5.07 / July 2010

GETTING GODLESS

I.

  • God is man squared. That is to say, God is man raised to a higher power.
  • Man is the root, the square root, of God.
  • We believe in the ideal (truth, wisdom, justice, honor, integrity, selflessness, sacrifice, compassion, goodness) and God is the name we give to that ideal.
  • What else is God but a heuristic for what we want to do with our lives?
  • The worship of God is the worship of perfection.   The perfection of space: infinity. The perfection of time: eternity. The perfection of power: omnipotence. The perfection of knowledge: omniscience. The perfection of behavior: virtue.
  • Since the Fall, falling is what we’ve learned to do.
  • We are blemished perfections.
  • Man is the asymptote of what he predicates God to be.
  • We define ourselves by what we are trying not to be. Some men try to be men by not being womanly. Some women try to be women by not being manly. Some men try to be men by not being too manly. Some women try to be women by not being too womanly. People assert their humanness by differentiating it from brutishness. Man posits God’s divinity in contradistinction to humanity.
  • Science teaches us that there is no one thing in the world, that everything is made of smaller and smaller substances. God’s indivisibility draws a line in the sand against science.
  • Dostoyevsky said that without God, everything is permitted. Behind that statement is the correct notion that with God, anything can be prohibited.
  • God can be seen in man’s ability to imagine God.

II.

  • We don’t buy into God; we marry into Him.
  • Agnosticism: a philosophical position built not on belief or doubt but on an inability to decide.
  • An agnostic is a tepid thing, a spineless thing, a mushy thing.
  • The deists were atheists without the courage of their convictions.
  • Modern religion: carpe deism.
  • The atheist can’t stop thinking about God. The religious man can’t stop thinking about atheism.
  • The first millennium was a fight for freedom of religion. The second millennium is a fight for freedom from religion.

III.

  • Jealousy is a cocktail made of equal parts insecurity and possession.
  • Before we can be jealous, we must make our mate our thing.
  • Our God is a jealous God. What an unfortunate idea.
  • The God fantasy infantilizes man.
  • We all want God to be happy. Is God smiling or is God frowning? That’s what every religious war’s about.
  • Religion scares the hell out of you by scaring the hell into you. Suggestiveness is not a god.
  • What begins as respect ends as worship.
  • Religion isn’t about spirituality—it’s about ritual.
  • Religion is division.

IV.

  • Amulets. Lucky charms. God.
  • Overseers. Consciences. God.
  • Kings. Fathers. God.
  • Policemen. Judges. God.
  • Teachers. Authors. God.
  • Accountants. Engineers. God.
  • God—the Great Excuse.
  • God—the Seatbelt of the Soul.
  • Personal trainers. Personal bankers. Personal gods.
  • God: a godforsaken construct.
  • Heraclitus for God.

V.

  • Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. God is Love. Same God.
  • The Lord will rain for ever and ever, and, on that day, the Earth shall be wet and His name wet.
  • All magic tricks look real. We are desperate to believe, but there’s nothing to believe in. It’s all sham. Embrace sham. Squeeze tight. It’ll shatter and the world will be honest again.
  • Gematriya is manipulated meaning. It derives its meaning from manipulation. It’s no less deceitful or entrancing than magic.
  • Spirituality is a shell game.

VI.

  • The divine is our great wish. There’s nothing objective about a wish
  • Prayer is affirmation of belief. Prayer as expectation of response is absurd beyond belief.
  • Wishes are not real, but wishing is real. Dreams are not real, but dreaming is real. Thoughts are not real, but thinking is real. Belief is not real, but believing is real. The world is full of wishes, dreams, thoughts, and beliefs embodied, made real.
  • As Jesus embodies sacrifice, as Buddha embodies renunciation, so God embodies meaning.
  • I am the dream of my parents embodied. Everyone is a dream made real.
  • There is no difference in effect between false belief and true belief. The effect of any belief is always positive.
  • What is efficacious in belief systems is not the object of the belief (i.e. Jesus or Buddha) but belief itself. Believing in something is worthwhile even if the something is false.
  • God is a cosmic placebo.
  • Reality exists independent of our perception of it; on the other hand, reality does not exist for us independent of our perception of it.

VII.

  • A religious leader is a vanity mirror for his congregation.
  • Religion exists to oppose the incursions of time.
  • The devil lives in the house.
  • The odds, the minister believes, don’t always favor the house. But in his heart of hearts, he concedes that in the long run the house always wins.
  • Christian morality is the drawing of lines; it’s a geometry. Judaism draws fences around things and is concerned with the area under the curve; it’s a calculus. Taoism is string theory.
  • The population of the world accepts unthinkingly the rightness of the religion or the atheism it is born into.
  • You want to worship the ideal (call it God), you want to believe it possible—go ahead. If it stretches you, if it makes you live up to something, great. Just don’t smear it with the bullshit of personification and intentionality and intervention.

VIII.

  • People are desperate to posit a soul—they need something to blame their good impulses on.
  • The soul is a pilot light. When the light goes out, we inflate with combustible soullessness.
  • Science’s biological and chemical refutation of the mind/body split has killed the concept of soul in man. The death of the soul freed man from the fetters of shame.
  • If science really wants to understand spirituality and mysticism, it should begin by unraveling the phenomenon of feeling other people looking at us, the phenomenon of feeling being looked at, the phenomenon of feeling the eyes of someone walking behind us on our necks.
  • I don’t believe in spirits or a spirit realm. I do, however, believe in thought. The brain is uncontained by the skull. Its waves leak out and interfere in the world. Ghosts, called spirits, are, more precisely, the coalescence of leaked thinking.
  • Exhaustion of the body frees the mind to wander in the spirit.
  • Soul—a comforting delusion.

IX.

  • The person who eats his vegetables first is not morally superior to the person who eats his vegetables last.
  • There’s no virtue that can’t be vulgarized. Just as there are gourmets in eating, there are also gourmets in defecation.
  • Depravity doesn’t evolve; it mutates.
  • Virtue can never be habitual. Goodness is a function of will.
  • Utility is always a value.
  • Awareness isn’t an infinite good.
  • An ethics of expedience, not of obligation.
  • There are accomplices to virtuous acts as well as to crimes. What, in basketball, is called an assist, in morality, is called virtuous complicity.
  • Integrity, indistinguishable from intransigence or recalcitrance, is just a more exalted form of perversity.
  • The moral man brings up phlegm but does not spit it out.

X.

  • Cause murks the morality.
  • Relativism is the philosophical justification of deviance.
  • To eliminate deviance, eliminate absolutes. For Dostoyevsky, the Absolute was the same as God. If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.
  • Morality is dependent on the notion of observation. God is watching, the police are watching, my neighbors are watching. It’s only when we are alone that we indulge the impulse to do wrong.
  • If you want to construct a moral society, construct one where people are always in each another’s presence.
  • I’m Ok, you’re OK is the sniveling Laertes saying, Exchange forgiveness with me, Hamlet. I’ll let you off the hook if you let me off the hook.
  • Morality is not a quid pro quo. Morality is washing our own dirty backs. You wash my back and I’ll wash yours is no different from you wash my backside and I’ll wash yours. The only difference is, in the second instance, the disgusting nature of the transaction is made clearer.
  • Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Quid pro blowjob. Morality is a refraining from, not an indulging in.

XI.

  • Understanding is dangerous because it results, inevitably, in forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is a function of understanding. Understanding is the secret tunnel that runs from the head directly to the heart.
  • Empathy is denial of conscience, vilification of judgment.
  • Empathy is a form of enabling. It says, Yes, yes, yes! I know what you mean. I understand how you feel. Empathy is part of the conspiracy of all ideas, all beliefs, all feelings being equal. Empathy results in exculpation. It results in: “O Doctor Mengele, you poor man!”
  • Forgiveness is no virtue. It’s the beginning of vice.

XII.

  • Before genetics, there were gods.
  • Gregor Mendel reinvented fate.
  • The modern determinist gods are heredity, environment, and culture.
  • Everyone alive is an exemplar of a triumphant fitness.
  • The debate between Athens and Sparta was really a unified argument in favor of nurture, in favor of the environment over heredity.
  • What’s providence for one person is deliberation for someone else. The Corinthian messenger’s volition tastes like fate to Oedipus.
  • Luck is the name we give to unwilled repetition.
  • The crosses and the stars you wear—magic amulets to protect you—from yourself.
  • Superstition is the name we give to the spurious cause of a legitimate effect.
  • The greatest superstition is a belief in providence or grace.

XIII.

  • Who invented virtue—I say the devil.
  • Who invented coherence—I say the devil.
  • Who invented pity—I say the devil.
  • Who invented forgiveness—I say the devil.
  • Who invented reward—I say the devil.
  • Who invented hope—I say the devil.
  • Who invented religion—I say the devil.
  • Who invented the devil—religion.

ADDICTIONS

listen to this poem
  • There is much more alcoholism in the world than there is alcohol.
  • The women in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were all drunks. They were drunk on the idea of being in the W.C.T.U.
  • Exercise: an intoxicant like any other.
  • Immaturity: an addiction like any other.
  • Those intoxicated by art or God never admit their alcoholism.
  • One can be addicted to tofu as well as to opium.
  • Obsession: a hobby on heroin.
  • Pleasure is the addictive ingredient in all repeated behavior.
  • As our pleasures stagnate or evolve, so do our addictions.
  • Our pleasure thermostat is set in youth.
  • Over time, pleasures congeal.
  • The body builds in itself powerful pleasures-excretion, sneezing, rest.
  • The hierarchy of pleasure is always idiosyncratic.
  • Pleasure fuels the engine of life.
  • Some pleasures are more pleasurable than others. If public service were more pleasurable than cocaine, more people would be addicted to public service.
  • All advertising is an appeal to pleasure and a warning about pain. Prostitutes, blackmailers, drug pushers, and extortionists mentor the advertisers and teach them the trade.
  • Marketing: psychology for capitalists.
  • Selling comfort is still selling.
  • How hypocritical of capitalism to condemn monopoly and profiteering. Profiteering is the point of capitalism, monopoly its goal.
  • In order to be masters, people so desire money that, to acquire it, they consent to being slaves.
  • It’s the twenty-first century and we still have maids and waiters and doormen and drivers and guards and caretakers and house painters and tutors and shoeblacks and prostitutes. Why? Because money is still the fuel and hegemony is still the car.
  • Slavery can be legislated against but it can never be abolished. We’re not just slaves to other people; we’re slaves to our desires, our fears, our ideas, our histories, our genes, our bones, our breaths.
  • There’s no significant difference between the kid in fourth grade who was willing to lick a dirty floor for a quarter and an employee who is willing to do anything to keep his job.
  • You can go through life with clean hands, but you do so at the price of the soul. Money may insulate you from dirt and the grime of life but not from the unsanitized reality of the body.
  • The evil of money is that it encourages us to shirk our responsibilities, allows us to forsake our human duties. We pay others to do what we should do ourselves.
  • If there’s a collective unconscious, there may be collective addictions.
  • Standing in a crowd: addiction by association.
  • The mob intoxicates. The opiate is the people.

CONVICTIONS

listen to this poem
  • Everything molten deserves a mold. Passion is molten. Passion’s mold is art.
  • Art is the pin in the butterfly of life.
  • Art is alchemy, not literally turning lead into gold, but turning life into art, i.e. figuratively turning lead into gold.
  • Art believes in stable identity, but no living personality is coherent. Therefore, art falsifies the living in order to approximate life.
  • Personal taste or predilection has no place in the construction of a definition or building a philosophy. In defining art, for example, it’s a mistake to assume that everything you like is art and must fit into your definition. I like very much the caffeinated manifesti of Tzara and Marinetti, the mad randomness of Smart and Huidobro, the mannered fragmentation of Barbellion and Traherne, the epistolary brilliance of Byron and Henry Miller, but why must my definition of art have to include everything I like? Why must my definition of art exclude my tepid affections-Wharton or Turgenev or James? The reasons I like and do not like specific works or writers are quite separate from my ideas about what makes art.
  • Hell is a library with only one book: The Ambassadors.
  • Tastes change. What was beautiful in one age is considered beautiful no longer. The great problem of art criticism is how to recapture a historical sense of beauty.
  • The sordid: a legitimate subject for art. There is sordid art but no such thing as ugly art. When one talks about ugly art, one usually means repulsive or sordid art. Art and ugliness are incompatible. Ugly is a handling, not a subject. One can say with absolute conviction that painting is ugly but only if one means that painting is artistically incompetent. Art is order; ugliness is disorder.
  • Things too neat are also untrue.
  • A perfect face is not an interesting face. Cosmetic surgeons understand only perfection. If you wanted to improve your appearance, you’d be better off going to a cosmetic artist.
  • We live in a pornographic world, a world in which we watch the movement of football players in football games, the mien and posture of fashion models, study sociology abstracted from history and literature, biology disembodied of theology and geometry, astronomy absent from music and architecture. The impulse for pornography is the impulse for isolation, that is to say, separate study. All focused observation, all specialization, is pornographic. Pornography is rooted in seeing the thing, whatever it happens to be, in isolation. Pornography is anything that focuses on the part to the exclusion of the whole.
  • Pornography is the metonymy of vision.
  • Awareness isn’t an infinite good.
  • The shocking, the absurd, the uncanny, the grotesque, the sublime-these are the drugs of art. We have to keep upping the ante to regain the rush.
  • We teach ourselves our talent. We train our minds to think as artists, to think as builders, to think as poets, to think as salesman, to think as managers, to think as lawmakers, to think as teachers. We train our minds to think in stories, in sales, in scenes, in structures, in images, in lectures, in ideas, in jokes, in designs, in colors, in formulae, in equations, in slogans, in insights.
  • In great art, we watch the artist’s thinking unfold. In the greatest art, we watch our thinking unfold.
  • When I reread a book or revisit an artwork , I also scan the person I once was.
  • Real understanding always comes as a tear in the tissue. There’s no mending the breakthrough.
  • The beginning of understanding is observation.
  • Everything artistic partakes of beauty. Sordidness of presentation and repellent subject matter or ideology are irrelevant. Swift. Celine. George Grosz. Otto Dix. Leni Riefenstahl. Ivan Albrecht. Diane Arbus. Robert Mapplethorpe. Nan Goldin. Lolita.
  • Art is an ideological whore who’ll sleep with any propaganda or point of view. That’s why there can be socialist art, Catholic art, Nazi art, racist art. Art: a promiscuous mistress. Leni Riefenstahl is no different from Piero della Francesca or Giotto. The great Catholic art of the Renaissance is just the other side of despicable political propaganda.
  • When the future becomes obsessed with the better, the past begins to be extinguished as the worse.
  • The dark edge of the profound is silly: Meister Eckhart, Swedenborg. The dark edge of the silly is profound: Lewis Carroll, Calvino.
  • Only the mason has the deepest understanding of the imperfections of his wall.
  • People are afraid of artworks having only one meaning as if that were somehow undemocratic or autocratic or fascist. Complex works of art have complex meanings. Complex doesn’t mean multiple.
  • Misunderstanding is also understanding.
  • There is the imagination of the creator and there is the imagination of the audience. They are antagonists.
  • The clearer one’s sense of self, the sharper one’s vision.
  • Great art is like an attack of smallpox. After it inhabits the body, it leaves a permanent scar.
  • Art is tidy. Life is incoherent.
  • Literature is a vanity mirror. We stare into another person’s soul and see only ourselves.
  • The purpose of literature is not to set us dreaming but to discipline our dreams.