Monthly Archives: June 2019
The most powerful prayer, one wellnigh omnipotent, and the worthiest work of all is the outcome of a quiet mind. The quieter it is the more powerful, the worthier, the deeper, the more telling and more perfect the prayer is. To the quiet mind all things are possible. What is a quiet mind? A quiet mind is one which nothing weighs on, nothing worries, which, free from ties and from all self-seeking, is wholly merged into the will of God and dead to its own.
–Meister Eckhart, as translated in A Dazzling Darkness: An Anthology of Western Mysticism (1985) by Patrick Grant; courtesy of Wikiquote
Cartesian, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum — whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum — “I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;” as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.
–Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary; courtesy of Wikiqutoe.
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year (for those in the Northern Hemisphere). Enjoy what’s left of it!
Back here I discussed two forms of argument against universalism, both of which I considered to be red herrings–that is, arguments that don’t actually address the issue at hand. The first argument boiled down to saying, “Don’t worry about the fate of others–worry about yourself. Your main goal is to keep yourself from going to hell–God will take care of everyone else.” This altogether avoids the issue of whether eternal damnation is just, or congruent with God’s infinite goodness, so it’s certainly a red herring. I had this further to say about it, though:
In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally very, very allergic to the “worry about yourself, never mind about others” argument–or “pseudo-argument”, I should say–for personal reasons. I’ll elaborate those in a post soon to follow, since it would take up too much of the current post if I related them here. Keep tuned for that story.
Well, I want to relate that story now.
Sanity is madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.
–George Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (1900); courtesy of Wikiquote.
The genesis of this post is an odd one. I was talking to a friend about mythology the other day, and he asked what my favorite ancient Greek deity was. Without hesitation I answered that it was Athena. I went on to say that my favorite figure from Norse mythology was Odin, and from Egyptian, Isis. Thus, if I’d been an ancient Greek, I’d have worshiped Athena, and so on. I got to thinking about this a little later, and with the usual flow of stream of consciousness, where one topic leads to another that is sometimes only marginally related, I ended up with something I decided was worth blogging about–hence, the current post.
The title of this post does not refer to Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or any such thing, but to a specific type of religion prevalent in the Mediterranean cultural zone from about the middle of the first millennium BC to the fifth century or so AD. These religions were referred to as “mysteries”, usually with a qualifier (“Mysteries of Eleusis”, “Mysteries of Isis”, “Orphic Mysteries”, and so on), by the people of the time. Scholars of religion in modern times refer to them as “mystery religions”. In order to examine them, we need to back up a bit and look at the broader picture.
Not long ago I wrote a post in which I compared the traditional characteristics of angels with the characteristics attributed to aliens in pop-culture. I was discussing it with a friend who’d read it, and he initially misinterpreted what I’d written. He took me to be describing what I thought aliens were actually like, as opposed to how they’re described in literature, movies, and so on. I clarified what I meant; but it occurred to me that maybe I should discuss my thoughts on aliens in real life. Onward, then!
The logical starting point in discussing aliens is clarifying our terminology. What most people take “alien” to mean, without explicitly saying it (or perhaps not even explicitly realizing it), is “intelligent life forms originating elsewhere in the cosmos”. In short, alien intelligence is automatically assumed without even taking into the account the probability of alien life. If there is no life in space at all, though, there can certainly be no intelligent alien life. Thus, we have to start at the beginning and ask, “Is there life in space at all?”
Even that question makes unstated assumption, to wit: Are we talking about any life, or only, to use the cliche, “life as we know it”? Life as we know it–that which we see on Earth, including ourselves–is based on carbon. Carbon is the building block of the amino acids that form the proteins out of which life is made, as well as of the RNA and DNA by which genetic information is passed from generation to generation. Things could, however, have turned out differently.