Author: Bob Adamcik

Review of “the soul to the marionette: a short inquiry into human freedom,” by John gray

Uber-marionettes do not have to wait until they can fly before they can be free. Not looking to ascend into the heavens, they can find freedom in falling to earth. — John Gray, in “The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry Into Human Freedom.” (Farrah, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2015) From the title, one might expect Gray’s book to explore the concept of free will. But it does not, at least not directly. It is much more than that. Instead, the author explores a central premise of all modern religions: the idea that we can know who we are, from whence we come, the meaning of life and death. Or that, not knowing, we can somehow find out. His backdrop for the inquiry is the current secular faith in knowledge and science, which he interprets as the modern incarnation of ancient Gnosticism. In essence we either put our faith in the mythologies of religion, or in the equally groundless belief that we can rise above our limitations through knowledge.   Gray neither affirms nor denies arguments for either side. Rather, he simply explores how civilizations both ancient and modern have approached them. The breadth of his sources is intimidating, and his style can be oblique to the point of obfuscation. But to the curious, he is eminently readable. You stay with him because you have to wonder...

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Thinking and drinking…

In today’s world, critical thinking can get you branded as “elitist.”  A bit of irony, that, as thinking critically is the only way one could understand what a silly idea that is.  But one thing is certain, truly critical thinking will set you up for being alone, at least existentially.  At the very least, it can lead to desperation at times as you cast about for someone to understand you.  And it will certainly limit the satisfying conversation you can have over a bottle of whiskey....

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Reflections on “The Gnostic Gospels,” by Elaine Pagels 

I’ve long wondered about gnostics and gnosticism, an early rival movement to Orthodox Christianity. Numerous passages in the New Testament epistles refer to it obliquely (and condemn it harshly). So I sought out Pagels’ books, as well as other sources, to understand the controversy, and to understand Gnosticism. This post is the state of my (possibly flawed) understanding at this point. A more thorough and academic (though biased) treatment is found here. —————————————————— How many Christians today know their own religion’s early history, that beyond the apostolic acts and the persecution of converts? It’s a fascinating and complex story. Christ brought about a seismic shift in human culture. But people reacted as people do in such movements once their leader is gone: with competing ideas and interpretations and directions, and with arguments and infighting and denunciations. So, the first four centuries of Christianity were marked by dispute, power struggles, and political intrigue. In effect, the new movement struggled on two fronts. Externally, the Roman government distrusted Christians and used them as scapegoats and diversions for various political ends. It’s largely from this that we get the persecution stories of the early saints. But the early Church faced an internal struggle as well, as converts fragmented into hundreds of competing sects, each derived from a particular interpretation of Christ’s message, many producing their own sacred texts and narratives. Had it...

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The good and the bad…

“When I tried day after day to do good and to relieve the suffering of my patients, I was myself. And when I let myself go and plunged into shameful activities, I was also myself. My scientific studies forced me to the following truth–man is not truly one person, but actually two.” –Dr. Henry Jekyll, in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by Robert Louis Stevenson (various publishers). Thinking about human cruelty these past few weeks, I found myself reading Stevenson’s classic allegory of good and evil, the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Like many, I suspect, I knew something of the story but had never actually read it. Doing so after the last two posts was discomfiting. “Jekyll and Hyde” is an allusion to the very things we’ve been considering. In a sense it’s a parable, because of its implicit warning. Jekyll is a respected, upper class physician with a bent towards tinkering. He’d always lived within cultural norms. But, having long sensed his personal darkness, he wondered how it would feel to indulge it. So he developed a potion to allow himself to do that. The heart of the story is that his dark side proved stronger than his good. Eventually it began to take him over without the potion. The more it indulged itself, the greater became it’s greed and disregard...

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The eternal struggle…

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is a trait that is not known to the higher animals. –Mark Twain, “The Lowest Animal,” (an essay). Those ideals and convictions which resulted from historical experience, from the craving for beauty and harmony, have been readily accepted in theory by man — and at all times, have been trampled upon by the same people under the pressure of their animal instincts. –Albert Einstein (“Ideas and Opinions,” Broadway Books, reprint edition 1995. A friend read my last post and pointed me to Mark Twain’s essay, “The Lowest Animal.”  It’s a commentary on Man’s singular penchant among other animals for cruelty greed, rapaciousness, and other uniquely human hobbies. Twain pushed me to consider this further. Somewhere in our evolutionary ascent (or, per Twain, descent) humans seem to have gone over the edge.  We changed from instinctual automatons to objective, sentient beings who can consciously participate in overt acts of extreme selfishness, regardless of their effects on others.  Recognition of this penchant for personal excess predates, or at least coincides with, the origins of Judaism. The modern western idea of good and evil probably originated in ancient Zoroastrian dualism, around Persia, some three thousand years ago. Original Sin, a Christian invention, was the early...

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Oh, the humanity!

I’m following news about the latest radical Islamist atrocity, this one in Manchester.  And I see once again that most ubiquitous term of self-deception by our species:  “Oh, the inhumanity…!” Or some variant of that, anyway.  After 5,000 years of recorded history, you’d think we know by now that such behavior is nothing if not human.  In fact, mass intraspecific murder is probably uniquely human.  I certainly can’t think of another species that engages in it.  And religion, while not the only cause we kill for, certainly seemed to kick things off. Presaged by prolific Old Testament slaughter of enemies by Jews (or their god), the Jews (using the Romans) tortured and killed Christ, catalyzing the big BC/AD time change.  Over the next two or three hundred years, the Romans tortured and killed Christians.  But then Constantine converted around 315 and took all the fun out of it, so Catholics (the home team, now that Constantine had bought them), killed the gnostics.  But then Islam turns up three hundred years later and takes over, killing pretty much anybody who didn’t agree with them.  They had a good run for a couple hundred years, from China and India, clear across the Middle East to Spain.  By the end of the millennium, though, the Catholic Church got its second wind and started killing Muslims.  When that got tiresome, it went north...

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I’m feeling extremely mortal…

…these last two days. I know why, but I’m reticent to admit it.  I’ve spent the last several days reading Pagel’s “The Gnostic Gospels,” and I’m struck by the many ways people interpreted Christ and Christianity, and that many willingly went to painful deaths for their beliefs. I keep thinking about my own convictions, or more correctly lack of them. What if I’m right? What if I’m wrong? Stupid, I know…but we’re all victims of our socialization, and I was socialized as a Christian. But I’m also educated to be a critical thinker. It’s like two master programmers trying to hack and corrupt each other’s software. In the end I can only fall back on acceptance and confession of what I am, a thinking individual in conflict, looking at a future that will be shorter than my...

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Time Travel:  “He’s walking in my tracks…

…but he can’t fill my shoes” — Jerry Lee Lewis You’d think that, living in East Tennessee, I wouldn’t take country music for granted.  But driving home from Knoxville tonight I picked up the classic show from WDVX, and I could have been 20 years old again.  All these songs and voices so readily identifiable, the liking of which set me apart from my peers in high school…a precursor of sorts to the rest of my life, always being different.  In any case, listening to the young voices of Jerry Lee, Loretta, Merle and Buck, Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens…I was wishing I was on a dance floor, something I haven’t thought about in a long, long time. When I was in late high school and early college, we used to play the bars at Matagorda Bay, down along Magnolia Beach and Indianola.  If I hadn’t been playing, I’d have been too young to get in.  And yet, it always fell to me to sing the country stuff…Fraulein, Cheatin’ Heart, Muddy Water, Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.   Low ceilings and low lights, a walking bass, cigarette smoke and juke boxes and alcohol and lonely people…damn!  It just don’t get no better than...

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