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Why I switched my major from Sociology to Religious Studies (not that that was the be all and end all…)

This morning I came across a tweeted story (below) that at first glance I liked. It reminded me of my sociology days at Trent university where many of the professors in that department were above average. Especially in sociological theory. John Hillman covered the classical thinkers with an admirable depth for an undergrad course. Frank Nutch was the fun, alternative professor; a real gem of a guy who introduced me to the sociology of science. Andrew Werknick covered contemporary sociological theory, mostly European. Coming from the UK, Wernick seemed to have a close connection to the European scene. And the late Alexander Wilson was one of the coolest guys you could ever hope to meet. Up from California, he talked about Disneyland as a microcosm for all the imagery and spin we see in the greater North American media. These guys and a few other professors, male and female, really opened my mind. And I thank them.

But it wasn’t enough and I had to move on to something more comprehensive. Hence my switch to comparative religion and then religious studies. Not surprisingly, I used a sociological method (the postmodern work of Michel Foucault) in my doctoral thesis on Carl Jung. I was happy to graduate but, to be honest, that work was the outcome of so many strange and unsettling political forces that I don’t see it as a pinnacle of personal achievement. In retrospect, I see my graduate studies as another bridge I had to cross.

Anyhow, here’s a quote from this morning’s tweeted story:

For Bahro, a peaceful eco-communist alternative to capitalism is both possible and essential, but the belief that capitalism offers a life that is desirable must first be overturned if this alternative is to flourish. Through a variety of psychological strategies subsumed under the rubric of ‘retail therapy’, capitalism promotes pseudo-individualistic lifestyles, drives the desires of the self-absorbed, and promises fulfillment from the menu of all-you-can-eat. Retail therapy locates meaning in life through clothes, cars, homes, holidays and furniture. (view in context).

So what’s wrong with this view?

Well, the overall piece talks about spirituality but it sets up a false conflict between capitalism and spirituality. For me, going out to shop can be a spiritual exercise. We don’t need to compartmentalize “spirituality” and “the world” as so many hack thinkers do. It’s not as if God closes his or her eyes the moment we decide to enter a Pizza Hut or Tim Hortons. Far from it. If we do not objectify other people, interacting with employees can be quite spiritual and an important part of one’s overall journey.

So why the sharp division between “capitalism” and “spirituality?”

A person with any spiritual depth understands that God is everywhere. He or She is not just locked up in monasteries or in the Green movement. Everywhere is everywhere. Period.

All we really have to do is open our eyes and see what’s already there. And I think this perspective, if anything, would help to make the world a better, fairer place. If we see other people as our human brothers and sisters, there is far less chance of wanting to exploit, lie, cheat or rob.

Sadly, the biggest joke is that religion often bolsters people into doing bad things. These people believe the end justifies the means. But in most cases that’s ass backwards. As the good book teaches:

A good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit (Matt. 7-17).

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With all its noble roots, democracy didn’t always include women. Slaves too…


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In an odd twist of fate, the Scarlet Letter is now “T”

If you haven’t read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne you probably won’t know what the heck I’m talking about. It’s a classic American novel.

English: Engraving of American author Nathanie...

Engraving of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Taken from Brief Biographies: With Steel Portraits by Samuel Smiles. Published by Ticknor and Fields, 1861. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film)

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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A Little End of Summer Arts and Culture

Last night I had two scary dreams. One was that some burly stooges posing as workers for a home security company came to my childhood home to physically abduct me. I awoke startled.

The second dream had me back in university. My dorm room had been changed from a distant, satellite dorm at the edge of town to another room more central within the university village. All the books and items in the room looked vaguely familiar but not quite right. Next thing I knew, some creepy people came in, began to set up a portable operating table, and told me I was scheduled for an operation. When I asked an attendant “What operation?” she replied “I don’t know.”

Sensing serious danger, I asked to make a call and woke up, thinking I would have had to be like that guy in The Fugitive to escape something horrible.

Truly scary dreams. I hope they just mean slow down and take it easy for a while, which is what I intend to do today. Everyone else gets summer holidays and, although I’m not going anywhere physically different, I think I’ll just take in some arts and culture for a while, and post my discoveries here.

The most recent discovery is tweeted at the top of the page. I like this painting. Notice how the more important guy has better, more ostentatious clothing and bigger, more expressive eyes. What really struck me, however, was the larger globe in the picture. Fascinating how mythological creatures are intertwined with the scientific mapping (zoom in to see). We’ve lost that mythic connection to science, although some writers like James Hillman suggest that we’re just fooling ourselves. The mythic is still present and even science is a kind of mythic pattern.

I guess that’s in line with what I’ve been arguing all along here at Earthpages.org and Earthpages.ca. But as I said, it’s my holiday, of sorts, and I don’t feel like going into it any further right now!

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora...

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart’s visit to Dresden, April 1789 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other discovery, made last night, is something I’m listening to right now: Venice Classical Radio. I almost feel like I’m living in some little flat in Venice while listening to this excellent station. The selections are accessible but relatively uncommon. I’ve only heard one Mozart staple, which I enjoyed anyhow (pretty hard not to like Mozart).

 


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Excellent video about Neurotheology

I’ve panned Dr. Andrew Newberg in the past for making seemingly simplistic claims. But it’s very possible I was wrong to do so. Either that, or his thinking and scientific humility has developed dramatically. This video reveals an Andrew Newberg that I really didn’t know existed. As Yoda might have said, “Pleasantly surprised, I was…”

But seriously. This video is a must for anyone interested in the interface of spirituality, religious practices, and the brain. Follow the link in the above tweet and scroll down the page to watch.


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Continuing my summer cyber travels – This time, Vienna

The caption for this tweet might sound a bit cynical but that’s pretty much how I feel. I had a professor once who came from that neck of the woods. He insinuated that we had a dearth of “culture” in the West. Probably the worst professor I ever had, and things ended badly with him. But I won’t go into the details. That was a long time ago and I’m past it.

So yeah, my view of Vienna is probably tainted by my very bad experience with this person. And, in fairness, there is quite a bit of interesting material here. In the video you can see a grandiose palace where Napoleon stayed after invading the area, and lots of statues of Mozart and Johann Strauss (both of whom I adore). Also, several neoclassical statues stand out—even if they seem a bit incongruous in their foreign setting.

All the same, I think some folks overrate old stuff and cannot really appreciate the complexities of contemporary cultural forms. I could go on here, but I just want to share my summer cyber travels for now.