Posts Tagged ‘good’

A Cure For Pessimism?

August 14, 2019

DeathWarrant-RGB.jpg

Amidst the daily deluge of corrupt politics, death and disaster in the mainstream and social media feeds, I sometimes imagine being a passenger in the boat steered by the mythical Charon whose eternal task was to guide newly deceased souls across the dark River Styx* to their destination in the Underworld. These journeys were long and fraught with terrors, but these were a mere preview of what lay ahead in the Land of the Dead.

Medieval Woodcut Print from Johannes Grüninger's 1502 Edition of the Aeneid 

Photo Credit: danielgoodantiquarianbooks

Of course I’m being a bit melodramatic, yet keeping our heads above those fearful waters is a challenge we have faced for millennia as we watch and often suffer as world leaders cycle their countries through endlessly alternating phases of constructive good and deconstructive evil. As I suggested in my previous essay, The Nature Of Evil, (https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/on-the-nature-of-evil/), we are now firmly embroiled in the toxic immorality that informs evil, courtesy of numerous would-be dictators, their sycophants and their noisy ‘populist’ governments. I am not a scholar of history or politics, so I can only write as an aging observer regarding the inevitable phenomena of life and death that occur in tandem with both.

Armchair philosophers often post sentimental images and feel-good bon-mots at online venues in contrast to proponents of subcultures that revel in the certainties and vagaries of death proudly displaying memento mori as death’s head tattoos, arcane body modifications, clothing and jewelry. Ironically, I find this demographic interesting because I suspect that life is actually being celebrated here with such dark symbolism acting as an apotropaic ward against death.

Much is made of Death and the idea of it in the collective imagination whether it arrives via age, disease, accident, murder, ‘acts of god’ and nature or war and punishment for criminal acts. We variously honor it, celebrate it, welcome it or mourn for those who succumb to it via any of those vectors.

The Gaming Of Life & Death: from AIRPLAY: A Catch Of Jugglers (Imaginarius Editions, 2018)

 

The fear of death has been anthropomorphized to enhance or accompany the human dread of its occurrence. Legends and myths (like the illustration here that visualizes an ancient Egyptian concept of cosmic judgment) have been formulated to explain and assuage fear of it as though it were something that was subject to human influence or control. When it isn’t exploited for political gain, religion, too, helps us cope while encouraging us to live and live well.  

Even those who choose death over life when life becomes too challenging to endure overestimate their own importance as though their own death will matter beyond someone’s casual perusal of a printed obituary or a silent pause in subsequent conversation. Why? Because Death is indifferent; to wealth, fame, brilliance, youth or age. It merely has a job to do. And that job is to fill a blip in time, to punctuate the continuum, the vast, incomprehensible cosmic thread that serves as the referee between order and chaos. 

But lest you think my observations are meant to be discouraging or depressing,  I should note that any discussion of death must include the rationale of those who believe in the concept of a life after life, a ‘ world to come’ so to speak. Having read several ‘testimonial’ accounts (from an array of writers, including a well-respected neurosurgeon), that offer rational-sounding evidence of such a realm, I can only say that I am comforted to imagine that death is not the end of us and that the unknown is not necessarily to be feared. 

So, while many notable religious sages have put forth the idea that each day is a new chance to correct our errors and enhance our legacies, these words alone will not cure the world’s pessimism. In each of our actions, we have the ability to choose between positive and negative thoughts and enact behaviors that characterize either of these if we make ourselves aware of the consequences. 

I am only one person and have no medicine or cure for what currently ails the world, but I do know this: our existence will have merit if we can compartmentalize the world’s ills and choose to live, laugh, let live and be kind to all who aren’t or who don’t seem to want it.

If I can manage to make those sentiments complement the creative work to which I’ve devoted my life, well, so much the better. 

*https://mythology.net/greek/greek-concepts/river-styx/

On The Nature Of Evil…

May 6, 2019

When news broke of the long-anticipated release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448 page report on aberrations in the presidency of Donald Trump, I indulged in a bit of schadenfreude, imagining how its evidence of the president’s lies and myriad misdeeds under the aegis of his craven administration might justify the suspicions that have become a noxious atmospheric miasma over us since the 2016 presidential elections.

Even as that report comes closer to the light of public scrutiny, we are still in the dark as to its true content because Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate regarding only his redacted version of it. His four-page version and verbal interpretation appeared manipulated to exonerate the president of treasonous activities. By doing so in classic stonewall mode, he revealed his true role as President Trump’s tool and de facto private attorney. This was made abundantly clear when he then refused to testify before the House of Representatives who had originally requested his cooperation.

While we wait to see whether Robert Mueller will be permitted to present his teams’ original version of their report to Congress and the issue of impeachment is tossed around by both governing bodies like a hot potato, many of us can agree that the reality we’ve always taken for granted is undergoing a paradigm shift.

As we are bombarded daily in mainstream and social media by frightening and often incredible developments in both domestic and international spheres, we are finding it more difficult to maintain our equilibrium and react rationally.

Though I risk sounding melodramatic, some days it feels as though life is coming to resemble a dystopian nightmare right out of those speculative science fiction novels in which the tropes of good and evil are woven into characters to reflect the cycling mores and mercurial nature of human history.

This impression assailed me earlier this week. I was out for a walk when I encountered a neighbor whose character has always been a bit dodgy. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he sniffed the air, then prosaically announced, “the devil is walking among us. Can’t you feel it?” What does one say to that? I just nodded, smiled politely and kept walking, marveling silently at the fragile line between reality and fantasy.

Still, that conversation and others shared with acquaintances in person and online these past couple of years have made me curious; have we been gradually spiraling back to a Dark Age mentality despite our technological advances, or perhaps by virtue of them?

With no offense intended towards those whose deep faith admits only God’s Goodness, I can’t help wondering: is what we know as Evil a sociopathic manifestation of the shadowy face of a God inextricably bound to, yet struggling with its own duality of Good and Evil?

Are our inclinations towards evil (Hebrew: ‘yetzer ha-ra’) and our inclinations towards good (Hebrew: ‘yetzer ha-tov’ (inclination towards good) actually two sides of that same ‘face’? Since we are capable of surrendering to both of these aspects with equal passion, we must recognize that we have two tasks to address. Our first task throughout our lives is to choose how we will behave and accept the consequences of our choices. Our second task is to understand how our actions affect that balance and work to heal the damaged before it is beyond repair.

Accordingly, the scale shown above is suspended by a ‘yad’ or Torah pointer whose black and white wings symbolize the duality of good and evil. Its pans support two Hebrew letters that represent the spiritual energies of Strength (Gevurah) and Lovingkindness (Chesed). The former is dragging down the latter indicating that these two energies have come out of balance negatively affecting world events.

This illustration is a detail from Leviticus: Parshat Shemini in my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). It has been adapted to serve this essay.

As an illustrator and writer, I primarily draw and write in metaphor. My readings in Holocaust literature where God is alternately blamed and absolved of responsibility for those monstrous events are what led me to these notions.

So I’ve imagined that Evil’s destructive energy seems to emerge periodically throughout time, wreaking terror and havoc among us. When it is quiet, for periods of years, decades or centuries, good, productive energies are free to flourish. Meanwhile, that Evil aspect does not sleep; it is infinitely creative, intricately plotting and setting its compromised players on the world stage in the manner of a chessboard where its next move will again guarantee its own terrible victory over good.

Just as astrologers look to the positions of the stars to explain the vagaries of world events, scholars of Jewish mysticism understand them in terms of the dynamic ten sefirot or universal spiritual energies that underlie all life.

In this post Cold War era, while we sustain horrific memories of World War 2 and the Holocaust, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, we remain entrenched in relentless Middle East wars and diplomatic brinksmanship.

Willfully ignorant, the noisome Trumpian doctrine has emerged, currying favor with dictators, stoking the fires of moral degradation, racism, isolationism and a ‘fake news’ agenda that is encouraging an alarming rise in hate-driven mass shootings, cruelty towards immigrants, and dismissal of the health/welfare concerns of most Americans. These are the rumblings and tremors of Evil preparing its next move; one that will undermine democracy in our generation and become our legacy to our children and grandchildren.

Just yesterday, an illustrator friend whose thoughtful, well-crafted work reflects her own perceptive view of our current new-world order,** suggested that we may be living in a 21st century version of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Can we single out ten righteous men in our administration from the corrupt swamp that is our Republican Party ?” she asked.

She was referring to chapter 18:20-33 in the Book of Genesis where Abraham argues with God who had decided to destroy those ancient cities as punishment for their evil ways. The patriarch challenges God to withhold that destruction if he, Abraham, could prove the existence of at least 10 righteous men within them. Of course we know that the cities were destroyed, but a few individuals were warned to escape and so were spared.

Though her question was rhetorical, neither of us could think of even five people in the administration who fit that description, an idea that doesn’t bode well for our country from a biblical perspective.

The United States has long been a physical and psychological haven for immigrants and refugees fleeing their climate-ravaged and/or war-torn homes. Yet, despite our possession of updated papers and passports, given the machinations of our treacherous administration, where can or should we escape to? Who will offer us refuge?

In discussions with friends and relatives with differing opinions or of like mind, one dilemma seems clear; we cannot keep our heads in the sand and pretend that currently, life is but a nightmare from which we will eventually awaken.

If we reflexively act on our fears and prejudices, we risk our own safety and that of our loved ones. Rather, we must struggle not to remain quietly hopeless and helpless in the incomprehensible face of forces seemingly beyond our control to contain.

Moreover, if we surrender to those modalities, then destructive forces win by default. History will yet again be written by victors whose glorification of their deeds and questionable motives will leave our descendants to question its veracity and learn from our mistakes if they choose.

We will certainly vote with our consciences and/or our feet in the 2020 elections, even as we continue to struggle with the potentially corrupted results as we did in 2016 since there is talk of foreign governments again moving to interfere in our election process.

But this time we must truly understand that only through our unity and ability to question what we are told instead of grasping blindly to a limited ideology, do we hold the keys to repairing what we have allowed to break (Hebrew:’tikkun olam) and to overcoming Evil’s onslaught against our hard-won democracy.

**https://www.instagram.com/naomialiye/

*https://amzn.to/2VC70I7

Illustration: Between Choice & Consequence ©2019 Ilene Winn-Lederer

 

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