By Paul

Next Sunday most Christians in the western world will celebrate Easter (Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths follow a different calendar).  And last week all of us noted the Vernal Equinox, the First Day of Spring (notwithstanding the continued wintry weather gripping large swaths of the East and Midwest).  In spite of any such glitches in local weather, however, we know that it won’t be long before the forsythias are in bloom, crocuses are poking their heads up, and it’s just a matter of a few short weeks after that before tulips, lilacs, and daffodils begin to make their appearance.

Even in this terrible era of global warming, there is no holding spring back.  And the concomitant joyful celebrations of the warming of temperatures, the blossoming of plants, and the regeneration of life after a long, cold winter are practically part of our human DNA.

Such rites of spring were common among ancient peoples, particularly as they came to rely more and more on agriculture and on the cultivation of crops, rather than on hunting and gathering, in order to feed themselves and their families.  Look at almost any of these cultures anywhere in the world, and you will see rites that honored the burial of seeds in the earth, in essence their ritual death, only to await not long afterwards their miraculous resurgence, their resurrection as it were.  Everywhere, ritual followed such practices, and one relied upon the other for the continual nurturing and feeding of humankind.

As almost sacrilegious as this may sound to some, there are not a few scholars who contend that the origins of Christian Easter itself can be found in these ancient ways of viewing and understanding the world.  It is after all common to find stories in numerous mythologies around the globe recounting the death, burial, and resurrection of a god.  We see these stories everywhere, in fact, and most reflect this same burying of seeds in the earth and the eventual resurgence of these buried seeds in the form of living plants.  People then eat of the fruits of this regeneration and so, in that sense, partake of the life of the mythic creature (the seed) that had ritually died, been placed in the earth, only to rise again.

One of my favorite myths of this variety within the Greco-Roman tradition has to do with Demeter and her daughter/younger self, Persephone.  As you may recall, Hades (the Roman Dis Pater), snatched Persephone from the world of light and carried her down into the Underworld.  Demeter, goddess of grain and the harvest (the Roman Ceres, from which we get the word cereal), mourned her and refused to deliver on her promise of providing food for humankind.  However, without people Zeus would have no worshipers, and so he quickly decided to send his messenger, Hermes, to negotiate a deal with Hades.  Unfortunately, in the meantime Persephone had relented and eaten six pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld.  The immutable rule was that anyone who partook of food in the realm of Hades must remain there forever.  Still, Clever Hermes was able to strike a compromise bargain, whereby Persephone was granted permission to leave the Underworld and rejoin Demeter in the upper world for six months out of the year.  Alas, she would also perpetually be required to return below ground again for the other six months of the year.  Thus, we have two seasons, one wherein Demeter mourns and all things die off (i.e. winter), and one when she rejoices and in which we partake of the fruits of the field (i.e., summer).

There are actually countless such similar stories in many different mythologies of the world in which gods or great heroes descend into the underworld, but then in some form return to life once more.  We see it, for example, with Dionysius and Orpheus (both Greek), Osiris (Egyptian), Tammuz (Sumerian), Kululcan (Maya), Quetzalcoatl (Aztec), and a great many others.  All essentially tell the same story: death (and burial) is not to be seen as the end, but the spirit instead lives on and returns to the world of light for the continuance and furtherance of human life.

But let us recognize that mythology is not only for and about ancient peoples.  As I have already mentioned, the belief of Christians today in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ fits very neatly into this same pattern.  Note, for example, that in the old Catholic Apostles’ Creed there is a curious line in which it is said that Jesus was “crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into Hell, and the third day he arose again from the dead.”  In other words, once more we have exactly the same story of death, burial, descent into the underworld, and eventual resurrection.  And while there seems to be no direct scriptural reference to this in the gospels, Catholics have believed it to be true for centuries.

Myths have many uses and many meanings.  Going back for a moment to Demeter and Persephone, let us remember once again that, while the story tells us Persephone is Demeter’s daughter, in reality we can understand her as being essentially a younger, less mature form of the goddess herself.  Viewed from a purely psychological point of view, we can understand this as meaning that we, all of us, have periods when we are clear and rational and full of light (the Demeter phase), and those in which we are filled with the dark, irrational passions of unreasonable fear, out-of-control anger, depression, deceit, envy and the like, that is, when our higher self is, as it were, stolen away (the phase during which Persephone is in the Underworld).  In other words, sometimes we live our lives according to the light of rationality and reason, but sometimes we are caught in the shadowy and murky throes of buried and unconscious impulses, urges, and cravings.  Indeed, for most of us, if we can manage a balance of half and half, as was the grand bargain struck by Hermes (the messenger of our higher, more rational selves), we have to think that we are doing pretty well!

Demeter, therefore, represents the ego, which moves about in the upper world of light and which, in so doing, is capable of fulfilling and nourishing our being.  Persephone, on the other hand, is that part of ourselves which has been captured and lives in the chthonic underground of our deeper and more primal compulsions.  The danger is that, if we go on to nourish ourselves with the latter, we run the risk of getting stuck there forever.  Fortunately, most of us most of the time seem capable of making that fortuitous bargain whereby we live sometimes in one place, sometimes in the other.

Easter and Christ’s resurrection, too, can be seen as playing on a similar set of psycho-spiritual human concerns.  The God-Avatar (Jesus), who took human (i.e. bodily) form, allows himself to die, only to show us that resurrection from death is possible.  The meaning here is that our consciousness can be lifted out of the “death” of living only and forever at the more or less unconscious level of strict bodily awareness.  Instead, each of us is shown that we are also capable of realizing that we can partake in higher things or, to put it another way, that eternal, undying Spirit has in some sense become us.

Whether your personal take on these mythic stories is more literal or more metaphorical, spring is the time to think about them.  How, indeed, can we not, when all we see surrounding us is the rising of new life out of the death of the old?

The story of the resurrection of Christ, as well as that of all the other gods and great mythic heroes and heroines that came before and after, symbolizes the buried seed and the resurgent natural world, come back to life after long, cold, “dead” winter.  Beyond that, we are also reminded that our own lives are capable of their own kind of resurrection.  It is the job of each of us to strive for that elevation in our thinking and our consciousness in the best way we know how.  In so doing, we can say, along with the great Marian hymn so popular in the Middle Ages, “Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.”  He arose, as he said, alleluia.  Surely, that is reason enough for all of us to rejoice, is it not?


By Paul

Much has been made of late regarding the loving humility and the Christian charity of the new pope.  He has been compared to John Paul II in terms of both warmth and personal charisma, and that comparison may be accurate.

Each of these prelates seems to have, or to have had, a special place in his heart for the poor of the world.  And the poor, let it be said, are surely in need of a strong advocate, inasmuch as they represent the very definition of powerlessness in society.  By contrast, those with money are those with influence, and can for the most part do and get what they want.  The poor get what is left over, if indeed anything at all is left.  So, I applaud the pope in this regard.  It is surely a very good thing for the poor to have friends in high places, and it is difficult to think of a higher position in society than that of Pontifex Maximus, at least in religious circles.  To note just how high an office this is let us just remember for a moment that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, was the first hereditary Pontifex Maximus (of the old religion).  It is often said that this title, Pontifex, comes from a combination of the Latin words “pons” and “facere,” and that they translate to mean “builder of bridges.” More probably, however, it relates to an old Etruscan term, and refers instead to a preparer of the roads.  It was the job of the Pontifex Maximus to keep the “pax deorum,” or peace with the gods.  This meant being a sort of highly valued go-between, mediating the way and conjoining gods and men, and helping people stay on the path that took them to the gods.

Given this regal background, to say nothing of the later trappings of the Imperial Papacy accrued over the centuries, the question suggests itself whether a person today can for long remain humble and lowly while occupying such a lofty place in life.  Let us hope that it is possible.  Let us give our best wishes to Francis I, who apparently took his name from that of Francis of Assisi, a saint made famous by his humility.

So far, at least, it would seem that the new pope is determined to maintain this simple demeanor, that same ability and willingness to reach out to ordinary people, and not to hide behind the truly formidable trappings of the Roman Pontiff.  His immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, was by contrast less successful at this, if it was a goal of his at all.  And so Catholics are rejoicing, and feeling relieved that they may have a more human leader at the helm these days.  In his recent installation ceremony, the new pope even spoke of the need to protect the environment, which must be something of a first for the head of a major religion.

Still, not everyone rejoices in quite the same way, and that is where we will have to wait and see just how inclusive the new pope’s love and humility turns out to be.  That’s because the truth of the matter is that not everyone is impartially and uniformly equal within the Catholic Church.  Let us take as an example first of all the role of women in the Church.  It goes without saying that we saw not a single representative of exactly half of all humanity within the conclave that elected the humble Francis I.  Nor were there any women in red occupying any of the balconies flanking the loggia from which Francis I gave his first “urbi et orbi” blessing (to the city and to the world), at which he asked for all to pray for him.   Nor will any Catholic see a woman on the altar celebrating mass on any Sunday, or any other day of the week, anywhere in the world, because women are shockingly banned from the priesthood, even though the reasons for this are entirely historically based and not at all rooted in any of the Christian scriptures.

But let us simply take for granted that it is unlikely, if not unthinkable, that Francis I, or any future pope in our lifetime, will ever change this policy, even though it is essentially merely a habit (and a bad one at that), a tradition, a custom, an historical norm.  We are told, let us not reach too high, let us not attempt to overreach, lest the men in charge of the church be made to feel uncomfortable to the point of becoming apoplectic.  All right, who wants to be responsible for giving an old man a heart attack?

Are there, however, other ways in which the new pope could reach out to and make women feel more valued, more included, more truly part of the church many of them love?  In my view there is.  In what could be both a simple and a highly dramatic gesture, why not consider allowing women to become deacons?  Yes, it is true that the diaconate has long been considered a step in becoming a priest, and when I was a young man and still considering myself Catholic, deacons were by definition priests-in-training only.  However, much has changed since that time, and today there are deacons aplenty in many Catholic churches.  They are so-called lay people, who never have any intention of going on to become priests.  Nor are such lay-deacons required to remain celibate.  It seems to me, therefore, not such a stretch, not so much an unthinkable step for the pope to cast the mantle of inclusion over women in this regard and to allow them to take on this important role.  It would be a wonderfully welcomed step, one that would help many Catholic women feel a deep sense of hope, of joy, and of empowerment within the church that has for too long regarded them as second-class citizens.

There is in addition another whole swath of humanity, which also appears to exist outside of the humility and love preached by Francis I, namely, gay people.  Then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is on record as having said that gay marriage is “destructive of God’s plan,” and he claimed that the adoption of orphans on the part of loving same-sex parents is tantamount to child endangerment.  Are these the words of a loving and humble man, it has to be asked?  In fact, it could well be said that it is especially incumbent on the Catholic Church these days to tread carefully when it comes to matters of sex and love, as its own history is a clouded one in this regard.  Even in Argentina, the new pontiff’s home country, only some 25% of Catholics actually attend church on Sunday, and virtually no one follows the church’s teaching on contraception and birth control.  The sordid and depressing details of child abuse on the part of Catholic clergy in virtually every country where there are Catholics is so well known that it hardly bears repetition here.  And divorce, too, is as common among Catholics as it is in the general population.

Love is a great goal toward which we all ought to constantly strive.  It is what makes this sometimes cold and lonely world a place where all of us can find solace and a degree of happiness.  Is it, therefore, a good thing for the head of an organization that professes to live by the love of God and by the teachings of Jesus Christ, that great Avatar of Love, to preach exclusion and separation?

When I was still a monk, I well remember one of the great hymns of the church, sung in the beautiful simplicity of Gregorian chant.  It began: “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”  In translation, this means: “Where (there is) charity and love, there God is (too).”  There are several words in Latin depicting the idea of love, and although some authors have used them interchangeably, it is generally believed that “caritas” refers to the greater love of all humankind, beyond the purely personal, while “amor” applies to the love we feel toward those who are closest to us.  Note that the hymn, whose author is unknown but which has been in existence for close to a thousand years, speaks of both.

So, let us hope – and those who pray, let them pray – that Francis I will open his heart to all people.  We all ought to rejoice that he is so keenly attuned to the needs of the poor, and that is a good thing.  May he continue this crucial mission throughout his papacy.  But again, is it truly commensurate with Christian love (and charity), is it part of God’s plan to willingly shut out whole other segments of humanity in the process?  If the Catholic Church has a role to play in the world of the 21st century, its leader must embrace all people, no matter what their race, color, creed, social or economic standing, sex, or sexual orientation might be.  Otherwise, he may be an affable and avuncular old man, but he is also one who lives by the code of a creed no longer relevant in today’s world.



By Paul

My partner, Andy, always says I’m crazy (probably for lots of good reasons), but in this particular instance because I’ve long had the habit of keeping a stack of books that I am reading “all at once.”  Of course, what I mean by that is I pick one or the other up, depending on exactly what my mood is and what more or less appeals to me in the moment.  I don’t know why this sounds so strange, but people have often remarked that it does seem odd to them, and yet it feels to me like the most natural thing in the world

Here, for example, is a list of some things I have on my reading table right now, with a few comments about each of the books and about what I find interesting in them.  They are listed in no special order:

  • IDEAS AND OPINIONS, Albert Einstein – here is a book for the ages, if ever there was one.  Who knew that Einstein wrote and lectured widely, not only about Physics and higher Mathematics, but about a much wider swath of life’s concerns.  His interests encompassed such wide-ranging topics as Good and Evil, Wealth, Society and Personality, Academic Freedom, Human Rights, Politics, Government and Pacifism, the Jewish People, Germany, and Science and Religion.  In regard to the latter topic, here is one of the things he has to say:  “In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests.  In their labors they have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.  This is, to be sure, a more difficult, but an incomparably more worthy task.  After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge.”  These kinds of thoughts by the great Albert Einstein are what I read when I am tired of hearing about Vatican power politics, or about evangelical small-minded bigotry, and I want instead to be uplifted by a bit of real wisdom.  Here, too, simply for your enjoyment and edification, are a few more quotes from the great man: (Speaking of Marie Curie) “Once she had recognized a certain way as the right one, she pursued it without compromise and with extreme tenacity.  The greatest scientific deed of her life – proving the existence of radioactive elements and isolating them – owes its accomplishment not merely to bold intuition but to a devotion and tenacity in execution under the most extreme hardships imaginable, such as the history of experimental science has not often witnessed”;  (and of Mahatma Gandhi) “(A) man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior.  Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”  These are phrases that ring true and remain in the mind.   They are always worth reading.
  • ON THE NATURE OF THINGS  (De Rerum Natura), Titus Lucretius Carus – this is a long poem, written in Latin in the first century BCE* by one of the greatest proponents of what came to be known as Epicurean philosophy.  Stripped of all jargon, and in its simplest form, such an approach to life consisted of living simply and frugally with a contented mind.  However, it must be said that, aside from this contented mind, Lucretius also had a most inquisitive one.  Read his Book I, as an example, for an amazing explanation of what the atom is, and remember that this was written well over 2,000 years ago, without the benefit of any scientific instrumentation.  Basically, Lucretius’s lab consisted of nature, and of his clear-minded, dispassionate observation thereof.  Due to his unparalleled deductive abilities, he was able to speak authoritatively of both matter and space (the void, as he refers to it), as well as the indestructibility of matter.  Not that he claims of course that bodies themselves cannot, and do not, die; rather he speaks about their irreducibly tiniest component parts, atoms, and describes how they are themselves impervious to further disintegration.  As he says, “Now physical things are either first-beginnings/Or what their congresses unite to make./As for the first-beginnings, the atoms, no force can quell them; their tough walls outlast all blows; though at first it seems doubtful that in objects/The fundamentally solid can be found.”  Even though today we know that atoms themselves can be broken down into yet smaller component parts, can you imagine the power of the human mind to discern such information before science and the scientific method had its real beginnings?  Lucretius does, he says, believe in the gods, but only as remote beings who are “withdrawn and far removed from our affairs.”  But note that he says this at a time when blood sacrifice to propitiate those very gods was the order of the day and readily accepted by all.  Instead, his advice to us is that we withdraw our consciousness from the cares and worries of the world, and apply ourselves to “the truth of reasoned theory;” and all this, rather than being “(c)rushed to the dust under the burden of Religion.”  When I, therefore, wish to remember the paramount good in the life of the mind, I read Titus Lucretius Carus, born somewhere between 99 and 95 BCE and died in 55 BCE, and I revel in the simple joys of life, and in the ultimate indestructibility of the tiniest building blocks of nature.

*BCE – Before the Common Era, a phrase often used by anthropologists and other scholars (along with its counterpart CE, meaning in the Common Era), in place of the older, religiously based BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini).

  • A SHORT HISTORY OF IRELAND, John O’Beirne Ranelagh – I can’t help it.  My Irish roots continually show through, whether I like it or not.   And though I may come from a shanty Irish background, yet I can still aspire to learning (whether I ever reach that lofty goal or not), and (dare I say it?) even to sagacity.  Why not, after all, set one’s heart on the highest good, as many times as we may fall and fail in its attainment?   And falling and failing is what happened in Ireland for many centuries.  This book takes the long view, beginning in the seventh millennium BCE with the coming of the Gaels to the island, and goes through the introduction of Christianity in the fifth century CE, to the Viking raids that started at the end of the eight century, the onslaught of the English, with Srongbow’s invasion in 1169, the Great Famine of 1845-1852, when over a million died and another million emigrated, and finally into the modern era.  Indeed, it must be said that much of the second half of the book concentrates on events that began with the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence (1919-21) and the later creation of the Irish Free State (the best deal they could get from the UK at the time, it would appear), going on to the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and finally into the more or less contemporary politics of both the South and the North.  It is not a happy history, as much as the story of few people on earth can, I suppose, be considered altogether happy.  But Ireland in particular seems to have suffered greatly, and for a very long time.  And no one can deny the arrogance, aggression, and downright cruelty of much of what the British have done in Ireland over the centuries, which greatly contributed to, and indeed, exacerbated, that unhappiness.  As a direct result of their so-called Plantation Policies, for example (begun in earnest in the 17th century under Cromwell), Protestant Scottish and English settlers eventually came to outnumber and lord it over native Irish in the North.  The result was that we have the terrible bigotry and inequities that beset Northern Ireland, and which to an extent still remain to this day. It is also true that in the end there have been unspeakable atrocities aplenty on both sides.  Still, it seems clear that none of this would have come about in the first place, had it not been for the direct interventionist policies of a greedy and overbearing England.  Let us hope that cooler heads will prevail, and that both Northern Ireland, now truly and probably forever a part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland will live to see better and happier days.
  • LES FLEURS DU MAL, Charles Baudelaire – Every so often, I seem to need my “fix” of French literature.  Who can deny that, along with Russian, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and now probably American literature, the writings of the French are among the jewels of world literature?  As a young student living in France, I was very taken by the great 19th century poets.  Rimbaud and especially Baudelaire were among my favorites.  And so, from time to time, I go back to my bookcase and dig out my old copy of “Les Fleurs du Mal,” the Flowers of Evil.  I suppose, if I’m being perfectly frank, these poems no longer speak to me in quite the same way they did over 45 years ago now, when I was a university student living in Strasbourg.  In some ways, in fact, reading them is almost a kind of exercise in nostalgia.  Still, I thrill to these enchanting lines, and remember the decadence and eroticism of Baudelaire’s poetry.  Let me quote just one stanza – in French, if you will indulge me, and for those who may speak the language – as well as with the addition of my own clunky enough translation of such glorious words (from a poem entitled “La Crépuscule du Soir” – “Evening’s Twilight”):

Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel;

Il vient comme un complice, à pas de loup; le ciel

Se ferme lentement comme une grande alcôve,

Et l’homme impatient se change en bête fauve

(Here is charming evening, friend of the criminal;

It comes stealthily like an accomplice, on wolf’s steps; the sky

Closes slowly like a huge alcove,

And impatient man is changed into a wild beast)

That last line in particular, “l’homme impatient se change en bête fauve,” is quintessential Baudelaire.  Dark and brooding and verging on the demonic.  I loved it when I was 21 years old, and even today it can make me shiver a little, more in memory perhaps of who I once was, than of what it has to say to me today.  Still, isn’t that one of the things literature, and maybe poetry in particular, can do for us?  Take us back to who we were when we first read it, celebrate that person, and possibly even, to an extent at least, breathe a sigh of relief that we are no longer he.

  • THE GOLDEN ASS, Lucius Apuleius Africanus – It’s not that I’m enamored only of old Latin literature, but here is a novel (the only one to survive in its entirety from ancient Rome) that really should not be missed.  It is a silly, bawdy, picaresque story of a foolish young man who, because of his inexperience and naïveté, to say nothing of his over-inquisitiveness and complete lack of good sense, gets himself changed by magic into an ass.  As with all such works of this type, the overall plot is thin as a dime, but the situations and the characters are hilarious.  “The Golden Ass” (“Asinus Aureus,” in Latin) is the Perils-of-Pauline of idiocy and of humorous situations cum morality tales.  Apuleius apparently took at least some of his story from an earlier Greek version, now lost, but no doubt added his own commentary and hilarity, as well.  He was born in what is today known as Algeria, and lived from approximately 125 to 180 CE.  He had his own tragic-comic misfortunes in life, but today we are mostly glad of the harebrained story he left behind for our entertainment and enlightenment.   Let me quote just a single short passage (marvelously translated by Sarah Ruden, by the way), one of many that could be related, showing the wiles of a supposedly pious wife and the simplemindedness of her cuckold husband.  Here it is for your reading pleasure: “There wasn’t a single fault missing from that dame, who had nothing whatsoever to recommend her; on the contrary, every wicked passion, bar none, had flooded into a heart that was like some slimy privy.  A friend in a fight but not very bright, hot for a crotch, wine-botched, rather die than let a whim pass by – that was her.  She pillaged other people’s property without the slightest shame or restraint and threw money away on the lowest self-indulgence.  She was in a long-running feud with trust, and in the army storming chastity.”  Who would want to be married to such a wife?  On the other hand, we also wind up half pitying her for the gullible imbecile of a husband she’s married to.  Every low trick, every foible, every blemish, and half of the kinky idiosyncrasies humanity is capable of are represented in this rollicking and riotous read.  I therefore pick up Apuleius whenever I want to be reminded of what a foolish, crackpot, crazy, and hysterically funny world we live in.

So, that’s it.  These are some of the friends I have been spending my hours with of late.  Let me know who your friends are, and we can compare notes.  After all, that’s part of the great joy of reading, isn’t it?  Letting each other know what tickles your fancy, who makes you weep, who makes you laugh, who makes you wonder, and who, in the end – let us hope, at least – occasionally may even bring a bit of the light of wisdom into our lives.



Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry — 1st Letter from Kevin

Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry,

I have voted for both of you collectively three times for the Presidency, and I thank you for your steadfast service to our country in a time of peril. I also attended the Feb 17, 2013 “Forward on Climate” Washington D.C. rally with 40,000 concerned citizens, sponsored by the Sierra Club and 350.org, to ask you not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. The world is now in a state of severe climate change crisis caused by human activity. We need your leadership to preserve the Earth as a habitable home for future generations of all life.

Some have said that Canada will exploit the double-carbon, bitumen-saturated tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.” That may be true, but is it moral and ethical for the U.S. to be complicit in this tar sands crime against the Earth and future generations? Famed NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, “If Canada proceeds and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” When he was asked to articulate three reasons why you, Mr. President, should reject the tar sands Keystone XL Pipeline, he replied, “Our children, our grandchildren; the other species on the planet; and Creation.”

Scientists all over the world and your own supporters are asking you to do everything in your power to stop the KXL Pipeline. Read the Potsdam Report commissioned by the World Bank. Time Magazine on March 3, 2013 said, “There are many climate problems a President can’t solve, but Keystone XL isn’t one of them. It’s a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet.” As 350.org founder Bill McKibben says, authorizing the KXL would be like approving an 800,000 barrel/day fuse to one of the planet’s biggest carbon bombs. Please come down on the right side of history and stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

2OL The Corn is Dead... Whats Next ART

Here’s my own art for one of my many blog articles about what is happening to the Earth, “The Corn Is Dead… What’s Next?” – July 23, 2012 at http://TwoOldLiberals.com . Read it at http://TwoOldLiberals.WordPress.com/2012/07/23/the-corn-is-dead-whats-next-4/

Your supporter and deeply concerned citizen,
co-founder, “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity,” Lancaster, PA. See our FaceBook page.



By Paul

Philosophers have deliberated for centuries about whether nothing exists. If nothing does exist, one argument goes, then it is paradoxically something. Otherwise, how can we say that it exists?

This is a topic where language begins to break down and trip us up pretty quickly, because if we then say that nothing does not exist, we come out to mean that it must somehow be something, since a double negative cancels itself out (as in the phrase, “It’s not that I don’t want to go,” for example). However, note that when a double negative is used consciously, and grammatically, the meaning does not always exactly equate to its positive counterpart. After all, most of us do recognize that there is some difference between “It’s not that I don’t want to go,” and “I want to go.” In the latter case, it’s a simple affirmative; in the former, we are hedging, hesitating, and saying that we would want to go, but something (perhaps our own real feelings, which we may prefer not to share) is keeping us back from doing so. And to make things even more complicated, the phrase “I don’t not want to go” may perhaps have yet another shade of meaning.

But we probably ought to admit up front that most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about nothingness, until and unless our own mortality, or that of a loved one, comes into play. What I am suggesting is that the thing that terrifies us most about death is this very concept of nothingness, more than any sort of suffering in an afterlife, the nature of which Dante so graphically depicted in his Inferno. Indeed, Dante lays out an entire world of pain for those accused and convicted of everything from lying to lust, from gluttony to avarice, from anger to sullenness, violence, thievery, and to those labeled as panderers, seducers, and even simoniacs, schismatics, and heretics. But where is his nothingness? All of his poor, suffering souls indeed possess full consciousness. Could it therefore be that even Dante was unable to imagine a horror worse than the utter loss of everything, including the very consciousness of being?

But let us think for a moment, if there truly were to be nothing at all after death, then does it not follow logically that there would also be no one there to witness it? Because, to experience nothingness, something must be there, if nothing other than our very selves. As such, could it be that what people fear most about death is not nothingness, since no one would be there to know its emptiness, but aloneness? Perhaps the greatest fear that humans can envision is that of being alone for all eternity.

Still, all this is not getting us very far in regard to the idea of nothingness. All we have seen so far is that the concept is most confusing. Perhaps we ought to approach it another way. What if nothingness were so empty, so void, so without form, shape, content, or limitation whatsoever that it actually impinged upon somethingness? This may seem ironic, not to say oxymoronic, but I bring it up because the very definition of nothingness appears to be brushing up against the limits of somethingness.

Take space itself, as an example. We know it “contains” all the stars, the planets, the countless galaxies, as well as myriad and untold amounts (if that is the proper word) of both dark matter and dark energy. But even if these things did not exist, even if we could imagine a universe empty of them, would there still not be space, as much as we might think of it as emptiness, the limitless void? In fact, it is true that, so far as we know at least, space has no borders. There is no center to it, and it contains no edges “out there” somewhere. Although there are physicists who posit that spacetime is both finite and without boundaries, a concept I frankly find difficult to wrap my head around. If something is boundless, it seems to me, what else could we say about it other than that it simply goes on and on, as it were, endlessly and infinitely? And does that not begin to sound a little like what we were saying above about nothingness?

It would appear that there are no good answers to the question of whether or not nothing, or nothingness, if you prefer, exists. Maybe nothingness is a corollary of somethingness, similar as we were saying to the difference between the use of a positive and a double negative in grammar, whereby the one seems somehow to contain at least some of what its normal antithetical opposite would suggest. If you remember, in grammar, a double negative (properly used, as it were) does not necessarily mean the binary opposite of its antecedent. Instead it can take what the positive form would be, twist it around a bit, and add a different shade of meaning (e.g., “I like him,” is not fully the same as “I don’t not like him”).

Is there, then, a yin-yang kind of complementarity, a bit of nothingness in what we think of as something, and a little of somethingness in nothingness? After all, speaking from the somethingness point of view, do we not all enter into nothingness every night in the utter unconsciousness of deep and dreamless sleep? And from the opposite side, scientists now believe that quantum particles can and regularly do appear out of nothing.

It could also be that there are no final answers to these kinds of questions. That we do not understand, nor will we ever experience, the true meaning of nothingness. Precisely perhaps because it has no meaning? Or is it just that we cannot currently imagine such a meaning? After all, just because we cannot see something in our minds, picture it, or in some way conceptualize it, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Again, though, we are smacked up against the notion that nothingness cannot exist, because if it did exist, then it would (by definition) be something.

Which brings us more or less back to where we came into this motion picture in the first place. A mystic might say that there is no contradiction in any case. That is because God, Infinite Intelligence if you will, is surely both manifest and unmanifest. He (She, It, whichever ultimately inappropriate pronoun you may wish to choose) is surely capable of both form and no form, of material manifestation and unmanifest Spirit, of discernible and indescernible, of visible and invisible, of somethingness and nothingness.

Personally, I do not count on nothing, either at death or any other time. Unless by that we mean the nothingness which is beyond the manifestation of something, but which in the end it also contains, at least in potential. I think of Krishna saying to Arjuna: “Who, holy in act, informed, freed from the opposites, and fixed in faith, come to Me; who cleave, who seek in Me refuge from birth and death, these have the Truth.” I think, too, of William Butler Yeats, who in his Celtic wisdom writes:

“Birth-hour and death-hour meet.
Or, as great sages say,
Men dance on deathless feet.”