Monday, April 2, 2012

Facts and Truth and Fairytales and I'm Back

I'm going to try to make this blog a more regular part of my life and not just an annual post. That being said, I don't know how fitting it is that I start up again by cannibalizing FaceBook. I posted a link to NPR yesterday featuring an interview with Professor Bart Ehrman regarding his book on the existence of a historical Jesus.It started a flurry of comments from friends who were both believers and non-believers. All of it struck a chord for me which resulted in the following:


Joseph Campbell once described the soul reaching Nirvana as a moth finally achieving the flame: an instant of enlightenment and the oblivion. But eternity is in the instant. After 59 years and 11 months, I can't presume to know any more about the existence or non-existence of a deity than I did coming in. But as a storyteller, I know that I can't discount scripture, myth, and folktale. When a woman came to Albert Einstein asking how to motivate her sons to become scientists, he said, "Read them fairytales." Our problem lies in that we expect literality and historicity. When the first cosmonaut went into space, he reported that he saw no angels. I was quite young when I heard that and saw this more as a snide joke than a revelation. Expecting to see angels in space is as literal and misses the point as much as Huck Finn praying for fishhooks. But humans do that. Jeshua ben Joseph says, "When you pray, pray like this," and for 2000 years we dutifully try to repeat His exact words, rather than try to understand the transcendent meaning of those words. Humans bicker over the exact location of the Garden of Eden, ignoring that the Garden of Eden is a state of mind. And a woman who is every adolescent who ever lived gives in to a temptation based both in the desire for immortality and a good dose of horniness and gets blamed for the fact that life sucks and then you die AND becomes the central reason Paul gives for the need of human redemption.

If I'm agnostic, it's not because I choose to be. I would like very much for there to be a loving deity who actually cares about individual humans or that there be some kind of cosmic consciousness that humans, if they could only perceive it, are a part of. I must say that the closest I've come to touching ought of the transcendent was at a goddess ceremony at a Unitarian church in Pasadena a few years ago. As I approached the altar, I became very dizzy. That's about it, and I'm sure it could be given a psychological/physiological interpretation. But I won't discount it. Just a few minutes earlier, a lesbian Native American woman in attendance came up to me and said, "It's good to see another Two-Spirit here." It wasn't the first time I'd been called that, but it carried a little more weight under the circumstances. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people saw people such as myself as holy women? There would be far fewer candles to light in November. I've been sorely tempted to put myself forward as a priestess of the Shekinah. But the fact is, I just don't know. It is that same fact, however, that keeps me from being atheist. That also posits a knowledge that is denied to me. I do not and cannot know that there is no cosmic consciousness. Neither Richard Dawkins nor Thomas Merton were given the absolute inside track. (Though Merton is in a better position now to know or to be nonexistent.)

I've got my Bibles, my Zen and Hindu books, and my books of folktales and fairytales a bunched together. As I said earlier, I don't discount fairytales. These were stories passed down from one generation to the next both as entertainment and insight. One does not have to literally believe in trolls or phoukas to get the truth from these tales. (A story doesn't have to be factual to be true; truth is something derived from a tale. And I DO believe in witches, though. I've socialized with several.) It is a mistake, also, to conflate mythology with falsehood. Myths are attempts to assign human meaning to existence and thus to understand higher truths. Thus Joseph Campbell, who stated to Bill Moyer that he didn't believe in a personal god, dedicated his life to unravelling the truths to be had in these stories.

I was quite interested in this interview. Many people have undertaken the task of proving the non-existence of Jesus the man. According the Aristotle, it is virtually impossible to prove the nonexistence of anything. General Lew Wallace decided in the late 19th century to disprove the divinity of Christ and ended up converting himself and, instead of writing the atheistic book he'd intended, wrote "Ben Hur," a straight-forward Christian novel. I use Lew Wallace when I talk to my students about research. The job of the researcher is to find out the facts - not to prove the veracity of their hypothesis, but to DISCOVER whether or not it is true. (Tough word.) Professor Ehrman has found a good deal of evidence that allows him to say that Jesus did, indeed, exist. Is Professor Ehrman a practicing Christian? No. He's an agnostic. But isn't it interesting that he adheres to the teachings of the Rabbi Jeshua ben Joseph? I think one can be a non-believer and still get a great deal of good from any system of faith. What bothers me most about ardent atheists is that they, like ardent believers, miss the Truth.

5 comments:

Mae West said...

Very interesting blog, thank you Gillian! I didn't know that Gen. Lew Wallace was a former atheist who converted to Christianity and then wrote Ben Hur! I'm interested in hearing more about the two-spirit deal as well.

Gillian said...

Thank you, Mae. I don't know if I've written about the Two Spirit tradition. I've actually got to research it more, truth be told.

Gillian said...

I haven't been here in so long, that I've forgotten a good portion of what I've written. Ack!

Caroline said...

Nice to see you back. I was starting to doubt my memory about you having ever posted, though it just a myth or legend.

All my life I have been an Atheist but recently my thoughts have changed. Now one step beyond since engaging in any talk of gods in a clearly godless world just encourages more religious backed misery.

Gillian said...

Hi Caroline!
As I said, I certainly can't claim any knowledge. But I think humans cause themselves trouble when they anthropomorphize the ineffable. Campbell said God is a metaphor, and I think that our conception of the Divine must by need be metaphoric. Unfortunately, we mistake the icon for the item.