Boy these splinters go deep . . .

This morning I took Susanna (my wife) out into the Fens for lunch so we could have a few hours together out of Cambridge. I haven't seen her for a few days (nor much over the past few months) as she has been with her family the other side of London. We ate, talked, fed the ducks and read (Lucretius) and, in some moments of silence I jotted down a few thoughts following on from my last two blogs. It was lovely and restful for Susanna and Lucretius together form a very calming brew.

When I got home I read a couple of the comments that had come in to my last post and, since there seems to be some connection, continuity and even answering in what I wrote, here are those notes - again for better of worse. They at least have the benefit of being spoken from an authentic place (that doesn't make them right, of course . . .).

One of the things I realise is that the riddle of life is not going to be solved by religious language. If I, a Wittgensteinian fly, is going to get out of the fly bottle then I need to be careful to keep assembling reminders of this fact.

What is clear is that religious words which are thought to be capable of rooting supposedly absolutely true metaphysical statements about the nature of the world all too often also encourage people to do dreadful things to themselves, each other and creation as a whole - thinking they do those things for the glory of God. Think of Lucretius' example of the sacrifice of Iphigenia in De Rerum Natura (1:80-101) in which Agamemnon horrifically sacrifices his daughter precisely to gain the good will of the gods.

Given this very human tendency it seems insufficient for me to have been a certain kind of believing Christian, to have lost one's faith in the existence of God, and then simply move on to found, de novo, some new, rational atheistic quasi-religion. It seems to me better that one should stay where one is and have the courage to keep the death of the idea God before one at all times. Why? Well, as Lucretius goes on to remind us immediately after the tale of Iphigenia's sacrifice, without such a constant meditation on the nature of things (that is to say the natural world without the interference of the gods/God) we remain all too easily "overborne by the terrific utterances of priests" who are able to "invent" dreams for us "enough to upset the principles of life and to confound all [our] fortunes with fear."

This last musing reminds me somewhat of the teaching given by Línjì Yìxuán (pictured above and who is famous for using a fly-wisk - an accidental but thought provoking link with Wittgenstein's philosophical aim of getting the fly out of the fly bottle) that "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha; if you meet the patriarchs, kill the patriarchs; if you meet an Arhat, kill the Arhat; if you meet your parents, kill your parents . . . in this way, you attain liberation." I stand to be corrected by someone who knows the Chan tradition properly but I understand this teaching to be an aid to helping adherents realise that they are themselves Buddhas, patriarchs, Arhats etc.. It was offered to help avoid the problem that always develops when a person (or a whole culture or religion) starts falsely to objectify and externalise these figures and, then even worse, go on to revere and even worship them.

Killing God or, to drop fully into the mythical language of the Christian story, saying that, somehow, not only Jesus died on the cross but also God (understood in its classic theistic form of a necessary, omniscient, omnipresent, all perfect being) might prove to be the point at which Christianity could get out of the fly bottle and begin to flourish once again, fully alive to this wholly natural world with all its great beauties, possibilities and problems. The resurrection understood this way - that is to say the new kind of life after the death of God - is something I think I can understand.
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