Just My Fallible Views, Again
Replies to Some Enquiries
Yesterday was one of those glorious English Summer days of
warm Sun, blue sky, when I - after a long walk - had sat down
in the tufted grass on that slope of a hill to view the vista
below. The river curving as it curved through the hedged-in
fields of crops and pasture; the far distant greenful hills
unclear in heat-made haze; the country lane that, now devoid
of vehicles, would give access again to scattered houses and
those well-separated working farms. It felt - perhaps was -
paradise on Earth, for I fortunate to have water, food enough
to feed me for a day; clothes and boots - though worn -
sufficient for their purpose; even a place - dry, undamp, with
bed - to sleep such sleep as might by night be gifted. It felt
- and was - good to be alive, touched a little and for a while
by some type of inner peace. So little, so very little, really
The problem in the past had been me, my lack of understanding
of myself and my egoism. It was my fault: not the place, not
the time, not the people, for I so desired with that arrogance
of youth to exchange this paradise, here, for those ideas, the
idealism, the abstractions, I carried around in my prideful
hubriatic head. Seldom content, for long, since happiness came
with - was - the pursuit, or the gratification of my personal
desires. So destructive, so very destructive. So hurtful,
inconsiderate, selfish, profane.
The defining moment, for me – in terms of understanding myself, in terms of understanding politics and the error of my decades of extremism – was the tragic personal loss of a loved one in May 2006. In the hours following that event I just knew – tearfully knew without words – my own pathetic failure; what I had lost, what was important. Thus there came upon me that day a sense of overwhelming grief, compounded by a remembrance of another personal loss of a loved one thirteen years earlier. For it was as if in those intervening years I had learned nothing; as if I had made the life and the dying and death of Sue, in 1993 – and of what we shared in the years before – unimportant.
I have no words to describe how insignificant, how worthless, I felt that day in May 2006; no words to describe, recall, retell, the remorse, the pain. Suffice now to recount that my life was never, could never be, the same again. Gone – the arrogance that had sustained me for so many experiential decades. Gone – the beliefs, the abstractions, the extremisms, I had so cherished and so believed in. That it took me another three years, from that day, to finally, irretrievably, break the bonds of my Shahadah sworn six years earlier – and the oath of personal loyalty that I believed still bound me to one person still alive then in a far distant land – most certainly says something more about me, about my character, about my interior struggles.
Thus it was that I came to know, to feel, how irrelevant politics and political organizations were for me, personally. So that ever since I have had no desire whatsoever to involve myself in politics – or even in trying to somehow change the world be it by politics, or by religion, or by whatever. Instead, my concern has been to try to [fully] understand and thence reform myself; to reflect upon my four decades of diverse involvements, discovering as I did those involvements for the extremisms they were; and to try to, and finally sans all abstractions, answer important questions such as Quid Est Veritas.
As I wrote in my May 2012 essay Pathei-Mathos, Genesis of My Unknowing:
” What I painfully, slowly, came to understand, via pathei-mathos, was the importance – the human necessity, the virtue – of love, and how love expresses or can express the numinous in the most sublime, the most human, way. Of how extremism (of whatever political or religious or ideological kind) places some abstraction, some ideation, some notion of duty to some ideation, before a personal love, before a knowing and an appreciation of the numinous. Thus does extremism – usurping such humanizing personal love – replace human love with an extreme, an unbalanced, an intemperate, passion for something abstract: some ideation, some ideal, some dogma, some ‘victory’, some-thing always supra-personal and always destructive of personal happiness, personal dreams, personal hopes; and always manifesting an impersonal harshness: the harshness of hatred, intolerance, certitude-of-knowing, unfairness, violence, prejudice.
Thus, instead of a natural and a human concern with what is local, personal and personally known, extremism breeds a desire to harshly interfere in the lives of others – personally unknown and personally distant – on the basis of such a hubriatic certitude-of-knowing that strife and suffering are inevitable. For there is in all extremists that stark lack of personal humility, that unbalance, that occurs when – as in all extremisms – what is masculous is emphasized and idealized and glorified to the detriment (internal, and external) of what is muliebral, and thus when some ideology or some dogma or some faith or some cause is given precedence over love and when loyalty to some manufactured abstraction is given precedence over loyalty to family, loved ones, friends.
For I have sensed that there are only changeable individual ways and individual fallible answers, born again and again via pathei-mathos and whose subtle scent – the wisdom – words can neither capture nor describe, even though we try and perhaps need to try, and try perhaps (as for me) as one hopeful needful act of a non-religious redemption.”
Therefore I have no political views now; I do not and cannot
support any political organization, as I do not adhere to nor
believe in nor support any particular religion or even any
conventional Way of Life. All I have are some personal and
fallible answers to certain philosophical, personal, ethical,
and theological, questions. No certainty about anything except
about my own uncertainty of knowing and about the mistakes,
the errors, of my past.
Having written so much - far too much - for so many decades and having made so many suffering-causing mistakes, I also have no desire now to write anymore about anything, except perchance for a few missives such as this, as part perhaps of my needed expiation, and in explanatory reply when asked of certain things. Such as in exposition of my mistakes, my remorse, and particularly in explanation of the personal love, the gentleness, the compassion, the humility, the peace, that I feel - feel, not know - might possibly enable us to find, to feel, our paradise on Earth, and so not cause suffering, not add to the suffering that so blights this world and has so blighted it for so long, mostly because of people such as me. The ideologues, the extremists, the fanatics, the terrorists, the bigots, the egoists. The unhumble ones unappreciative of the numinous: those whose certainty of knowing - and those whose sense of a personal 'destiny' - makes them uncompassionate, unempathic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, and devoted to either 'their cause' or to themselves. Those whose happiness comes with - and is - the pursuit, and/or the gratification of their so selfish desires.
Just how many more seasons - years, decades, centuries,
millennia - will we humans as a species need to find and to
live our mortal lives in compassionate, empathic, paradisal
You seem very much preoccupied with lessons you have learned
from grief and regret, pain and suffering [...]
[My] recent propensity to be somewhat subsumed with a certain sadness [arose] from not only pondering on such questions as pathei-mathos, the causes/alleviation of suffering, and the nature of religion, expiation, and extremism, but also from understanding, from feeling, just how much suffering I personally have caused during my extremist decades and knowing that had it not been for the tragic death of a loved one some six years ago I would most probably have continued my career as a suffering-causing extremist.
Also, having spent decades trying to idealistically inspire people or manipulate them, and being manipulative either for allegedly idealistic reasons (some political or religious cause) or for purely selfish reasons, I finally came to know just how easy it is to make excuses for one’s mistakes and unethical behaviour, especially in relation to some ideology or some political or religious cause. Having good intentions, I discovered, is not a valid reason to cause suffering, although believing one acted from good intentions does and can salve one’s conscience. For I came to the conclusion that idealism itself was one of the fundamental causes of suffering, and that ultimately it is matter of us taking individual responsibility for ourselves and all our actions; for the suffering we cause, have caused, or can cause. To shift that responsibility onto others (as in some chain-of-command) – or onto some political cause or some faith – is just, in my fallible view at least, unethical. As is positing or believing in some supreme deity who will decide matters for us (and judge us and others) and/or who has, apparently, laid down what is right and what is wrong.
There are somewhat complex and difficult questions here (or at least they seem complex and difficult questions to me). Questions such as if there is no God/supreme-deity – and no mechanism such as karma and thus no rebirth – then how to understand suffering and what do reformation of ourselves and expiation mean, and do they even have, or should they have, any meaning sans religion? How do we – sans religion and ideology – decide, know, what is ethical and what can motivate us to act ethically? What is innocence? Horrid things happen every day to people who do not deserve them. Every minute of every day somewhere some human being suffers because of some deed done to them by some other human being. Should that concern us? If so, why, and what could/might we do about it, and will what we do cause more suffering?
What I have termed ‘the philosophy, the way, of pathei-mathos’ – that is, my now much revised ‘numinous way’ – is just my attempt to answer such questions. And an attempt born from me accepting the truth about myself and my suffering-causing past. To do otherwise, I feel and felt, would have been to somehow in some way demean – to not learn from – that tragic recent death of a loved one. To, instead, continue with the arrogance, the hubris, of my past.
Perhaps it would have been easier for me to just accept the answers of some existing Way or of some religion. Certainly, a religious expiation could have eased the burden, relieved and relieve some or most of the grief, felt. A burden, a grief, which certainly has fuelled and infused my writings these past few years and some of which writings are my rather feeble attempts at a non-religious but hopefully still numinous expiation.[...]
Perhaps all we can do is try and communicate, in some way (but gently) that wordless (empathic) knowing of another human being to others. A wordless humanizing knowing that I have come to appreciate many men seem to so often lack or believe or feel is far less important than their macho posturing and their love of and seeming need for conflict, control, competition, and war. Perhaps if women were more assertive, empowered, accepting of themselves, and perhaps if men appreciated women more – and men (heaven forfend) developed within themselves certain muliebral qualities – there might be less suffering in the world.[...]
This is, they have the propensity to remind us of the need for
humility by setting certain limits regarding our behaviour, and by
in some way and in their own manner making us aware of the
numinous, the sacred. Which is why, over the decades, I have
learned to respect them and their adherents while accepting that
their answers, their way, are not my answers, my way.
In respect of the sacred, for instance, I still find that one of the most beautiful expressions of the numinous is Catholic chant: Gregorian, Cistercien, and Vieux-Roman. Indeed, one of my favourite pieces of music is now, as it has been for decades, Répons de Matines pour la fête de Saint Bernard. One of my treasured memories is, as a monk, singing the office of Compline and then, in the sublime silence of the church, going to the Lady Chapel to kneel in contemplative wordless prayer on the stone floor in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Such peace, such purity, in those moments. Another treasured memory is, decades later and when a Muslim, travelling in the Western Desert and with my Egyptian guide stopping to face Makkah and pray Zuhr Namaz while the hot Sun beat down and a hot breeze blew sand to cover part of my prayer mat. Again, a purity of silence – no one else around for perhaps a hundred miles – and a wordless warm feeling of connexion with something pure and far beyond and balancing our human hubris: to place us into the necessary supra-personal perspective.
Perhaps on balance the positive, humanizing, virtues of such religions now outweigh their negative qualities? Certainly, it seems to me, that most of the worst excesses of – for example – Christianity are now and hopefully historical (and one thinks here of excesses such as the Inquisition).
Another simple personal story; one from among so many in relation to other religions and their positive attributes. Once I happened to be travelling to [...] an area which colonial and imperialist Europeans formerly described as part of 'darkest Africa' [...] Part of this travel involved a really long journey on unpaved roads by bus from an urban area. You know the type of thing – an unreliable weekly or sporadic service in some old vehicle used by villagers to take themselves (and often their produce and sometimes their livestock) to and from an urban market and urban-dwelling relatives. On this service, to a remote area, it [seemed to be] the custom – before the journey could begin – for someone to stand at the front and say a Christian prayer with every passenger willingly joining in. It was quite touching. As was the fact that, at the village where I stayed (with a local family) near that grave, everyone went to Church on a Sunday, wearing the best clothes they could, and there was a real sense (at least to me) of how their faith helped them and gave them some guidance for the better, for it was if they, poor as they were, were in some way living, or were perhaps partly an embodiment of, the ethos expressed by the Sermon of the Mount, and although I no longer shared their Christian faith, I admired them and respected their belief and understood what that faith seemed to have given them. Who was – who am – I to try and preach to them, to judge them and that faith? I was – I am – just one fallible human being who believes he may have some personal and fallible answers to certain questions; just one person among billions aware of his past arrogance and his suffering-causing mistakes.
You just seem so sad… and it’s such a pity to waste time being sad when there are a million and one reasons not to be.
In a strange way a certain sadness seems to keep me focussed, balanced, and human, preventing – sans religion – the return of that arrogant, hubriatic, violent individual who incited and preached hatred, intolerance, violence, killing, and who was responsible for causing much suffering.
Not that long ago I was reminded of a veteran of the First World War I had briefly known during my first year as a nurse as I cared for him as he recovered from surgery and then, later on, lay dying. He came back from that war a changed and quiet man who abhorred war, with a desire to just live a simple, normal, life. So he married, became a father; a grandfather; his world his family. But he never forgot those years; their tragedy; the loss of so many of his comrades; the horror and – in his words – the futility of it all. He had a real dignity, partly because of that inner sadness that so seemed to suffuse him. He had also, many times, felt himself to be an interloper among people. This knowing of him, and his dying, moved me; causing me to consider and reconsider certain questions. But of course this feeling and such insights did not last, and within six months – having ceased to be a nurse – my hubriatic, warmongering, self had reasserted itself, yet again.
Thus consciously recalling my own pathei-mathos, and that of others, and feeling the sadness that is part of such a learning, is I feel somewhat necessary, at least for me and for now.
To have such [youthful] certainty might make life easier and
perhaps - in my case - as enjoyable as I remember those now long
gone decades of youth and early manhood. I, as I am sure many
others do and have done, have occasionally day-dreamed about
returning to some such time in the past with the understanding and
the knowledge gained in the intervening years and so perhaps act
differently and (at least in my case) thus avoid causing the
suffering so caused then.
But I do believe that my lack of certainty now is - even at the cost of a certain sadness - a good thing for me, as it prevents that arrogance of my youthful self from returning and seems to somehow better enable me to appreciate, to feel, the numinous and thus the distinction between what is good and what is bad.
Hence I find myself in the curious position of now possibly understanding and appreciating the wordless raison d'etat of Catholic monasticism, manifest as this is in a personal humility; a humility that during my time as a monk my then still hubriatic self could not endure for long. Which recent understanding and appreciation led me for a short while at least, and only a few years ago, to wistfully if unrealistically yearn to return to that particular secluded way of life. And unrealistic because for all that understanding, appreciation, and yearning, I no longer had the type of faith that was required, the type of Christian faith I did have when I had lived that monastic way of life. A lack of faith I really discovered and felt when I went, during that not-too-long-ago period of yearning, to stay once again and for a while in a monastery...
You really do seem to have been born with an overwhelming urge to fix the world, don't you? Is that why you're so sad? Because you can't fix it?
Unfortunately, I do seem to have been cursed, for some forty years, with idealism and with a hubriatic, fanatical, belief in what I deludedly believed was 'a good cause'. Which idealism and which belief caused me, as an extremist, to inflict and contribute to suffering; to incite violence, hatred, prejudice, intolerance.
But my sadness now is because of that extremist past; because of my arrogance; because I did cause such suffering; because I for so long incited violence, hatred, prejudice, intolerance. Because I did what was wrong, and cannot undo the harm done.
This sadness - this knowing of my own mistakes, this knowing of my own arrogance, this knowing of the harm I have done - means that I have no desire whatsoever to try and 'fix the world'. Rather, it means a deep personal remorse, a desire - however silly it might seem to others - for expiation. It means I do not like myself - as a person - knowing what I did, what I was capable of, and maybe still am capable of. It means I have to remember - every day - my mistakes, my uncertitude of knowing, and what is good, numinous, beautiful, innocent. It means living a quiet and quite reclusive life.
Which sadness and which remembering were part of the genesis of my philosophy of pathei-mathos. Of my feeling that perhaps we - as compassionate individuals aware of our fallibility and past mistakes - should not concern ourselves with what is beyond the purveu of our empathy. Which in practice means the living of a private, a very personal, life where we do not concern ourselves with things we admit we do not really understand and have no personal knowledge of; that we do not meddle in the affairs of people we do not know and do not interact with on a personal basis; and that we only ever get involved in valourous defence of someone unfairly treated or unfairly attacked if we personally encounter such a situation or such an event.
It seems to me that a fair way to tentatively evaluate a religion, a way of life, is by a personal knowing of many of those who believe in that religion and who also try to follow its tenets, as opposed to just dryly studying its 'sacred books' or its theological doctrines. But of course I could be wrong, for my forty years of extremism certainly reveals my judgement to be often - or mostly - flawed.
I did read the Quran [...] but something about it seemed harsh and unforgiving.
Did you read the Quran in Arabic, or one of the English interpretations? Most interpretations do not really capture the often poetic expressions of the original, although some try to, as for example:
"This present life is only like water which We send down from the clouds so that the luxuriant herbage sustaining man and beast may grow; until when the Earth puts on its lovely garment and becomes adorned, and its people believe that they are its masters - down then comes Our scourge upon it by night or in broad day, laying it waste as though it had not blossomed yesterday. Thus We make plain our Signs to thoughtful men." 10: 24-25 (Interpretation of Meaning)
"Allah (alone) has power over, and is the (sole) master of, all things. The creations in Heaven and Earth, the very change of Night to Day, are Signs for those gifted with intelligence, those who whether sitting, standing or reclining on their sides, give praise to Allah and who frequently recall these creations in Heaven and Earth, (saying): 'You who are our Rabb - You created all these things for a purpose; the achievement is Yours alone.' " 3:189-191 (Interpretation of Meaning)Personally, and in my experience, I think the Quran needs to be understood, studied, and appreciated, in relation to Ahadith, to the Sunnah. In the context of the lives of ordinary Muslims and of the history of Islam, and thus in the context of Adab - of the manners, the morals, the culture - of those Muslims who do undertake the obligatory daily prayers, who do fast in Ramadan, who do believe in Jannah, and who do try to avoid what is haram.
"a person who tends toward harshness, or who is harsh, or who supports/incites harshness, in pursuit of some objective, usually of a political or a religious nature. Here, harsh is: rough, severe, a tendency to be unfeeling, unempathic. Hence extremism is considered to be: (a) the result of such harshness, and (b) the principles, the causes, the characteristics, that promote, incite, or describe the harsh action of extremists."The intolerance and the prejudice of bigotry is based on, and thrives on and encourages, ignorance and fear. In the case of such organizations an ignorance of and a fear of Islam, of the Muslim way of life, and of Shariah.
" By the term Way – or Way of Life – is meant a weltanschauung shared among or accepted by a number of people where there is distinction made between the realm of the sacred/the-revered/the-numinous and the realm of the ordinary or the human, but which: (i) is not codified in writings or books but which is often or mostly transmitted aurally; (ii) has no organization beyond – and does not require any organization beyond – the communal/local level; and (iii) whose ethos and rites and customs are inclined toward maintaining the natural balance – the natural healthy harmonious relation between humans, life, and ‘the sacred’ – and not toward avoiding the punishment of some powerful deity/gods or some supra-personal power(s).
One essential difference thus between a religion and a Way is that a religion requires faith and belief (and thus words, concepts, and dogma and organization and conformity), whereas a Way tends to be empathic/intuitive and more a customary, unspoken, way of doing things and which way of doing things – not being organized and by its ethos neither requiring organization nor conformity – varies or can vary from place to place.
Thus, religions tend to be or tend to manifest what is masculous whereas Ways in the past tended to be or tended to manifest what is muliebral.
Some religions began as spiritual Ways, but evolved over long durations of causal Time to become religions."
FAQ Numinous Way. (Last Modified: 30/May/2012)