Friday, June 29, 2007 One Flew Over the Cosmic Nest One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin
I wanted to finish up my thoughts about Frithjof Schuon in commemoration of his 100th birthday. As I have said, I don't agree with everything he says, and in fact, I might even be in disagreement with one of his most unfunfundamental tenets, which is, to put it bluntly, that the world is in an inexorable slide toward dissolution and catastrophe, and that there's nothing we can do about it, at least collectively. In short, no one knows the day or hour, but we are headed toward apocalypse in a hand basket. I say I "might be" in disagreement, because I'm no longer sure if the world is evolutionary and progressive, or whether mankind's apparent progress is not only superficial, but a kind of deodorant that covers up the smell of the rot. I am an optimist by nature, an attitude which is further exacerbated by a disposition that is essentially cheerful, sunny, and sort of jovial. But what if the universe is not cheerful, sunny and jovial? Then I'm distorting things every bit as much as the depressed and morbid person who sees life as one hopeless struggle, aren't I? Obviously, when I wrote my book, I was unabashedly in the evolutionary camp. This was undoubtedly due to the influence first of Ken Wilber and then Sri Aurobindo, both of whom see the cosmos as a field of progressive spiritual evolution. A while back, I wrote that.... Never mind what I wrote. I was about to select a quote, but I couldn't pick just one, so here's the link to the whole thing. It is a reflection of the optimistic side of me, which again comes very naturally. But that doesn't mean it's correct, now does it? Then again, the traditionalists such as Schuon all appear to me to be on the serious side, to say the least. I've almost read Schuon's entire body of work, and I don't think there's a single gag in the whole existentialada, except maybe the hollow and bitter kind, as Bertie Wooster might put it. In my more grandiose moments, I sometimes think that maybe I was put here to introduce a little levity into the gravity of religion. I mean.... somebody's gotta do it, right? Alan Watts was a pretty funny guy, but he was also alcoholic and had a spanking fetish.... not that there's anything wrong with that, but my point is that whatever seriousness he was able to convey through humor did not extend to himself, since he was a pretty frivolous character, and underneath the frivolity were some pretty dark currents. Thus, he was only superficially frivolous, whereas my goal is to be deeply frivolous. Come to think of it, I have to say that all of the spiritual models I was initially drawn to were of that nature. Given my basic temperament, I just couldn't take traditional religions seriously. They were just too easy to make fun of. So I was drawn toward people like Watts, Ram Dass, Terence McKenna, and even a sociopath like Timothy Leary, since at least they all had a sense of humor. Is my sense of humor just a giant defense mechanism? Here's where I think psychology can go too far. Yes, there are certainly people who use humor as a defense to cover up their problems. Just think of all the deeply troubled great comedians. Research has shown that there is a very high incidence of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, among great poets, but the comedians might even be worse. There are the completely self-destructive ones, like Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, and John Belushi, and a great many who clearly just use comedy to cover up an essentially bitter and angry personality, such as Bill Maher, David Letterman, or Rosie O'Donnell. Ironically, it is apparently rare to find a comedian who is actually fun to be around and happy in his private life. At any rate, something in me caused me to reject all of the above "stand-up theologians" for a variety of reasons, even though I suppose I wanted to retain their playful attitude. As I mentioned the other day, if there is one adage I live by, it is to simply follow the depth, wherever it leads. This includes scientific truth, psychological truth, theological truth, and comedic truth. Is there any fundamental reason why ultimate truth can't be deeply funny, a guffah-ha experience, the joke than which there is no jokier? Yes, I suppose so. First of all, if you aren't funny, you shouldn't try to be. Please, leave it to the professionals. And the professionals know that it is much more difficult to write good comedy than good drama. Even more difficult is to write good comedy that is simultaneously deep. Now that I think of it, my favorite films tend to be those that walk that fine line between comedy and drama, for example, Sunset Boulevard or One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. And now that I think of it some more -- and I'm thinking about this for the first time -- I can't even tell you how much I was influenced by the latter film. I was 18 or 19 when it came out, and it was sort of a.... religious experience. In short, I totally identified with the R.P. McMurphy character, who was quite transparently a symbol of the messiah. And when I say "messiah," I don't necessarily mean it in the Christian sense, but in Bion's sense as the person who comes along and injects a little life into the dead and sclerotic establishment. I even had the movie poster on the wall of my shabby little apartment back in the day. Obviously, this is why I was a default liberal in my younger days, since I identified "the establishment" with conservatives. But as I was mentioning to my uncomprehending brother the other evening, one of the biggest disappointments in my life is how my own generation has become the stultifying establishment -- conformist, narrow-minded, humorless, politically correct, authoritarian, fearful of change. I mean, Hillary Clinton is the very image of Nurse Ratched, is she not? From Wikipedia: "Nurse Mildred Ratched is the head administrative nurse at the state mental hospital, where she exercises near-absolute power over the patients' access to medications, privileges, and basic necessities such as food and toiletries. She capriciously revokes these privileges whenever a patient displeases her. Her superiors turn blind eyes because she maintains order, keeping the patients from acting out... A cold sadistic, tyrant obsessed with her own power.... She has also become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of power and authority in bureaucracies.... When McMurphy arrives at the hospital, however, her dictatorial rule is nearly toppled; he not only flouts her precious rules with impunity, but encourages the other patients to follow his example. Her attempts to cow him into submission -- at first with threats and mild punishments, then with shock therapy -- are unsuccessful. If anything, they only make him more defiant...."
So back to my theological dilemma. In many ways, the question of whether the cosmos is evolutionary or degenerative comes down to whether God is a funny guy or more like the morbid fellow portrayed in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yes, it's an extended quote, so skip it if you want, but it's pretty entertaining. Otherwise, this is the end of today's post...posted by Gagdad Bob at 6/29/2007 07:37:00 AM 29 Comments: