Friday, October 20, 2017
It's one of those days at work where I'm absolutely paralyzed. Hogtied. Brainfreeze. I can't do anything.
So what do I do? I google-maps some old friend. I zoom into street level of Naples, Florida. Looks nice. Think I'll take a drive.
I zoom down some long avenue then it hits me that I could take a drive in my childhood neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi. Take a look at the old house.
There it is. There's the lawn I mowed a thousand times. Behind that window is the tiny livingroom where ... everything.
Kind of weird to be sitting here at work with tears rolling down my cheeks.
Let's go down Keele Street toward my first school. There's the park. Tripped with my friend Kerry in there. Middle of the night. Looked at a toad for half an hour. Then a tree.
But then ... ouch ... ahhhhhhh ... owwwww ... the real memories. Childhood. Dying of thirst after a field trip. Teachers let all the class play in the park before going back to school. I was only a couple of years older than my daughter is now. The memory of the light on that afternoon day is pure. Some cells in my brain are still registering it. Mississippi is hot in its own special way. Remember running to the water fountain when we got back to school.
Next we have the first of the ugly cheap apartment complexes they were building back when. Deep in the complex we once set up for band practice on Bruce's patio. Got halfway through Baba O'Riley before someone made us stop.
Now we're going over the creek. Where's my school? Gone. Nothing. Except there's the gate I went through in the first grade. My dad once started singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" as we pulled up. I wouldn't get out until he stopped singing. I do the same thing to my daughter now. She jumps up and tries to put a palm over my mouth. Full circle.
Plato’s “Cave Analogy” tells us that the physical world is a shadow of a spiritual world. Beyond our actual experience is a higher reality.
How is the world a shadow?
This idea becomes clearer when you look at how modern science has inverted Plato’s formula: The spiritual/psychological world is really just a shadow of the physical.
A boy meets a girl. He feels as though he’s known her for all eternity. He feels as though they were one soul before being split and sent to earth. These feelings are shadows cast by the reptilian impulse to procreate.
A mother gazes at her newborn baby. She feels that she is one with the universe. Everything is connected. Life has meaning. All of this is a shadow cast by elevated levels of oxytocin.
God, of course, is also a shadow.
However, to talk about God as just the product of organic processes, you have to clash with Saint Anselm’s famous ontological argument. You have to assert that we could think up the IDEA of God from scratch, regardless of whether God actually exists.
God, in concept alone, is a being who is GREATER than anything you can conceive. If you say that God is ONLY an idea of something that doesn’t necessarily exist, Anselm answers, “Well, then you can think of a greater being: one who does exist.” God is a concept of something that MUST, according to the concept, exist.
Which means, in Anselm’s eyes, that God cannot be a shadow of something else. The concept of God couldn’t spring up as an accident or by-product of natural selection. Only God could project the shape of this concept on the cave wall of our minds.
Yet where could this concept reside in us other than our brain’s organic tissue? What besides hormones could create our euphoric emotions about the idea of being connected to God?
Saint Augustine would have no problem with this. At the beginning of his autobiography “The Confessions,” thinking about how he began his life, he thanks God for filling the breast with milk and making his nurse willing to put the nipple in his mouth.
So we’re back at the idea of a higher reality beyond or behind reality. God makes the mammary glands produce food for a young saint. Oxytocin is the vehicle or conduit for maternal love, not the cause. Testosterone is the conduit for Romantic Love or Noble Courage. Or Evil.
The world is a shadow. Or a stage.
I’m noticing a lot of God studies, scientific articles and reports that more or less claim to locate and/or explain God.
The neurological articles are the weirdest. Here! This little cluster of cells in this part of the brain … this is God! Or what about this pattern of firing neurons? See how they light up in the subject when we play “Amazing Grace”? This pattern is God.
As a standard disclaimer, most of the scientists insist that they are ONLY studying the belief itself. God’s actual existence or nonexistence is not a factor.
This disclaimer would be unnecessary if you were studying the belief in fairies. You can explicitly ask, “Okay, given that fairies DO NOT exist, what OTHER explanation can we find for this subculture’s shared lunacy?” But scientists feel the pressure to treat God with more respect.
Nevertheless, the studies all assume that human evolution created God. God formed in our collective minds as we were struggling to survive. It’s like that XTC song, “Did you make mankind after we made you?”
For example, the evolving human brain needed to see a tiger in every shaking bush. Maybe an invisible, imaginary God is just a by-product of this brain function?
In light of these studies, it’s fun to wonder about God’s existence in a scientific sense. God, like space aliens, either exists or does not exist. Intelligent life is either “out there” right now or not. And God, factually, either does or does not exist.
Of course, you can say this about anything. Maybe fairies do exist but are just very furtive. The thing is, it’s just too much to ask me to believe in the corporeal existence of tiny humanoids with wings. “Oh, no, I don’t think that they have PHYSICAL bodies.” Then what? Are they made of light? Light is physical. “No, no, I don’t mean that they are made of actual photons.” It’s a slippery slope when you start breaking it down.
But when you’re talking God God … Jehovah as opposed to Pan ejaculating on the crops when we weren’t looking … the prophets were never asking anyone to believe in a man with a beard. Not even 5,000 years ago. They knew that they were talking about a transcendental abstraction, even if they didn’t yet use the terminology. That’s what all that “no graven images” business meant in the first place. God transcends physical reality and being itself.
This means that you cannot simply ask whether God exists. For some mystics, the true God CANNOT exist. Why? Because even existing is too limiting for a truly Supreme being. Saying that God exists is ultimately too much like saying that God has red hair and freckles. So for God to be God, God must not exist.
Something woke me up early this morning. 4 am. My mind wandered and wandered. I wound up thinking about mowing our lawn as a teenager.
Hard as I try, I can't picture the first mower I had to use. I do remember killing myself pulling the cord to crank it. Holding the knob and jumping in the air. I was always afraid it wouldn't crank a second time, so I could never take a break until I cut the whole lawn. Sometimes it would just break down. I'd hold my breath while my dad or brother took a look. Sometimes they could tap the sparkplug or something. But if they took the hood off, it meant that I could go do something else with my day.
That mower was soon replaced with a brand new Lawnboy. Strictly a push mower. None of that sissy self-propelled business. To crank it, you had to push a little lever to open a valve somewhere inside. Then you pressed this rubber bladder on top to squirt out some gas vapor. THEN you pulled the cord. The engine would stutter into life.
Then ... choices, choices. Do I take the front yard in one big circuit? Or do I break it down into quadrants. When I first started having to cut the grass I always went with smaller quadrants. The rectangle shrank faster this way. It made me feel as though I was making rapid progress. The downside was I'd look out at the vast yard and think about how many rectangles I'd have to trace. This made the yard seem bigger.
Eventually, it felt psychologically more robust to tackle the whole yard at once. First I'd try just to trace ALL of the yard on this side of the driveway ... right up to the house, the back fence, the property line down to the street, from the street to the driveway, up the driveway to the front walk, then along the monkey grass back to my starting point. But I soon realized that this was too academic. It was OKAY to deal with the side yard separately.
Then I took on the main part of the front yard. The first circuit took some concentration. I had to stagger my way along the curb to cut the swathe by the street. Then I had to edge slowly along that monkey grass. But after this initial demarcation, it was straight on to glory.
Here was a new, higher satisfaction: the inexorable. Slowly, slowly that rectangle shrunk to a little strip in the middle of the yard. Finally, the remaining strip was narrower than the mower. I'd sometimes pause, like a bullfighter about to plunge the sword, before making that last pass.
Then I'd reach down and nudge the lever to shut off the mower. The world was so quiet. Wind blowing in the trees. A mockingbird.