Phillip K. Dick’s Mystical Experience

Here is the article.

Whatever it was, this mind took control of Dick when he was at a low ebb and, like a loving parent or an exceptionally talented personal assistant, cleaned up his life. “I was a spectator,” said Dick. This mind, which Dick characterized as female, fired his agent, tracked down editors who were late sending checks and modified his diet.

She also revealed that his young son had an undiagnosed birth defect that was potentially fatal. And the revelation proved to be true. The child’s life was saved.

But, as one commentator put it, one man’s “religious experience” is another man’s “bat-shit crazy.”

Quotes on a Theme

As you know, dear reader, I am a squirrel. I am forever saving a few choice quotes for that special day. The day will not arrive. But here are some of my favorite morsels.

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alon the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. 

Then we have a bit of Italo Calvino.

He said: “It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.”

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension; seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

Primo Levi.

… The canto of Ulysses, Who knows how or why it comes into my mind. But we have no time to change, this hour is already less than an hour. If Jean is intelligent he will understand. He will understand – today I feel capable of so much.

… Who is Dante? What is Comedy? That curious sensation of novelty which one feels if one tries to explain briefly what is the Divine Comedy. How the Inferno is divided up, what are its punishments. How the Inferno is divided up, what are its punishments. Virgil is Reason, Beatric is Theology. Jean pays great attention, and I begin slowly and accurately: …

Dante Alighieri and, incidentally, T. S. Eliot.

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Just Eliot, this time.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Statue Of A Homeless Jesus

Statue Of A Homeless Jesus

“It gives authenticity to our church,” he says. “This is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society.”

 

The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” Moreover, Buck says, it’s a good Bible lesson for those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the Christ of glory, enthroned in finery.

 

“We believe that that’s the kind of life Jesus had,” Buck says. “He was, in essence, a homeless person.”

If you can ignore the explicit assumption that the relative startlement of a wealthy community has any bearing on the theological value of the effort, which I believe is only a failure of NPR’s confidence in accruing clicks without a nod to fashionable-but-unserious rebelliousness, then it is an excellent piece of journalism.

People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

An excellent little walk through sacred art.

Many believers would question whether non-believers can truly comprehend the meaning of religiously inspired art. We can, however, turn this round and ask a different question. What is it that is “sacred” about sacred art? For religious believers, the sacred, whether in art or otherwise, is clearly that which is associated with the holy and the divine. The composer John Tavener, who died at the end of last year, was one of the great modern creators of sacred music. A profoundly religious man – he was a convert to Russian Orthodoxy – Tavener’s faith and sense of the mystic suffused much of his music. Historically, and in the minds of most people today, the sacred in art is, as it was with Tavener, inextricably linked with religious faith.

Believers and non-believers do hold this view but this is not nearly as universal as the author would like. My mind wanders over to a recent post over at Mere Inklings.

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it.

Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too.

Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed.

On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books. . . .

The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed in a perversion of Roland’s great line in the Chanson—Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores. The natural step would have been to inquire a little more closely whether the Christians were, after all, wrong.

I think C. S. Lewis’ story is particularly well-told, and deserves replication in part, yet he is hardly novel or alone. There is something about art, and perhaps something particular about sacred art, that captures the mind. I do not need to be a Catholic to appreciate a cathedral of space, or Jewish to appreciate Heschel’s Jewish cathedral of time. I doubt that if I became atheistic that would change. Sincerity has a quality all its own and there seems something particularly sincere about the sacred. Why is that, dear reader, I leave up to you and your experiences.

If you have any other popular instances of conversion on account of religious art I would appreciate the links. I have a few in mind, but I’m always looking for more.

Two parting notes. First, my criticism shouldn’t deter you from visiting. The article is excellent and is perfect for someone who wants to look at interesting things. Second, I hope you can forgive me for such long quotes. I try to be more than a compilation of choice quotes but apparently I have failed today.

Why Study Theology?

Why Study Theology?

As Oxford’s Dr. William Wood, a University Lecturer in Philosophical Theology and my former tutor, puts it: “theology is the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of general study of all aspects of human culture that was once very common, but is now quite rare.” A good theologian, he says, “has to be a historian, a philosopher, a linguist, a skillful interpreter of texts both ancient and modern, and probably many other things besides.” In many ways, a course in theology is an ideal synthesis of all other liberal arts: no longer, perhaps, “Queen of the Sciences,” but at least, as Wood terms it, “Queen of the Humanities.”

The Power Of Science And The Danger Of Scientism

The Power Of Science And The Danger Of Scientism

“Can you be a strident defender of science and still be suspicious of the way it is appropriated within culture? Can you be passionate about the practice and promise of science, yet still remain troubled by the way other beliefs and assumptions are heralded in its name? If such a thing is possible, you may be pro-science but anti-scientism.

Theism: Today’s Gnostical Turpitude

On June 4, 1859 two armies met at the town of Magenta. One, representing the French monarch Louis-Napoleon’s desire to challenge Austrian control of Lombardy, was composed partially out of French Legionnaires. The other side, composed out of a multicultural array reflective of the Hapsburg’s crown jewel, Austria-Hungary, was chiefly Croatians. Fun fact, the Croatians were soldiers who preferred executing prisoners and the wounded. Some historians accredit them with singlehandedly inspiring the Geneva Convention of 1864 or, at the very least, providing a visceral example for the convention’s supporters to point to.

As the 2nd Corps of legionnaires and zouaves stood poised the town, their commanding officer arrived (Patrice MacMahon) and, “as he trotted past the Legion, uttered the statement that today adorns the wall of almost every Legion bar: “Voici la Legion! L’affaire est dans le sac!”

“The Legion is here. It’s in the bag.” If only that always was true! Not unlike our Patrice MacMahon, later Duke of Magenta, many otherwise astute individuals are ready to declare victory presumptuously and inaccurately. Considerate thinkers, and those less so, assume that there is a division between the secular and the religious before the discussion has even taken place. Just as importantly, this tension has already been answered in favor of ‘science’ without ever questioning why there needs to be a tension in the first place. ‘Science is here. It’s in the bag.’ If only!

To paraphrase, those silly theists and ‘religionists’ can chat up their deities as much as they want—preferably out of sight and in a personal space. Personal is, of course, a euphemism for hiding. Preferably in doors and inside their bedrooms, perhaps even under the sheets (the last, or newest, home of social deviancy). As long as everyone realizes that once ‘science’ arrives and religious thinking “is in the bag” there will be no problems. If anyone questions that then we should simply expect another McVeigh or 9/11. There will always be a few crazies, but once everyone is properly informed religion dissipates. I call this entrenchment of certain, ingrained theological assumptions ‘scientism.’ I am not alone in this assumption but while there have been several active academics bringing to light this false dichotomy quite a few prosaic and perfectly improbable assumptions take place within the public sphere daily.

Part of this normative thinking I lay at the feet of Immanuel Kant. Our world is so radically steeped in the thoughts of Kant it is hard to properly formulate a trajectory of belief that is not related to the ‘Kantian Revolution.’ There are things that I can experience (like oranges) and things I cannot (the law). One is absolute, or nearly so, while the other is open to ‘judgment.’ Look no farther than art: God becomes a part of Impressionism. Oranges never do.

Too often, those who rock these assumptions are—like in Vladimir Nabakov’s Invitation to a Beheading—sentenced to death for “gnostical turpitude.” A grievous crime made more so by its lack of definition. Those who try to mix the noumenological and the phenomenological are viewed as radicals—perhaps, even, dangerous ones. Even to those who do not grasp the finer philosophical and theological points there is a sense of impoliteness about trying to bridge the gap: those who did, then, are violates of an undefinable crime. In a sense, even the most ardent defenders of ‘rationality’ have become, as it were, transrational on the subject.

Take, for instance, Alvin Platinga, “One of the main lessons to be learned from the history of modern philosophy from Descartes through Hume is that there don’t seem to be good arguments for the existence of other minds or selves, or the past, or an external world and much else besides; nevertheless belief in other minds, the past and an external world is presumably not irrational or in any other way below epistemic par.” When a man or woman is assured of his immortal soul and the existence of the body—or, alternatively, the ‘self’ or the past or the fact that some physical objects cause others to do things—they have to only explain their belief in a God delivered immortal soul. That is the world we live in.

What interests me the most is that the noumenological is almost always a matter of unassailable subjectivity, tightly held. Ironically, its only absolute is that there is no absolutes. There seems to be a widespread consensus that reason is reasonable, the senses are sensible and casual relationships are identifiable. If you deny causal relations you’re viewed as a crackpot (unless you have a PhD in front of your name or your name starts with D and ends with Avid Hume). Same for the ‘sanctity’ of experiential data and rationality. Yet no matter how many PhD’s one has there is no way ‘I believe in a theistic entity’ sounds good. If the phrase, somehow, leaps out then one is guilty of gnostical turpitude. That is, holding a set of (admittedly) arbitrary assumptions that are (at the very least) as unassailable as our other philosophical assumptions.