The Teacher

Here’s another sneak peak of The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean Aspiring Author.  You can find the first two installments here and here.  Please keep in mind that this is only the first draft.


 

The Teacher

Growing up in a devout Christian family I heard the stories of the great biblical heroes numerous times and could recite most of them by heart.  It wasn’t until I was twelve, however, that I dedicated time to personally studying Sacred Scripture.  Naturally, I was immediately drawn to the more exotic, and often overlooked, books; the “black sheep” of the canon.  The first to grab my attention was Ecclesiastes, in which, to my great dismay, I read the following passage for the first time:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

 Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

 The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again.

All things are wearisome,

more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

No one remembers the former generations,

and even those yet to come

will not be remembered

by those who follow them.

I had never read anything so dismal, despairing, and disturbing in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, it was not as if this passage introduced me to concepts entirely foreign to my experience.  To the contrary, I found the words of the Teacher disturbing precisely because they resonated with intuitions buried in the far reaches of my soul.  They conjured impressions of reality I had held since my childhood but never wanted to face.  They rekindled the sense of dread and futility engendered by the swamp; feelings which seemed incongruent with the cheerful Christian worldview so tenderly nurtured by my parents.

“I don’t understand this,” I thought, “Perhaps it’ll make more sense as I continue reading . . .” I pressed on through several more chapters hoping for better results but to no avail.  In fact, things got worse:    “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals,” proclaims the Teacher, “the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”  This was the last straw!  I slammed my bible shut and stormed downstairs to my father who sat unawares in the den.  “What’s his problem?” I exclaimed in frustration, “why is this even in the Bible?”

Somewhat taken aback by my outburst, my father responded: “Josh . . . what are you talking about?”  Realizing he hadn’t the faintest clue what I was ranting  about, I took a deep breath and proceeded to voice my dissatisfaction with the Teacher.  He listened patiently for several minutes and when, at last, I finished my diatribe he asked, “Have you finished reading it?”  Sheepishly I responded, “Well . . . no.”  “Read the whole thing,” he said, “then you’ll understand.”

This was not the answer I was looking for.  Begrudgingly I walked back upstairs, picked up my Bible, and pressed forward.  After reading the book all the way through . . . I still didn’t understand.  The Teacher left too many questions unanswered.  The resolution at the end, to “fear God and obey His commandments,” offered no consolation.  I needed things to be black and white—clear and simple.  The Teacher’s ideas were too discordant; too nebulous; too real.  I wasn’t prepared to accept an existence devoid of meaning—yet, this is the world presented by the Teacher; a cold, fleeting, impersonal, purposeless, unjust, world, full of uncertainty.

As most of us do, however, I set these troubling thoughts aside and retreated back into the world of fantasy.  I played video games, read Star War’s novels, and watched endless hours of T.V.  But, one can only drown the nihilism out for so long . . .

 An Encounter With Death

The one thing we can be absolutely sure of in this life is that everything living will die.  Death surrounds us–it haunts us every second of every day–relentlessly pursuing us into the grave.  At the very moment of our conception we begin our slow decent into dissolution and, in spite of all our efforts, there is nothing we can do to stop this from taking place.  We have tried and shall continue to try—but to no avail.  There is no escape from our temporality; from our profound limitedness.

Nevertheless, to dwell upon our finitude and impermanence – which death so robustly exemplifies – leads us quickly into the abyss of despair.  And, despair, true despair, is incredibly unpopular in the West. This is one of the reasons we desensitize ourselves, by means of video games, movies, and other such contrivances, from the reality of death.  We do this by transforming it into entertainment; by inoculating ourselves from the absurdity and pointlessness it engenders.  We, as a society, are enamored by the mere “shadow” of death – to borrow from Plato’s famous analogy of the cave – which seems less frightening and, at times, even pleasurable.  We dare not turn our gaze and face the reality which would be too much to bear.  Our obsession with the mere idea of death allows us to transform it into something enjoyable or thrilling (e.g., Mortal Combat) or even sexually arousing (e.g.,Twilight).  Hence, as a matter of profound irony, death has become the ideal distraction from death.  That is, until the real thing is unwillingly thrust upon us.

I entertained mere phantasms of death until it slowly took my friend Travis . . .

Advertisements

Some Thoughts On Don Juanism

What is Don Juanism?  It is, perhaps, most easily expressed by this simple Latin phrase made famous by the film Dead Poets Society: “carpe diem!” or “seize the day!”  Loosely defined, it describes a certain disposition or attitude toward life which is explained by the French existentialist Albert Camus in his influential book The Myth of Sisyphus.

According to Camus, Don Juanism is not a system or a formula but a general outline suggesting a way in which the “absurd man” might proceed in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning or value.  Who is the “absurd man” you ask?  The man who acknowledges the world is meaningless—and, that there is no hope of a life after death—yet, seeks to ascribe or, at least, search for meaning anyway.    The absurd man, when faced with the dilemma of nihilism, may choose (following the manner of that famous…

View original post 688 more words

The Swamp . . .

Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on.  Last week I posted the forward which can be read here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.


The Swamp

My earliest memories are of the swamp.  Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror.  In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe.  For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving.  The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread.  Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light.  It is in this setting, surrounded by thick mud, honeysuckle, toadstools, crawfish holes, sugar cane fields, snakes and alligators, that I formed my first coherent impressions of reality.

I remember hunting for pecans in the back yard, digging elaborate tunnels in the mud for baby frogs to navigate, and watching doodle bugs roll up into defensive positions at the touch of a finger.  I can still taste the cream soda my mother purchased from the convenience store at the entrance of our neighborhood on hot summer days.  I also remember countless fishing trips with my father:  “Before you put your hands in the water,” he used to remind me, “Check for snakes.  When you see a long streak in the water it is most likely a water moccasin . . . so, don’t put your hands in.”  Instructions I was all too happy to follow.

One of our greatest adventures occurred the day we stumbled upon an eleven foot alligator.  I’ll forever remember its terrible presence.  It floated near the surface of the water, perfectly still, its lifeless eyes staring uncaringly at our boat. I could see its massive form beneath the haze of the muddy water and was aghast when I noticed several jagged teeth protruding from the sides of its gigantic mouth.  Naturally, my father paddled us right along side the creature.  “Keep quite son, don’t make a sound,” he said as he slowly picked up his fishing rod.

I watched in horror as he carefully lowered the tip of the rod above the monsters hideous head.  Sweat ran down my face as my mind raced with images of the creature suddenly jumping out of the water and chomping my father’s arm off!  After a moment of hesitation, he gently tapped the top of the alligators head with the rod.  In a split second the motionless behemoth disappeared in a gigantic splash; diving with surprising speed and agility.  The shockwaves from the creature’s sudden departure gently rocked the tiny boat.  I sat gripping the edge of my seat as my heart pounded with excitement.  My father looked back and our eyes locked—we could read each others mind: “Mom must never be told about this.”

I have many fond memories of the swamp but all of them are tinged with a sense of dread; and anyone who has taken time to reflect upon nature will share this feeling.  The same world that shocks us with its complexity and beauty is also cold, heartless, and destructive.  The same tranquil bayou, with its flowers and lily pads and calming aura, will, given the chance, destroy you.  The alligator, a truly marvelous and intriguing creature, will rip you in half without giving it a second thought (or a first, if you consider the size of its brain).  Most of us experience this feeling of dread, which comes from pondering nature, at an early age.  At some point we look at the world and see underneath its brilliant and mysterious exterior; recognizing something sinister is at work.  If only for a fleeting moment, we become acutely aware of the harshness of reality and of our fragility and this makes us apprehensive.

Lost, Lonely, Confused, and Loving It: A Condemnation of Western Society’s Indifference

What Gives Life Meaning?

We are, all of us, searching for water in a dry and desolate land; stumbling in the dark; groping for something stable to support us and give us direction . . . and that’s the way we like it.   Deep down, hidden beneath a host of questions and doubts, we realize we are lost and don’t want to be found.  We are hedonist’s at heart, and lazy ones to boot: we’d much rather watch pornography than discover Truth.  We are too selfish and controlling to even want Truth; because Truth is outside of our direct control.  Truth is not something we can create, or tame, or manipulate; it’s too restrictive and limiting and, thus, untenable.  It works against our inner narcissist.  Hence, we rest, quite contently – with only the slightest and most obligatory hint of angst – in the void of cynicism and doubt.

Sure, we pay lip service to the notion of Truth . . . but do we really desire it?  Years ago I met with a group of teenagers who fancied themselves Atheists and Agnostics.  I led discussions on a variety of philosophical and theological problems at a local coffee shop.  I remember asking one of the students, who attended regularly, what she thought the goal of our discussions was?  Her response was revealing:  “well . . . mainly to have fun, you know, talking about different ideas.”  Like so many in our culture, she wasn’t thirsty for knowledge; she was indifferent; she just wanted to have fun.  As many of religion’s “cultured despisers” did in the time of St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

“Who should listen to discussions of theology?  Those for whom it is a serious undertaking, not just another subject like any other for entertaining small-talk, after the races, the theater, songs, food, and sex:  for there are people who count chatter on theology and clever deployment of arguments as one of their amusements.”

The majority of young people I talk to have this attitude.  They are like the Athenians who, “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17: 21).  Discussions about God, morality, meaning, or value are just “small-talk” – an amusing pastime, like baseball.  There’s no substance to their questions and no deep desire to find answers.  More often than not, their “intellectual” struggles – which prevent them from accepting objective truth – are merely a facade maintained to justify elicit sex and drug use.  For others, the questions are asked in an effort to appear sophisticated or edgy.  Very few young people thirst for knowledge and actually want to find an answer to the question of value.

Put bluntly, our culture has lost its desire for meaning and replaced it with an insatiable lust for “reality” TV and Starbucks Frappuccino’s.  This is why the New Atheists will acknowledge the universe is utterly meaningless, that life has no intrinsic value, and that morality is rooted in the blind, ruthless, unintentional, irrational, laws of evolution (which is really just another way of saying, there is no morality) . . . and then shrug.  “Well, I like my life” they say; or, “life has meaning when we give it meaning.”  And what, precisely, is the meaning we ascribe to life?  Ultimately, in the West (and especially in the United States), life’s meaning can generally be classified in one of the the following three categories: (1) our elation over the new Star Wars film directed by J. J Abrams, (2) our intense love for shopping, and (3) our constant and unbridled desire for orgasm.  This is why we look at people in third world countries and wonder, “how can they stand to live that way?”  It is also the reason we can’t understand why the majority of people in third world countries have a deep faith in God and a firm belief in the supernatural.

It’s only in the face of tragedy that we Westerners are forced out of our drunken stupor . . . and, even then, only for a little while.  In the face of intense evil and hardship the reality of our fate often begins to sink in; the reality that we are weak, fragile, finite, temporary, shifting shadows.  In the midst of pain and suffering we are reminded of the absurdity and futility of our existence.  When we realize that our fate is no different than that of the irrational beast or the unconscious rock, we then start to consider the question of meaning more seriously.  When our dignity has been violated and we are standing on the edge of a cliff, we then find ourselves asking the same haunting question that William Shakespeare posed in one of his most famous monologues:

“To be, or not to be — that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them / To die, to sleep no more, and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

To exist or not to exist?  Have you actually considered this question?  Have you ever taken time to meditate on how utterly futile human existence is?  Or is Albert Camus just cool, hip and trendy?  Is it just fun to quote Nietzsche, to feel intellectual, and have a good laugh–or have you actually absorbed the implications of Nietzsche’s thought?  Have you, not just thought it, but felt it in your heart and soul?  It’s easy to shrug off the purposelessness of reality when you’re busy trying to look and sound cool . . . and trying to get laid.  It’s not so easy when your dignity and value has been utterly trampled on and life seems hopeless and unbearable.

Everything you think gives your life meaning becomes mere dust blowing in the wind when you have been violated or when life hangs in the balance.  Your cars, your computers, your video games, your films, your music, your beer, your pornography, your books, your drugs, your sexuality, your pets, your wealth, your sports, your technology, your scientific advancements, your successes, all fade into nothing when you are the girl who has been raped or you are the child sold into sex slavery, or you are the one lying in the hospital bed dying of cancer, or starving to death while living in a trash heap.  Suddenly, words like meaning, purpose, value, and eternity take on new life.  Suddenly trite answers like, “you give your life meaning” feel stupid and hopeless.  Especially when you understand that, if the nihilists are correct, there is no meaning, purpose, value, or eternity for the individual.

You’ll only want Truth when you realize that all of the things you think give your life meaning have no meaning at all apart from Him.  When you internalize the fact that we are completely helpless – slaves – in a world that is, at rock bottom, irrational, uncaring, and unintentional, you’ll finally be in a position to hunger and thirst for the Truth.  In that moment you will understand why Truth says,“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author: Day 1

Recently, I started writing my first book entitled: How I Killed Nietzsche and Became the New Übermensch.  These are the chronicles of my journey through this intense project . . .

Day 1:  Finally, after months of research, countless hours writing and rewriting the outline, and a healthy dose of daydreaming, I’ve actually started to bring this project to life.  At this point, I’ve nearly completed the first chapter and plan to share this with a couple of close friends to get some feedback.  The process of preparing for and writing this book has literally pushed me to the edge of insanity.  Namely, because I’ve had to crawl inside both the mind of a young man wallowing in despair and self-loathing and inside the terrifying mind of insanity itself: Nietzsche.  One night, after spending hours reading through Human, All Too Human, Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, and Will to Power, I began to feel light headed and dizzy.  It seemed as if the world around me was fading into the background and I began to feel numb inside.  Granted, this could have been because I was up way past my bedtime and had been reading for many hours.  But, I believe something more than mere fatigue was ailing me.  I had just spent hours of my life absorbing page after page of hateful, venomous, intellectual posturing and scornful destain.  In many ways I began to identify with the character of the young man I had been creating in my head.  One can only bear so much nihilism before he begins to cave in and lose the feeling of joy in life.  Eventually, I had to put the books down and step away.  I was feeling depressed and empty and I needed something to lift up my soul.  So, being the nerd that I am, I picked up a copy of Pope John Paul the Second’s master work: A Theology of the Body.  Slowly my sanity returned, as did my sense of feeling, and I soon drifted into a peaceful sleep.