Friday, January 14, 2011

The Religious/Existentialist Marriage

Conscious Indian, oil on canvas, 1984 Tom Ferguson (detail, collection Patty & Patrick Brennan)

The meaning of the word God, in my neighborhood during my formative years was conventional, literal biblical, bearded guy in the sky taking notes, who’s been naughty, who’s been nice. This got challenged, or should I say devastated, when I walked into a design class in art school conducted by Myron Kozman, Think Richard Dawkins mischievously assailing received wisdom.

The usual response to new information is either denial or paradigm adjustment. My old neighborhood would have chosen the former. Migrating from working class to bohemia made the latter choice feasible for me, still received wisdom I suppose but more thought out this time: Existentialism – Dylan’s line in Visions of Joanna played its supporting role, “We’re all sitting here stranded, doing our best to deny it.” As did Sartre’s learn to think clearly; think clearly about good and evil; do good. In this bleak paradigm there is no God at all, no supernatural. Earth is a rock in space, isolated individuals are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, and the nets of chance… and especially there is indifference, even hostility, from a dead backdrop and a ruthlessly competitive life system.

Glimpses of an enlarged, more appealing perspective appeared, in the form of Eastern thought, Buddhism and Hinduism, delivered by Hesse, Huxley, Alan Watts, LSD and The Beatles but these remained occasional, not always consistent, hazy if intense glimpses until Eckhart Tolle’s books brought the various strands into an unprecedented clarity. Others may have arrived at this view before Tolle, and as clearly but I’m not aware of them (Huxley’s book Island comes close). And the point is the view, not who gets credit for it.

The three phases I’m describing, that I went through, could be thought to be incompatible, irreconcilably antagonistic, or they could be seen as paraphrasing each other, pointing at the same thing. The language of Christianity (or any other religion) could be metaphoric, standing for or pointing at a difficult to describe reality. Existentialism could be seen to be pointing directly at the reality itself. Both views must jettison some baggage to arrive at a happy marriage: Religion must recognize the Mythology of its language; Existentialism must quit its pessimistic and arbitrary conclusion that reality is horrifying. When the marriage is consummated we are in the Great NOW where the barricade of mind chatter is set aside, leaving a non-narrative presence, a felt recognition of interconnection, of Oneness, with its healing component, the peace, as the preacher says, that passeth all understanding.


  1. Funny, I took a slightly different route, Beatles, Acid, Vonnegut, MAD Magazine. Similar belief system result. By the time I got to examining Existentialism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Eastern philosophy, excreta, the track was already laid. Weird.

  2. i've been reading Aldous Husley's Island and find
    it closer and closer... want to re-read Doors of Perception.