Lewis, what the hell do you do for a living?
A vicar's "Easter Message" was the headline in our local newspaper and the featured item on the newspaper hoardings. Apparently, it was "Eat chocolate and have sex". (He looked rather like Dick Emery, which was appropriate.) I don't know why he didn't say "Drink Coca-Cola and masturbate in front of the Internet". It occurred to me that the Dalai Lama, asked for a message, would probably talk about the transitoriness of life and the need for compassion. The C of E is just so ridiculous. ...
This isn't going to be a post about the politics of food, important as that is, nor about the dangers of sugar, important as that is.
It's the sheer triviality of that "message" that struck me. Who needs to be told to eat chocolate? I'm reminded of the old vikings known as the Jomsvikings who took a vow never to speak unless they really had something to say. I wonder what they'd have made of this gentleman. I think it struck me all the more because I had just spent that day, Good Friday ironically enough, reading a gripping and serious book about a Chinese monk's escape at the time of the Great Leap Forward.
Perhaps the difference is that many people in modern Western society, including doubtless some clergymen, really aren't sure what they believe. The DL, and the monk in the book, Tsung Tsai, have no doubts: they think they know what the world is like, what one should do in any given situation, what will happen after death, and so on ... and perhaps that makes all the difference. (I daresay fleeing the Red Army gives one a little perspective, too.)
And here I get to the point of the post, which is to share a couple of resources, and wonder if anyone has any others of interest. (Otherwise, the Research Board would hardly be the appropriate place.)
So, first, there's the book. I think it should be of interest to people here, because in some respects it's like glancing backwards down a deep abysm of time. I'd say some of this man's beliefs and practices have roots in the shamanistic practices of our distant ancestors in those aeons before the advent of agriculture. Tsung Tsai's master spent almost all his time sitting in a cave on a mountain alone and believed he communed with "fox gods". (There is also some interesting use of, obviously narcotic, berries.) All this is something of a shock to George Crane, who imagines Buddhism to be something distinct, clearly defined, and, he says, "rationalistic". Here there are really no boundaries between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and folk religion. And we seem to move in a much earlier world where people leave food-offerings out for the dead and believe in magic.
Since I mention food-offerings -- I might add I think the sheer importance of food and drink in a pre-modern society comes through. It's hard to get; this is Mongolia, a hard land. And I guess this is partly what makes it sacramental and gives a deeper meaning to the sharing of food and the offering of food and/or tea to visitors than we might be used to.
Anyway, the book costs virtually nothing if it sparks anyone's interest:
Amazon.com: Bones of the Master (9780553505825): George Crane: Books
And secondly, reflecting on "religious" topics I think there could be some interesting connections to be made between the decline of religion and the way land is now viewed. It's not just food and how it's consumed that's different in our society. It's what we do with land. It seems pretty clear that people who regard the world as sacred are less likely to denude, degrade, or pollute it. I'm not making a religious point here: I haven't said, and don't intend to say whether I have any religious beliefs or none. I mean this sociologically. This change in the way we see our surroundings is an important one -- there's a gulf between our ancestors and us in this respect -- and this is something everyone with or without religious beliefs that takes a serious view of life will be interested in and will want to wrestle with. So here's resource No. 2 -- a recording of the fifth Gifford Lecture from 2010 entitled "The Face of the Earth":
Listen to the 2010 lectures - Gifford Lectures
The Gifford Lectures are delivered at St. Andrews University in Scotland. One of the most famous series was given by William James, the pragmatist philosopher and father of psychology. (BTW, the centenary of James's death was only a couple of years ago but, as far as I can tell, no-one noticed it.)
Lewis, what the hell do you do for a living?
I'm not really sure what your point was, but I would like to say that there are simpler religions that do not require a supernatural god. Animism is the belief in life itself. It's recognizing that you being alive is the result of everything around you and everyone before you. It's completely scientifically valid.
So don't give me this "well personally I don't claim a religion" when you could actually recognize this truth and stand up for it.
People who understand animism would be even more environmental than those who think of the world as Jesus' or Mohammed's. Why? Those mainstream religions claim this world is just a state of mind that we pass through. No need to place huge importance on preserving it...
Interesting points about our relation to what we hunt and the earth we depend on. One of the books I've finally gotten to start reading is Black Elk Speaks, and the reliance on deer and bison is evident: the survival of the Oglala might depend on a good hunt. Interesting to note that Black Elk, as a young boy, is taken to an encampment of the Wisachu (whites) where some of his Oglala kin reside on reservation for a feast of bread, coffee, and sugar. The boy admits that he eats too much bread, and that night is terribly sick from it, to the point his parents fear he may die. Black Elk recalls early mystical visions too complicated to explain here, and afterwards he feels a deeper connection to the animals he hunts, and leaves behind one of two deer he and his father have killed as an offering to the wilderness.
Black Elk also reprises a common religious notion, that of a sacred mountain or other scared place being the center of the world. But as he astutely notes, such places exist everywhere for different people. The various mountain gods of pre-Judaic peoples come to mind, forerunners of Sinai, and of course Jerusalem is a nexus of faiths' belief in a holy place (Karen Armstrong has written another particularly insightful book on Jerusalem).
I'll have to cogitate a bit on the idea of the loss of respect for how our land is viewed today. I would say there are quite a few people who buck that trend, from your followers of Wendell Berry to those who see in Joel Salatin a paradigm of well-managed sustainable farms. But in a more profound sense, one might say that the reverence that your back-to-nature types feel on a hike through the woods is different not by degrees but rather by order from the mystical connection with land, nature, survival, grander cycles that ancient peoples may have experienced. The earth is part of a sacred sphere (cf. Eliade); our entire way of conceiving of earth and wilderness may have crossed an epistemological Rubicon (cf. Jaynes), and we can no longer think in any way but in ordered timelines and metaphoric representations of self, so that the immediacy of our experience is shattered. In that former observation, I would say the Gnostic ideas of leaving the Garden of Eden correlate in fascinating ways with Jaynes's curiousity of a theory.
Poetry, which could also be a way of sensing and expressing this deep connection to nature (and to a related notion, of wildness, as opposed to wilderness), is likewise debased and relegated to the fringe. No time for it in our social media world, sadly.
I very much enjoy the philosophy of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, and as you... I do not claim any religion.
I may indeed pick up the George Crane book and have a read, after the chocolate and sex of course. The sex, at least, makes a lot of sense for Easter as it was traditionally a fertility type of ceremony in many cultures. I really enjoyed your post.
wiltondportes: I also understand animism, as does Lewis I'm willing to bet, however there are people who simply are not interested in adopting religion at all and who are quite happy in simply studying the philosophy of religions.
You should feel free to do things your way, and allow others to do things their way. If you choose animism as your religion that's great, but just as with christianity or islam it matters not which religion you are pushing, it's the pushing itself that is distasteful.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
And that's why I'm here eating HFLC Primal/Paleo.
Was just thinking more on this as I was avoiding sudden and violent mechanized death on the drive home: think of something like the myth of Persephone and how we view it as a simplistic "explanation" of seasons and harvests, but the ancient Greeks would have sensed it in another mode entirely. They had an entire cult at Eleusis with the mystery rites, and the entheogenic drink (kykeon), like a religious Woodstock. And of course the idea that the holy object held aloft by the hierophants may have been an ear of corn, with that resonating with Biblical metaphors of grain.
To whatever degree ancient man was weakened by the advent of agriculture and the introduction of grain, he also saw in grain symbols of life, death, and rebirth, and held a reverence for the soil on an almost religious level.
Today, we revere parking lots, malls, highways, and arenas. Food doesn't come from soil, it comes from the supermarket, silly!
I'm Christian; and can also believe in preserving, or protecting, the beauty of God's creation... just saying..
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