Tag Archives: religion

Facts I argue

On Benedict; the great, not the traitor

The French claim him as well as the Americans but, to whichever country Santayana may belong, his words are for us all . This is an excerpt from, “American Religion” by George Santayana. His is an almost poetic analysis of the Ethics of the great Benedict Spinoza. What follows is one of my favorite passages about one of my favorite thinkers. Spinoza is said to have invented the atheist’s god. For this, he was excommunicated from the Jewish religion. And for good measure, the Catholics excommunicated him as well.

Spinoza believed that religion’s purpose was to explain the divine, not to create illogical dogma that would cause logical people to turn their backs on the very concept of religion. His logical, dare I say scientific, analyses of Medieval philosophies and their shortcomings forever put an end to such philosophies’ importance to humanity. His work is claimed to have directly influenced those responsible for the Enlightenment. He argued against the division created by Descartes between the mind and the body, though his point of view has not prevailed and the West has been suffering under the ills that logically flow from an adherence to Cartesian dualism for more than three hundred years.

Spinoza came to know. In knowing, he found solace; and love. If what follows does not make sense the first reading through, read it again. It’s point is fairly simple: harmony with existence creates a love for existence. Harmony is two-fold, physical and mental. When in the presence of such a truth, even if the truth threatens your life, you love your existence because you are in harmony with your existence. You are in harmony with the Universe when  knowing your place in the bigger picture and your love becomes, thereby, Universal. Truth is, then, Spinoza’s path to god, not faith. He was excommunicated because his god was an immanent god, not a humanistic one. As Santayana put it:


“Here we touch the crown of Spinoza’s philosophy, that intellectual love of God in which the spirit was to be ultimately reconciled with universal power and universal truth. This love brings to consciousness a harmony intrinsic to existence; not an alleged harmony such as may be posited in religions or philosophies resting on faith, but a harmony which, as far as it goes, is actual and patent. In the realm of matter, this harmony is measured by the degree of adjustment, conformity, and cooperation which the part may have attended in the whole; in a word, it is measured by health. In the realm of truth, the same natural harmony extends as far as do capacity and pleasure in understanding the truth; so that besides health we may possess knowledge. And this is no passive union, no dead peace; the spirit rejoices it; for the spirit, being, according to Spinoza, an essential concomitant of all existence, shares the movement, the actuosa essentia of the universe; so that we necessarily love health and knowledge, and love the things in which health and knowledge are found. Insofar as omnificient power endows us with health, we necessarily love that power whose total movement makes for our own perfection; and insofar as we are able to understand the truth, we necessarily love the themes of an intense and unclouded vision, in which our imaginative faculty reaches its perfect function.

Of this religion of health and understanding Spinoza is a sublime prophet. By overcoming all human weaknesses, even when they seem kindly or noble, and by honoring power and truth, even if they should slay him, he entered into the sanctuary of an unruffled superhuman wisdom, and declared himself supremely happy, not because the world as he conceived it was flattering to his heart, but because the gravity of his heart disdained all flatteries, and with a sacrificial prophetic boldness uncovered and relished his destiny, however tragic his destiny might be. And presently peace descended; this keen scientific air seemed alone fit to breathe, and only this high tragedy worthy of a heroic and manly breast. Indeed the truth is a great cathartic and wonderfully relieves the vital distress of existence. We stand as on a mountaintop, and the spectacle, so out of scale with all our petty troubles, silences and overpowers the heart, expanding it for a moment into boundless sympathy with the universe.”

I argue

The World Has Always Been Round

As anyone who has ever spent time at the ocean or on a boat can attest, it is quite obvious to the unaided eye that the surface of the world is round. In fact, hundreds of years before any scientist discovered this a man in a sea town in, I believe it was, Portugal figured out the circumference of the earth within under 1,000 miles just by noting the arc of the curvature of the Earth between two points at the mouth of a bay. Extrapolating that arc, this man figured the circumference of the planet. He did it by sitting beside the ocean and staring at it and noting that the horizon is not a straight line.

This being true, it seems more reasonable that sailors, who spend entire lives on boats, would notice the same thing as well. I find it far more likely and reasonable that some sailor, as a joke, began telling tales to naive landlubbers and neophytes about monsters and sailing off the end of the earth.

So the lesson today  is that one should learn not to joke around with ignorant or foolish people. You may have a good laugh at their expense and marvel at their stupidity but if you do not let them in on the joke, and they repeat it as fact, you could end up with another Inquisition. Tens of thousands of people tortured and killed because the Earth is FLAT and Rome is the center of the universe and the Sun revolves around the Earth.

The entire philosophy of Catholicism grew into a notion that the closer one is to G-d, the closer they are to perfection. G-d is the unmoving Mover and the Pope is closest thing to perfection on Earth. The Earth does not move and Rome is the center of the Earth. Like the idea of ‘Chinese-ness”, by which the closer you are to the Forbidden City the more ‘Chinese’ you are, so too it was that the closer you were to Rome, the closer you were to the center of the Universe, to G-d. Science dispelled this notion by dethroning the Earth from its place of privilege.

At first blush, this may seem innocuous enough and not a reason to imprison Galileo Galilee under house arrest for the remainder of his life, but Rome, the Pope, was enough of a student of politics to understand (or at least his adviser’s were) that one cannot unseat the Earth without by inference unseating Rome…and the Pope…of their power and mystique. Science was after truth and, like all entrenched powers, Rome could only think of crushing opposing thought instead of taking the new thought by this new thinker; this new thinker who educated the Pope in his youth; and re-working their power within this new Truth. No, the Pope found himself and the Church under attack and instead chose to issue a Papal Bull to torture all those whose heresies (heretica meaning ‘to choose’) threatened to break the ties that bound all men to the power of Rome.

All because some sailor thought it would be funny to tell some ignorant soul in a pub that the Earth was flat and he almost sailed off the edge last week.

Quotations and attributions

Dylan I

“…I’ll know my song well before I start singing…”

Now, I know there are more than one Dylan. Not the Brit, Thomas, but the American, Zimmerman. You must admit, if you’ve ever listened to him, he has far more quotable phrases than should be allowed one human being.

My wife has told me I should have been writing sooner but I always think of the above Dylan line as a response to such suggestions. Don’t get me wrong, I write. I actually write often, just not fiction. I have spent hours crafting fine, multi-paragraphed, liturgies on topics of politics, religion, sociology, and death. A little about sex. Not a favorite of mine for public consumption though, that last. To paraphrase Yeats, any conversation not about sex or death is inconsequential.

But for the writing, I practice. I think about stories and how they would work out. I lay them out in my head. I have spent many years trying to find my voice, as they say. There are so many things that come along with the writing that I thought it best to bone up on these other skills before setting out.

What’s amazing to me is that there are people such as Bob Dylan who know what they want to do and know how to work their craft from such a young age. I once told someone that Bob Dylan is more like Bob Dylan than I am like myself. What I mean is that there are those who hear their own voice so clearly and follow it so completely that they become what they were truly meant to be. Bob Dylan is a shining example of that person in my eyes.

Here are some of what I consider to be his gems:

“and the national bank, for a profit, sells road maps for the soul to the old folks home and the college.”

“The commander-in-chief says with a sigh, ‘death to all those who would whimper and cry’ and dropping a barbell, points to the sky saying, ‘the sun’s not yellow it’s chicken.”

“If I had the stars from the darkest night and the diamonds from the deepest ocean, I’d trade them all for your sweet kiss ‘for that’s all I’m wishing to be owning.”

“Grandpa died last week and now he’s buried in the rocks. Everybody still talks about how badly they are shocked. But me, I expected it to happen. I knew he’d lost control when he built a fire on main street and shot it full of holes.”

“God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’. Abe said, ‘man, you must be puttin’ me on.’ God said, ‘no’. Abe said, ‘what?’ God said, ‘you can do what you want Abe but the next time you see me coming, you’d better run.’ Abe said, ‘where d’you want this killin’ done?’ God said, ‘out on highway 61’.”

“If you’re looking to get silly, man you’d better go back to where you came from because the cops don’t need you and man they expect the same.”

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging. They’re painting their passports brown. The beauty parlor’s filled with sailors: the circus is in town.”

“now I didn’t mean to be nosy but I went into a bank to get some bail for Arab and all the boys back in the tank. They asked me for some collateral and I pulled down my pants”

“But I mean no harm, nor put fault, in anyone who lives in a vault but it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him.”