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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, January 10, 2008

security blankets

Sitting here again, staring at the blank window of Blogger, wondering how to launch on my nth blog-post.

It's not that I've run out of things to say. Indeed, I feel there is too much to say, that I'm always scratching the surface and introducing topics that need to be addressed in more depth.

This morning I've keyed research notes from three different books: The Epic Cosmos, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (Old Testament), and The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. I felt a deep stirring within me as I typed this paragraph from James's famous book:

The experiences which we have been studying show the universe to be a more many-sided affair than any sect, even the scientific sect, allows for. What, in the end, are all our verifications but experiences that agree with more or less isolated systems of ideas (conceptual systems) that our minds have framed? Why in the name of common sense need we assume that only one such system of ideas can be true? The obvious outcome of our total experience is that the world can be handled according to many systems of ideas, and is so handled by different men, and will each time give some characteristic kind of profit, for which he cares, to the handler, while at the same time some other kind of profit has to be omitted or postponed. Science gives to all of us telegraphy, electric lighting, and diagnosis. Religion in the shape of mind-cure gives to some of us serenity, moral poise, and happiness, and prevents certain forms of disease as well as science does, or even better in a certain class of persons. Evidently, then, science and religion are both genuine keys for unlocking the world's treasure-house to him who can use either of them practically. Just as evidently neither is exhaustive or exclusive of the other's simultaneous use. And why may not the world be so complex as to consist of many interpenetrating spheres of reality, which we can thus approach in alternation by using different conceptions and assuming different attitudes? On this view religion and science, each verified in its own way form hour to hour and from life to life, would be co-eternal. Primitive thought, with its belief in individualized personal forces, seems as far as ever from being driven by science from the field today. Numbers of educated people still find it the directest experimental channel by which to carry on their intercourse with reality.

There you have it: different strokes for different folks--and different strokes for the same folks at different times. The reality that each of us lives in is much broader than any particular belief-system. All of our fanaticisms are so many efforts to reassure ourselves that we've found the ultimate security blanket. But William James didn't need a security blanket. He could calmly look at the world and embrace it with a warm but discriminating and passionate eye.

From Asimov's book I'm typing up material on the Book of Judges--a period of (as usual in the Bible) conquest, slaughter, and revenge. Precious little of it could be called in any way edifying. Not able to lay your hands on all of the "inheritance" promised you by God? Go find a city that looks a bit weak, attack it, kill the residents, and live there. Problem solved--until someone roots you out of the place and levels it to the ground.

It's still much the same, not only in the "Holy Land" but everywhere else: people continuing to do the same things, hoping for different results. I'm afraid there's no alternative: we need to give up the security blanket of our tribal gods, and the sooner, the better.


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