Archive for the 'Religion' Category

The need for enchantment

Long-The-Spirt-of-the-Plains-1897

I just described our contemporary western culture as pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism.   I recalled a 2015 column by New York Times op-editor David Brooks on the need for enchantment in our lives.  A willingness to accept enchantment is indeed a counter-cultural act.

The dating sites have taken the information available online and tried to use it to match up specific individuals. They’ve failed. An exhaustive review of the literature by Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern and others concluded, “No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work.” That’s because what creates a relationship can’t be expressed in data or photographs. Being in love can’t be done by a person in a self-oriented mind-set, asking: Does this choice serve me? Online dating is fascinating because it is more or less the opposite of its object: love.

When online daters actually meet, an entirely different mind-set has to kick in. If they’re going to be open to a real relationship, they have to stop asking where this person rates in comparison to others and start asking, can we lower the boundaries between self and self. They have to stop thinking in individual terms and start feeling in rapport terms.

Basically, they have to take the enchantment leap. This is when something dry and utilitarian erupts into something passionate, inescapable and devotional. Sometimes a student becomes enraptured by the beauty of math, and becomes a mathematician. Soldiers doing the drudgery of boot camp are gradually bonded into a passionate unit, for which they will risk their lives. Anybody who has started a mere job and found in it a vocation has taken the enchantment leap.

In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.

When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.

I have to guess some cultures are more fertile for enchantment — that some activities, like novel-reading or music-making, cultivate a skill for it, and that building a capacity for enchantment is, these days, a countercultural act and a practical and fervent need.”

 

Reference:

David Brooks [2015]:  The devotion leap.  New York Times International Edition, 24-25 January 2015, page 9.

The  image is “The Spirit of the Plains” (1897) by Sydney Long (1871-1955), now in the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.




Of things unseen

I have remarked before that anyone who has spent any extended period living in Africa or Asia will have encountered people with strong beliefs, based on their own direct, personal experiences, in the existence of a non-material realm.   In many places, the overwhelming majority of people have such beliefs.  It may be that the majority of westerners, too, have had such experiences but our contemporary culture (pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism) inhibits their public expression, or even, sometimes, their private recognition.

Strangely, my thoughts on this subject I find mirrored uncannily by Lafcadio Hearn, writing 120 years ago.  Here is Hearn, writing about Shintô temples in Japan and his reactions to the associated beliefs:

Why certain architectural forms produce in the beholder a feeling of weirdness is a question about which I should like to theorize some day; at present I shall venture  only to say that Shintô shrines evoke such a feeling.  It grows with familiarity instead of weakening; and a knowledge of popular beliefs is apt to intensify it.   We have no English words by which these queer shapes can be sufficiently described, – much less any language able to communicate the peculiar impression which they make.  Those Shintô terms which we loosely render by the words “temple” and “shrine” are really [page-break] untranslatable; — I mean that the Japanese ideas attaching to them cannot be conveyed by translation.  The so-called “august house” of the Kami is not so much a temple, in the classic meaning of the term, as it is a haunted room, a spirit-chamber, a ghost-house; many of the lesser divinities being veritably ghosts, — ghosts of great warriors and heroes and rulers and teachers, who lived and loved and died hundreds or thousands of years ago.  I fancy that to the Western mind the word “ghost-house” will convey, better than such terms as “shrine” and “temple,” some vague notion of the strange character of the Shintô miya or yashiro, — containing in its  perpetual dusk nothing more substantial than symbols or tokens, the latter probably of paper.   Now the emptiness behind the visored front is more suggestive than anything  material could possibly be; and when you remember that millions of people during thousands of years have worshiped their great dead before such yashiro, — that a whole race still believes those buildings tenanted by viewless conscious personalities, — you are apt also to reflect how difficult it would be to prove the [page-break] faith absurd.  Nay!  In spite of Occidental reluctances, — in spite of whatever you may think it expedient to say or not to say at a later time about the experience, — you may very likely find yourself for a moment forced into the attitude of respect towards possibilities.   Mere cold reasoning will not help you far in the opposite direction.  The evidence of the senses counts for little:  you know there are ever so many realities which can neither be seen nor heard nor felt, but which exist as forces, — tremendous forces.  Then again you cannot mock the conviction of forty millions of people while that conviction thrills all about you like air, — while conscious that it is pressing upon your psychical being just as the atmosphere presses upon your physical being.  As for myself, whenever I am alone in the presence  of a Shintô shrine, I have the sensation of being haunted; and I cannot help thinking about the possible apperceptions  of the haunter.  And this tempts me to fancy how I should feel if I myself were a god, — dwelling in some old Izumo shrine on the summit of a hill, guarded by stone lions and  shadowed by a holy grove. (Hearn 1897, pages 2-4)”

 

Reference:

Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK:   Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.




Brussels life

Eglise-des-Peres-Carmes

Stained glass window in Eglise des Peres Carmes, Brussels, Belgium.




Paris at Easter

EgliseNotreDameDuTravail

Eglise Notre Dame du Travail, Montparnasse, Paris (built 1897-1902).




London Life

In solidarity with the people of France, and in support of human civilization, Trafalgar Square an hour ago:

TrafalgarSquareLondonJeSuisCharlie-20150111

(Photo Credit: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London)




A Minimalist Nativity Scene

A minimalist Nativity scene, by Emilie Voirin:

VOIRIN-Emilie-NativitySet




London life

Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London.

HP-SC-London-2012




The end of Catholicism in Ireland

It is hard to see how Catholicism can survive in Ireland, given that the Church seems to have been involved in maltreatment, starvation, and mass burial of innocent children in septic tanks, and within living memory. Who could belong to such an organization?  The church apologists have already started arguing that we should not judge the past with the criteria of the present, but when was it ever morally acceptable to murder children?  Like the Communist Party of the USSR, the Roman Catholic church in Ireland was a criminal conspiracy that captured the State, and as with the CPSU, it needs to be outlawed.  Only by closing down the whole shebang and starting afresh can any moral worth be retrieved from this evil, shameful, despicable organization.




Cause and effect in human health

Despite what most of the medical profession would have us believe, they have very little understanding of  the actual causes of or best treatments for the obesity epidemic currently sweeping the West.   What little scientific evidence there is on the relationship between exercise and body weight indicates that increasing exercise leads to increased weight (presumably because more activity makes the exerciser hungrier).   And the extensive scientific evidence on the relationship between dieting and weight indicates very strongly that this relationship is complicated, subject to contextual factors, and highly non-linear, with so-called “set points” that result in increased fat storage when calorie intake goes down significantly, for instance.

Continue reading ‘Cause and effect in human health’




Visual pleasure

StBridgetWavertreeLiverpool

Some buildings and spaces provide pleasure to the eye and heart, and an inexplicable lift to the spirits.   One such place is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Chicago, whose intimacy and proportions are ineffably balanced.  Another is the Italianate Church of St Brigid in Wavertree, Liverpool.  This Anglican church was designed by E. A. (Arthur) Heffer and built between 1868 and 1872.    The building can be clearly seen from the inter-city trains approaching and departing Liverpool’s Lime Street station, and seeing it never fails to lift my spirits.

Perhaps the pleasure arises from the stark contrast between the tall bell tower and the flat, surrounding landscape of  two-story Victorian terraces.  Or perhaps it is the shape and size of the tower; certainly, the visual pleasure would be much less if the tower were pyramid-shaped, or conical, or any shorter.