Sunday, November 12, 2006

Quote of the day: 11/12/06

"Faith is not, contrary to the usual ideas, something that turns out to be right or wrong, like a gambler's bet: it's an act, an intention, a project, something that makes you, in leaping into the future, go so far, far, far ahead that you shoot clean out of time and right into Eternity, which is not theend of time or a whole lot of time or unending time, but timelessness, the old Eternal Now."

--Joanna Russ


Alon Levy said...

I'm not sure whether I can't get the underlying point, or whether it's just nonsense. Can you help me here?

Rootietoot said...

I think a context for the quote would help. I mean, I think I get what she's saying but I can't figure out *why* she said it.

belledame222 said...

I don't know where it comes from either; found it floating around.

I read it as: you don't take a "leap of faith" because you're hoping/calculating it'll land you where you want to go; you do it, not knowing -where- the hell you're going to end up. You maybe do it without even thinking about "ending up" at all; you do it for the sheer sake of leaping; that's what faith -is.-

the zen parable about "eat the strawberry" also is probably related. (You're clinging to the side of a cliff, losing your grip; there's a tiger on the ledge above you and another one waiting at the bottom of the cliff. Next to you is a wild strawberry growing out of the side of the cliff; what do you do? "Eat the strawberry.")

Rootietoot said...

Well, being a person who possesses a tremendous amount of faith, I kind of understand what she means...I was just wondering why she said it. I mean, if CS Lewis had said it, I would understand better. I'm just not familiar with who she is and what her paradigm might be.

belledame222 said...

Second-wave feminist and science fiction writer; I don't know what her spirituality/cosmology is, exactly. I am guessing something relatively unstructured, formally speaking.

R. Mildred said...

Sounds like a metaphor for pretty much any religous or pan-religious ecstatic experience.

Of course what it misses out is that the alternative to making that leap is to not have leapt.

And it is a poor person indeed who looks back on their life and wishes they'd eaten that strawberry.

Rootietoot said...

bah...aeryfaery pseudoreligion 'pan-spirituality'. It's the Enya of faith...lovely sounding but seriously lacking in muscle and bone. Give me Jesus kicking butt in the temple and eating lunch with some sinners afterward.

belledame222 said...

Well, you're certainly welcome to Him; but 1) Russ is many things, but a n "aery-faery" lightweight ain't one of 'em 2) neither am I, and 3) without strictly adhering to any one already-cut path, I still take spirituality quite seriously, and so do a number of people. Including some of the "aery-faery" types.

belledame222 said...

Zen's pretty well-established, too, of course...not that I am a Zen Buddhist, but they're hardly synonymous with New Agers, trendy though both paths may have become in certain circles.

Alon Levy said...

I read it as: you don't take a "leap of faith" because you're hoping/calculating it'll land you where you want to go; you do it, not knowing -where- the hell you're going to end up.

Ah... that's just called experimentation. You don't need faith to do it. I don't think any number of materialist atheists who conduct wildly innovative scientific experiments do it out of faith.

By the way, remind me to write a post on how some people try to use this as a rhetorical device. You describe a very complicated concept filled with baggage you want your audience to adopt by making it look trivial: faith is experimentation, socialism is having a minimum wage, radical feminism is thinking rape is bad, conservatism is going along with what has worked.

the zen parable about "eat the strawberry" also is probably related. (You're clinging to the side of a cliff, losing your grip; there's a tiger on the ledge above you and another one waiting at the bottom of the cliff. Next to you is a wild strawberry growing out of the side of the cliff; what do you do? "Eat the strawberry.")

Actually, a better idea would be to try climbing, or to make a gentle drop. Tigers rarely eat humans, despite the common misconception.

Which, I presume, ties in with my anti-mystical view of things. If you want to describe your view, use real-world situations. If you use parables, you're very likely to mangle your setup and, for example, assume tigers are (wo)man-eaters.

belledame222 said...

Oh, bless your heart.

ballgame said...

Tigers rarely eat humans, despite the common misconception.

I'll let you conduct the empirical research on that one, Alon.


natasha said...

Hi there folks, hope it's okay if I join in... this quote has enticed me in from my lurking!

What really struck me is that Joanna Russ is saying that faith doesn't feel like a choice but like a path. This strikes a huge jumbo mega-cathedral chord with me (I'm currently practising in the zen tradition of meditation & mindfulness). That's why the tiger thing isn't about choice either: you don't choose the tiger at the top or choose the tiger at the bottom. Instead, in both cases, the idea seems to be to dwell solidly in the present moment: with the strawberry, or with your Faith, not worrying about the future. The future takes care of itself.

Rootietoot said...

"with the strawberry, or with your Faith, not worrying about the future. The future takes care of itself."

That is a very Christian philosophy.
"So do not worry, saying, 'what shall we eat?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own."
Jesus teaching about worry in Matthew 6:31-34.

The whole bit is long, but it's the famous "consider the lilies" speech He gave when his apostles were fretting about material stuff. "Pagans" are non-believers, not necessarily what 21st century Americans call pagans.

I'm trying to figure out what my point is....

belledame222 said...

I started to reply here and it got so long and involved that I've made it into its own post (to be up shortly). just as well since i've now apparently deleted the original comment in all its length. oops.

welcome, natasha! glad to have you join us.

Dan L-K said...

"One way to look at it is to say each religion is a language, and magic is... linguistics. For a linguist, then, there’d be no such thing as a ‘false’ language. It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, French is good, but Russian is not a real language.’ I mean, there are words in German for which we don’t have a concept in English, and vice versa. So the thing is, you have to accept all religions as being... they’re all true languages! I need to understand the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, of the Greeks, of the Romans, of the Gnostics, of the Christians, of John Dee, of current occultists, of the Hebrews, of the kabbalists. To some degree I take the quantum position that in order to see truth, you have to consider a lot of different possible positions and hold them all to be true in some mysterious way."

- Alan Moore

...nothing aery-faery about that guy, either (The Mirror of Love notwithstanding).

Less OT, I'm reminded that I need to pick To Write Like a Woman back up after November.

belledame222 said...

That is an awesome book. Russ is my favorite second-waver ever. her take on Gothics is fantabulous. among other treasures.

Joseph Kugelmass said...

Belledame, you've written beautifully about compassion here, and it's funny to me that your post should include ethical questions so similar to the ones I just posted ("Ethics and melodrama"). You are absolutely right that there is a difference in kind (to borrow from Orwell) between Darwinian reciprocity and true empathy.

While I like Orwell's account of Shakespeare and Tolstoy, I am a little unsettled by the notions of "egolessness" at work here. Christianity is certainly a religion of love (at least in its greatest textual expressions), but you can't call Jesus an ego-less being. He had disciples aplenty, and "he who is not with me, is against me." Jesus was the one who said "the poor will always be with you, but you will not always have me."

Considering what Gandhi was able to accomplish, Orwell's suspiciousness strikes a bit of a false note. There are plenty of egotists out there; not all of them liberate India from colonial rule. This is the trouble with depth psychology: it makes things equivalent that have vastly different effects.

There were contradictions and shadows in Tolstoy's personality that made his project less successful; there were also intense social pressures working against him, as you write. (Dostoevsky wrote twice about Russian society killing a resurrected Jesus, in The Idiot and again in the story of "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brothers Karamazov). Probably the most accurate thing we can say of him is that he had an artistic genius and not a genius for living and promoting the saintly life.

It is a wonderful thing to feel empathy for other people. Still, empathy is not an pure state. There is humanist empathy, such as Montaigne felt for others, that prevented him from ever taking certain idealistic stances. Then there is religious empathy; no matter how we might feel about this, religious empathy is really empathy for the potential of the other person to lead a blessed life. A Buddhist can feel pity for a soul trapped in desire, but not empathy.

The blessed is the religious term for the absolute (which is a moral category that absolutely can exist outside of religion), and a commitment to the absolute often appears to others with different ideological commitments as a blind and foolhardy egotism.

belledame222 said...

yeah. Orwell has a separate essay on Gandhi that i think makes his position a bit clearer. obviously he respects his accomplishments. i think he's not saying so much that there isn't a need for people like him (my loose interpretation, okay) as that it does not make sense for -everyone- or even most people to try to follow his example.

The suspicion, and to a -certain- degree i share it, if maybe not wrt Gandhi himself, is that that degree of universal empathy, Orwell notes, correctly, means taking a stance that effectively boils down to suprahuman. i think the suspicion comes from a certain degree of squickedness at the idea of loving some stranger on the other side of the planet -as much as-, say, your own child. most of us tend to see this as an abstraction at best. it is possible that some people really do achieve that level of compassion,

actually, you know, i have to think about this one. because i've had experiences, fleeting, of "wow, I actually love everyone in the room, even the people I don't actually like." can't go more into that right now and here, I'm afraid. thing is, 1) for me at least, that feeling may never entirely go away, but it certainly--*I* certainly don't stay in that elevated state for very long. And at the same time, like I said, it still doesn't mean I'm now equally okay with this rather noxious stranger as my dearest friend; or could literally not (or wouldn't) make a choice wrt which one to rescue from a burning building, you know. it is possible that that just means i'm not that evolved (yet?); but, i'm kind of with Orwell in that i'm honestly not all that sure that getting to the place where it really would be completely equivalent to me is either achievable or desirable.

back to Orwell and Gandhi: more specifically, politically speaking, Orwell has problems with what he sees as the limitations of pacifism, I think. He observes, correctly, I think, that Gandhi's suggestion, I don't want to misrepresent, I don't have the essay in front of me. But basically, Gandhi had gone on record wrt the Jews in Nazi Germany; it boiled down to, he would have advocated the same techniques that he used in India, even as he acknowledged that, yes, it would have probably simply resulted in them dying anyway, in at least as great numbers.

What I remember more clearly is (very roughly, my own words) Orwell's observation that the sort of protest Gandhi or MLK used to great success only works if the oppressors have anything invested in the notion of...was it democracy?...anyway, the same moral framework that basically says, look, -killing- these people is against our principles; they are exposing a gap between the way we would like to be perceived and reality. If the way you want to be perceived is "magnificent blond brutes squashing the parasitical vermin," as opposed to say "separate but equal," then clearly the same techniques are not gonna work.

Gandhi's suggestion i guess was that if "the whole world was watching" it would have made a difference (maybe?) but I don't know that simply marching peacefully and in full consciousness to one's own doom suffices. in fact, to a large extent that -was- what happened, under the Nazis.

i'm also reminded i guess of the bit in "A Handmaid's Tale" where she notes that at first, after the original takeover, there were some protests as in the old U.S. regime, but they stopped pretty quickly when they realized that the new soldiers simply machine gunned them all down.

belledame222 said...

There's also a bit where apparently one of Gandhi's children got sick, and the doctor insisted that animal protein was necessary to keep hir alive. Gandhi let the child have the animal protein, but apparently he had to really think about it first. I am only recapping my memories of Orwell's account, mind you. But it's that sort of thing he's objecting to, in principle, as it were, at least.

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