MAN FINDS MEANING
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
—Henry David Thoreau, USA philosopher/poet (1817–1862)
Not many of my likers and lurkers will read this (A long one, even for me) as the text part is not on Facebook or Instagram. The cut and paste link is, but I know that only a few—sometimes fewer—folks make the effort. That’s OK, not that I wouldn’t mind some positive reinforcement now and then, because they are not who I post for. The essays and images are created because I want to get my ideas out there in the sense of both me letting them go and they letting go of me. But it’s also a test as to whether I still can meet the standards of a long-gone audience, though only I enforce them now.
The idea as expressed in both the image and the essay seems to do all of that. The latter part of the text is a bit transgressive, (Stop at the Tom Paine quote if you are sensitive to agnostic ramblings) but I think that if the likers and lurkers stay with Facebook or Instagram they will only see the image, they won’t be offended because they will only see the art part which can be interpreted as a gentle gibe at a foolish creature.
That drawing is of a tourist on a sightseeing boat in a lake famous for its monster. The tourist is holding up a postcard he’s just bought to aid his imagination in summoning the mythical creature in the waters before him. He needs the possibility of seeing the monster to justify his being here. It was an expensive and difficult journey. He doesn’t even like grocery shopping on weekends so you can imagine the stress and strain he felt going through the painful pilgrimage, the rituals of airports, train stations, and hotels to get here.
The tourist, like most pilgrims, is caught in a money and faith shell game. His postcard photo of the Loch Ness monster is just a copy of “the surgeon’s photograph,” a pre-photoshop “fake news” image of a sculpted head and neck attached to a toy submarine floating in the loch. He buys it for almost the same reason—he hopes more than he believes—the faithful buy holy cards or ex-votos.
“But for the most part, myths are created by the collective imagination as metaphorical projections of the way things are in life. Myths emerge from our experience of reality, from our attempt to understand it, and from our instinctive need to clothe that experience in mimetic story and concept.” — American philologist David Adams Leeming
After I had the drawing almost done, the black and white keyline state anyway, I gave the tourist a reptilian tail and both he and the local souvenir seller snake-like forked tongues. This is to better connect the humans to the monster by introjecting Prof. Leeming’s projections.
The tourist, a secular pilgrim, needs the monster. He needs to believe there is something more to Being than what he does day in and day out. He needs to have something awe-some—or even awe-ful—at this point in his life, when he feels that the time of opportunity to have or make it be better is all past and all he can imagine moving forward is increasing discomfort, actual disability and eventually death. So a brief side trip to fantasy land is worth the cost.
Or does he seek more than intellectual comprehension, more a correction? Does he need not so much a shy “Nessy” who only showed itself to pre-moderns, but instead a wrathful “Godzilla” as seen everywhere on postmodern screens big and small, a creature that will rise from the waves and fix all that’s gone wrong since the previous visit? A Godzilla producer Shōgo Tomiyama (according to Wikipedia) said of the latter beast, “He totally destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.” This sounds less a monster and more a god.
“[T]he belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man.”
—Thomas Paine, USA revolutionary pamphleteer (1737-1809)
The original title for this one was “Man Finds God,” but as that one might annoy folks who believe their god is the one true god and is not a cryptid resembling a long-dead plesiosaurus, I changed it. These folks are more powerful than their decreasing numbers would indicate, around here anyway. Odd that in a supposedly free-from-religion country, intolerant religious folk own one of the two major parties and a super majority on the highest court in the land.
Next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say ‘Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…’ If they say ‘Just God. I only believe in the one God,’ I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869. —Ricky Gervais, UK comedian
Over the millennia, there have been thousands of gods, of all kinds: imminent and transcendent, human and animal, male and female, as well as all combinations of the above. To religious folk all of these gods, but one, are just myths or interesting stories. And the one god, or group of them, that isn’t? They’re “Divine Truth.” What is divine truth? Seen from the outside of the religion espousing it, it’s just another myth.
If I had to pick a god as the one true god what sort would I choose? I think I’d like one who did their work anonymously. Being all-powerful, they certainly could make me do the right thing without me knowing it was not me doing the choosing. I could call the subtle urges to do what isn’t immediately pleasurable my intuition or creativity, intelligence, or simply common sense. I’m sure a real one true god wouldn’t mind me taking the credit.
“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” —Donald Rumsfeld, USA politician (1932-2021)
I think if there is something going on besides what we can observe, a “higher power” if you will, we humans can’t know it. But still, most of us—non-religious fundamentalists anyway—want to know more than we do and we are pretty good at learning stuff. But I still believe (I can’t know, you know) that there is a fuzzy, yet impermeable—we can see what we can’t touch—boundary separating what we can know from what we can’t. But we ain’t there yet, we’re not even close.
But that’s not a problem for me. I can accept the world as meaningless until I or someone else creates some. I’m good with using a model of how things work and people as individuals and in groups function to get by or better until someone comes up with a more accurate one; then switching to that one with no guilt or embarrassment.
But others seem to need a higher power to make that makes meaning once and for all. They are not comfortable with having an underlying absurdity, even if their lives are almost completely structured and rule-bound. They will even assume a higher power is running the show even if it is obvious, given the omnipresent hypocrisy and cruelty, that those structures and rules are completely human and not from any power that could be called “higher.”
Here religions step into the fray. They, like most human systems, have a good side and a not-so-good one. They can organize charity and make it more efficient. They can verbalize a moral order making it easier to understand and act on. They can also posit there will be some good stuff after all the bad which helps believers “…make it through the night.”
But religions can be cruel. They often charge admission to the show and the afterparty as well. And those fees all go from the pockets of the believers and into the pockets of the charlatans of both the individual and institutional sort. I can’t imagine an omnipotent higher power being at all concerned with the petty cash and kowtows from earth-bound parishioners, but the charlatans sure are. This is not new, it’s as old as civilization itself, in fact, is one part of the definition of it: it’s a feature, not a bug.
“It is remarkable that among all the preachers there are so few moral teachers. The prophets are employed in excusing the ways of men.” —Thoreau again
One more thing: Another freethinker Bertrand Russell (British philosopher, 1872–1970) added to Paine’s observation, “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel God, and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case.” Paine’s and Russell’s statements imply different starting points. Do people seek out a cruel god if they are already cruel or does being born into a society with a cruel god make a potentially kind person cruel?
Mapped: The World’s Major Religions, by Distribution
The Fourth Quadrant—the Unknown Knowns – Lawfare
Godzilla – Wikipedia
NOVA Online | The Beast of Loch Ness | Birth of a Legend (3)
Mexican Retablo and Ex- Voto Art | Eye’s Gallery
Writing Out Loud: Mythology
[writing] LitLectures – Mythology 101 – Dappled-Things
Kris Kristofferson – Help Me Make It Through The Night Lyrics