What I Should’ve Said About the Sangha…

So last week I posted a video titled “My Sangha“, it was all about what it means to take refuge in the Sangha if you’re in an area without a temple or Zen center, or if you just don’t have the availability to regularly participate in a local Sangha. Yet, for all that I did say, I’ve begun to realize, there was quite a bit I didn’t say, and more importantly there was quite a bit a could have said better, and probably quite a bit I should clarify. So let’s talk about it right now!

YouTube is a great outlet for sharing and discussing ideas but, one of the problems with the medium of Youtube, for me at least, is that sometimes it can be difficult to effectively communicate and express your thought in such a short form medium. I try my best to keep my videos at or around 15 minutes, and usually I’m trying to cover a lot of ground in that time. Sometimes things get lost in that process or I’m not quite as clear as I’d like to be. Last week’s video about taking refuge in the Sangha is one such example.

I received a great comment on that video that made me recognize that I should say more on the subject.

“Taking refuge in the Sangha is not just about what a Sangha means to you. Members of a Sangha are seeking refuge in you, too. So, it is best, if you can to practice in person with a Sangha, so that you are there for them as well. We can also develop hubris if we believe we don’t need a teacher or other Sangha members to “catch” us in our belief that we’ve got it, when in fact we are far from it.”

There are some really excellent points here.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that an official Sangha is not important or helpful. In fact, just last weekend I took the Refuge vows and the Five Lay Precepts. By taking the Refuge vows and the Five Lay Precepts, I officially joined the Morning Sky Zen Sangha and I became a part of the Tsaodong Ch’an Lineage and tradition..

Now, I’ve discussed the refuge vows in the past couple videos, this is the Triple Refuge, the Refuge of the Three jewels, the triple gem, or the three shelters.

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take Refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

As my teacher explained in that ceremony, taking refuge in the Buddha does not simply mean the historical figure of the Buddha but the Buddha Nature found in everyone. Here the Buddha represents Enlightenment.

Taking refuge in the Dharma is not simply taking refuge in the teachings of the Buddha but the teachings of all beings. In other words, here, the Dharma represents truth.

And, finally taking refuge in the Sangha is not simply the community of fellow practitioners but also the community of all beings.

And that’s part of what I was trying to highlight in last week’s video.

In his book, Friends on the Path, Thich Nhat Hanh writes the follwoing:

The trees, water, air, birds, and so on can all be members of our sangha. A beautiful walking path may be part of our sangha. A good cushion can be also. We can make many things into supportive elements of our sangha. This idea is not entirely new; it can be found throughout the sutras and in the Abhidharma, too. A pebble, a leaf and a dahlia are mentioned in the Saddharmapundarika Sutra in this respect. It . If is said in the Pure Land Sutra that if you are mindful, then when the wind blows through the trees, you will hear the teaching of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and so on. The whole cosmos is preaching the buddhadharma and practicing the buddhadharma. If you are attentive, you will get in touch with that sangha.

This is meant to not only stress the interconnectedness of all things, but I also think that its meant to give some encouragement to those of us who are not always in the position to be a part of an official Sangha in person. When we can see that the sangha is not limited to particular place or a specific group of individuals, but that the sangha is also comprised of all sentient beings, as well as anything and anyone we come into contact with during our practice, We can then recognize that we are never alone, we are never not part of a community – we are all part of an interdependent web of life, our community is always all around us.

We should welcome and acknowledge the support of the community that is always near us.

I’ve been reading a paraphrasing of Dogen‘s Shobogenzo by Brad Warner, called Don’t Be a Jerk, in it he writes that we should “rely on whatever has the truth, whether it’s a lamppost or a stop sign or a Buddha, whether it’s a stray dog, a demon or a god, or a man or a woman” and that one should even “look to trees and stones to be your teachers, even fields and villages might preach to you, as it says in the Lotus Sutra. Question lampposts and investigate fences and walls.”

I think what I wanted to try to say was that regardless of one’s location, availability, or circumstances one can always take refuge in the sangha of all beings, they too are part of one’s sangha.

In this regard, I don’t think its a bad or irreverent thing to ask what a Sangha is?, or what a Sangha is for you?

A really great book I read years ago is a book called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark In it he writes that “religion can, and should be, objected to, questioned, and talked about. Contrary to many adherents who demand unquestioning respect for their faith, religion is perfectly and wonderfully objectionable.”

“The religiously faithful aren’t just permitted to critique and complain and reform; they’re BOUND to do as much BY religion. Without it, there is no faithfulness”

To me, this seems to be in keeping with the evolution of Buddhism. The historical development and progression of Buddhism has proven to be quite plastic, by that I mean that the tradition is malleable, there is a fluidity there. In each successive generation practitioners have constantly been found asking what it meanss to be a Buddhist in their context. As a result Buddhism has constantly adapted to changes of time and place, and it has done so without ever losing its core principles and teachings.

One of the books I just started reading is a book called Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Here’s a passage that I think gets at what I mean here:

The world we work in today is not the world of Michelangelo, of Marie Curie, of Ernest Hemingway, or even of Paul Rand. It is a new world, empowered and entranced by the rapid-fire introduction of new technologies—a world where our metaphysical front door is always open, where anyone can whisper in our ear, where a “room of one’s own” no longer means you’re all alone.

We can easily apply this to the Buddhist tradition, or any other tradition for that matter.

The world we live in today is not the world of the Buddha, of Bodhidharma, of Hongzhi, of Dogen, or of any of the other great teachers and Zen masters. It is a new world…

As Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in his book, Cosmopolitanism, “the worldwide web of information – radio, television, telephones, the Internet – means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere, too.”

For example, I should mention that the Morning Sky Zen Sangha, isn’t exactly what you would call a traditional Sangha. It’s primarily based online. I live in Palm Bay, Florida and my teacher is in Kansas City, MO., and its other members are found all over the country. In other words, by embracing and utilizing the internet based communications technologies our modern world, my Sangha is reformulating what a Sangha is, what a Sangha looks like, and what a Sangha can be in the reality of our present world.

However, the refuge and support I receive from my teacher and the other members of my Sangha is in no way diminished by the fact that it is transmitted through an internet connection, if anything, the fact that the support of my Sangha can transcend the barriers and limitations of geography in such a way is a testament to its strength and vitality.

I believe firmly that our faithfulness or commitments to our beliefs, ideals, and traditions is directly proportionate to our ability to question them, our ability to reevaluate them, and our ability to reformulate them.

By asking what a Sangha truly is, what it means to be a part of Sangha, what a sangha means for me, or what a Sangha means for you, it is a way of acknowledging the fact that our world has dramatically changed and continues to do so, and it is way of expressing our deep commitment to these traditions and ideas.

In What is Zen? Norman Fischer writes that “Zen has to be different to fit us, but we have to be different to fit Zen.”

It is a reciprocal activity.

As Thich Nhat Hanh writes “When we say, ‘I take refuge in the sangha,’ it is not a statement, it is a practice.”

It is an active orientation, a vow of reciprocal action, a promise enacted reciprocity.

Returning to Thich Nhat Hanh, he say that “A sangha is not a community of practice in which each person is an island, unable to communicate with each other—this is not a true sangha. No healing or transformation will result from such a sangha. A true sangha should be like a family in which there is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.”

He goes on to say – “Don’t think that we sit for ourselves. You don’t sit for yourself alone, you sit for the whole sangha—not only the sangha, but also for the people in your city, because when one person in the city is less angry, is smiling more, the whole city profits.”

When we sit, we sit with and for all beings, we sit with and for the entire world.

As Dogen explains, “Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.”

We should not only be the recipients of support, we should equally lend support to whatever community we find ourselves a part of.

We should take refuge in the sangha of all beings, but also all beings should be able to take refuge in us, as we are part of their sangha as well.

In other words, the Sangha is the practice of being open and aware enough to receive the support available from the entire world, it is taking refuge in the entirety of the world. But, it is also the practice of being open-enough to be the space in which the entire world can take refuge in you.

What makes a Sangha a Sangha is not it’s physical location or its brick and mortar structure. A Sangha is not limited to a building, or one geographical place, nor is it liimited to the the literal proximity of the participants to one another. The Sangha extends beyond all this. What makes a Sangha a Sangha is the shared reciprocity of caring support and compassionate connection. To take refuge is to be a refuge.

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Abstraction, Production, and the Possibility of Cosmopolitanism

 

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Last week I wrote a post entitled “Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality, and the Existence of Superiority.” I’ve continued to ponder those same musings.

I’ve wondered to myself “What is the actual value of ‘nationalism’?”

This is at once both a genuine and a rhetorical question. (Here my thinking is both scattered an nonlinear, please bear with me).

Humanity has persisted primariy because of its capacity as a Tool Being. For example, our survival has been predicated upon the following ‘tools’:

  1. abstraction – the ability to create meaning-laden ‘symbols’ and ideas (language, mathematical notation, etc.)
  2. cooperation – the complex creation of ‘social’ life throug the establishment of norms and values (also abstractions).
  3. production – that is, the ability to create ‘tools'(/technology) – both material and non-material (symbols, ideas, norms, values, ect.)

In this regard, perhaps above all, the key to our survival is our neural plasticity. That is, our ability to not oly cognize but, to ‘re’-cognize, examine, observe, evaluate, and change/adapt ourselves, our ‘tools’ and ‘tool’ methodologies, i.e. our symbols, ideas, norms, and values.

A nation-state, for example, is but an abstraction, a non-material tool, its underpinnings being only symbolic. It is a ‘Production’ of ‘Abstraction’ and ‘Cooperation’. The nation-state is a combinative outcome (production) of ‘social’ (cooperative) Institutions (abstraction); the combination of the ‘state’ (Political Institution) and the ‘nation’ (Cultural Institution). Even its borders are non-material and are an arbitrary creation. No doubt like any other symbolic product of tool creation, it was an attempt to serve a purpose but, at what prce? At what cost? Has the ‘end’ justified the means? It has certainly not been without its faults. It has been and continues to be historically rife with tension, terror, and turmoil. Perhaps, it is a tool/technology that has out lived its usefulness, especially given the immense economic and ‘ecological’ disasters we are facing at present.

Rather than attempt to continue to ‘cement’ and ‘concretize’ a non-material notion, perhaps we should begin to ‘plasticize’ such cognitions, re-evaluate their performance, and make the necessary adaptations. Perhaps, a return (of sorts) is in order, a return and re-invention of the thought of Diogenes, a reinvigoration of a kind of cosmopolitanism, in which one’s primary identification is neither the nation-state nor the city-state but, to the polis of the cosmos, citizens of the world.

However, I don’t mean this in some idealistic or utopia way. In proposing a kind of cosmopolitanism I’m not advocating cultural relativism (multiculturalism/’tolerance’) – whch suggests that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal vaue.This is an ideological tool for hegemonic utilization which seeks to establish something of an implicitly or explicitly homgoneous mono-culture. In many cases, the multiculturalist endeavor actually avoids ‘difference’ and fails to honestly or authentically acknowledge the Otherness of the other and the corresponding inequalities. In this way multiculturalism actually serves as a means to maintain the status-qou. Multiculturalism functions as a kind of invisible imperialism and a cloaked colonialism supporting dominant culture (cosumeristic globalization, perhaps?).

By saying that I question the supremacy/superiority of some cultures or doubting that there are superior cultures I am not proposing that they are all of equal vaue.

On one hand, I’m attempting to avoid ethnocentrism, which attempts to judge another cuture by the standards of one’s own. This impairs sociological analysis, and what is needed is the furthered development of a sociological uderstading of culture.

On the other hand, I’m acknowledging that the atrocities denounced by the ‘tolerance’ of multiculturalism is, in fact, implicitly persistent within the muticuturalist’s culture. For instance, one may openly protest the malevolent sexism within the barbarous act of female genital mutilation but, will probably have nothing to say about the litanty of mutilations known as Plastic Surgery performed and undergone for no other reason than as an attempt to conform one’s body to the Western notions of sexiness, masquerading as a free-choice.

“The thing to do,”as Zizek explains, “is to change the entire field, introducing a totally different Universal, that of an antagonistic struggle which does not take place between particular communities, but splits from within each community, so that the ‘trans-cultural’ link between communities is that of a shared struggle”.

The point, then, of this re-invented cosmopolitanism is not  cultures of ‘equal value’ but, equal struggle. It is the universality of struggle and power relations. The universal unification of struggle betwen more and less advantaged groups. Universal Citizens of universal struggle universally united by the emancipatory struggle towards universal liberation.

 

 

Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality,and the Existence of Superiority….

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Most of the time I find social media, especially Facebook, insufferable and I grow increasingly impatient with the incessant stream of inconsequential fodder posted under the pretenses of ‘content’. Yet, as many times as I’ve wanted to pull the plug, and as close as I’ve come to hitting that deactivate button the one thing that keeps me clinging to my account begrudgingly is the rare opportunity to actually engage in intelligent discussion. Below is a snippet of one such conversation. My sparing partner, a Facebook friend with whom I differ in opinion greatly, is someone I respect and consider to be a very intelligent and learned individual. We were participating in lively yet very respectful debate/dialogue regarding nationalism, the supremacy or superiority of some cultures to others, nihilism, morality, and the recognition of good and evil. The gist of my friend’s proposal was that history reveals that there are indeed superior cultures, that superiority finds its basis in nature, and that, amongst many other topics lol, nihilism does not supply a push towards betterment in the same way that morality does. Below is a summation of my response, I’d love to know what you think.
As crass as this may seem one must begin by asking what is ‘superiority’? What does it mean for something to be superior, especially in relation to an alternative? What is the methodological criteria by which to judge superiority? Who is it precisiely that decides/judges and by what authority have they been deputized to do so?Is the means by which to do so objectiviably verifiable and tangible? What is it’s legitimating determination?
Or, is it simply a question of the majority or the greatest number? Here, even utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill, with their ethical calculations, are suspicious, seeing the totalitaran ability of the ‘many’ to encroach upon the liberty of the ‘few’ as unavoidably authoritarian and un-ethical.
Also, I’m not sure its conducive to propose the presence of ‘superiority’ in nature, the categorization being an entirely anthropocentric notion/description. In nature it is more accurate to speak of genetic ‘fitness’ and environmental ‘adaptability’. Even if we do, for the sake of argument, accept the terminological idea to have ‘natural’ (for lack of a better term, *I must note that the division between nature and society is a false dichotomy) implications we can see that while there are certainly creatures that are superior in the ‘particular’ they are not superior universally, i.e. there may be superior swimmers, superior, climbers, superior runners, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that a species is superior  in every way or superior to all other species. (This kind of notion of superiority and supremacy seems to waft of a kind of implicit fascism and despotism, is it not this same kind of thinking that was used to justify slavery and the oppressive subjugation of indigenous peoples, seeing them not as ‘people’ but as an inferior species and less than human?). It would also seem less than ‘natural’ to then conclude that because one species is ‘superior’ to another it should then be the only allowable species in an environment, this would certainly produce a definite and potentially catastrophic  “imbalance.” The idea of human-supremacy has lead to our current ecological state of disaster.
I can personally attest (at least from my own experience) that nihilism and ethicality are not mutually exclusive and are perfectly compatible. As perhaps something of a nihilist/cosmic pessimist myself (perhaps in the Schopenhauerian sense, here I’m also a bit of a misanthrope), I think that existence/life is both arbitrary and meaningless. But, it is precisely this void that has created for me an ethical urgency and a moral imperative. If existence is ‘meaning-less’ than we are faced with the absolute responsibility for ‘meaning-creation’. In this regard, to say that something is ‘meaning-less’ is not the same as to say that there is ‘no-meaning’ or there can be no meaning, there is simply no definitively intrinsic or inherent meaning .
“Meaning”, like morality, values, etc. is simply a technology/tool utilized in our survival – the capacity for symbolic abstraction (neural plasticity). In this regard, can we accurately say that morality “exists”? ‘Exists’ on what plane? On what level? To what degree? To what extent? In what way? Is its status of existence objective? Here, then, ‘good and evil’ are also not found in nature but, are of human invention, “good and evil” has no reality beyond human construction (symbolic abstraction – meaning value creation) and more often than not created as a means to ostracize and demonize the Other (Nietzsche’s example of Slave Morality may be helpful here). It’s interesting that in the realm of religion there are many religions that operate without a god but, almost  none without a devil. It seems that we necessitate a ‘villain’ far more. But, as Michael Shermer explains “[E]vil is not a fixed entity or essence. It is not a thing. Evil is a descriptive term for a range of environmental events and human behaviors that we describe and interpret as bad, wrong, awful, undesirable, or whatever appropriately descriptive or synonym for evil is chosen”. “Morality” is, at best, only ‘provisional’, applying “to most people in most cultures in most circumstances most of the time” (Shermer). (*quotes are from the book “The Science of Good and Evil”)
I’ve spent the entirety of my academic career and the entirety of my personal research studying and examining religion, culture, society, ect. and I cannot come to the conclusion that there are cultures as a whole that are objectively superior, especially not absolutely superior in every conceivable way. Like the nature example above, we could reasonable say that some aspects of cultures are superior (infrastructure, economy, judicial systems, etc.) and it is not to say that one, ‘in hind-sight’, may not find one culture preferable to another. Rome had a superior military to Greece but, the ‘thought’ of Greece was far superior to that of Rome (never mind the gluttonous corruption of the Empire, lol) Roman society could be considered superior to that of the Goths but, this did not stop the overthrow of Rome by the ‘Barbarian Horde’. In the same way, European society, as the arbiters of civility and civilization considered themselves superior to the native peoples but, who seems to have had the more harmonious civilization? History is not devoid of the influence of power relations, after all history has been written by the winners, lol (here I recommend the work of Michel Foucault).
It seems then that I’ve simply come full circle arriving back to the very questions of superiority  with which I began, lol. That is, objectively defining the grounds, parameters, and legitimacy of supremacy in a tangibly verifiable capacity.
I should say that these are not necessarily questions of outright disagreement but, questions of ultimacy and validity.
As Socrates once said “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”

What’s the Difference Between God, the Devil, and a President?

PicMonkey Collage

In two words….Absolutely Nothing!

All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.

In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.

In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.

In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…

What’s in a Name?: Is ‘God’ in Need of Upgrade or Obsoletion?

I must admit I’m certainly not one of the most original thinkers; a thinker? yes, original? probably not so much. I try to counter-act my apparent lack of originality by at least being well-read. I’m usually reading between 5-7 books simultaneously and I scour the Internet and social media for articles of interest with the hopes of happening upon an unseen connection that may spark a bit of inspiration.

In one of many meanderings into social media and forays into the world-wide-web of information I came across an article on Michael Dowd‘s website entitled, “God is Reality Personified, Not a Person.” A great title for sure and an intriguing read.
In the article Dowd’s primary thesis is simply this: “God is not a person; God is a mythic personification of reality…not an invisible friend or otherworldly entity.” Agreed! He goes on to specify that “ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications.” Anthropologically speaking, this point simply can’t be overemphasized.
In this regard, Dowd highlights the fact that “we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control.” Similarly, I do think the concept of ‘God’ was an important stepping stone in the evolution of humanity. At one time it was an idea that held an immense functionality (Prof. Lloyd Geering gives a wonderful talk on precisely this point, you can find it here). It served as what Ken Wilber might call a “Theory of Everything”. However, as Wilber explains a good theory of everything is “not fixed or final” but, rather is one “that has served its purpose if it helps you get to a better one” (xiii). In other words, ‘God’ functioned as a kind of a prehistoric/ancient innovative technology, and like most technologies, over time may have become outdated, outmoded, and obsolete. In this regard, I wonder if perhaps theologians, in their total reliance upon what they believe to be the necessary preservation of the ‘God’ hypothesis, are, in effect, trying to force dial-up to function optimally within a Broadband world.
It seems that many theologians and religious thinkers, whether liberal or conservative, radical, orthodox, or heterodox, weave such an elaborate, complex, and, an often contradictory tapestry in an effort to make the idea of ‘God” work, one cannot help but think to ask, “if it takes such an immense amount of effort and strain to justify a particular idea, perhaps the idea itself is fundamentally flawed?” Even though I have garnered much from various theological thinkers and many religious academic or intellectuals, I still wonder if ‘theology’ carries far too much baggage to be genuinely helpful and if ‘God’ is far too value-laden to be of use. Paul Van Buren goes so far as to suggest suggests that terms such as ‘theology’ and ‘God’ are “either meaningless or misleading.” Thus, the more I have ventured into the studies of history, human origins, language, ethology, ethnology, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, and ecology, the more I think that Geering has a point, perhaps as he suggests ALL ‘talk’ regardless of what it is about cannot be anything other than ‘human talk’, and ‘theology’ is nothing other than anthropology (Geering, 3). (This is not to say, however, that I think that there are not paths to think beyond the ‘human’; see The Ecological ThoughtEcology Without NatureLarvel Subjects.)
It seems then, (although I may be mistakenly oversimplifying) that we have one of three options. Though I can’t say at this time which if any of the three are better or more helpful:
1) neologism  –  in this case that is re-naming ‘God’, inventing new words, phrases, concepts, or ideas to be used in place of ‘God’.  This seems to only offer more confusion rather than more clarity, as it would only be an elite or select few that would maintain any sense of familiarity. Here, I think of Caputo’s “Event”. This is a beautiful concept but, as a friend of mine astutely observed, “what everyday person hears the word ‘God’ and thinks of the event?”
2) re-appropriation – in other words, preserving the verbiage, rhetoric, and ‘name’ of ‘God’ while reformulating its contents and meaning. For example, another friend of mine takes the Paulinian idea, “God IS Love” quite literally, suggesting that whenever and wherever there is love, there is God. In his usage Love is God. Here, he simply uses “God” as a kind of symbolic place holder/synonym for love. While I can sympathize with this move to an extent and while I’m sure this re-appropriation works for him individually. I think it similarly succumbs to the same pitfalls of neologism. There seems to be a break down of practicality, praxis, and performance. We simply do not engage with “god” and “love” in interchangeable ways when observing the realm of everyday religious practice. Love is a verb, not a noun, personal or proper. Love is not and should not be an ‘object’ of devotion, worship, prayer, veneration, or observance. Love is an action, it is enacted, it is performative. (But, in this idea’s defense, perhaps, ‘God’ needs to go through a re-verbing process.)
Dowd, too, alludes to a kind re-appropriation in his article:
[W]e see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our life and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. This is real life! This is reality as it really is, whether or not we like it. There can be no argument whether or not this reality exists. If you don’t want to call it a power, call it a force, an up-against-ness, or simply the universe as it really is. As Bultmann points out in his essay, we are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Words may fail us, but we all know this reality intimately, personally.

Here, Dowd says that “For me to look into the awe-filling fullness of life and pronounce the name “God” means a commitment of my life to reality-based living…Reality is my God, evidence is my scripture, and integrity (living in right relationship with reality and helping others do the same) is my religion.” Yet, Dowd, when quoting Rudolf Bultmann. poses what I think is an important question to consider: “Why call this mysterious power ‘God’? Why give the enigma, the mystery that drives us this way and that and hedges us in, any other name but ‘the enigma’, or ‘fate’?” These are questions I have constantly asked myself when it comes to ‘God’. Perhaps, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no be no, in other words, perhaps, we should simply let ‘Love’ be love, let love stand on its own two feet, unmasked and unfettered. Why can’t we simply let the enigma be the enigma and let mystery be mystery? Are these not strong enough ideas and words on their own? Or am I being hypocritical here? Elsewhere I have written about how much I admire the philosophical use of language, that is, the way in which philosophy dramatical alters the meaning, significance, and content of common place everyday language in ways that are then anything but ordinary.

Finally…
3) rejection/abandonment – letting go of ‘God’, disengaging from its usage, dismissing its utilization, and declining its employment. Many credible thinkers that are steeped in theology suggest just such a route (Geering, Cupitt, etc.). This needn’t be an antagonistic maneuver. It can be reverent as it can recognize that these ‘theorizations’ have been useful in the past but, they have served their purpose.
 As a committed non-theist/atheist I must confess that I greatly lean towards rejection and abandonment, as I have no use spiritual or transcendent aspects of ‘God’ but, as an equally committed academic student of religion I still recognize that there is a kind of ‘power’ and magnanimity in the word and concept of ‘God’, especially in its ability to encapsulate and evoke that which is of ultimate concern.  I cannot say with any absolute certainty that complete rejection is actually the best way forward. I am simply unsure. Consider the immense immanence, materiality, and earthenness found in the following passage by Zen Buddhist priest Brad Warner from his book Hardcore Zen:
 
Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God. Everything is a worthy object of worship…Truth announces itself when you kick away a discarded bottle of Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Truth rains on you from the sky above, and God forms in puddles at your feet. You eat God and excrete truth four hours later. Take a whiff—what a lovely fragrance the truth has! Truth is reality itself. God is reality itself. Enlightenment, by the way, is reality itself. And here it is.

Do we replace the word ‘God’? Do we invent whole new trajectories of ‘God’ language? Do we maintain its usage, its structure, and completely overhaul, renovate, and remodel its interior content? Or do we simply walk away, tip our hats, count our losses, and make for the exits, discarding the verbiage by the wayside as mile marker monument to where we have been and how far we have come as a species and culture? I don’t know…

What’s in a name? But, more importantly, where do we go from here?

The Horror of Philosophical Language

In a recent blog post entitled “Philosophical Language“, philosopher Levi Paul Bryant highlights the way in which certain fields and areas of study, especially and specifically philosophy, seem to participate in a kind of subversion of language, that is, the distortion of normalcy in everyday speech. Bryant describes this endeavor as “an athleticism of language,” explaining this to be “an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts  what the analytics call ‘ordinary language'”. To which I respond with an excitedly affirmative “precisely!” This can be witnessed in nearly every philosophical work of merited weight, importance, and vigor. Commonplace words, terms, phrases, and even ideas are packed and loaded with a plethora of seemingly extraneous ‘meaning’, significance, nuance, and subtlety, making language that was commonly and ordinarily understood anything but. Here, as Bryant explains, “Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories…and unheard of directions.” We may think we know but, we have no idea.

In one regard, I think this is not so much the insidious desires of the philosopher alone but, may actually be the evolutionary nature of language itself. Here, it would seem that the subversiveness of language with its disruptive un-mooring and inventive new trajectories is indicative of its emergent properties as a ‘complex adaptive system’, that is, a dynamic and fluid system in which behavioral mutations and adaptations evolve, and continue to evolve, individually and communally in conjunction with alteration eliciting events in agency interactions. In other words, language, adapts itself to the necessities, requirements, and demands of changing events within the progressive interactions of agents. Language reflexively twists itself into new permutations aiding agency in its ability to adapt to changes within the environment.
Lacan’s theory of the symbolic order proves useful here when he explains that “language is not man’s creation and instrument, it is man who ‘dwells’ in language.” Said another way, Laurie Anderson supposed that “Language is a virus”. It continually replicates itself, spreading infectiously, and the more we try immunize ourselves with its understanding the more it mutates into ever more resistant forms. It would appear that we may be in a kind of parasitic relationship with language, language is a parasite and we are the host. If this is the case language was never ‘ordinary’, never safe but, always already twisted, disturbing, and disruptive.
This, in a way, seems to be in keeping with what Bryant is suggesting when he proposes that Philosophy’s ability to disturb the commonplace usage of ordinary language is “always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed.” In his book, In the Dust of this Planet, Eugene Thacker attempts to outline and explicate Philosophy’s ‘sci-fi’ underpinnings and methodology, which also seems to go a long way in uncovering and explaining philosophy’s ‘monstrous’ use of language. He does this through horror…
Thacker writes that “one of the greatest challenges that philosophy faces today lies in comprehending the world in which we live as both a human and a non-human world – and of comprehending this politically.” Thacker expounds,
On the one hand, we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest is the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, and the progressive extinction of species world-wide. On the other hand, all these effects are linked, directly and indirectly, to our living in and living as a part of this non-human world.

Zizek writes that “speech does not only register or express a traumatic psychic life; the entry into speech is in itself a traumatic fact.” Zizek continues saying that “speech tries to cope with the traumatic impact of speech itself.” However, Zizek goes on to state that this reciprocity should also be reversed, stating that, “speech does not simply express/articulate psychic turmoils; at a certain point, psychic turmoils themselves are a reaction to the trauma of dwelling in the ‘torture-house of language’.”  Thacker suggests that this seems to be illustrated by the ‘fear’ induced by horror, or, more specifically, the horror genre. Here, Thacker proposes that “horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” Horror is indicative of the unknowable, the ineffable, “the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hidenness” (Thacker, 171). This is the experience of the confrontation with an ecological totality that is ultimately and primarily ‘non-human’. Thus, Thacker proposes that this is “the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable” and “In so far as it deals with this limit of thought, encapsulated in the phrase of the world-without-us, horror is ‘philosophical’.” As such, horror is nothing short of an “attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically.” Here, philosophy is horror, and horror is philosophy, in so far as it bears an air of mysticism, becoming a kind of ‘secularized/atheistic’, negative or apophatic theology.

If this is the case, as Thacker suggests and Byant alludes, then how else could such a realm be explored or thought about but by the contagion of an infectious linguistic viral fluxing, the grotesque mutations of philosophical speech, the twisted and tumultuous inexpressibility of traumatic trajectories, and the whole new, ‘wholly other’ disturbing directions of a mysterium tremendum. Language, in symbiosis with philosophers, becomes like elves transformed to Orcs, once serene, beautiful, majestic, and regal creatures “taken by the dark [daemonic or daimonic] powers, tortured and mutilated” evolving into a brand new species aimed at ending the reign of man, that is, revealing the ecological essence of the world. As Thacker elucidates, this is not “the world-for-us” of the ‘World’, nor is it the “world-in-itself” of the Earth, but a nebulous in-between, “impersonal and horrific,” it is the “world-without-us” of the Planet.
Zizek suggests that “Language, by itself, is lying.” “[H]ow” then, “does one rethink the world as unthinkable? – that is, in the absence of the human-centric point of view, and without an over-reliance on the metaphysics of being,” as Thacker asks? Here, Zizek expanding upon Elfriede Jelinek answers, saying “‘Language should be tortured to tell the truth.’ It should be twisted, denaturalized, extended, condensed, cut, and reunited, made to work against itself.” In between gods and monsters may we summon challenge and disruption, invention and subversion, with the horror of philosophical language.

Ecology of the Incarnation: A/theology, Ecocriticism, and the Gospel

A few months ago was involved in a discussion in which I was being asked to explain my commitment to veganism/vegetarianism. Throughout the course of the conversation I focused primarily upon ecology but, peppered my dialogue with religious, or more specifically Christian symbols, rhetoric, and language. Although, I did my my undergrad in Religious Studies, I am something of an outspoken atheist/non-theist/post-theist, a fact my conversation partner was all too aware. Needless to say my extended reliance of ‘Gospel’ language struck my associate as odd and questioned the intentionality of it use in our dialogue. Below is a bit of my explanation and response. I welcome your thoughts. Enjoy!
My use of gospel language is both intentional and habitual. This is indicative of my background and my residual framework. It still is something of a lense through a view things. But, there is something else going on that is intended. I remain sympathetic to not only the gospel language but, the impetus of what I believe the gospel tradition to be. Ecology, has, for me, allowed for a methodological bridge to discursively and dialogically reconcile my Atheism and my latent Christianity into something of a reflexive union. It provides me ethical practices but, it also opens the door for my atheistic ethicality, rooted in philosophic materialism (i.e. reality comprised of matter and energy), to have an enriched significance through an ecological or ecocritical partnership with Christian symbols.
For example, the incarnation, the idea that God became man, the Word became flesh, is the utter embodiment of God. This is the most philosophically materialistic of any of Christianity’s theological concepts or ideas, as its operative significance is wholly hinged upon divinity merging completely and bodily with ‘earthenness’. Here, God becomes indistinguishable from ‘creation’ and is kenotically self-emptied into the world and into matter. The ousia specific and essential to the incarnation “is not only specifically human, it is also creaturely” (10, *my emphasis added). This is because, as Sallie McFague makes clear, “the model of the body includes all life-forms, indeed, all matter on our planet,” and thus, the “body is a model that links us with everything in the most intimate way” (17). Thus, the modus operandi of the incarnation is not ‘God’ become ‘man’, this would be a diminution of the radical and revolutionary potentiality of the incarnation as its severely limits its scope.  Instead it is God become ‘creaturely’. The incarnation is ecology. This means that the applicability of the concepts and ‘ideas’ of incarnation, redemption, even resurrection do not and cannot stop at the door of the human. It does and must extend down to literally everything ‘earthen’. The orphan, the widow, and the stranger is synonymous with the sow, the calf, and the hen, the land, the water, and the air, dispossessed and disenfranchised. Who are ‘the least of these’ equated as the disguised ‘Christ’ anything and everything in need, ravaged by the wiles of empire, and voicelessly defenseless;  the ground hungry and needing something to eat, thirsty and needing something to drink; the environment itself as a stranger, or what Timothy Morton aptly calls “strange strangers”, needing to be invited in; the land stripped naked and yearning to be clothed; species in prison and sick needing to be visited. Who is my neighbor? All of the above and more.
Here, I’m trying to extend the circle of care and concern wider than simply our own species, realizing that the human/non-human/animal dichotomy is a false binary. Here, I’ve often quipped that I am religious but not spiritual. Although this is stated with a bit of sarcasm it is quite evocative of my position, I am devout, not in the way of a commitment religious institutions, dogma, or doctrine, but in the way of being devoted to the rigorous routinization of  ‘ritualized observances’ (terms used loosely) of moral and ethical praxis. This to me is essential to any and all philosophies, how is it lived out? Where, when, how, and what does it look like with boots on the ground, and carried through to their fullest conclusions? If it doesn’t translate into practical application and the alteration of one’s engagement with what Husserl referred to as the “life-world” I greatly question its validity and usefulness.
Linzey, Andrew. Animal Theology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Print.

McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.