In my younger days I kept two sayings tacked up on my office wall: The composer Igor Stravinsky’s “A masterpiece is all that counts” and the Roman writer Pliny the Elder’s saying, Nulla Dies Sine Linea, “Never a day without a line.”
I’ve always been fond of quotes, the sort of thing that nowadays appears as memes all over social media.
Pliny would have been a master of Twitter. He wrote some serious lines. In addition to “never a day without a line,” he wrote some phrases that are the backbone of Latin 101: Cum grano salis, “with a grain of salt.” In vino veritas, “in wine there is truth.” Fortes Fortuna iuvat, “fortunę favors the brave.” And the slightly longer phrase, Malum quidem nullum esse sine aliquo bono. “There is no bad that will not come some good.” …
You may have seen the recent interview with former president Obama published in The Atlantic magazine. In the interview, Obama says:
If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.
An “epistemological crisis.” Not a word most folks hear every day. “Epistemology” is a term used in theology and philosophy to mean how we go about finding and proving what is real. …
“Do you want your problem fixed?” It seems like an obvious question with an obvious answer. Heck, yea!
The Gospel of John 5:2–9 reports that Jesus asked this question of a man who had been ill for 38 years. The answer, however, is often more complicated than it at first appears.
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. …
Polling in March of 2020 found about 1/3 of Americans reporting adverse effects on health and wellbeing due to the pandemic. By June that number was over 50%.
Social isolation. Job loss or job insecurity. Difficulty sleeping. Problems with eating. Increases in alcohol and substance abuse. And the worsening of already chronic conditions.
Half the adult US population. And experts think it’s likely to get worse with the advent of winter.
Phobos (Φόβος) was the god of fear in Greek myth. It’s where we get the English word “phobia,” but Phobos wasn’t about phobias in the old days. Phobos was the child of Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite, god of love. When Phobos passed by, fear and panic followed in his wake. …
I have to admit right up front that I’m a completely unimaginative practitioner of Stoic meditation. After all, there’s not much of a point in re-inventing a 3000 year old wheel. In addition to that, we have some amazing contemporary practitioners and updaters of Stoicism, including the Humanist Stoic Massimo Pigliucci and the cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson. The following is a quick survey of Stoic meditations from Dr. Robertson’s book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.
The key to practicing Stoicism is simply stated but oh-so difficult to do: Determine what you can change and what you can’t change. Then, do what you can about what you can change and don’t worry about what you can’t change. …
It’s easy to feel unsafe at the moment. The pandemic has dragged on for months and is only getting worse. Personal safety; the safety of loved ones and friends; the discouraging news of the ever-rising numbers. And the bungling of those designated to keep Americans safe
Then there’s the fallout from the pandemic: Life disrupted. Life made more difficult. Life made more restricted and lonely. Businesses closing. Employment insecurity. The list of things to be worried about stretches on and on.
Then there’s the American political situation . . .
We Americans can‘’t agree on what we do know, what we don’t know . . . and even on how to figure out what we do and don’t know. Reminds me of one of the most memorable scenes in the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail — the confrontation between King Arthur and the Black knight. …
Nowadays, critiques of European Enlightenment ideas and projects is commonplace. The European Enlightenment clearly, for example, led to the disaster of European colonialism. And to genocide.
This critique is not new, it merely took a while for it to escape the bounds of philosophy and academia to hit the American cultural conversation.
That’s the number of dead.
We inheritors of the Protestant Reformation have a special relationship with conscience.
Our tradition has insisted upon it. And many have given their lives in its service. Both a summary of and central to that tradition is the work of Henry David Thoreau.
For example, in 1849 he wrote a poem titled “Conscience.” Here are a few lines from that poem:
. . .
I love a soul not all of wood,
Predestinated to be good,
But true to the backbone
Unto itself alone,
And false to none;
Born to its own affairs,
Its own joys and own…
At one time in the Western world there was talk of three ingredients that make a human: body, mind, and soul. Some Westerners still talk this way, sometimes as metaphor, sometimes not.
Fact is, it’s still an open question whether or not “the mind” is what the brain does.
The fullest metaphorical consideration of the soul / mind /spirit /consciousness / conscience matrix in the Western tradition is the story of Psyche, Aphrodite, and Eros.
“Psyche” means “breath” or “animating force” in Greek, and came to designate for the ancient Greeks the term that in English we call “soul,” a word derived from Old English and etymologically tied to the word for “sea.” It appears that when Christian missionaries began talking about the psyche in Northern Europe, people there translated it as “sawol,” because they believed the dead lived on forever in the sea. …
Commitment. Humanists commit to the process of solving this-world problems in this world. Why? Because the human ship is always sinking and always has been sinking. And, fact is, there’s no indication that a whole lot of prayer is doing a whole lot of good.
Spoiler alert: You can’t pray COVID away. You can’t pray wildfires away. Prayer helps you feel better — perhaps — but what are you doing?
So. What can we do? That’s the human question. And there’s an answer other that prayer and despair.
To begin, we do well to remind ourselves of a foundational fact of the human condition: We know what we know and feel what we feel because of — due to — our loooong relationship with each other and the planet. …