I might well be living in Germany where anything approaching unconventional or authoritarian is forcefully frowned upon for historical reasons that go back beyond the middle of the twentieth century no matter what you might have heard; and i might even have been to Berlin, though that was a long time ago. I might even be writing a thesis on the philosophy of religion. I might be running an ethics cum religion blog that even dabbles in science and, more importantly, has too often stooped to posting the least worthwhile junk out there on the internets. And i have never really liked Tom Cruise as an actor (except in Magnolia; his wonderful erstwhile wife, the splendiferous Nicole Kidman, is however an entirely different matter, if only for her most gigantuous performance in The Hours, though Dogville shouldn’t be left unmentioned, of course, however depressing the movie might be) and don’t really care about his religious proclivities. But i don’t know the first thing about scientology, so i’ll put an end to this post that is not about scientology, germany or the latter banning the former, or trying to, or even thinking about it.
religi0n is the new religion. Old-fashioned religion sucks. It’s broken and it doesn’t work. The fix? teh religi0n! And should u ask “Wtf is that?” i’ll say (unto u): teh religi0n pwns 4-way:
1. teh religi0n is a script: it’s the language we use to describe our lives. It’s the code that structures everything u do (and don’t do). Now it don’t no matter what script u use, if u use different ones or even mix ’em up (w00t!). All that imports is that they get the job done right, G0d or no g0d.
2. but teh religi0n must also be run. It must actually do something useful. Teh religi0n’s all that stuff u regularly do that makes ur life worth living, the sub-routines of ur existence: teh meditation, teh positive thinking, teh recycling, teh giving, teh etc.
3. and above all, teh religi0n is always changing. It’s experimental! (lol) None of this n00by ‘i know it all (my G0d pwns ur g0d)’. We try things, see if they work and throw ’em away if they don’t. Only keep the good sub-routines, but try ’em all. B cr34tive! (lol)
4. teh religi0nz are social. Religi0ners don’t do it alone: teh religi0n iz distributed. They chat and blog their way through life with the tips and tricks of the trade. Teh religi0nz are how we figure out (together and one sub-routine at a time) what iz g00d and what iz b4d.
Teh religi0n iz how we pwn teh evilz and code teh b3st. Save teh w0rld, b religi0us!
so, for lack of any academic enthusiasm towards my thesis, i’ve gone and created my second blog, called teh art of teh emailz, which deals primarily with the art of writing emailz. do you have trouble writing emailz? do you ever wish it were easier? do u ever feel stupid? here is teh bestest site out there to guide u thru the difficult difficulties u have when trying to write awes0me emailz. promise (well i think it might be the only one out there). !!it iz going 2 b teh mostest greatestest blog of all teh internets!! please do stop by sometime. kthxbye.
I am now half way through (ok, i’m on page 343 of chapter 9 – almost half way there) Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which attempts to retell the philosophical story of the west’s basic view of the world went from an enchanted, meaningful cosmos created by God in 1500 to that of a disenchanted, empty and infinite universe that has no immediate meaning to offer us. This is a well-known tale, but one that is seldom told very well.
I think Taylor is certainly describing an existing emptiness that we all feel. However, i also think that he is describing a world that is about to change, one that is just on the verge of discovering a new and once again satisfying meaning – or at least a good ersatz to the old christian version of the thing. Let me give two examples.
When i asked my roomate if he felt this lack of meaning in life, he simply shrugged and defined the meaning of life to be living life. Though, the answer is not ultimately satisfying to one (like me) rather worried about meaninglessness in life, it is nevertheless a coherent and reasonable position. He is no longer worried about a lack of meaning in life, he has, so to speak, digested the bad news and moved on.
My second example is what i said about Gibson a post ago. Here we have a new religiousness that seems to see religion (ie good, old-fashioned gods and goddesses religion) as another plane or level accessible to certain types of people – probably that 10% of the population Max Webber deems truly religious. This type of religiousness offers what you could call a narrow meaning. It doesnt need to explain everything as old-fashioned religions still do. It only asks for one level in which it will tell a meaningful story.
It is, of course, this second example that most interests me. I think we are figuring out ways of “doing religion” that neither conflict with established scientific views of the world – nor degenerate into lame, empty ethics. The new religiousness is not New Age either. It is a perception of things that adds an extra layer atop previous ones. Physics has its description of atoms that cannot explain or account for the biologist’s language of cells, which in turn is topped by the economist’s talk of supply and demand. Religion can now simply come and sit atop all those previous descriptions, offering its own irreducible talk of gods, the good and the like.
This religiousness does not have the secular problems Charles Taylor refers to. Because it has completely decoupled itself from other layers of experience, without losing its own reality. The world is no longer infinitely empty – or rather “le silence éternel de ces espaces infinies” (the eternal silence of these infinite spaces) need no longer scare us as it once did Pascal: we only need move one level up and realize there are other ways of seeing things that are much more friendly. Soon this view will begin to spread, i think, and the secular age described by Taylor will very gradually come to an end.
Im half way through William Gibson’s new novel spook country. It’s a fascinating read, which effortlessly manages to sound science-fictionny while being set in Feb 2006. It will come as no surprise that religion pops its head up here and there, and in a rather positive way. The pre-christian religion of a russian-speaking cuban new-yorker. Whose gods accompany him all over. The religion has no ethical overtones, and is no grandiose WorldView either. It’s just the language Tito uses to describe the world around him: he sees his gods around him, lending him a helping hand, warning him and just plain being there.
For Gibson (at least in this book, i haven’t read enough of him to venture any generalization) religion is not individualistic (Tito got his from his family), though it fits some people better than others (Tito and old Juana are the only two ‘religious’ people in the book). Religion doesn’t ‘tell you to do things’ either. It’s just an added layer to one’s world, for Gibson, an extra narrative perspective.
This new religion à la Gibson is not the grandiose establishment that the Catholic church or Islam are. It is not either the false, comfort-for-the-weak religion of many atheists. It is rather a new type of virtual space, a devaspace as opposed to a cyber one.
In the novel, some newfangled artists are creating “locative pieces” of art that are 3-D renditions that you can view at a specific geographical location when you put on a web-enabled virtual reality visor. These are thus pieces of art that are invisible to everyone unless you have a visor and a specific set of GPS coordinates. It is a new artistic layer that is being created in cyberspace atop the existing world.
In a sense, that is exactly how Gibson sees the religious world in his novel too. Instead of art aficionados viewing invisible sculptures throughout the city through special headgear, Tito sees Ochun or Eleggua around a corner or behind car. This new/very old religious world is not in conflict with what realists call reality, it is an extra layer atop it, like a locative piece of virtual art.
Just finished my first pre-lunch meditation. I spent the whole time thinking about the writing of this post 😦 but managed to keep the thinking “light and superficial” 🙂
In practice, “10 minutes” turned out to be “until i felt done” which is probably fine. “Feeling done” consisted mostly in realizing that i wouldn’t manage not think anymore, while also feeling rested.
End result: mind is “cleared”, chest is “lighter” and mood is “higher”. On the whole a good day 1.
Searching for a new way of “doing” ethics and religion, i’ve decided to try some experimenting. So here goes my first “ethical experiement”:
For the next two weeks (9.11.2007 – 23.11.2007) i will be conducting the first stage of an experiment on meditation. The first stage will be exploratory and therefore very simple (which simplicity is probably also important just to keep me going at it): i will be meditating in half-lotus position, eyes closed and thinking about nothing in particular/nothing for about 10 minutes every morning (i.e. sometime before lunch).
The goal is to determine (1) if this generally helps (i.e. is my life generally ‘better’ than it was in the previous weeks during which i did not meditate?) and if so (2) what specific aspects seems to help / hinder most.
This experiment will then (inshallah) be followed by others that will attempt to tweak it for the better. I will be updating this blog over the weeks to keep track of my impressions and progress. wish me luck.
here is a poem i wrote upon leaving india, and which i have now given up on. hence i can publish it. it’s not good by shakespearean standards, but it’s probably better than most of the other things i’ve stuck up here for public consumption:
the stench of
naked men shoveling whet shit out of sewers
as emaciated mongrels the size of untouchable
rats tossed back into hell from the high rack of life’s tortures
ignore them and
loud wretched rickshaws displace overgrown mamijis,
splashing urine-colored seepage into
the blaring and fetid air that strong-arms its way into
your naked nostrils.
… in the street too many people come and go,
shouting at michael`s baffled toe …
young-bosomed girls fair as ginger-scented chai
saunter in small posies over secret lotus leaves
under the migrating shadows of ingratiating trees
as they giggle in light saris that embolden the wind
to carry them off
to non-resident spouses
in swell-sounding places.
chinese-indian restaurants serve swet and sour pork
or something cho mane to fatherless families of two
or raucous families of ten as himanshu
and i imbibe the same old future talk of past meals
with suspicious waters and blood-spattered forks
invariably re-assigned to the same old receptacle
for here, we recycle.
… where the roads diverge many cars come and go
honking an unwitted marc polo …
empty men in godawful temples
hand out cakes and red petals
to the masses for a bribe
as holey politicians preach peace,
prosperity and fuck
with everyone on the side
during friday bandhs when pretty boys
worship cricket in empty streets
deserted by communist pride.
… through the ‘mortal sun i came and went
gasping in the arms of mother india’s scent …
tomorrow or yesterday ganesha
found me and vice versa
at the tourist’s store as i pressed him
to my sole
heart with a fistful of bucks.
We strolled down proud streets, raising envy
and dust, our hands impossibly mixed
and dripping to the tune
of mythological rhythms ‘vented in bollywood.
His large ears flapped
feverish mosquito or sadist rat,
leaned over his bosom
and bit them.
books and brushes
only will conquer
(the wretchedness of)
who am i
to open my mouth and
speak disparaging sounds
to you, india, the greatest of mothers
and divine of nations,
to point out your failings with a splinter in my left eye
(and desire your women with a throb in my sinister heart)?
i am ashamed at my truths & yours –
and what has become of us:
in your vast indifference you
spurned my advances and left me to rot
in a putrescent suburb;
and i died the death of the foreigner,
the death of unbearable truth
and unrequited hope. India! you
kill your own and then some,
you despise your poor and me,
orating lofty towers with shit on your boots.
you beckoned, i came, and you bruised me;
so i whine and whimper and soon
scamper away, india!
this blog will be (mostly) going to sleep because it’s author is busy doing other stuff, like showing his sister the horrible beauty of Kolkata and then shipping himslef off to Taipei, Taiwan for two weeks. I’ll resurrect the whole thing as soon as the gods permit.
I was up in Darjeeling over the week-end and spent my sunday morning walking around the mountainous city in the cool, fresh air they provide us tourists with. I first happened upon a nepalese methodist church hidden behind some trees. I sat in, hoping to catch a bit of the service, but was informed that sunday school would come first, so after chating with one of the elders for a few minutes about his conversion from budhism, i mozied on. A few hundered meters higher up, i came upon a japanese budhist temple where ‘church’ was going on. So i deofed my shoes and sat down on the first floor, tapping a well-used leather tambourine with a time-polished wooden stick. We beat a simple rythm that the large drums up front pounded deep into your body.
Indian and western (european) tourists came by and would also sit down when invited to play along for a while before leaving with a handful of prasad (blessed food). This convinced me that this buddhist ritual was serving a wide-ranging human need for peace and tranquility and that no amount of religious bigotry was going to stop most people from benefiting from it, even if it wasn’t ‘their’ religion.
I then headed on back to the hotel but stoped in at another church for the palm sunday celbration. As i walked in with a mini cloth rose pinned to my shirt, the congregation was singing “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest” in some foreign language. There was a children’s choir up front, a bass guitar, an electric guitar and violin and even a drummer with stylish sunglasses. I felt right at home and smiled. The effect produced on me by this second religious ceremony was identical to the first. I lost myself in the music and in the crowd. I was happy to not have to think, to be able to calmly meditate, and not to be alone. This is the best side of religion – perhaps even the best feature of human culture period. Moreover, it doesn’t really matter which religion you stumble upon on a given day – most anyone will do – though i must admit the simple purity of the japanese temple worked better on me than the excited emotions of a pentecostal service. Religion is useful – we must learn to use it.