We Need Reminders

We Need Reminders

"The choice isn’t between religion and the secular world, as it is now — the challenge is to learn from religions so we can fill the secular world with replacements for the things we long ago made up religion to provide. The challenge begins here."

~ Alain de Botton

This Inexhaustible, Untidy World

Green River, Utah, August 30, 2013

I Believe Nothing
By Kathleen Raine, from The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine

I believe nothing  what need

Surrounded as I am with marvels of what is,

This familiar room, books, shabby carpet on the floor,

Autumn yellow jasmine, chrysanthemums, my mother's flower,

Earth-scent of memories, daily miracles,

Yet media-people ask, "Is there a God?"

What does the word mean

To the fish in his ocean, birds

In his skies, and stars?

I only know that when I turn in sleep

Into the invisible, it seems

I am upheld by love, and what seems is

Inexplicable here and now of joy and sorrow,

This inexhaustible, untidy world

I would not have it otherwise.

How We Create Hell

"I thought, well, I'll be. That's weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Then I saw emergency rooms. I saw divorce court. I saw jails and prisons. I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell."

~ Carlton Pearson

How Different the World Seems

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees
Federico Moramarco

Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?

If you've done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.

If you've not done this, you probably don't understand this poem,
or think it's not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day's time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.

But if you've arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you're open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.

How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.

[Whiskey River]

All the Evil and All the Good and Everything in Between

Excerpt from Lady Gaga's Ideal/Reality/Belief Conflict by Robert Fritz:

The ideal/belief/reality conflict begins with an unwanted belief someone has, such as, “I’m a loser.” This belief is so unacceptable that the person automatically generates an ideal. The ideal is the opposite of the belief. “I’m a winner.” The purpose of the ideal is to argue against the real belief and hide it from view. There are only two ways to try to live up to the ideal, evidence and affirmation. Evidence is the list of real world accomplishments that argue against the ideal; “How can you be a loser if you keep winning all these awards?” Even as the list gets longer, the structure points back to the unwanted belief, “Who but a person who thinks she is a loser must prove she isn’t?”

The other strategy is to affirm the ideal: “I am a winner, I am a winner, etc.” So, over time, the unwanted belief is reinforced by the affirmation because the only reason to declare the ideal is to argue against the belief.

In reality, there is no way to definitively define a human being; good, bad, or indifferent.  Self-beliefs are not like knowing you live in Omaha because you do. And, since there is no possible basis in fact, self-belief is only what it is, something you happen to believe, whether it is a wanted or unwanted opinion.

So, here is the most successful rock star in years just before another example of her brilliant success, crying her eyes out. Self-honesty comes with the territory of being an artist. For most people in this structure, they can hide their unwanted beliefs from themselves for long stretches, only once in a while seeing it rear its ugly head. But an artist, any artist, rich or poor, successful or not, has to delve deeply into the truth of themselves. It takes the deepest truth there is. You have to dig down right to the core of yourself, and see it all. All the evil and all the good and everything in between. Everything exposed. No place to hide. No place to try to make yourself look good. You can’t hold on to anything - dignity, self-respect, faith. Those things are all an illusion in light of what you find. It takes a certain strength, maybe even courage, or you can’t get to something in art that nothing else can reach, something real.

As I have said before, hasn’t the self-esteem gang ever read a biography of the most accomplished people? If they had, they would be forced to reject their own doctrine. And so, Lady Gaga, with her unwanted belief in tact, went on stage to a sold out crowd and blew their socks off, because, at the end of the day, what you think about yourself doesn’t matter a bit in the creative process.  Not one bit.

Read entire essay here...

See also:


The Psychology of Belief and Compassion

“I think that these three habits of mind, animisms, creationism, dualism, are present in all of us. They're not biological adaptations, they're accidents. But I think they're what make religious belief attractive and plausible and universal.”

~ Paul Bloom, from “Hardwired for God?Big Think, Dec. 22, 2009

“When people are less focused on self and the problems of the self, there is a kind of alleviation of stress.  There’s nothing like reaching out and contributing to the lives of others to give a person, first of all a sense of significance and purpose.”

~ Stephen Post, from “The Science of Compassion,” Big Think, April 24, 2011

Who Needs Them?

Religious Consolation
by John Updike, from Americana and Other Poems

Americana: and Other Poems by John UpdikeOne size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings to the temple. A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it—who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

* * * * *
See also: Updike's 'This I Believe' Essay
[Thanks, Suzanne!]

I Have to Call Myself Back

“I’m very bad when it comes to worship. This is just me. This is probably a terrible thing to say [in a church], but I don’t need it very much. I try to live in this kind of presence and a kind of awareness and I have to call myself back time and time again to remembrance of who I am. Partly, I think, all that’s because as a kid, as a Presbyterian, I had to go to church four times on Sunday. That wears out your patience and your ass. I’ve sort of done my stint. But that’s just me. It’s not other people.”

~ Sam Keen, author of In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred

Ism After Ism

Poems should be more like essays and essays should be more like poems.

~ Charles Olson

Two of every sort shall thou bring into the Ark.

~ Genesis

*     *     *

by Stephen Dunn, from Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs

Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs First, it was more about mystery than about trying to get us to behave. Whichever, we’re still in some lonely cave, not far from that moment a lightning storm or a sunset drove us to invent the upper reaches of the sky. Religion is proof that a good story, we'll-told, is a powerful thing. Proof, too, that terror makes fabulists of us all. We’re pitiful, finally, and so oddly valiant. The dead god rising into ism after ism—that longing for coherence that keeps us, if not naive, historically challenged. To love Christ you must love the Buddha, to love Mohammed or Moses you must love Confucius and, say Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well. They were all wise and unsponsored and insufficient, some of the best of us. I’m saying this to myself: the sacred cannot be found unless you give up some old version of it. And when you do, mon semblable, mon frère, I swear there’ll be an emptiness it’ll take a lifetime to fill. Indulge, become capacious, give up nothing, Jack my corner grocer said. He was pushing the portobellos, but I was listening with that other, my neediest ear.

Reverse Engineering of Religion

"...religions are an important natural phenomenon. We should study them with the same intensity that we study all the other important natural phenomena...Today's religions are brilliantly designed. They're immensely powerful social institutions and many of their features can be traced back to earlier features that we can really make sense of by reverse engineering. And, as with the cow, there's a mixture of evolutionary design, designed by natural selection itself, and intelligent design -- more or less intelligent design -- redesigned by human beings who are trying to redesign their religions."

~ Dan Dennett, from TED Talks (February 2006)

Mr. Dennet't’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon was reviewed by Leon Wieseltier in “The God Genome,” New York Times (February 19, 2006).


“I wouldn’t ever say whether the priest is innocent or guilty because I saw ‘Doubt’ as being about something larger…What’s so essential about this movie is our desire to be certain about something and say, This is what I believe is right, wrong, black, white. That’s it. To feel confident that you can wake up and live your day and be proud instead of living in what’s really true, which is the whole mess that the world is. The world is hard, and John is saying that being a human on this earth is a complicated, messy thing…And I, personally, am uncomfortable with that messiness, just as I acknowledge its absolute necessity. I find the need to play a part like Father Flynn inescapable, and I only want to do things I’m that passionate about. I know there are actors out there that present themselves as cool cats, but you better take your cool-cat suit off if you want to act. You can’t otherwise.”

~ Philip Seymour Hoffman, from “A Higher Calling,” by Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times Sunday Magazine (12.21.08)

“…I've always been really, deeply interested, because I think I can understand the solace that's available in the whole construct of religion. But I really don't believe in the power of prayer, or things would have been avoided that have happened, that are awful. So it's a horrible position as an intelligent, emotional, yearning human being to sit outside of the available comfort there. But I just can't go there…I have a belief, I guess, in the power of the aggregate human attempt – the best of ourselves. In love and hope and optimism – you know, the magic things that seem inexplicable. Why we are the way we are. I do have a sense of trying to make things better. Where does that come from? And why do some people just seem to want to make other people miserable?”

~ Meryl Streep, from “Meryl Streep: Mother Superior,” by Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph (12.2008)

The Problem

Excerpts from an interview with Truthdig columnist and author Chris Hedges in The Sun Magazine (Dec. 2008), “Moral Combat: Chris Hedges on War, Faith, and Fundamentalism."

I Don't Believe in Athiests Fundamentalism can be found within either a secular or a religious framework. It’s a binary worldview that divides the world into us and them, good and evil, right and wrong. It’s a belief that you and those who subscribe to your ideology have found the absolute truth, which must be accepted by everyone, and those who won’t accept it must be silenced or eradicated. Fundamentalism is an abdication of our moral responsibility to make difficult decisions, because within a fundamentalist movement people are told what to do. They don’t believe in a plurality of truths or ways of being. Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual, because it discourages investigation of other cultures, histories, and belief systems.

...Fundamentalism is a form of tribalism. There’s a great comfort in it, because it discourages self-criticism and self-reflection. Retreating into tribal groups is a way to revert to a childlike state of security, rather than live as an adult and struggle with ambiguity.

...I think that those who remain open to other realities must always cope with anxiety. That is the pain of being fully human. The only other choice is to live in an authoritarian system — either religious or secular — where moral choice is made for you, because you are told what is moral and what is immoral.

...Communism, fascism, religious fanaticism, neocon utopianism in Iraq — there are all sorts of ideologies that can motivate people to kill. Religion is just one. Like political ideologies, theological systems are a human creation. God is a human concept, a flawed attempt by human beings to acknowledge, cope with, and explain the infinite, which is the only reality.

...Like art, [religion] is an attempt at wisdom, which doesn’t come from knowledge. You can memorize as many sutras, verses, and prayers as you want, but it will never make you wise. Religion and art are both ways of grappling with those non-rational forces of love, beauty, truth, grief, and meaning that make one a whole individual. The problem is not religion. The problem is the human heart. And the new atheists don’t get that. People will always find reasons to act inhumanely, whether it’s religion, or nationalism, or “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” or the workers’ paradise.