Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day Two - Athens

One day last week was the hottest day in Athens for 110 years. Something like 40 Centigrade. This is child's play next to the regular grillings of 45 + I'm set to endure in Saudi Arabia, but then you expect that kind of madness there.

A guy in my dorm told me you shouldn't talk about Religion and Politics because they're controversial (this I'd heard before). But then he added you shouldn't talk about the weather either because it's boring. So that's me off to a good start. I'd always thought talk about the weather was what one did to avoid a silence that would be even worse. I'd never heard weather-talk trashed like that before, without qualification. Oh well.

Hadrian's Arch exerted a vivid hold over me as I ambled around it, imagining I was a Greek dignitary, or Caesar. I recommend such imaginings in Athens and Rome. How else can you enter into the spirit of such places? I made various monumentalist arm raising gestures which made me feel sublime and lofty within, and which had an unknown effect on the strangers that surrounded me.

I have pondered the glory that was Greece and what it must have meant. Were these people really less degenerate than we are, as Nietzsche for one supposed? If so why, and how precisely?

Meditating on the generous capaciousness of the polythesitic set up, I've been sensing how this must have been allied to a less rigidly focused, tunnel visioned mindset than we see in MonoGodland. Yet it's also clear that the Greek Gods of Olympus are not creator Gods. They are not different from, nor do they exist prior to, the Universe. They are created and fallible beings like us, different only in their degree of power and the not so small matter that they refuse to die. Identitfied anthropormophically with particular human qualities and emotions, their actions, passions and absurd caprices make sense of, giving reason and coherence to, human collective and subjective experiences. In this way, it seems, their function is to explain and elucidate this normal everyday human reality that we seem perpetually to undergo. Such a role can not be imagined for the God of Abraham, who is concerned to challenge and change human reality by exhorting it to become something different by pressurising his worshippers, by both promise and threats, to act differently in general, both towards him and one another. Here, history is not a circle, the eternal recurrence of the same that wants mythopoetic explanation; history instead is an arrow, with a beginning, a middle and an end, a process we're stuck in the middle of, a destiny awaiting resolution, an expedition not yet home.

How is this difference reflected in the different degrees of alienation or intimacy humans must feel towards the 'Olympian Twelve', and the Abrahamic Creator God of the currently reigning Monotheistic Religions? In one sense it must be much easier to love, or at least relate to, a wisdom showering Athena, or a pregnancy protecting Artemis, a shamelessly warmongering Ares, or a musically prophesying Apollo, a wine pouring Dionysus or a draconian womanising Zeus, than to relate to or love an imageless, non-human all powerful God, who will nonetheless not let his absence of a personality get in the way of his imposing all kinds of laws and duties and prohibitions upon us that affect and penetrate the most personal dimensions of our lives. On the other hand, the Olympian Twelve, so long as we give them the appropriate devotion and sacrifice, don't much care for us individually -unless they happen to find us personally attractive. Whilst some might find that lack of interest liberating and reassuring, others might feel it callous and insensitive. At the end of the day the Olympian Twelve, like us, are the abject prisoners of fate. They therefore can give us less to hope for than can the Abrahamic God, that is if you believe in him and, more to the point, if you believe you are on his right side.

It seems that the difference might boil down to a question of identification and hope. Whilst the Olympian Twelve are easy to relate to and love, in that they share in and somehow glorify the human experience, they can offer little in the way of personal salvation or deliverance or enlightenment, in terms, that is, of a transportation to a whole other world or dimension of reality. Such a deliverance, such a salvation, however, seems central to the Abrahamic path, but when we think about what exactly this God is we are dealing with, our minds and even our hearts might draw a blank -and this quite simply is because this God is not human (a fact you might consider a good, a bad or a neutral quality about him).

Now of course you might want to argue that this Abrahamic God becoming a real, live, walking human in the person of Jesus Christ changes things somewhat. But that, as it is said, is a whole other chestnut- ballgame- scenario. At least today anyway.

I must go, people wait for the computers.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Underslept in Athens

Greetings from Athens from a very tired man. It's 7.25am. I arrived in the middle of the night 4 hours ago, then sat drinking a McDonalds coffee in Syntagma square, surrounded by dogs, since there was nothing else to do, before discovering a cockroach in the shower of my hostel, whose internet facilities I am now using. I would far rather go to sleep for a few hours but there are no beds (so the attendant says) until 10am. More to the point, there are no armchairs or couches which strikes me as uncivilised and simply bizarre, as I've never encountered such an absence in an hostel before.

Highlight of the trip so far: Reading, hovering over my McDonalds coffee, about the Twelve Olympian Gods from a book I wisely bought from a kiosk upon arriving. I think at last I can memorise their names. I trust brushing up on my mythology (e.g Hephaistos' chaining of his mother to a chair) will enhance my experience of Athens.

It is nice that my holiday has started at last, after what seemed like an endless process of tying up my recent uninspiring existence in Bratislava. As usual I underestimated the time it would take for me to pack, and the sheer quanitity of stuff a hoarder such as I had accumulated. And that despite the fact that I must have sold, or indefinitely lent or given away, about 150 books in the past 6 months.

So, Shall I go to the Peloponnese, or to the mainland before ploughing north to Albania, where I expect to be by the 6th.

Any readers of this blog happen to live, or be, in Athens right now? Fat chance.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I am not what I am

As an adolescent one is allowed to experience crises of identity and not know who one is, or what one wants. By ones mid thirties one is not supposed to feel this way. By that time existential quandaries should have been resolved and sorted. By that time, naval excavated, wild seeds sown, restive eggs scattered, a secure career direction, a settled partner, children, and a mortgage, should be the new reality of your life.

If there’s one criticism which ‘gets my back up’, as it is cryptically said, it is that I’m immature (possibly because it’s true). It’s not without defensiveness or anxiety therefore that I admit, as a 35 year old, that I’m no closer to knowing ‘who’ I am or ‘what’ I want. I resent the idea that the reason I’m no closer to ‘self-actualisation’ than ever is because I’m a retard, even if it’s true. I hope that is understood.

Everyday people are asked what they 'do’. Usually people are not particularly interested in the answer, but asking the question is a conventional way of filling the silence and breaking the ice, and one is supposed to reply. If you answer that you eat nachos, scratch your head, breathe, walk the earth, dress and undress, think, sleep, look at things, listen to birds, get sad, get happy, drink coffee, slurp beer, walk into lamp posts, etc, you may have answered accurately. But you have not answered conventionally, which is why you will be thought strange. To give a proper answer you’re supposed to understand that the question is code for a specific enquiry: How do you fit into the human patterning of society, or the system, which more often than not means, (unless other people have given you money, or you have won money) what do you do for money?

The assumption is that you belong to this system, and that what you are equals what you do within it. A related assumption is that you have chosen to do what you do, and so have chosen to ‘be’ who you are. Therefore by finding out what you do, what kind of job you have, it can be shown what kind of person you ‘are’. There’s also a belief that what you have done in the past, in the form of money making, or else, preparations undertaken to make money later (education), is a crucial indicator of ‘who’ you are, or rather ‘what’ you are –how you are to be placed, how you are to be ‘weighed’.

This is all well and good if you feel at home in the system and don’t think it an insanely degenerate, absurd prison. Most people feel at home in the system and have managed to align their subjective sense of who they are with one or more of the available choices on offer as to what one can do within it.

Needless to say I do not feel at home in the system and have not been able to do this (despite trying), and this, I would wager, lies at the heart of my feeling of alienation. I am and am not the ‘being’ that fits into the system as it does. Undeniably I earn a living teaching English. But I do not do so because I want to, and certainly I do not consider myself to ‘be’ an English Teacher. However, this is how other people must view me, because this is what I do. They think I am what I don’t think I am. Rather, I am not what I am.

But it's not only in terms of your job that people will understand your identity. We realize that we don’t only work, that we have free time in which to express ourselves less formally. And so people might want to know what your interests are, what star sign you are, what your opinions are on this or that, or what your values are. They want to put you into a box and distinguish you and compare you, so they can map and chart you and see how you are similar to this template, and how different from that template, of the ways that people are imagined to be. The idea always is that you are finite and explicit and enduring over time – that you are unitary and that you can be known- that is compacted into a exclusive, specific thoughtform.

Maybe this whole ‘self-actualisation’ business is deeply flawed in its basic premise. During those times when my spiritual awareness is awoken, and when my ego doesn’t get in the way of that in a way that makes me think that I am ‘uniquely’ divine (Jehovah or otherwise), I consider myself not actually to have a self at all but to be a little part of the one true, infinite, sublime Godhead (the Pleroma to the Gnostics) which just happens to be attached to and expressing itself through this person called Jonathan Mark Tillotson, but which, in truth, is quite different from that person altogether.

I hold this body, this heart, this mind, this ‘personality’, to be just a fraction of what I am..and sometimes a poor representation of my true essence – which existed prior to the moulding of this personality into the often regrettable forms it has assumed. So you see, for me ‘self-actualisation’ is hardly a desire. Rather it is to be freed from the limitations of my self that I seek. Or at least from my lower self, my ego, my ‘sociological straightjacket’. You will understand that this is a difficult task when for so much of the year one is expected to earn money – for which the ego is a crucial prerequisite, and when everyday one is surrounded by people who identify you with your job or want you to tell them about your ego -‘the account that you give of yourself’- and so force you to wear the limiting, excluding ego mask in their interactions with you.

I am pure light, pure joy, pure love…

And its bloody annoying that I have to live inside a self, inside a world, that so often does not allow this to be apparent.

But its ok I suppose, being a slave and a prisoner of society and other peoples perceptions. Or at least or some of the time anyway…hey, sometimes even most of it. I am used to this predicament in any case.

Currently I drink a coffee and wait for my Saudi visa, which I don’t expect to get without unanticipated or anticipated hindrances.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Weekend

Saturday night was unusual.

After eating far too much, I came home and suffered food poisoning, courtesy of a restaurant that had not advertised 'nausea-inducing efficacy' as amongst its offered ingredients.

Given our reigning taboos about defecation, I will spare you the graphic details of my experiences in that regard.

As for my vomiting, consitent with past experiences, I found it both considerably more traumatic and much more pleasurable an act in its after-effects.

Throwing up is a cataclysmic event. It was mystical in its ability to transport me to the fundamental ground of being. And so incredibly restorative! Almost immediately I felt it had done the trick, and that the only way was up. Indeed it was, for I only had to perform this labour once.

The aches in my legs, however, persisted. Ignorant as I am, I thought I'd had these because I'd spent the past 15 hours horizontally, though today I was told that this too had been virally caused.

As I was writhing around, cancelling lessons (for which I am to be rewarded with no pay) I kept telling myself I must drink, or else there'd be nothing left of me to expel. Not having anything in the fridge, and unenthused by tap water, I dragged myself, haggard and wobbling, to the nearest shopping centre (thankfully very near) and bought orange juice, citron soda and a marvellous Slovak variant of Cola called Kofola.

I also got it into my head (rightly or wrongly????) that I should eat Ice Cream. And so I did, and apart for some bread, bacon and eggs this morning, have eaten nothing else since. I have also had precisely one beer in the past 48 hours, and that was merely 2 hours ago. It must have been almost two years, since I was India, that I have gone that long without the dreaded demon.

So an unsual time for me, and vivid, despite its evident drawbacks. On balance I think I wouldn't ask for the experience again, though I suppose it's meaningful once in a while to check in on the elemental earthiness, stripped of all refinement, of the fires of mother earth.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

There is more to God than God

A few nights ago I read the gnostic text, the Apocryphon of John, a heretical work. It got me thinking about the kind of issues that can effect me deeply and delight and confuse me thoroughly.

These days, contrary to 20th century secular expectations that religion is dying out, discourse about God fills the leaves and screens of our media ever increasingly. Presumably this is in reaction to 9/11, and because the occupancy of the most powerful position in the world is a born again Christian Fundamentalist. It may be for other 'background' reasons too, for example, the decline of faith in Enlightment rationality, and the perceived sense of a need for alternatives to nihilistic despair, but I certainly notice that religion, as well as its shadow- athesitic polemic- is in the headlines far more now than it was ten years ago.

What than can be said about religion?

Unsurprisingly, central to any religious discussion, must be the question of whether God exists. Surely, if he doesn't, not only is all religious activity acutely embarrassing, its also an utter waste of space..and time.

Similarly, if God does exist then embarrassment instead becomes the destiny of our atheists; simple reality joins aesthetic decorum in the argument for them to pull back the reins on their loud, screaming arrogance.

Curiously, however, within this often vigorous debate, the question of what this God actually is that is meant either to exist or not exist is seldom raised. Everyone takes it for granted that we just know what we mean when we talk about 'God'. What is meant is the 'God of Western, Non-oriental religion', the uncreated creator, the unmoved mover, who is all knowing, all powerful, all loving and absolutely everywhere. Beyond such general, philosophical characteristics he is also agreed to be the God at the the heart of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This God has had various names: Yahweh, the Trinity, and most recently Allah. All have claimed to have had a close relationship with the third son of an idol maker called Abraham, who came from the Biblical city of Ur, possibly not far from modern day Nasiriyah in Iraq, and who was supposed to have walked the earth in about 2000BC.

Atheists say this God does not exist. Well, except as an idea, or perhaps a meme, shared amongst, and passed down by, various distinct groups of people, which has come to shape this thing called religion and religious culture, the existence of which they do not dispute, but the existence of which, at least recently, they would quite like to destroy. Meanwhile, theists of the various schools, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, in so far as they deign to give the time of day at all to the doubting Godless, assert that this very same God does exist and that his actual reality - not merely a dreamt-up idea of him - is what lies behind the establishment and historical unfolding of the religions of the west.

The level of agreement, then, between the two sides is very great. Both sides know what the other is talking about. Nobody questions the terms of the debate very much. One makes one choice and plumps for one's destiny. Leeway and wriggle room is starkly absent, a situation, it seems, approved of by both sides. No namby pamby 'ooh, i just don't know' agnosticism for us! - they broadly declaim. You are either with us, or you are with them -yuk!

What's interesting about the Gnostics, however, is that they offer an interesting third positon between the believers and unbelievers, which at the same time is the opposite of agnosticism, a position I'm sure most believe is the only alternative to belief or unbelief. They agree in part and disagree in part with what both sides say. Gnostics synthesise the debate into something refreshing. With the believers they assert that God exists, they just dont believe he is to be identified with the God of Religion. Instead, shockingly enough (shocking enough for Dawkins?) the God of Religion is actually the devil, or at the very least the 'God of this world', and not to be confused with the true God, who is perfect, pure light, to be related to through intimately intuited mystical knowledge, not fearfully through faith, worship and law. Because of their criticisms of the God of Religion, then, they agree with the atheists in opposing this God on moral grounds, accepting that this God is generally speaking a bad, or at least unnecessary, thing. At the same time, nevertheless, they disagree with the atheists about the lack of any invisible, spiritual reality behind, beyond and within the Universe's material exoskeleton.

Speaking personally, on an emotional gut level, I find Gnosticism extremely sympathetic. I do so becasue I feel it honouring and granting respect to my subjective personal spiritual life and spiritual intuitions in a way I've always found lacking from the orthodox churches. These I've perhaps too paranoically suspected ultimately believe that the important thing is to ensure, once the smiles have relaxed, the songs sung, and the nice tea drunk and put away, that what I believe about faith and morals is all squared off and tied up in the proper, received way, whatever I might feel to the contrary, the integrity of my own subjective inscape be damned.

Intellectually, as well, it seems hugely more impressive, even though its mythopoetic language and metaphysical orientation may attract scorn- albeit less hatred- from reductive materialists and scientists. Most particularly, perhaps, the greatest spur to modern atheism, the problem of evil, is at once solved. This problem asks how it is that God, assuming he is all good and all loving, as well as all powerful, can allow the amount of suffering which exists in the world to exist. Answer: becasue he is not in charge, the lesser God, the demiurge, the fallen God, as he might be termed, the prince of this world, is. Whilst the real God is all-good, and all-loving (crikey he even loves this lesser god, after all), he is not all-powerful, and this is not his world.

So this cleanses the true God of the stain of moral culpability for the aushwitzes and tsunami's of existence. And thankfully it does so without need of mainstream religion's tortuously fragile justifications, which are so often wheeled out begrudgingly to defend its God when he charged with responsibility for the evils in the world (oh, wasn't it simpler when we could just burn these bastards!). Chief of these justifications, of course, is that, despite appearances, and the vigour of common sense, the evils of the world are not the fault of this all-powerful God, but of humanity, or rather its ancestor Adam and his wife Eve, the deserved punishment for their having abused the precious gift of free will and done that most politically hideous of things - disobey God.

No, I'm much happier with the simple idea that God, like Goodness and Love itself, are absent from this planet and this world, even though they can be found, here and there, speading their light in subversively joyful ways.

Anyway, I'm not going to put myself in a box, but I certainly want to look further into this issue.
Here's a poem I wrote in 1997. I suppose it could be called Gnostic in its way:

Before the New love, the new heart
Before the new heart, the new eye
Sweet, mystical, deep, wide
Reaching towards all things
River, rock, mountain, stream
The Sun, the Moon, the Planets and Stars
And each particular thing
But especially
These vast empires and mysteries
Walking our streets, working our cities,
Lost, pitilessly dreaming,
Greasing the wheels of the system that
Plunders, in the blackening Suns of
Progress, invention, convention, detention
Of the senses in lies and fear
Towering above, invisible, insane
Inhuman hammer face of the fallen God Triumphant.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Will to Love

Recently I wrote a piece about gnosticism which, for inexplicable reasons, blogger decided to delete just as I was uploading it. And this, despite the fact that recently it had boasted about its new capacity for an automatic saving of drafts.

So, that may have to wait awhile.

Today a Slovak friend was telling me how Revolutionary possibilites in the world have died because as soon as anyone makes a stand in any kind of efficacious direction, consumerist capitalism comes along and commodifies its productions in a way that upholds and defends the very system it explicitly challenged.

In this we see exhibited the triumph of the banal, the unopposed triumph that defines and enshrines our post post modern times.

Anyway, I agreed with him (actually the above is my paraphrasing of his position) and added there will never be anything revolutionary or novel or new happening in human society without a transformation of desire.

Hitherto moral systems that have sought to defend virtue and enforce 'the good' have sought to do so against the drift and natural inclination of our natural desires.

Because of this we witness the good so often coupled with the necessity of self-sacrifice. We are told to deny ourselves and do what we dont want to do. Only in this way do our moral efforts count. Only in this way is our virtue meaningful, only in this way is it possessed of value, does it please God, or the state, or whoever.

The problem is this kind of talk just doesnt wash anymore does it? People can't be persuaded to do what they don't want to do anymore. Indeed the very heart of our capitalist system rests upon and is the apotheosis of self-will.

Which is why the only hope, and the only sane prospect, is for people to actually want to be 'good', and to want to be selfless, and to want to serve and love their fellow men and enemies without any taint of the suspicion left lingering that what in fact they'd rather be doing, if only they were more honest, is something else altogether..

I'm not sure how this will be brought about but I'm certain that the deconstruction of the self-martyred basis of virtue is the only future of hope, and our destiny on the other side of our current decadent impasse.

p.s I am at a loss to understand why the formatting is so weird and uneven above?