All the World is a Stage on Top of a Pillar Supported by Nothing (Epistle to K. Lazarus)

Any metaphysical understanding of the world must take into account what is understood of the physical world; if one’s metaphysics requires the reality of the physical world to be completely ignored they are nothing more than wishes and dreams. Of course, physics has demonstrated that reality is made up of quarks and uncertainty which is entirely different from wishes and dreams. They are completely different words, words which are all we have here to communicate the uncertain dreams from my head to the quark wishes in yours. We are here, and what are we? Mammals, monkeys, men?  What we are is aware. We use words to give shape to our awareness and form to the world; we give the name monkey to a mammal and it becomes so, we call ourselves men and so we are. Language is everything and nothing but words, words, words. Words, wishes, and uncertainty. That’s what the world is made of.

Understanding the world is as much a matter of perspective as anything else; a child and an old person might make very different meanings out of the same experience. The thing we are trying to understand is unchanging while our understanding is fluid, our words incomplete and our perspective inadequate. We need a metaphor, and reality as a stage is a good one. Consider this question; can Hamlet ever recognize the actor playing him? Hamlet has had a big influence on me. I really like him and have known him well for nearly a quarter of a century. I’ve seen him many times and played him once. He’s funny and sad and smart but he also makes some really terrible mistakes, yet I think I understand why he does what he does. He has walked a stage somewhere in the world for over four centuries. He is nothing but words, wishes and uncertainty.

Hamlet doesn’t know us and can’t know that he needs us to exist. He needs us to read him and watch him avenge a ghost, to be him destroying his life for the sake of the lifeless. Without us Hamlet is ink on paper in a closed book, without any meaning whatsoever. He is a two dimensional entity crafted to take the illusion of three dimensions when viewed a certain way. We are three dimensional entities who are trying to understand an entity who is viewing us from at least a fifth dimensional point of view if it exists at all; it is like we are characters in a play trying to catch a glimpse of the playwright at the typewriter. We cannot know with certainty that such an entity exists, but we can say that the perspective that entity would observe us from does exist as surely as our own does relative to Hamlet’s.

So, Hamlet is two dimensional in that his entire life can be held in our three dimensional hand. The fourth dimensional point of view sees our lives from beginning to end whole and complete as if it were a single thing, while the 5D perspective reveals all of the possible paths our lives can take as if all of them were as real as the one that did occur. Dimensions of perspective can be imagined increasing until the tenth, when we run out of conceptual capacity. The idea of God fits somewhere in those perspectives, depending on how you construct your idea of God.  What must also be accepted is the idea that there is no God lurking in the rafters of higher realities.

I could not hope to understand faith until I had lost the naive natural faith of youth. Atheism was an important step on my path. I contemplated the void and it embraced me with understanding of no-meaning and the logic of absurdity. It is easy to see why for so many atheism is it’s own end; it makes one feel clever to figure out that all those animals couldn’t have possible fit on that ark and it’s lovely to sleep in on Sundays, but I’m being snarky. The truth is that there are plenty of people leading productive and admirable lives who are atheists while some of the most terrible human beings on the planet fervently believe in God. Do I believe in God? I read Scientific American, Discover and National Geographic every month and peruse science journals online daily. I am enthusiastically interested in just about everything, to be honest. I think about the origins and composition of worlds. I contemplate deep time and the emergence of humanity from the primate lineage. I think about the human mind and wonder about animal minds, or what it might be like to be a computer. Last night I sat up reading about eusocial insects and especially ants that harvest fungus and keep aphids like cattle. I thought of when we were at the Darwin exhibit on your birthday a few years ago looking at a collection of carnivorous plants and I said to you that they made a hash of the whole concept of vegetarianism. You laughed, and it was such a glad sound to me. I believe in that laugh.

We have been brothers for a long time and know our minds and souls as well as anyone, so I think you might understand me when I try to explain myself. This world is a desert separated from God where every depravity and torture imaginable may be inflicted upon the innocent for no reason but the demented whim of twisted humans. This world is a prison of suffering from which death is the only escape; we are jagged sticks of bone held together by stringy rags of muscle twitching across the surface of this muddy rock, barely aware of our fate as we consume and defecate across the landscape. What grace, what mercy, what joy and love are to be found here are created by us. That is the lesson of the Holocaust and every other atrocity humans ever visited upon each other; we are responsible. We must do God’s work because there’s plenty of us acting on behalf of the Devil.

What Kierkegaard meant by taking the leap of  faith is that faith only exists in the tension between belief and doubt; simply believing obvious things requires no effort. Likewise, doubting patently untrue things requires little discretion. In this world where hungry ghosts pay to suffer desire and hungry children are prostituted the leap of faith to a benevolent God is a big one. Theodicy is the Kobiyashi Maru of Christian Apologetics in that the premise is impossible to justify rationally. The question itself is an attempt to lasso the Eternal with words, and it fails. God is Love, and from the perspective of God we are all beloved, Horatio, even King Claudius. For some it is easier to accept there is no God rather than a God that loves that which they despise or fear.

Luckily for us we are not theologians but rather simple laborers in the fields passing the time with our idle chatter. Let the doctors of the churches try to resuscitate their marble patients; that is something for which neither of us is suited. Let us tend the lost sheep and humble flocks we find cast by the wayside for that is the task given to us by our Master. The joy of service well done is it’s own reward when you are doing the right job the right way. It is not up to us to justify the universe.

Happy Ramadan,

7 Responses to “All the World is a Stage on Top of a Pillar Supported by Nothing (Epistle to K. Lazarus)”

  1. So, basically you are saying that God is unscrutable. Fine. I get that. We cannot really understand the nature of God, Evil, or anything else in capital letters. I also get the temptation to simply keep our heads down “tend our lost sheep” and not to worry about the larger issues, i.e, theodicy, cosmology etc. I wish I could. You also say we are not theologians and that we are not suited to asking these questions; I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I completely disagree with your assertions in your final paragraph. For me, answering the question about the nature of God is critical to my ministry. I have stalled on my journey toward graduation and ordination for many reasons. (Some of them are practical. Infants are DEMANDING!!!) But one of the biggest problems I am having is to be able to find an answer to the question “Why did God let this happen?” I have sat with families as their loved one is dying of a terrible disease and been asked this question. I’ve not had an answer. I’ve not even had enough of an answer to give them helpful platitudes. I don’t expect to ever arrive at a resolution of this. I just hope I can find enough of a rationalization…

  2. perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. Combining theoretical physics with theology IS very helpful. It gives a framework with which to understand that perception greater than ours might exist. So, thanks for that.

    I guess what I need to aspire to is to be content with contradictions and to accept that I cannot ever learn enough, and can never be smart enough or experienced enough to be able to answer this question.

    So, instead of praying for knowledge, I need to pray for wisdom.

  3. Sometimes I let the irony steep too long…

    To begin with, do you think such profound grief can be soothed with some kind of rationale for suffering? I honestly don’t know as I’ve never heard the rationale that could do it.

    God lets everything happen because otherwise nothing would happen. A universe where a superbeing is running around making sure everyone is happy would mean we are fish in God’s Aquarium. That is why we have to be careful and tend to things; it is our responsibility; confronting this truth is what causes the fear and trembling. It is not God’s fault that little children get sick and die or that evil prospers; it’s just that all of the bad things have to be possible in order for the good to be possible. We are free, and that can be a terrible thing sometimes. This is the truth and it is of no comfort to the parent sitting by the side of a bed in an ICU unit.

    Being joyful in the face of grief is a terribly difficult thing. Think of yourself as bringing a light to people who have been deep in a cave for a very long time. The light you bring can lead them out of this place but it can also blind them or drive them deeper down into crevices you can’t hope to reach. You have to be careful and let your eyes adjust to the darkness they are in while remembering that you have the light; it is delicate work that requires patience and compassion. I know you have those qualities in abundance.

    One of the things Kierkegaard talks about is how faith is a kind of insanity; like how it requires hope in hopeless situations. When you find yourself facing that kind of thing it means you are living your faith.

    What I meant in the last paragraph is that we are far more likely to make our connection to the divine through attention to our path and work than by daydreaming. I certainly don’t mean that to sound harsh because I’m a big fan of daydreaming. I was being ironic throughout that paragraph and obscured my meaning, but I don’t think we are traditional theologians at the very least.

    I could say more but I want to be sure I’m being clear…

    • k lazuras/ tinman Says:

      “Sometimes I let the irony steep too long…” Perhaps. This piece was a bit overwrought. (and that is saying something for you!!)

      Seriously though, “do you think such profound grief can be soothed with some kind of rationale for suffering?” On a fundamental level, no. But a chaplain must be able to empathize without getting sucked into the emotions and uncertainty of the parishioner. In order to do this, I need to have some handle on theodicy.

      “God lets everything happen because otherwise nothing would happen. A universe where a superbeing is running around making sure everyone is happy would mean we are fish in God’s Aquarium.”
      This line of reasoning has always seemed like an intellectual cop-out. What’s wrong? God can’t figure out a better way to do things? (_Now_, who’s being snarky!)

      “… bringing a light to people who have been deep in a cave for a very long time.” Good analogy. What happened to me was, because of my own health issues, it was too difficult for me to be with people who were dying. I wasn’t able to keep a good clinical distance. I got sucked in. I do think that, in the right setting, (and assuming I physically can do it) I have the skills and the patience and compassion to be a good chaplain. I just have to avoid getting sucked in… So, thanks for that.

      I like Kierkegaard! Always have…

      “we are far more likely to make our connection to the divine through attention to our path and work than by daydreaming.”

      Works righteousness? From you? Are you sure you mean this? I realize you are not a Christian, but do Buddhists believe that we achieve Godhead by our own works? I know that is part of it, but it is only a portion. There is more isn’t there?

      I realize this is a slight digression, but only slight, for we are discussiong after all, the very nature of God.

      • Tinman there is always Social Work!! [ ; ) ] Or staying in your field consider ministering to those with mental illness. One of my “heroes” where I work is the Chaplain. He connects with every patient he meets with… whether they think they’re god, or jesus comes into their room at night, demons haunt them, or if they have delusional religion of sorts. He told me he asks himself “what need are they trying to meet?” and gets to that point so he can provide them spiritual support for getting that need met. He is a beautiful person & I wish there were more like him.

  4. I am a Christian, just not one who accepts the standard creeds and assumptions my brethren do. Therefore, they would not count me among their number but I count them among mine. My practice of Buddhism is not my religion, it is my practice, which is to say it is where I form the basis of my philosophical approach to things.
    Gotta run. More later.

  5. Those who know do not say.
    Those who say do not know.

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