Friday, August 7, 2015

Nature: Matter or mater?

In which of the two senses – "matter" or mater – are you a "materialist"?

Mark Corner:

[Anthropomorphized images of God] may lead us to undervalue the significance of the impersonal. ... [I wonder] whether there isn't a link between [Western] neglect of the physical environment...and a tendency to relate to God simply as a "person out there", unconnected to anything as "denigrating" as matter.

Pope John Paul II:

Moreover, once all reference to God has been removed, it is not surprising that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted. Nature itself, from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being "matter", and is subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction in which a certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected. Something similar happens when concern about the consequences of such a "freedom without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a "law without freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful to interfere in any way with nature, practically "divinizing" it. Again, this is a misunderstanding of nature's dependence on the plan of the Creator. Thus it is clear that the loss of contact with God's wise design is the deepest root of modern man's confusion, both when this loss leads to a freedom without rules and when it leaves man in "fear" of his freedom.

By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being.

Susan Griffin:

To be made an object is in itself a humiliation. To be made a thing is to become a being without a will...But to this degradation, the reduction of a whole being with a soul to mere matter, we must add the knowledge that matter itself is despised, and hated in its very essence. We read, for instance, in the phrase 'to feel like shit,' the quintessence of humiliation. For in the pornographic culture, humiliation emanates from the material.

Edward Abbey:

You call me, sir, a rank materialist – sir, I accept the appellation, and I accept with pride, sir, and glory. Never shall this flower of the spirit reject the good earth from which it grows – never shall I live in an alabaster spirit-city, separated from my mother by concrete or gold, by white robes, ineffables, or multicolored sewage and communication systems, not this n-----, no sir!

Or, a third option: measured?

Robert Anton Wilson:

It has often been observed that there is marked similarity between the words for matter in Indo-European languages (Latin materium, French matiere, etc.) and the words for measurement (French metre, English measure, etc.). More interestingly, both groups seem to relate to the words for mother (Latin mater, German mutter, French mere).

Carol S. Pearson:

There is a profound disrespect for human beings in modern life. Business encourages us to think of ourselves as human capital. Advertising appeals to our fears and insecurities to try to get us to buy products we do not need. Too many religious institutions teach people to be good but do not help them know who they are. Too many psychologists see their job as helping people learn to accommodate to what is, not to take their journeys and find out what could be. Too many educational institutions train people to be cogs in the economic machine, rather than educating them about how to be fully human.

Basically, we are viewed as products or commodities, to be either sold to the highest bidder or improved so that eventually we will be more valuable. Neither view respects the human soul or the human mind except as used as an acquisitive tool. As a consequence, people increasingly are disrespectful of themselves. Too many of us seek to fill our emptiness with food, or drink, or drugs, or obsessive and frantic activity. The much-lamented pace of modern life is not inevitable – it is a cover for its emptiness. If we keep in motion, we create the illusion of meaning.

Christopher Phillips:

"Many of the most barbaric acts in human history were carried out by those moved by what they deemed unalloyed, sublime spirituality. Perhaps if their spiritual and sensual sides had been cultivated in tandem, as Socrates modeled and exhorted, they might have acted with more humanity."


Chris Clarke:

"Interaction within a network including the perspectives of animal and of non-living systems is an essential part of the stability of our world. Yet here Heron follows the experience of Abram (1997), that this interaction [with an object, such as a person gazing on a bowl] can be a ‘reciprocity,’ in being perceived as having the same empathic character as our interactions with other people. ... Participation at this level suggests that we can play a role with other objects in negotiating their appearance, just as in conversation or communion with another person we negotiate our joint way of being."

Clive Barker:

"They had methods of interrogation, he knew, even with dead people. They'd lay him in an ice room and examine him minutely, and when they'd studied him from the outside they'd start looking at his inside, and oh! what things they'd find. They'd saw off the top of his skull and take out his brain; examine it for tumors, slice it thinly like expensive ham, probe at it in a hundred ways to find out the why and how of him. But that wouldn't work, would it? He, of all people, should know that. You cut up a thing that's alive and beautiful to find out how it's alive and why it's beautiful and before you know it, it's neither of those things, and you're standing there with blood on your face and tears in your sight and only the terrible ache of guilt to show for it. No, they'd get nothing from his brain, they'd have to look further than that. They'd have to unzip him from neck to pubis, snip his ribs and fold them back. Only then could they unravel his guts, and rummage in his stomach, and juggle his liver and lights. There, oh yes, there, they'd find plenty to feast their eyes on."


Mark Corner, Does God Exist? New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991. p. 79

John Paul II. Evangelium Vitae [The Gospel of Life]. Papal Encyclical, Rome, March 25, 1995. Official Vatican English translation. 1.22

Susan Griffin, Pornography and Silence, quoted by Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p 163

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, p 54

Robert Anton Wilson. Coincidance: A Head Test. (1988) Temple, Ariz.: New Falcon Publications, 1996. p 38.

Carol S. Pearson. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. p. 4.

Christopher Phillips. Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2007. p. 52.

Chris Clarke. “Construction and reality: reflections on philosophy and spiritual/psychotic experience.” Printed in Psychosis and Spirituality: Exploring the New Frontier. ed. Isabel Clarke. London and Philadelphia: Whurr, 2001. pp. 156-157.

Clive Barker. The Damnation Game. (1985) New York: Charter Books, 1988. pp. 86-87.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thinking out of the box

“There are no right answers to wrong questions,” said Ursula K. LeGuin. If our questions are wrong, there is a need to alter the entire framework of the way we investigate the world. Hayden Carruth wrote: “William Blake once remarked that he had to create his own system of thought in order to avoid being enslaved by those of others, and Sartre has said that genius is what a man invents when he is looking for a way out.”

Sometimes the "wrong questions" are promoted with the intention of suppressing the thought of others. Sometimes they have this effect accidentally, originating only out of the vanity of philosophers. Rollo May: "The shelves of college libraries are weighed down with books that were written because other books were written because still other books were written – the meat of the meal getting thinner and thinner until the books seem to have nothing to do with the excitement of truth but only with status and prestige."

Getting out of the box and helping others to do so is hard work. After all, as a Yiddish proverb had it: "Not everyone is happy with his appearance, but all are happy with their brains!" We must remember it starts with thinking differently. "We are not in charge of the world. We just live here and try," as Donna Haraway put it, "to strike up noninnocent conversations."


Ursula K. LeGuin, quoted in The Village Voice, quoted in The Week, June 7, 2013, p. 19.

Hayden Carruth's introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 69.

Yiddish Proverb. Quoted by Rabbi Nilton Bonder. The Kabbalah of Envy: Transforming Hatred, Anger, and other Negative Emotions. Boston: Shambhala, 1997. p. 40.

Donna Haraway, "Situated Knowledge: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective." Feminist Studies, 14:575-99, p 593-94. Quoted in "Ecological Feminism and Ecosystem Ecology" by Karen J. Warren and Jim Cheney, Ecological Feminist Philosophies, ed. Karen J. Warren, Indiana University Press, 1996. p 257.


Crazy quilt in support of President Cleveland and Vice President Thomas Hendricks (American, 1880s). Public domain. From and Wikimedia Commons.