The secrets of our existence are shrouded in the stories we tell.
Campbell's work resonated with me, not because it introduced anything "new", but becaThe secrets of our existence are shrouded in the stories we tell.
Campbell's work resonated with me, not because it introduced anything "new", but because it inspired wonderful ideas for me. His rhetoric flows with steadfast reasoning and scholarly presentation; as if one were reading a paper on physics. Unarguably, every reader weaves their own biased religious or belief baggage into these pages which makes it all the more compelling! He effectively demolishes the borders which separate us - except for one thing, which may prove to be our downfall. But, oh well.
Myths do not seek to explain the physical world but to ponder our experience within it. By discounting such stories as primitive nonsense meant to scientifically map the functions of the physical world, we assume an arrogant perspective which compartmentalizes all ideas into the boxes of our own desires. We want to know why physical bodies behave in such a manner and therefore categorize myths and rituals as devices designed to answer such questions when they inquired into completely separate ideas.
Furthermore, consider the actual reality of such mythical concepts. Dreamers referenced in the book, average people conceptualizing their own personal trials, indicate a hero in all of us. Since many profess such stories as "false", would one then conclude that our trials are false? And if these stories exist as symbols for the adventure of the hero toward atonement and ultimate realization of the Self, but we disregard them as meaningless hocus-pocus, would it not follow that we consider our ideas as meaningless since our words exist simply as symbols for them?
Consider Columbus' voyage, a real event, or any voyage during the time when the earth was thought to be flat. The mythical connotations represented by these voyages speak to the nature of our existence, our souls. Discovering the earth's spherical evolution does not dispel the mythical ideas of adventure and confronting one's limitations but only the symbolism or mythical descriptors of the essential quality or truth indicated by the myth. Science does not obliterate God but it does force us to understand Him in different terms. We use the physical world to represent our thinking of ourselves. Understanding more about the physical world only changes how we describe that pondering, not the existence of it. We didn't invent God to explain the world's physical questions, we use the world to rationalize something absolute but incomprehensible. From a mythical viewpoint, our knowledge of the real physical world serves to symbolize and concretely imagine our journey toward God/enlightenment/deconstruction/being.
Oddly enough, primitive rituals would seem more advanced, in terms of understanding the world and our existence within it, than modern developments. Sure, we know more about the world but have ignored the questioning about our existence - most likely because in this age of empirical evidence (an autonomous system ironically designed to keep our reason controlled) and scientific method, any existence uncharacteristic of our rationale is false.
If one were to graphically plot human progress through history they might see two inverted lines: one ascending toward the pinnacle of technological achievement while the other descends from what we revere today as ancient wisdom and understanding. So where does the human race stand on "advancement"? From one perspective, primitive cultures may represent the most advanced societies because of their roots in myth. From the other perspective, science guides us into a more advanced function of living. Neither perspective can hold absolutely true as subjective preference presides as the only judge. However, rationalizing gods and devils out of reality bears no logical witness against their actual existence. The idea equates to simply turning one's back and focusing elsewhere.
If the universal hero story is "true" and men exist as mere portions of one glorious Self seeking salvation by realizing this, most of us are screwed. Despite having universal hero tendencies, very few, if any, will become Buddhas or Christs or reach Nirvana. So what is to become of the common man?
Then again, what myths do we have anymore? What words do we hear symbolizing and indicating the way? Once we fostered a natural inclination to arise from the abysmal existence of decaying life and into the eternal bliss of our true nature of "soul", energy, what have you. Has the common man lost the will to confront things he cannot explain?
Discovering the historical Jesus is pertinent to the development of one's faith. But is this really Him? Bart D. Ehrman argues that Jesus was no moreDiscovering the historical Jesus is pertinent to the development of one's faith. But is this really Him? Bart D. Ehrman argues that Jesus was no more than an apocalyptic prophet of the first century; no different than the several men who have claimed the imminent end of the current world order in our own time. His historical methodology is reasonably irrefutable. His logic and critical assessments of our available sources in reconstructing a reasonable image of Jesus is solid.
I have no illusions about bringing my own beliefs to the table in this discussion of the historical Jesus. Undeniably, this plays a large part in my pondering of Ehrman’s presentation; similarly as anyone else would bring their different beliefs to the table as well. Considering the controversial nature of the subject matter, I think current biases are a stumbling block Ehrman expected.
Again, Ehrman’s methodology is reasonably flawless and he has a gift of accessibility when presenting his arguments. I won’t outline all the details of his assessment guidelines. Suffice it to say, they work. I did, however, have a few questions. And I think Ehrman may have stumbled by not anticipating these questions, at least not including his responses in this publication.
First, he claims that the apocalyptic culture of first century Judaism helps us understand Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet of the same variety as previous Old Testament prophets. However, wouldn’t this culture help us understand the perspective of the Gospel authors as well? Or, if the authors were Greek Gentiles, as Ehrman reasonably argues, wouldn't their sources, even if by oral tradition, have that same first century Jewish bias? Wouldn’t it be just as reasonable to assume that the author of Q, for example, brought his belief of an imminent world end to his interaction with Jesus’ words and deeds? If so, perhaps the theological developments weren't religiously coercive but rather a spiritual realization; finally getting the point.
Secondly, Ehrman argues that some of Jesus’ apocalyptic phrases used a very specific future tense, understandably negating the idea that the Kingdom of God was a present manifestation of the spirit in Jesus as the Christ. But rather than consider the present tense apocalyptic phrases and teachings as indications to the opposite, Ehrman interprets them in the imminent political and economic establishment of the Kingdom for which he already argued. Let’s also consider how Jesus taught mostly in parables. How is it unreasonable to consider that his apocalyptic teachings were parabolic of the renewal of the spirit? Ehrman makes a compelling argument for why a spiritual apocalypse is unlikely, mostly because the later Gospels were the ones to profess this, not the ones closer to Jesus’ time, but again, this is unlikely not impossible. And it is just as reasonable to assume that the Gospel authors were products of an apocalyptic culture, including Gentiles converted by Jews of the this culture, as Jesus was.
From my own estimation, I find it quite sensible that God would likely establish a Kingdom of the heart since his first try, even with Eden and eventually Jerusalem, did not fare so well. What’s to say that a new political, economic and earthly Kingdom wouldn’t crumble, even by abolishing evil? The world is relatively transient. It will eventually crumble. If God is spirit, and infinite, isn’t this the only way to establish a Kingdom of God? Of course, this is a theological analysis, and according to Ehrman, one that John and the later Gospel writers would have employed as the religion spread and grew. But wouldn't Jesus, an acknowledged wise teacher in the Jewish tradition, consider this as well?
There are other such discrepancies which I, as a relatively novice reader in these matters, found troubling. But as I said before, I commend Ehrman on his excellent analysis of the material. Both believer and skeptic have to admit to the quality of Ehrman’s presentation. So it’s not Ehrman who I find troubling. So what is it?
Any picture of Jesus has ramifications for a world of believers. For scholars who paint him as the Son of God, believers sigh in relief and most likely store up those arguments in their arsenals. And perhaps skeptics do the same when seeing an image of a man whose identity was manipulated and generally constructed to serve a purpose other than what was intended.
For me, it’s troubling to see an image of Jesus as a crackpot who could have easily been on the 2012 bandwagon in our day. Fortunately for the believer and the skeptic, these assessments cannot absolutely prove Jesus’ essence. We are limited, as is the historian, to the tools of reason and logic. Yes, limited. Ehrman himself claims that his discussion is simply portraying what is most likely. When establishing his criteria of dissimilarity, he acknowledges that if a historical claim does not pass this criteria, it doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen, just that it’s harder for us to believe. Or consider this:
Finally, I should emphasize that with respect to the historical Jesus, or indeed, with respect to any historical person, the historian can do no more than establish historical probabilities. In no case can we reconstruct the past with absolute certitude. All that we can do is take the evidence that happens to survive and determine to the best of oru abilities what probably happened. Scholars will always disagree on the end results of their labors. But nothing can be done about this. The past an never be empirically proved, it can only be reconstructed. p. 96
If historians consider only what they can believe beyond a reasonable doubt when reconstructing history, then we are only privileged to a portion of the picture. Just because a historian can't prove something by historical methods, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Therefore, I think it of the utmost importance for both skeptic and believer alike to consider this limitation when drawing their conclusions from this book.
I have always felt that there is an absolute power in this world, outside of our influence. If human beings are the climax of worldly power and understanding, how did the Earth get on for so long without us? The existence of things, supernatural or not, do not hinge on our ability to understand them or prove them.
But, alas, I must remember that this is simply a reaction to a book and not my own personal treatise on the integrity of Christ. The book is excellent. There’s no denying it. Ehrman is persuasive, accessible and reasonable. But by his own words, he is not trying to prove anything, but paint the likeliest picture of the historical Jesus. He achieves his goal impeccably. It would be unwarranted to attack or embrace Ehrman as a source of spiritual truth. For skeptic and believer alike, this is a good read....more
In The Amen Corner, Sister Margaret told her mutinous congregation that she had finally learned what it means to love the Lord. Loving the Lord meansIn The Amen Corner, Sister Margaret told her mutinous congregation that she had finally learned what it means to love the Lord. Loving the Lord means loving those around you.
From the tone and style of the text alone in Go Tell It On The Mountain, the reader instantly knows how potently church culture effects Baldwin. Many Americans, from a secular or religious point of view, might consider John's experience as superficial. Yet Baldwin hones such a sharpness and heavy style throughout the work that one cannot underestimate the extent of church influence on him, regardless of the outsiders opinion of church culture. It means something immense to John and to Baldwin and nothing else matters.
After finishing this book and watching a production of The Amen Corner at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, I noticed a few major themes which indicate Baldwin's general approach to church within American black culture. Not one of these themes remotely insinuates a lack of faith from Baldwin. We can infer that Baldwin feels an unhealthy manipulation or misrepresentation of God within the culture.
In Go Tell It On The Mountain, John, a semi-autobiographical representation of Baldwin himself, struggles with his father's expectations of him. The church congregation anticipates John's sublime influence as a preacher when he comes of age yet his father, a preacher himself, unintentionally but understandably, turns John off from God and the preacher's life. Why? Gabriel, John's father, performs all the duties of a preacher, "saves" souls, preaches under the influence of the holy ghost, and yet John despises him. At fourteen, John exhibits an uncanny insight into the lives of those around him. With the exception of Ralph Ellison, Baldwin stylistically matches, if not surpasses, Richard Wright's vision into the mind and souls of men, with the grace of Maya Angelou, and he injects such an awareness into John. So John's hatred of Gabriel does not derive from any kind of childish immaturity. He simply sees Gabriel for who he is and not for the preacher image he hides behind.
Gabriel and Sister Margaret, from The Amen Corner, preach a doctrine of holiness which keeps people from falling into the depths of Hell. Once saved through the Lord, people's lives must revolve around maintaining holiness which pleases the Lord. Yet they falter when their holier-than-thou resolve fails to convince others of their genuine holiness and leadership skills. If the fruit indicates the nature of the tree, Gabriel and Sister Margaret have rotted. Preaching simply covers their shame and disgrace and does not flow from a transformational experience into sainthood. Yet they play the role of saintly leader. This behavior does not stem from any malicious intent but rather from a deep sorrow and grief within their lives. By committing to the Lord and abandoning love for others they feel worthy, elevated and separated from their "sinful" lives and from an American culture which describes them as lowly and fallen. They see themselves as higher than those they help, people who fall into the American description as black and unwanted.
As a young adult depending on his father's role-modeling, John undergoes a spiritual transformation, exquisitely articulated by Baldwin, which differs from Gabriel's and will likely result in a true and genuine church leader who serves and loves his congregation rather than count them as tally marks of saved souls for their own credit before the gates of heaven. By dedicating their lives to saving souls, rather than building relationships and loving people, they build a wall, a sort of disconnect, between themselves and their congregation. They don't hear them, they don't know them, they simply work to save another nameless soul.
James Baldwin published The Amen Corner after Go Tell It On The Mountain and the play depicts Sister Margaret undergoing a change which leads her into the understanding we hope John embraces in Go Tell It On The Mountain. I wonder what Baldwin indicates with the gender differential between the leading preachers in these two works. Gabriel does not change. But John may stand as the generational change for Gabriel - the male heroic divide between father and son. Whereas Sister Margaret exhibits a natural feminine strength which leads her to her own personal realization because of her family woes.
With a brilliant mind and keen awareness, Baldwin explores the nature of the American black preacher and leaves us to conjecture what we will about the reasons for their decisions and behavior. But Baldwin decides only to focus on his characters, the beautiful and sad twists and manipulations of their hearts, the sorrow and grief and yearning which compel them. With peerless articulation and beauty, he presents a mirror which reflects the tenderness of the human heart through the darkness of its fears and actions....more
Tales incomparably imaginative, wildly entertaining and fun!
I think these stories are best described as literary grunge. In nearly every aspect of theTales incomparably imaginative, wildly entertaining and fun!
I think these stories are best described as literary grunge. In nearly every aspect of their subjects and telling they defy the established order. Historically, the Arabic canon denounced The Tales because of their vulgar components. Neatly wrapped in Shahrazad's mission to save the virgin girls of Shahriyar's kingdom, these stories profess powerful jinnees, laymen rising to power which would humble royalty, men becoming beasts and seafaring adventure all under the sovereign eyes of Allah. Yet Shahrazad herself embodies the rise against power.
Instead of wielding a sword, the weapon of choice is storytelling. The antagonist: the cock-wounded king Shahriyar who, at a word, rains death on those he wishes. Who can defend against such an unchecked power? The protagonist: a woman named Shahrazad. Of course, many have bemoaned the sexist implication, if not the outright encouragement of the heathenish practices of sexism within the stories. Yet culturally, let us consider the woman's plight of the time, not her inherent value, but her lot. None were lowlier. Yet this David courageously meets this Goliath in battle. And with stories?!?!? But of course, the greatest literature of any culture is cultivated under tyrannical regimes and oppressive social circumstances as if they were bloating remainders in a long division equation the establishment attempts to arithmetically weed out; adding power and determination at every squeeze. Yet in this case, the literary weapon is propped in defense rather than aggression. Nevertheless, it proves an unforgiving weapon.
The stories themselves will likely remain absent from my young children's bedtime routines since fallic dismemberment and wild romp-fests wouldn't suit the occasion. What would suit people of all ages and persuasions is the overarching theme of Fate, under the strict sovereignty of God/Allah, which guides nearly all of these characters (perhaps with the exception of the ass ripper) and the perspective they hold of that sovereignty. Rarely does a character curse Allah for misfortunes incurred and rather lays blame at his own feet. Nearly always do they bless Allah for their deliverance and eventual fortune. Because Alexandre Dumas alluded to this compilation dozens of times in The Count of Monte Cristo, I am inclined to collaborate the two depictions of justice. Characters of benign heart, who albeit stumble in action from time to time, eventually meet their fortunes after suffering dire misfortune while those employing malice, who may be "correct" about things, suffer greatly after being held high in social and economic regard. They invest faith in Allah's timing for retribution without claiming merit for it. Dumas' credo of "Wait and hope!" thematically pervades these tales as it does in Shahrazad's predicament.
Nevertheless, The Tales are lavish and entertaining full of wonder and laughter; vulgarity and dread. Everything one would hope for in great literature!...more