Saturday, October 11, 2008

irreligious religiosity (I)

[UPDATE, 10/12, 12:15PM: The footnotes, which I had neglected to include when I first published this post, are in now. I had already begun writing the second part of this essay, and when I copied and pasted Part I below, I forgot to skip down to the bottom of my draft copy to retrieve the footnotes. Thanks, Addofio, for making the catch, and apologies to everyone else who had been searching in vain for footnotes.]

So my buddy Mike calls me the other day, and we have a good talk about everything and nothing, as often happens between the best of friends. I've known Mike since the third grade. In this call, we talk about family (he's married and has three wonderful kids, one of whom is my goddaughter), about the possibility of getting together to just hang... and at some point in the conversation Mike mentions that, after reading my comical post about Obama and McCain getting married, the thought crossed his mind that just maybe that's the sort of post that should have gone on my other blog, the one I haven't been updating since I began this walk-- the edgier one I don't normally talk about here.

Mike already knew what I would say in response to this sentiment, and he agreed: a man can do whatever the hell he wants on his own blog. This is one reason why I don't leave comments on other people's blogs asking them to change things around.* I'm a very tolerant and generally accepting person-- go be yourself! I resent that other people aren't that way, and I consider it a violation of my personal space when someone performs the cyber-equivalent of coming into my apartment and claiming I need to rearrange the furniture.

None of which applies to Mike. As he told me, he had considered mentioning this earlier, then had thought better of it-- very likely because he had gone through the same thought process I had. So why did he bring it up at all? To make conversation, he laughed.

Twice before, however, a related question has come up on this blog in somewhat different form, so I thought it might be time to tackle the matter head-on here. While this blog is at least ostensibly devoted to matters religious, you may have picked up on the fact that, overall, I don't sound very religious. In fact, I sound more like someone who'd rather be cracking fart and dick jokes than engaging in God-talk. There are many reasons why that's so, and it's a big topic-- one I haven't really felt ready to discuss before now. I'm not sure I'll be covering all the bases in this post, but I'd like to try and address some of the underlying issues about what makes me tick and why the blog often seems to be about topics not relevant to religion.

Long-time readers may recall that a commenter once expressed disappointment that this blog wasn't showcasing enough explicitly religious (or interreligious) writing. My response to this was essentially what I noted above: only I dictate my blog's content. If I'm gonna be dictator of something, it might as well be something as generally harmless and inconsequential as a blog.** That response obviously didn't address the issue raised in the comment. A person could be forgiven for thinking my response was a petulant non-answer, but please note that, from my point of view, the comment struck me as a call to furniture-rearrangement-- i.e., it was rude. At least one other commenter expressed a more muted version of the same sentiment. While three comments out of thousands of possible comments aren't enough to make me engage in deep introspection followed by a show of repentance, they are enough to make me want to stop and lay out my point of view.

What Mike was saying, if I read him correctly, was that the political post, given its tone and content, didn't belong here at Kevin's Walk. The other commenters came at the problem from the opposite direction: More explicitly religious content, please. All three people were proceeding from an assumption about this blog's purity and focus. Despite my resentment of such personal-space violations, I've tried to address the problem by providing interview transcripts and, recently, YouTube videos that directly address religious issues of interest to me. I've also written about the difficulty of writing transcripts while on the road and without steady access to an actual computer; trying to write transcripts on the BlackBerry would leave me with crippled thumbs to keep company with my bad knee. In addition, I have written-- more than occasionally-- about certain religious issues, and people have been free to opine about them in the comments section.

But the fact remains that many of my posts can be seen, with some justification, as irrelevant to religious matters. I have, for example, written a great deal about what it's like to walk in various weather conditions; I've also written about blisters, shredded hip skin, bodily stink after not washing for more than a few days, topics other than religion that I've discussed with the people I've met, food I've cooked and/or eaten... and of course, I've gone on and on about my poor right knee. Add to the mix the occasional post on politics, and little "brain fart" ditties about nothing in particular, and you may be left wondering whether this blog has even a whiff of the religious about it.

My response: You just don't understand. And here's why.

I've heard the word "holy" defined by our church's previous pastor as "set apart." This is a perfectly acceptable way of looking at the sacred; most scholars and clergy and laypeople share this view on some level. That amazing Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, quite literally wrote the book on the division of the world into the sacred and the profane (where "profane" means ordinary, not the vulgar or obscene) in a work titled, aptly enough, The Sacred and the Profane. In his work, Eliade talks about how objects like natural stone formations acquire their sacrality; consistent with what my former pastor said, Eliade notes that something about these objects sets them apart from their natural surroundings. Something makes them special, or even unique, and it is from or through this specialness that an experience of the holy is possible. The sacred object is a conduit for a hierophany, that is to say, a manifestation or eruption of the sacred into the world of the profane. Ordinary time is sundered; something awful or numinous or inspiring has come among us.

Eliade is pointing to a pancultural phenomenon, one that can be seen in religious traditions great and small. Time and the world are divided into different sectors, some of which are radically more important than others. Look, for example, at how this plays out in religious Buddhism: a temple is a sacred space, set apart from the everyday. The Buddhist liturgical calendar is littered with special days, and non-monastics will flock to the temples on those days to perform rituals-- i.e., special gestures-- they wouldn't normally perform. You might not be Buddhist, but all this probably sounds familiar, because this division of time and space is as natural to human beings as the progression of the stars and the seasons.

Even people who engage in rituals every day will divide their 24 hours into special and not-special moments. We simply can't spend our lives goggling in awe at everything around us, buffeted by the miraculous; we'd go crazy if we tried. Instead, we're built to appreciate the cosmos in an emotionally sinusoidal manner: now it's holy-time, now it's not-so-holy time. If every moment were a "wow" moment, "wow" would cease to be meaningful. Seeing the universe in terms of the sacred and the profane is therefore perfectly legitimate. We're wired to make such divisions.

It's been a long time since I looked at my copy of The Sacred and the Profane, so I can't remember whether or to what extent Eliade might have dealt with another, equally powerful religious undercurrent: the one that sees the sacred and the profane as not-two, that identifies the Absolute with the Ordinary. Without digging around for my copy of Eliade's book, I surmise he would have been comfortable with this nondualistic view because it, too, permeates religious sensibility.

In this other, nondualistic way of looking at things, it's impossible to separate the holy from the ordinary, the sacred from the profane. Muslims understand this sentiment in an intensely theistic way-- a way I don't share, and that in fact makes me somewhat nervous at times. Many Western Christians are this way as well, whatever they may profess about the separation of Church and State-- that supposedly agreed-upon division of life into secular and sacred domains. My own version of this religious undercurrent is closer to the Zen or philosophical Taoist way of looking at things, but there's also a strong dose of scriptural Christianity in it. Both streams of tradition, South/East Asian and Western/Middle Eastern, inform my outlook.***

Zen sees itself as "nothing special." That's one of the reasons why I'm very suspicious of a book like Philip Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen, which contains testimonies of "enlightenment" experiences that sound, at least to me, no different from ecstatic visions-- Westerners once again misappropriating Zen, ex-Christians fleeing their own tradition and undergoing charismatic experiences in another religion.**** I have an instinctive mistrust of people who so willingly let themselves go over the edge. While there's something to be said for trusting the cosmos and stepping into the abyss, there's more to be said for remaining grounded in the moment, because this moment is all there is.

I call myself a Christian, but I also call myself a nontheist and a scientific skeptic; I'd like to consider myself grounded in the Now, not oriented toward a Hereafter or a divine Other. I don't see reality in terms of a personal God; in fact, I seriously doubt such a God exists. As a scientific skeptic, I realize that I can never avow with absolute conviction that there is no such God; neither science nor pure logic will ever be able to prove God's existence or nonexistence conclusively. At the same time, my empirical orientation gives me reason to believe in the probability that the God of classical theism doesn't exist. So: am I even religious?

Yes, I would say I am.

I consider myself religious because I experience those numinous moments, those "aha"s and "wow"s that offer a glimpse of how deeply, ocean-deep, this life reaches. And it's not miraculous; it just is, and that's enough. This, this now, just this, is the Way of Things. It's amazing, yet amazingly mundane. Every glance, every jostle, every pivot, every twinkle of a baby's eye, every grandmother's delighted cackle, every twitch of a prowling kitten's tail, is infused with infinite significance. And by the same token: every bellowed swear word, every dollop of poop, every punch thrown in anger, every murder, every natural disaster-- these things, too, are pregnant with meaning. All these phenomena together make up the Holy and the Ordinary, twins who aren't twins at all, but one and the same.

For me, seeing the sacred and the profane as not-two is what brings me down to earth in the middle of a baptism. It's also what makes me delight in the weight of a happy dog, far too big for my lap but still sprawled there, chest up, begging for a scratch. These events happening around me and in me and through me-- this is the world's dance, life interacting with itself, energy at play! And that energy includes the painful knees, the culinary successes and failures, the shenanigans of our politicians, the moments of boredom when all one can do is blow fart noises through one's lips. Holy and ordinary: not-two. Korean Seon Buddhists talk about man-haeng, the ten thousand practices, where every single thing we do is, in some way, religious practice. Prayer is practice, but so is scratching your ass. It's not so much that scratching your ass is infused with the over-dramatic glow of the holy; it's more that prayer isn't so far removed from ass-scratching.

So you might think I've been blogging about topics not relevant to religion, but if you take a peek at the world from this Zen or philosophical Taoist perspective, you'll see that I've been doing nothing but blogging about religion. I don't expect that sentiment to satisfy most of you, but there we are.

[To be continued. We still have to talk about the Christian aspect of this issue.]

*Or did I once leave a comment at the Marmot's Hole asking Robert to stop screwing with his damn template? I don't recall. I may have to amend my statement to, "I don't normally leave comments..." Side note: given how close a friend Mike is, I'd consider him one of the few people who would have the right to muscle in and give me an earful about whatever was on his mind, blog-related or not.

**I concede things might be different if I had thousands of readers and was getting several tens of thousands of hits per day. A blogging powerhouse may have to watch his step. As Ben Parker told Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility. Oh, and chicks. Chicks dig power." Then again, I'd like to think that, were this blog suddenly to go stratospheric, however unlikely that might be, I'd try to remain as true to myself as possible.

***I say "South/East Asian" because Zen Buddhists will insist that the roots of their tradition go back to the Buddha himself (cf. the "flower sermon" with Mahakasyapa's beatific smile as the punchline), but the general tenor of Zen is so thoroughly philosophical Taoist that it would be wrong to exclude East Asia in talking about this tradition. I say "Western/Middle Eastern" because Christianity is, as many people like to point out, not originally a Western religion. However, Christianity's fusion with Greek thought-- that turbulent merging of Athens and Jerusalem averred to by Raimondo Panikkar and others-- has made much of Christendom thoroughly Western, whether we look at it metaphysically or culturally or historically. As the product of a Protestant tradition, I can't deny the Westernness of my own Christianity.

****There's a real, knock-down, drag-out debate to be had over whether I should be putting the blame so firmly on Western shoulders. Asian practitioners of Zen have written about their enlightenment experiences, and some of those writings also possess an ecstatic tone. Suffice it to say that I'm suspicious of those Asian writers as well.

*****The "goodness/pizza" image is one I've used before, in my book Water from a Skull. It comes from a lecture on Buddhism by Dr. Charles B. Jones at Catholic University. Relationality is an important concept in Asian thinking. What a thing is is absolutely a function of its relationship to other things. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, even went so far as to say that the relationship comes first; the objects are secondary. This is the reverse of how we tend to think in the West: we'll normally posit two discrete objects, then construct or perceive a relationship between them.



melancholy donut said...

this is a pretty good explanation of where you are coming from and i think it will help newer readers & visitors. i dont claim to know you at all, but it certainly is consistent with what ive read. once youre happier with it, you should definitely include this as a link in your faq! looking forward to the rest.

Britt Elizabeth Verstegen said...

This is my favorite Kevin's Walk post. It is absolutely brilliant, though disjointed (but that is part of your charm). The spiritual is indeed everywhere and no one can sustain eye-popping awe 24-7 without sounding insincere.

There is a necessary duality in human experience that dictates we must know the opposite condition to appreciate the first condition, i.e. you must know wordly farting jokes to appreciate the "heavenly" nature of all phenomena.

Short response: I like your humor as it is a hilarious foil to your well-informed religious commentary.

This quote is poetry, Kevin:

"Every glance, every jostle, every pivot, every twinkle of a baby's eye, every grandmother's delighted cackle, every twitch of a prowling kitten's tail, is infused with infinite significance."

Yes, I agree!

It is easy for a monk cloistered in an abbey to concentrate 24-7 on the Divine, but true grace is attained by the worldly servant feeling awe while living a full human life. That is a far more difficult and praiseworthy task.

From my point of view, even your 7th grade humor and daft political commentary demonstrate your purity of heart. Your perspective is youthful. I mean, c'mon, you laugh at FARTING, Kevin. (Yes, OK, so do I. Is it my fault my humor is stuck in 7th grade as well?)

Finally, if you spoke only of religion, your blog would be insufferably boring, ha-ha. I appreciate your writing style and I enjoy your insight, both as a commentator on interreligious dialogue and the nature of faith itself, and also as a perveyor of silly, WTF? sh**.

You are a real human being, not a saint, and your blog reflects this.

I'm much more impressed by the spiritual insights of a slightly-overweight farting Hominid with language skillz than a monk charged to focus all his energies on God and never consider "things of the farti...(I mean) flesh."


Anonymous said...

Question: In your view, is there a difference between religious experience and aesthetic experience?

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes ....
If you can't find god in a fart, there's something lacking in your notion of god.

Anonymous said...


I'm trying to sort out which parts of this I want to respond to here, and which parts on my blog. I'll try to confine what I say here to issues most directly relevant to this blog, and address more general issues at MQ.

Re the apartment/personal-space/rearranging-the-furniture analogy: if you were talking about your other blog, this would be a perfectly apt analogy, since that's a purely personal blog. But this blog is, like it or not, the public face of Kevin's Walk, a project that you're asking other people to participate in. You've made numerous appeals for readers to donate both money and time, and expressed frustration and puzzlement when those appeals aren't answered. To extend the analogy: This, IMHO, amounts to asking people, "Pay my rent -- or better, let me live in a property you own free of charge; but what I do there and how I keep the place is none of your business."

Re the particular content of the blog: For the record, I thought the McCain/Obama marriage piece was hilarious, and not in the slightest bit inappropriate. I've expressed my reservations about some of the scatology before. In terms of the appropriateness of some of this stuff, it seems to me that there are several aspects to the question:

(1)Is it funny?
(2)Is it "religious?"
(3)Is it a good idea for that stuff to appear on this blog?

Answer to #1: Sometimes. This is something I'll try to write about on my blog -- when scatology is and isn't funny.

Thoughts on #2 and #3: Obviously, #2 raises questions about what is and isn't "religious" -- issues you were exploring about the nonduality of the sacred and the profane. These are deep and important questions, and I'll try to write about them at some length over at MQ. Here I just want to point out that it's a different question than #3. In other words, making a case for the potential sacredness of farting and scratching your ass is one thing; whether that's the best way to get conventionally religious people interested in the Walk is another.

Anonymous said...

I hope the "to be continued" will contain those footnotes promised by all those asterisks. I set up little markers in my mind as I passed each--"Hmm. I wonder what that one is about" type markers--then I reached the bottom, and. . . Nothing!! The mental equivalent of expecting a bottom stair that isn't there. Oh well. It's one way to wake up, I suppose.

I think you're into an area of paradox here. If everything is sacred, there's a certain "so-what?"ness to any claim that any particular thing or experience or action is sacred. Educators and liberals get regularly pilloried for making the analogous claim that "Everyone is special;" it appears to piss some people off no end. Maybe because simple logic than concludes that if everyone is special, then no one is. And if to be sacred means something special, but everything is sacred, and someone feels or claims that thus-and-such is sacred, the instant comeback is "So what? So is every other thus-and-such in the world."

On the other hand--I do personally think that there's a sacredness that lies behind everything and that sometimes breaks through to our perception. Or maybe it's our perception that breaks through to the sacredness. At least that would make some sense of the paradox that sacred somehow applies to everything, but also has something to do with being special, set apart.

But even that leaves a question, to me. Is evil sacred? OK, maybe farts are--you and others seem to feel they are, though I see them in more prosaic and utilitarian terms and personally fail to "get" either their humor or sacredness. Mostly, anyway. But that's OK --I just think "Oh, well" and move on when farts etc. crop up in the conversation. But what about evil? First, is there any such thing, and if there is, is it sacred? For instance, were the actions of that guy who went onto the college campus and killed all those people sacred? Was whatever led him to do that, in the way of mental illness or whatever it was, sacred? Or Germany's WWII concentration camps--were they sacred? And if so, how so? And if not, how does one reconcile that with "everything is sacred"?

I'm not asking these questions to be obnoxious or argumentative. It's a genuine puzzle for me, and if you have any insights to offer, I'd welcome them.

Kevin Kim said...

Donut, Cuboid, and Bob,

Many thanks. I'll be refining this essay... at some point. It might reappear on the blog, and might even get a link as I revise the FAQ.


re: aesthetic and religious experience

A lot depends on how we define terms, I imagine. When I compare those concepts, "aesthetic" and "religious," I usually add a tacit "merely" to the word "aesthetic," but I readily acknowledge that the feeling arising from an aesthetic experience can, in many cases, be just as easily termed "religious."

I don't know... I'd have to think about this before answering at length. I do recall an East/West comparison made in the introduction to a section on Asian religion in Noss and Noss's Man's Religions (old book, sexist title) that took a similar tack to mine: the writer said something to the effect that many early Western scholars of Asian religion took the Asian outlook to be primarily aesthetic in nature, but that this was a mistake. I'll need to find the passage; my book is buried somewhere in this house, and I'm sure I'm mis-remembering how the Noss statement went. The last time I read that book was in the late 1980s.

re: the apartment analogy

You wrote:

"Pay my rent -- or better, let me live in a property you own free of charge; but what I do there and how I keep the place is none of your business."

I see your point, but I disagree. As far as donations go, I'm not twisting anyone's arm; they're free to pay or not to pay, and I'm free to express delight or frustration. I think it would be crossing the line for me to, say, threaten to cancel the Walk unless I had a certain minimum in my bank account by a certain date. That's coercive. I and my blog's visitors are all equals here; whatever obligation we feel toward each other arises from whatever cyber- or real-life relationship develops over the course of time.

And if I were to focus on the rent analogy, I'd note that most landlords (and who would be the landlord in this analogy?) don't care about what happens inside an apartment unless something extreme occurs, something that violates whatever code the renter agreed to when signing the contract. Other than that very general stricture, it really is nobody's business what I do in my apartment.

Were I to start slapping up porn pics and writing sloppy BDSM erotica, then yeah, there'd be a problem. This might be equivalent to a renter blasting his stereo at all hours. But whether a given behavior is bad for my public image is a question that has no objective answer. I have no intention of taking this blog to gruesome extremes, but the blog is about me and what's going on in my head. The reader might ask, "What's it like to be Kevin, parked in suburbia for several months?" or "What's it like to camp at an empty campsite between towns?" The answers are right there on the blog-- not definitive answers, to be sure (can anyone truly get inside anyone else's head?), but answers all the same.

In other words, it's not just the explicitly religious posts that offer readers a glimpse of the human dimension of Kevin's Walk. I make allowances for my own playfulness; sorry, but that's who I am.

None of which is to say that I feel no responsibility to the readership. I do feel responsible, but at the same time I don't see these good folks as "my" readers in anything other than a friendly, nonattached sense: they're free to come, free to donate, and free to go. I have very few readers at this stage, and I'm actually both thankful and honored to have met many of them in person. If they continue to read what I write, I assume this is because, as friends, they are motivated by the loyalty that comes of friendship. They probably make allowances for the goofy zigging and scatological zagging, charitably interpreting the blog's parts in terms of how the parts contribute to the whole. I'm thankful for that; it shows an acceptance of who I am, and it's the same acceptance I want to show others.


Britt Elizabeth Verstegen said...

Ah, yes, THIS is the true question:

Does Kevin want conventionally religious people to be attracted to his blog?

In light of what little I know of Kevin, I would say "No." If they are attracted, that is marvelous, but it seems to me he is appealing more to the "average Joe" crowd who balance the tightrope between things of this world and things of the spiritual world, one foot in the Sacred and one in the Profane.

But that is his point: The two worlds are NOT exclusive, they meld and mix through leaky borders just as any other pair of open systems. You can't divide life between a "Sacred Box" and a "Profane Box" without limiting your experience of the Divine, and the Divine is LIMITLESS.

To say religious experience must be separate from worldly experience is to say that God is not in all things. It is a compartmentalization of the Divine, a way of saying, "The Prime Mover exists in this hallowed corner, but not in that one. Ooooh, no, not THAT one."

Yeah, and perhaps it IS profane to find intimations of God in a fart, but why not? Doesn't God or "the Force" or "That Which Binds All" or "the state of perfect Nothingness" want us to find beauty in even the most mundane of human events? I think so. Finding joy in a fart is finding joy in Life.

'Course, personally speaking, it ain't my usual modus operandi to find delight in the expulsion of digestive air, ah-hem, but I "get" it....

Or, maybe I'm just talkin' out my ass.


Britt Elizabeth Verstegen said...

To addofio:

Your wrote,

"For instance, were the actions of that guy who went onto the college campus and killed all those people sacred? Was whatever led him to do that, in the way of mental illness or whatever it was, sacred? Or Germany's WWII concentration camps--were they sacred? And if so, how so? And if not, how does one reconcile that with 'everything is sacred'?"

This is an excellent question. From my experience, I believe such reprehensible actions do, in fact, point to the sacredness of all things by providing a foil to the absence of sacredness, also known as EVIL. Such horrific mismanagement of free will highlights the power of good deeds and furthers our shared commitment to uphold right conduct in society.

It reminds me of something my friend's father told me, a man who had survived Auschwitz/Birkenau:

"I knew pure evil and found G-d."

If we accept that the Divine does not wish for us to live the opposite of Love; if we accept that the Divine has given mankind the gift of free will; then it follows that the absence of Love is not willed by the Divine but is the choice of human beings. The fact that the absence of Love is permitted to exist demonstrates our dual nature and inherent need to know an opposing force to understand the sacredness of the first Force.

I don't mean to complicate matters, ha-ha, it's just my perspective.

Anonymous said...

To Cuboid Master: Your response implies some restrictions on or exceptions to "everything is sacred", seems to me. Which of course is OK, but that would immediately open up questions about what is and is not sacred (or, if you prefer, what determines the presence vs. absence of sacredness), which will immediately get sticky--one person's sacredness may be another's ho-hum or absurdity or even abomination. But then again such stickiness may be unescapable.

Tim said...

Hey Kevin, got here via Cuboid Master and I must say you've got quite a party going on! I hate to even jump into this because I'm not quite sure where the horse is, if he's dead or not, or what we're trying to gain by flogging him.

On a purely theoretical plane, it seems to me the sacred and the profane categories are only useful in determining what the other is not. It's when we try to assign mundane occurrences with their labels that they get muddy. And, okay, I'll go with the flow and take the much-discussed fart as an example. Getting stuck on an elevator with a flatulent drunk is a profane experience. Nothing funny or special there. But laughing at my dad's gas right after his open-heart surgery was one of the most sacred moments of my life. Good taste and decorum had nothing to do with it--he was alive, awake, and aware, and that was plenty to be grateful for.

I've not yet dug down into Kevin's Walk to get a feel for its overall dynamic, or the personalities of the commentoes. (Except for Cuboid Master, who's a much-admired friend.) But from all I've read and seen so far, I'm fairly aligned with your general view. Life is a fluid experience that demands rigorous attention and contemplation. But it's impervious to rigorous definitions and opinions. It can't be confined.

This is what creates differences among us--and within us. That's why I think it's futile to believe there's a universally acceptable/applicable standard for anything. What may be beautiful, desirable, ugly, threatening, sacred, or profane to you may be the exact opposite to me. Much of this has to do with relative experience; you may have seen or know more than I about certain things and vice-versa. This invariably instructs our conflicting responses to them.

But what I find most fascinating about life is how time constantly reconfigures our own internal ideas and opinions. Here's a silly example to demonstrate what I mean. At 49, I've seen how I regard The Three Stooges evolve through a number of stages:

Age five, laugh my ass off at the numbskulls.
Age 10, bored with them, don't care anymore.
Age 15, too snooty and smart to remotely consider them funny-- and too busy trying to get Woody Allen's jokes.
Age 25, mistaking PC poses for sophistication, appalled by their violence.
Age 35, nostalgic for the innocent days when I used to laugh my ass off.
Age 45-now, too concerned about real violence in the world and grateful for their foolishness (and poorly executed stunt work) as a mindless distraction--i.e., laughing my ass off all over again to keep from crying about more serious matters.

I don't know exactly how these stages break down on the sacred-profane spectrum, but the interplay between the Stooges and me throughout my life is something I cherish and most definitely regard as sacred. So I guess that also qualifies watching them as a "religious experience."

Love the blog; can't wait to read on...


Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Kevin,

Well done! An excellent post.

I'll confess that I've also thought of making suggestions about this blog's content; it has seemed to me from time to time that material not specifically related to the Walk itself (or to the religious questions that prompted it in the first place) might, perhaps, better be left out. Of course, it's your blog, and you can do with it as you like, but I had been thinking that if you were interested in attracting readers and supporters to a site dedicated to the Walk, it might be best to keep it focused, and perhaps to re-animate Big Hominid for all the other material.

Regarding the sacred and the profane, some might see, if not outright contradiction, at least a puzzling tension between this:

If every moment were a "wow" moment, "wow" would cease to be meaningful. Seeing the universe in terms of the sacred and the profane is therefore perfectly legitimate. We're wired to make such divisions.

...and this:

Every glance, every jostle, every pivot, every twinkle of a baby's eye, every grandmother's delighted cackle, every twitch of a prowling kitten's tail, is infused with infinite significance. And by the same token: every bellowed swear word, every dollop of poop, every punch thrown in anger, every murder, every natural disaster-- these things, too, are pregnant with meaning. All these phenomena together make up the Holy and the Ordinary, twins who aren't twins at all, but one and the same.

But as I imagine you'd agree, there is really no contradiction here at all: the resolution is that the world itself simply is, and the only thing that changes from moment to moment - indeed the only thing that we can change, and the only thing that makes the difference between the sacred and the profane - is how we stand in relation to it.

Bob gets it just right in his comment.

I hope that knee of yours is getting better!

Britt Elizabeth Verstegen said...

To addofio:

Yes, these are thorny problems. It is the effort to understand -- the journey to finding unity -- that is the purpose, I suppose, not the ultimate end of finding an all-inclusive paradigm to fit all religions and all philosophies. We are looking for the "God particle," philosophically, and that is impossible. Finite beings such as ourselves cannot hope to comprehend the Infinite, thus I suppose we cannot hope to remove all the "stickiness" in human reason and faith. The pursuit is fun, however, and the effort is one of honest yearning. It makes me happy to know people are trying to find common ground at all. Even if it is not achievable, the effort is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I haven't checked in here for a couple of days, and look at the fun I've been missing.

I've been working on my own thoughts on all this, the first two installments of which are online here and here. (Good thing I didn't finish it; I see that Addofio has already made one of the points I was going to make: if everything's sacred, then the word "sacred" doesn't really mean anything.)


You raise a good question:

"Does Kevin want conventionally religious people to be attracted to his blog?

Maybe not. I'm just thinking about the 225 e-mails I sent to churches in Portland, and the 5 responses I got, and the kind of impressions I got from looking at those 225 church websites about what kind of folks they are.

BTW, Kev, still waiting for Part II, about Christianity. I never have figured out how you get away with calling yourself a nontheist Presbyterian. (Inquiring minds want to know.)