right, your being appears, or as the physicists say, has a tendency to appear. The lights flash in and out of the field, the void.
When you watch a television set, for example, you get the illusion of life, of movement. But what you are actually seeing is that pixel after pixel appear and reappear in rapid sequence in different positions one after another giving the appearance of movement, but which really is like the old film, a rapid sequence of stills. The changes appear stroboscopic.
So it might be that our life is like that. The rapid alteration of our sub-atomics from plane to plane. Creating miracle after miracle, always static in themselves but when appearing in sequence so rapid and full of apparent vitality, ecstatic glimmers of light out of the darkness quantum leaping so quickly that the mind can hardly comprehend it. Our nearly unavoidable temptation is to "Trittando tombre come cosa salda.... treat shadows like solid things," as Dante says in the Purgatorio. But for us when we run a race, do a dance, sing our songs: we flash. We gleam. And when we die, the equations, the shadows, cease. We sink back. We re-attain the void. And the field that is the void is the under-substance, the implicate order, of our lives, from which are engendered all appearance, universes uncounted.
The mystic does not fear this. This world was no longer real to him. Ours is a thin slice within thirty-six magnitudes up and down of dimension--from the strings to the bang. Nature booms and buzzes happily about and in his head. Behind what we called the void, the clearing, Nirvana, is a substrate of energy, of life, of the sacred, the unnamable of the whatever! That reality is so astounding it is beyond all words. Beyond the very idea of beyond. And that the universe, the earth, our very bodies and minds, are glittering comings-forth out of it of health, wholeness, and holiness.
But I am the Buddha. We all are. All sentient beings are. For those in ignorance of that simple reality, for those who are asleep, for those who believe that this thin slice of our time and place in the universe is all there is;
for those who think they know that the sacred is separate from nature, not in it, not penetrating it, not under it, or not there, and that nature we are interconnected to then is not ours to exploit and ruin at will because of iron necessity we will share in that ruin;
for those who think that differences between peoples and races are absolute;
for those who believe that we can with a radical individualism ignore our affiliation with the myriad communities we are indwelt in;
for those who commit the appalling crime of pretending to know God's mind in literal detail--:
unlike those who are sleeping, we have a sacred and urgent duty to preserve our tradition.
Since we are of that companionship in this ignorant falling-off day and age, in this admittedly genial Wasteland, for those who can still read, we are to persist in the researches of the Scriptoria, preserving the finest in art and science that man has produced, to study difficult texts, learn challenging grammars of ancient tongues, and practice our various meditations with diligence; to husband the light, to create temples of our being, of Being. To work out the awakening of all. To be stewards of the Teaching. To cherish the radical democracy spiritually grounded of the Gnostic Jesus's Open Table and Siddartha's proclamation that all are the Buddha, two of the greatest and clearly related transformations of the human spirit in all history. And to survive as a caring community of connected, healthy, individuals. It is not enough to think and know these things. We will act. It will be our job to fix the flurry of broken butterflies that have tumbled out of the very mout! h of the world.
And when the people learn that the next product, the new sexual conquest, more wealth, a bigger house, the second car, that hell with eight cylinders, the exquisite destruction of our enemies, the perfect church;
and when politicians tell the whole truth for a change, when trade diminishes and we meet our limits and the market is subordinated to higher endeavors;
when religious leaders purge themselves of their taste for division, persecution, martyrdom, and self-righteous certainty;
and particularly when the fundamentalisms of the world finally tire of the false thrill of reckless, vicious, and pernicious Doctrine;
and when the Great Boredom ruins the circus that the plutocracy has created, making the whole world a Disneyland of distractions for us, with such remarkable skill at such an incredible expense;
and when we pay more attention to our children than to our own self indulgence--:
then perhaps after the imperial and national dark ages America is in danger of permanently establishing in the world, in a New Age of Faith that can follow, we can emerge from the monasteries, the refuge of our spirit, as a leaven, as teachers, and politicians and overcome the decadence around us and bring to the world something of that light.
I tell you plainly that the Terror of History--or as who is the Jesus of history put it in his powerfully concrete images: you will always have the poor with you--the eternal discontent of the world will never be tempered unless more realize their identity with the sacred, and leave off worship of some impossibly distant deity, and become quiet and wake up to the realization that whatever the One is, our own essence is not discontinuous with it. That we are beings within Being. That we and the world and the universe it is in are mysterious, numinal, sacred spaces. We will come out of the shadow land with a dawn that leads us to a dawn. We know there can be another world just ahead. For our apocalypse is not one of combat and blood and death; our hopes are for an end time of quiet, compassion, and equanimity.
Only in the heart are what we inclined to, to what there is for us to love: the forefathers, the dead; the children, those who are to come.
And the Reformation is still with us. The brilliant efforts of the Jesus Seminar assures us of this. The Jesus uncovered by their investigations is radical, egalitarian, mystical. They describe what they are doing as the last and most essential Reformation of the Church, without which Christianity will die. And if one has embraced Buddhism, that too is a reform movement within Hinduism: against its institutionalized caste system in particular. (In my sillier (but secretly serious) moments as one who was confirmed from Luther's Small Catechism, I describe Buddhism as the Lutheran Church of the Far East.) One, then, may seriously explore the taxonomic congruencies between the Theology of Grace, and the Doctrine of the Sunyatadavada, Emptiness. Emptiness can be understood as Grace without God. In the two traditions, the compassionate heart as even the words of both name this (karuna, caritas, agape) arises from both.
But the two, rigorous science and the surrender of the mystic, exist together in utterly inexplicable ways. One may hold them firmly in mind and worship. Both. One cannot overemphasize the importance of this. The tension between them cannot be resolved.
God shoots craps with the universe, but the dice may be loaded.
I may be accused of advocating the substitution of Buddhism for normative Christianity merely for expedient, tactical, purposes. That is not the case. One can adopt Buddhism and other allied Gnosis out of conviction. (Mircea Eliade even refers to the Princeton Gnosis--that is a Gnosis rooted in science that is unaffiliated and secular; Arthur Koestler's secular mysticism described in Darkness at Noon and elsewhere is justly famous.) The authentic Jesus of the parables and aphorisms uncovered by the Jesus Seminar certainly tends to the Gnostic; there was a lively Christian gnosticism as a part of the early Church as passages of the Thomas Gospel and other Nag Hammadi texts clearly testify. Jesus, and Siddartha, were awakened individuals. They would have thought themselves companions once they mutually understood the language of their two traditions. They probably wouldn't have even needed to explore that. Had they been contemporaries they probably would have recognized im! mediately who and what they were without saying a single word.
But one cannot deny that there is a larger strategic motive here as well. It would in fact be expedient to deal with human religious impulses by channeling these into a Gnostic rather than the traditional faiths. In fact, the very health of souls and the planet may demand this reaching after a sacred balance urgently. If all these exploitative and divisive dualisms of traditional thinking are allowed to triumph we are surely doomed.
So one may think strategically and act out of deep conviction at the same time.
Search out Islamic Sufism. Search out Jewish Kabbala. Resurrect the Hesychast tradition in Christianity. Move toward the notion of the divinization of man contained in the Orthodox Church. Recover Origin's notion of the apokatastasis, the return to the universal root of the religions of the world. Ally these with the best of Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism. Recover the ecological monism of the Hopi and Navajo, and the best of all native world views. Ground all of this in the deepest of our scientific tradition, which in religious terms is our current Sanskrit that points to ultimate reality; the language of physics, chemistry, biology, is our scripture that excites the great questions, is the song of Ultimate Concern. And then there may be some hope yet.
Of course a convinced Buddhist feels assured that the most reasonable of all Gnostic faiths is contained in his own tradition. But he won't insist on it. That is not necessary. Its companionship with all gnosis is clear.
The health of the world depends absolutely on the rejection of all fundamentalisms, their social, political, economic offshoots. But to show how difficult this would be, try imagining asking the Jews, the Muslims, the Christians, in Palestine; the Muslims and the Hindus staring at each other over the border between India and Pakistan; the Marxists (an economic inflection of a Biblical heresy) and Divine Market Capitalists in China and America; and all other deadly oppositions living in the planet to give up their religion! Just like that.
Is it even possible?
Even as an urgent necessity, is this even possible?
These battles of the planet may impel us to several simultaneous tragic confrontations.
Our President who apparently thinks of himself as a Christian soldier marches us to war.
The truth by now has only one sock on. It may never catch up with the multitude of lies racing around the world.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Friday, March 14, 2003
Support our troops, I say. We must do that. Tie up our Yellow ribbons with love and loyalty and care.
But what of those who support our troops but dissent about the war? That makes things a bit more complex, doesn't it?
It's an old question.
Does supporting our young men and women in danger necessarily mean that one must approve of how they are used? Is it necessarily treason, or disloyalty, to quarrel with those who use or misuse our armed forces, this wonderful instrument of policy?
To believe that the civilian leaders of those young men and women are always doing the right thing is absurd. Giving up our critical but loyal opposition is a betrayal of true patriotism in violation of the genius of our democracy.
For example it has been stated over and over again that our primary strategic purpose of this war is Regime Change. To get rid of Saddam. That is a deception. An examination of certain documents in the public record suggest that that purpose is in fact a secondary one.
Our true purposes, it appears, are to establish a permanent presence in the Middle East, creating an old fashioned Sphere of Influence, an Imperium; to use our massive power as the only superpower left in the world to make sure things go our own way. It is our right, the documents suggest, to act preemptively and unilaterally, with or without the international community's formal approval, to create a de facto American empire in the Middle East. In fact, there's a subset of neo-conservatives who believe that given our unparalleled power, empire is our destiny and we might as well embrace it.
In short, were are the new empire builders.
In 1997 a paper called the Project For The New American Century (PNAC) was published. This paper was based on a 1991 memo written by Paul Wolfowitz for then President H. W. Bush. Richard Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, rewrote this for the President in 1992. A draft of the Pentagon's Defense Planning Guidance, which was prepared for then-Defense Secretary Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby has also surfaced. At the time Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz were part of Cheney's policy staff.
In September 2000, the PNAC updated and refined Cheney's original version into a new report entitled: "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources for a New Century," calling for unprecedented hikes in military spending, American military bases in Central Asia and Middle East, toppling of non-complying regimes, abrogation of international treaties, control of the world's energy sources, militarization of outer space, total control of cyberspace, and the willingness to use nuclear weapons to achieve "American" goals.
This blueprint for the creation of a 'global Pax Americana' was drawn up for Richard Cheney (now vice- president), Donald Rumsfeld (defense secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), George W. Bush's younger brother Jeb, and Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff). These men are those who are now calling the shots.
The plan put forth by PNAC reveals, regardless of whether Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, an attack there was preordained. One questions that there was never any intention of making inspections work. A diplomatic solution with our allies in support would have hindered PNAC's purposes.
This blueprint for US global domination reveals that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure 'regime change' even before he took power in January 2001.
And in a report just before the 2000 election that would bring Bush to power, the group predicted that the shift would come about slowly, unless there were "some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor."
That event came on Sept. 11, 2001. By that time, Cheney was vice president, Rumsfeld was secretary of defense, and Wolfowitz his deputy at the Pentagon.
The next morning, before it was even clear who was behind the attacks, Rumsfeld insisted at a Cabinet meeting that Saddam's Iraq should be "a principal target of the first round of terrorism, according to Bob Woodward's book Bush At War.
There's no secret about any of this. This is not conspiracy. But don't take my word for it, do your research in the library or in a computer search and examine these documents for yourselves.
Apparently the propaganda using forged, bogus, and dated documents of the current administration has succeeded.
For example, CNN's poll of March 16, shows that an astonishing 51 percent of the public believe that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In fact, most of the 911 terrorists were Saudis. Osama and his cohorts, our true adversaries, seem to have been forgotten. Ignoring terrorism from that quarter is dangerous.
A campaign of war talk incessantly beating the drum of Noncompliance, Regime Change, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, during our last election cycle created a supportive senate and house (of the 535 senators and representative, only one, a Democrat, has a son in Iraq) giving a semblance of legal muscle to these policies. Who is betraying America here? Not all of our federal representative are so timorous. Certainly not West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, and the few who follow him, whose critique of this war and our impending loss of civil liberties has been devastating.
So George W. Bush's administration's intentions of removing Saddam Hussein from power are not a recent development by any stretch of the imagination. Top White House officials affiliated with conservative think tanks and past administrations have been developing strategies for removing the Iraqi leader since the 1990s.
For what purpose?
To this end the United States thinks to establish a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--which will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. That in turn supposedly will lead to a real peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq, it is believed, will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shiia clerics in Iran; Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom, supposedly reducing the long-term threat of terrorism. The citizens of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will grow disenchanted with their anti-Western Islamic governments, just as the people of Iran have, and become our friends.
If the effort to push these countries toward democracy fails, we can always use our military might to secure our interests. That would involve the United States occupying the Saudi's oil fields and administering them as a trust for the people of the region.
This go-it-alone policy has not only determined the onset of this war, but has caused us to abandon the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), killed the Kyoto Protocol and scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and has insulted the world community in doing so. For the first time since the Cold War's end, the US has aligned its own interests against those of the international community. This is to say nothing of the evisceration of our constitutional rights by the various ridiculously named Patriot acts.
So we are at war now.
Support our men and women in harm's way I say.
Ambrose Burnside, a general who was a decent division commander but who knew in his heart of hearts that he did not have the ability to command the Army of the Potomac, at the battle of Fredricksburg on December 13, 1862, sent wave after wave of Union soldiers to their slaughter against that fatal stone wall at Marye's Heights. He was heedless of cost (his valiant dead, the loss of European Allies, the wreckage of the United Nations, and NATO, our impending loss of civil liberties) and heedless of consequence (the endangerment and possible destruction of his army, the risk of a nearly impossible occupation of Iraq and enemy territory, the creation of enduring and dangerous hostility among the Muslims of the entire Middle East, the endangerment of Israel, the alienation of our former companions who hate our unilateral efforts to jeopardize the Western alliances), but he sent wave after wave of soldiers to their endangerment and death anyway.
One thinks of the Army of Northern Virginia which, up to Gettysburg, was possibly one of the greatest armies the world had ever seen. The Union army, particularly in its generals, became its equal only later. And Lee and Davis used that army for what Grant said was the "worst cause" that men had ever fought and died for. And yet one cannot help but admire the men of that army, the general officers, like Dorsey Pender, James Longstreet and even Lee himself, the corps and division commanders, above all the soldiers. We love their courage and revere their valor. We grieve for their suffering and death.
Our American army, now, is arguably the finest, best equipped and staffed, most powerful instrument of state the world has ever seen. But our soldiers and sailors and flyers must be used with great care. One must to go to war, as one Chinese sage puts it, as one attends a funeral.
Is their present use like using a scalpel to break up cement?
Is the false strategy as using a bulldozer blade to carve up a turkey, to slice up a ham? And a pretty sad ham at that?
By all means, we must support our troops. We must. Admire their valor. Honor their high competence. Grieve for their suffering. But that does not mean we must agree with those, (as the rather dim but genial Ambrose Burnside and the brilliant Lee and Davis--who were after all Americans), who would use them for questionable means--even if our men and women win battles and wars.
So you see that it is possible, necessary, to support our troops wholeheartedly, but profoundly disagree with those who would use them badly.
To paraphrase a distinguished British statesman who resists the policies of his own premier: though I lament how the current administration has used them, I want the coalition forces to succeed, as quickly as possible with as few casualties as possible, and I want them to come back soon and safe.
We'll hope it works out that way.
April 4, 2003
On November 17, 1968, John Kerry arrived in Vietnam, where he was given command of Swift boat No. 44, operating in the Mekong Delta. On December 2, 1968, he got his first taste of intense combat, and was wounded in the arm. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
In January, 1969, he took command of a new Swift boat, completing 18 missions over 48 days, almost all in the Mekong Delta area. On February 20, 1969, he was wounded again, taking shrapnel in the left thigh after a gunboat battle. He was awarded a second Purple Heart.
In February 28, 1969, Kerry and his boat crew, coming under attack while patrolling in the Mekong Delta, decided to counterattack. In the middle of the ensuing fire fight, Kerry left his boat, pursued a Viet Cong fighter into a small hut, killed him, and retrieved a rocket launcher. He was awarded a Silver Star.
On March 13, 1969, a mine detonated near Kerry's boat, wounding him in the right arm. He was awarded a third Purple Heart. Risking his own life, he pulled a crew member who had fallen overboard, back on the boat amidst a fire fight. He was awarded a Bronze Star for this.
Because he had been wounded three times, under Navy rules, Kerry was sent home.
In June, 1970, Kerry joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War and became one of the group's unofficial spokesman. In April 23, 1971, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He asked lawmakers: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" On November 10, 1971, Kerry quit The Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
On the second of June 2004, my brother Kendall born in 1941 would have been 63 years old. He is now an everlasting 26. He was killed in Viet Nam at that age. He thought the war unjust. He became a conscientious objector, and a medic. His name in Viet Nam was ĎDoc.í Like Kerry, Kendall did not avoid his duty. He helped the wounded and sick. Tended the dying. He helped deliver babies of native women. He affirmed life. When he died, the flags of Stoughton flew at half mast. The whole city mourned with our family. I still think of him almost every day. You never get over a death like that.
I hate this war. We were lied into it. The deceptions multiply. Any reader of the Koran and anyone who has only a limited understanding of the Arab mind knows that to foist our American notions of Liberty and Democracy on that alien culture would only destabilize the whole area, create the hatred we now so deservedly enjoy.
The architects of this war were never asked, like Kerry, to kill another human on behalf of our government. They are chicken hawks. They never served. Paul Wolfowitz. Richard Perle. Condi Rice. Richard Cheney. George W Bush. Each in their own ways avoided the terrible duty that John Kerry out of his se! nse of duty, embraced. They have dishonored that black memorial wall where Kendallís name appears.
These men have, at best, an abstract notion of war and the hideous damage it inflicts. They do not have sufficient moral imagination to anticipate the hurtful violence of combat and what it does to us. Our veteranís hospitals are overflowing with men and women maimed and wounded by this war. How many are there? 12,000? More? These too are an abstraction. How many of them have you seen lately on network news? Do you remember the uproar when the coffins of the Gulf dead were shown? or when Ted Koppel tried to read all their names over the air? Do you know that there are so many wounded that they are being shipped to veteranís hospitals all over the United States? That even the hospital in Madison is becoming a place of rest for the blinded, limbless, crippled Gulf wounded? Our leaders would rather you didnít dwell on this.
John Kerry is one who heroically protected the men under his control in Viet Nam. We are told he risked his life to do so. His government asked him to kill. Not in the abstract. But face to face. And as any decent human being would be, he was revolted by what his duty required him to do. When he came home he was vilified for attempting to protect the American military men left in Viet Nam by protesting a lost cause, and a mistaken war. His testimony which I have seen in full was eloquent and passionate.
But he was too late for my brother.
When a president sends an army into harmís way, I do not want a man charged with that terrible duty whose only knowledge of the violence of war is abstract. One whose appointed Undersecretary recently had no idea of the actual number of people who had died so far. Who with his entire cohort refuses to take responsibility for what has happened. Who is in denial for the destabilizing of a whole area of the world that his ridiculous adventures have caused.
I spent ten years of my life growing up on army posts and am far from a pacifist. The American military is an exquisite and wonderful instrument of power. It must not be used recklessly. It must not be used as a means for ignorant empire fantasies. It should be used only when our way of life is truly threatened. The Al Qaeda are our real target. Not Iraq. For now, this instrumentís power and morale is wasted. We do not use a scalpel to break rocks. We use tools appropriate to their use and our need.
We need a president who knows what war is. What killing is. Who has seen killing all too closely. What the pain of wounding is like. And who is revolted by what one is sometimes asked to do in the name of duty. We need a man who will use that power wisely, judiciously, with restraint. One does not ask his soldiers to die for pointless adventures. In war soldiers will die. If they must die let it be for our true defense. Our actual need. A life is too precious to destroy uselessly. Kendall Thomas Fortney, my brother, killed in Viet Nam February, 1968, would have asked for no less.
You never get over a death like that.
Page updated by TiPi, 1/12/2005