197 Comments

Very interesting. I suppose one reason the why modernist architecture is a bit clinical, other than being cheaper to make and erect, would be that it mirrors a particular metaphysical outlook that is in vogue at the moment, one that supposes the nature of ultimate reality to be ‘empty’ and ‘lifeless’ ...

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I like that, we are bereft, bowling alone.

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I just finished reading Nihilism, written in the 1970's by Orthodox monastic Fr. Seraphim Rose. He describes the philosophical underpinnings of our modern situation (spoiler alert: it's in the title). He says modern art and architecture mirror our internal state, as does politics, the assault on nature and every other thing we see in the world. So he agrees with you, the architecture is a product of the mindset where nothing is holy nor sacred anymore. It's all just meaningless "stuff". Naturally I loved this take on things, because it affirms what I have long intuited.

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As for being "cheaper," the reality is that modernist structures are actually more expensive. Lack of ornamentation has nothing to do with cost. Doors made to ceiling height, open expanses that require expensive (but invisible) supporting structure, and windows that allow for a greater experience with the outside world yet remain efficient are all very expensive examples of modernism of today and none of it is cheap. A great example of simple, symmetrical yet beautiful architecture can be found in the Shaker sect communities (now almost all gone as a religion but live on as 'living' musems) and many of its modern characteristics live on today. Clinical? Yes, it can be but I'll take spare and gorgeously made over the detestable suburban copycat colonials, cape cods, and the ever present 'transitional' (whatever that may be). Getting back to the topic at hand, what is it about the old cathedrals that makes them inspiring? I've found them to be very much alike after seeing many old European cathedrals and while they are interesting from an engineering standpoint, I didn't feel any spirituality in the way I did stepping into a small 17th century chapel surrounded by forest or the Alps. Being a part of the natural surrounding and being connected to those surroundings lends the beauty and grace of the Earth to the building much more so than Notre Dame on the banks of the Seine in the middle of a teaming city. The greatest sense of contentment and spiritual connection I experienced was in the quiet of a rainforest in the Olympic mountains of Washington State or standing on a hilltop in the Adirondacks with no other person or man made sound. Perhaps those old cathedrals are empty of creation and lost their ability to inspire?

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The Thorncrown Chapel is connected to its surroundings like no other church I have seen. https://thorncrown.com/

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Indeed it is! Amazing.

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Meaningless minds make meaningless works, who'd have thought it.

Vacuous philosophies tend to make all other alternatives seem equally valuable.

Maybe that's by design.

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The architecture where I live is rather ugly - most of it. "Clinical" might be paying it a compliment. I don't think our downtown is really that special to look at apart from maybe a few buildings, especially when taken in together. I'm not one for the "why can't we be like Europeans" bit but in this case I do wish our buildings looked like, for instance, an ordinary department store on the Marienplatz. We don't have skyscrapers here and the buildings have to be on rollers because we have dozens of earthquakes a day and none can ever tell which will be a big one. Still, I'd be interested to know the philosophy that created this bag of blocks. I mean, apart from "spend the oil money as quickly as possible before the government decides they're entitled to a cut."

New topic: Iran. I think of all Middle Eastern countries to pull themselves out of tyranny, Iranians are best equipped to do it, and I'm wondering if now is their time. With the current protests being women-centered and not "only" about elections or the economy, there seems to be a longevity their protests haven't had before. I forget the number but a huge percentage of their population is under 30, and they seem to have grown fed up of their freedom being squandered away before they were even born.

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"The architecture where I live is rather ugly..." I think you've touched on something important here. I think this is case for most folks in the U.S. (I'm assuming that's where you live). Why do we love small, quaint towns even though most of us don't live in them? Is it the feeling of being grounded in history which is lacking in most of the U.S.? There's some truth to that, but there are plenty of old, ugly things. I think it's more of the "organic" nature in which these towns/villages have come to be. They grew and developed slowly over time, which is the opposite of most suburban communities that are master-planned and developed to be "efficient" in spacing and structure. That's what's so appealing about old, Medieval villages. The buildings are all mismatched, and the alleyways narrow and "inconvenient". You see the passage of time unfolding in the architecture.

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And probably an idea of the abstract prevailing on the earthy.

This article was quite illuminating to me: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/10/why-you-hate-contemporary-architecture - also for the fact that a common thread between socialist and conservative instances can, should?, be seeked.

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In the adult world you don’t matter, it is your contribution that matters.

I think we fail to teach this to children; children are told they matter but the truth, is when they get out there they will learn - they don’t matter. 

I think there’s a more general mistake being made.

We think our opinions matter. We think we should all be heard. I don’t agree with that. People who have done the work should be afforded a higher consideration.

Paul Kingsnorth has done the work I have not. I have the habit of suspending my preconceptions when I’m reading people in the know; my opinions are uninformed compared to his. It is not for me to have an opinion, a retort, it is proper and obvious that I need to listen closely and learn.

We tell children their opinions matter this is also a mistake. I say we are stupid by design, we embrace stupid by embracing platitudes that are clearly foolish.

I like the older sensibility: children are not to speak until spoken to. Structure.

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Nov 10, 2022·edited Nov 10, 2022

There's something here, to be sure.

I talk a lot. Some of it is anxiety. Some of it is ego. Some of it, even, is because I have something interesting to say. Per that latter bit, I suspect my judgement on what is interesting or helpful isn't all that reliable.

So I've been making an effort-- at fifty years old-- to finally speak less. My wife will be the first to tell you I'm only partially successful, here, but it's worth the effort.

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Awbnid- love it!

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Maybe wisdom can be found in allowing ourselves to be taught rather than express our opinions and seek to argue, impress, persuade. In matters of the heart. (Though here I am expressing my opinion! - but then I’m not wise)

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It wasn't all that long ago that one had to undergo a fairly long apprenticeship to even begin to understand, and therefore express a view on a topic. At one point this was true in philosophy aka the love of wisdom. Certainly to become a master at a trade or craft wasn't something that happened overnight.

That this kind of deep education was replaced by our modern system of enstupification is telling. I was interested in philosophy in college but found the classes too be hardly about wisdom at all. I studied music, which at the time still had a conservatory core to it, however attenuated.

I am certainly guilty of expressing my opinion all too broadly. It is almost the less we know the more we talk. Have you seen the Mount Stupid curve? Funny, but true!

https://borgerlyst.dk/borgerlyst.dk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Mount-stupid-%E2%80%93-Borgerlyst.jpg

One place the older way is making a kind of comeback is classical painting. From the little I understand the Atelier movement is growing. This is a sign of hope. If you are interested, see Hilary White's telling of this at her substack.

https://hilarywhite.substack.com/

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The problem was that even after a long apprenticeship, if one did not inhabit the right demographic--was female or Black or queer--one's opinion could be safely ignored.

The pendulum has swung to far in the other direction, and a course correction is underway, but the old ways were stifling and harmful.

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Nadia Boulanger (a woman) was the gold standard in the 20th century for American musicians, particularly composers, to study with in Paris. She was *very* orthodox and classical in her views on music. Among her students were Aaron Copland (gay), Ned Rorem (gay), Quincy Jones (black). Looking at the list of her students it was mostly men, but there is a good minority of women.

I had a music theory teacher (gay) in college who studied with her in the seventies. He himself has an unapologetic defender of classical orthodox view on music. He has no friend of modernism and experimental music.

Was she up to the impossible standards we set today? Not at all. Was she even always a good person? Probably not. But all this alone is still enough to give some doubt to what you are saying.

As for those outside the "right demographic" being ignored, John Cage (gay)--who studied with another classicist, though a more contradictory one, Arnold Schoenberg--has quite influential and celebrated and the epitome of an anti-classical experimentalist. He was hardly the first.

Whether the same obtains for classical painting, I don't know. But I wouldn't venture to say unless I had actually looked into it. Regardless, right now, I can only believe that *anyone at all* who sincerely wanted to study at an Atelier would be welcome to do so.

I will propose something else operating here: the desire to tear down not only classical standards, but any and all standards. And that these lack of standards, ironically, must be rigidly enforced. We are living through it right now. The fact that we have also lived through a century of garbage art and culture is just adding insult to injury.

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Brian- Also, knowing that you are a fan of Philip Glass, he also studied with Boulanger. Though my music professor, for some reason, disbelieved this. I think he just didn't like minimalism. Though I was a big fan of Steve Reich at the time.

I hope you are well. -Jack

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I am well, and I hope you are too.

I think it is great that Glass studied with Boulanger. Coltrane studied under Dennis Sandole. Was one better than the other? Is Coltrane's work lesser than that of those who studied with Boulanger? Personally, I will but "A Love Supreme" up against anything written by a student of Boulanger. But you might not like that piece at all.

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Jack, didn’t know you liked and studied music. I love music. I think it is one of the avenues by which we can come very close to intuiting/sensing the divine, and of course, ironically, silence too, but one has to appreciate the creation in order to fully appreciate the source of that creation. Sorry I’m not responding to the topic in this thread, but I just can’t help nodding my head (digitally) to you.

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I do not think that they are trying to tear down classical standards. Rather, they are saying that there are more sets of standards than just the classical one. Even Boulanger said that she cold not define the standards for a masterpiece.

For example, Asian and African music use tonalities and harmonics completely different from those used in the classical model. Is one approach better than another? No. Is a Fats Waller song less than a Verdi aria? I would say no, but there are people who would maintain that Verdi better represents/meets the classical standard than Waller does, and, therefore, made greater music. The difference between Verdi and Waller is that the former wrote out of the European tradition and the latter wrote out of the Black tradition. Different traditions; different standards. A person may not like both traditions equally, but liking one more than another does not mean that one is better than another. There is no Platonic/abstract musical ideal that all musical works can be measured against to determine what is great and what is not.

In painting, female and Black practitioners of Abstract Expressionism are finally being widely shown and discussed, after decades of focus on their white male counterparts. Did their works not measure up to classical standards? I would say no. But their work came from female and Black experience, which was less valued than white male experience, and, therefore, thought to produce less valuable art.

As for the 20th century and its art. I would not call the following garbage: Stravinsky; Gershwin; Armstrong; Coltrane; Pollock; Krasner; E. De Kooning; W. De Kooning; Baldwin; Glass; Morrison; Beckett; Pinter; T. Williams; Antonioni; Visconti; Fassbinder; Takemitsu; Kurosawa; Mizoguchi; Mahfouz; Soyinka; Blanchard; Sondheim--I could go on, but I know you see my point.

A person might not like anyone on my list. They might come up with a list of folks whose work I do not like. But neither list is definitive. I know of no one who does not want standards. What people want are standards that are appropriate to both the art form and the culture/place that the art is being made from, and not some abstract set of standards divorced from life, claiming universal hegemony.

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reading your response, I fear my earlier response to you might have been inappropriate. It seems you’re simply advocating for the ability for different standards to be valid, and not have just one standard to claim the throne. That’s perfectly valid. I think, however, the original sentiment in the thread that both you and Jack responded to, was that the “right” to an opinion being heard, or that matter, without having gone through the work, is something very modern, and not necessarily a standard that is valid. On the surface, it seems to contribute to equity, which is very desirable nowadays, but it could result in mediocrity, or plain stupidity, claiming the same importance as excellence. You could say that excellence is an “abstract standard divorced from life claiming universal hegemony”. But I think, regardless of varying standards of what different cultures regard as excellence, they generally agree it is a desirable quality to achieve, and a good standard to judge by. I think this was what the original sentiment was about, that we have lost the respect for excellence in our modern drive to reach equity.

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Brian- I think your response is a slightly different answer to a different question. A very interesting question. One I think a lot about myself. The original statement was your claim that classical standards had to go because it excluded, anyone " female or Black or queer" whose opinion could be "safely ignorant". My point was to show that was not the case, a least not definitively so. It is crucial not to lose focus on the original question.

As for *musical* diversity that is a different question. Full disclosure: I *am* a musical platonist. I think this can better explain the power of music--often across cultures--than can the idea the different music cultures operate by more or less incompatible conceptions. I don't think the latter is the case at all. And classical standards--again, at least in music--hardly exclude these other ways or denigrate them. Folk music, as one example has long been incorporated into classical music. As have other music from around the world as they became better known.

I would love to continue the much more interesting question of whether there is a standard by which music can be evaluated other than a purely cultural one (while giving full credence to the inescapable cultural matrix of time and place of creation). If you are interested I will try to lay that out at least in its basics as I can. Realizing, by time constraints, that I may miss certain aspects that you have brought up.

Thank you for this interesting conversation, as always. -Jack

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JL, good formulation: The lack of standards, ironically is rigidly enforced. I love shorthand

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why is it that many people now are so caught up in trying to right certain wrongs that they forget discrimination is as old as human nature, and as hard to eliminate unless we are able to change human nature. Which is why I think it is so tempting to today’s social justice warriors to embrace biogenetics and one world governance, because only by implanting chips and Orwellian mind control can we ensure people are “good”. In this sense, I can see why you would say “the old ways were stifling and harmful”. The old ways of exhorting people to be good via developing a moral conscience and strengthening our moral fortitude has not resulted in a ‘just and equitable world’. In our whole human civilization, we have not found a way to do that, and it seems we have no power to prevent this new tide of social justice, so we’ll just have to see what happens. There will be no satisfaction when the new world that comes into being does not result in the supposed benefits. I may be reading too much into your response, but maybe not.

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Just because discrimination has been going on for a long time does not mean it should not be combatted. As a Buddhist, I am committed to ending suffering. One form of the Bodhisattva Vow I recite is:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.

Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.

The Dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.

The Buddha Way is unattainable; I vow to attain it.

I said that the old ways were "stifling and harmful" because--well--they were. They assumed an ideal type existed, and anything that deviated from it was bad, and needed to be stifled. For example, as a queer man, my sexuality needed to be stifled since it deviated from the ideal heterosexual norm.

As I Buddhist, I do not believe there is an ideal form of being (as in essence), but that there is an ideal form of being (as in acting). This ideal can be manifested by following the Noble Eightfold Path. As a Buddhist, I vow to not engage in sexual misconduct, which means that all sexual encounters must be done with loving-kindness; compassion, equanimity, and a focus on the joy of my sexual partner(s), and not my own joy. Authenticity is found in a person's ethics, not their selves.

I agree that exhorting people to develop a moral conscience is a good thing, but the way Western culture has gone about it is faulty. Don't exhort people to "Be straight, not gay," but rather "Do not commit sexual misconduct."

You were not reading too much or too little. You were just responding to what you read. Thank you.

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Enstupidification: thanks for that, I will deploying that little chestnut in the future,

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One of my favorite lines in literature:

Sometimes I think all men are fools -

"King Rat" by James Clavell.

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At what point is one allowed to speak? At what point has one 'done the work'?

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Maybe only you can know, when we really listen to our hearts, when to speak and what to say.

When I said “allowing ourselves to be taught” maybe another way is to be humble and listen.

At night if there’s no one around I like to drive without headlights. It opens up a night world and I can see the fields, trees, stars, road curving, clouds and when my headlights go back in I only see my point of view and the magic is gone.

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Yes I didn’t express that well. In fact I don’t think I know how to express that sentiment. Do you think you have standing with the likes of Paul Kingsnorth? When should I be quiet and listen, I will quote supreme court justice Potter Stewart - “ I know it when I see it“ - so when I see it I’m gonna shut up.

What I’m saying is we used to tell kids respect your elders they know better. I’m older than Paul King‘s north but I accept he knows better. It’s something in that vein. It’s not that hard - you will know that when you see it.

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I disagree. We teach our children well; the problem lies in all the ways we allow ourselves to disappoint ourselves - most especially by embracing utilitarian concepts of worth that leave our spirits bereft, sterile, and judged as hypocrites.

Grant Smith offered a succinct and compelling statement of our problem: https://radicalamerican.substack.com/p/morality-and-utility

Now, let’s solve it.

Not everyone can be a Gaudi. But we can all imagine as he did and live in the wilds of spirit and nature. By expecting less of ourselves materially, we can be so much more.

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I felt awkward about touching on areas so well served by Paul and others. Then Jack Leahy (I think) suggested it's fine to do your working out in public. Instantly I felt OK to. It feels like a learning community anyway.

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Learning community for sure , I ask you , who is stronger than this Kingsnorth fellow? He is gigantic!

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He might be uncomfortable with such elevation, but he's definitely one of my go-to people in my personal quest to find a synthesis between the material and spiritual.

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Go-to, ok but he’s bigger than that, amongst us who has read as deeply?

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I am all for keeping quiet, for many reasons. However, beginning from the supposition that only our contributions matter seems to me to cede ground immediately to the technological hegemony. Are we admiring only the cathedral, or are we admiring the genius of Gaudí, or are we struck dumb by the creative power that spoke through Gaudí and imbued him with genius? Will that cathedral be beautiful a thousand years from now if everyone who ever knew the name of the architect is dead, and people can only admire its unattributed beauty, as we do with illuminated manuscripts?

We do not all need opinions, but we do all need to value ourselves and other people for more than simply production and qualitative measures.

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Very silos, I will think on it.

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Yes, stunning. Do you know the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser? "The straight line is godless and immoral" he said. Much modern architecture is box-like, prison-like. It appears we are witnessing the end of the patriarchal era, my I Ching called it "the exhaustion of the masculine'. That explains a lot to my mind.

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I haven’t heard of him but I like that quote! It also reminds me of something I recently read in Mircea Eliade’s book ‘The sacred and profane’ where he writes about how the act of creating a home is to synonymous with recreating the cosmos...our homes are miniature versions of how we conceptualise the cosmos ... I think we can also link our self-understanding to this scheme (body-home-cosmos) which, if true, invites reflection on how we think about our bodies ...

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Elon Musk and his phallic rockets to nowhere are where it all ends. When his SpaceX Starship initiative—rebranded from the original (and instructive) 'Mars Colonial Transport'—crashes and burns for good, it'll be rightly and widely be seen as the end of progress.

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Coming down from the trees, all those millions of years ago, our forebears were most at home tucked beneath the foliate shelter of life in the branches. Safety, food, and the ability to rest with one's family, relied upon the living green banner above us. Later, our sense of awe came from walking upright among the tallest trees, looking up and being covered by the green canopy again, but at a great height above us. The feeling which I experience in great Gothic cathedrals such as Salisbury and York Minster, (also covered in green men, creatures and a herbarium on every surface) is I think a cousin of this primeval silvan awe, which I feel most strongly of all in old-growth forests. The eye is drawn up, up, and then we see that we are sheltered most grandly after all. First by the firmament, then by the forest, and latterly by the great stone spirit-dwellings people have created to hold the songs and let them resound a little longer than the open air allows.

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Yes, there are certainly desert awe and mountain awe. My diving friends also describe a deep sense of awe when swimming far below the surface, looking up towards the light far above them.

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When created in the garden a few thousand years ago, our parents felt safe and at home under the foliage. TIFIFY

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Lovely comment.

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I’ve set it as an avocation to visit as many old growth forests as plausible (also, old cow-free deserts). Every time I enter, I’m willed to be wordless—how else to bow before grandmother cedar?

Old growth forests and dreams: the two most unassailable arguments for God.

People say God’s in a clearcut too, and I don’t doubt it. But to find God in a clearcut, I have to use words.

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Like: "Old growth forests and dreams: the two most unassailable arguments for God... People say God’s in a clearcut too, and I don’t doubt it. But to find God in a clearcut, I have to use words."

Words and/or the wordless sabre of imagination to cut through the illusory thingness/permanence of the built environment and see castles made of sand, or cresting long waves of human angst, to be washed some day by the same majestic force that thrums through those self-evidently sacred landscapes.

There are no things; all is flow and flux. It's a matter of our perception of time. Even the mountain, from a deeper view of time is more like a cresting and receding wave than an unmovable object.

It's so hard for us to see this. I "know" it to be true, yet forget it every day.

Those sacred majestic places then are also, critically, temples to remind us. If they are swallowed by the Machine our capacity for vision will be dealt its final collective death blow.

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I love all this.

And especially, “Even the mountain, from a deeper view of time is more like a cresting and receding wave than an unmovable object.”

I too forget that. When I find myself down and out, and divorced from nature, I try and remember the age and size of the Universe alongside Lao Tzu: “The Universe is forever out of control.” Something about that synthesis brings me great relief. Also, that even the smallest of fundamental particles come in pairs, and if I remember my physics well enough, they’re opposites. That no matter how high or low you look, there’s relationality. Isolation can’t exist.

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There are no 'things', yes, exactly. Everything is a wave, and nothing is unchanging. As an old Taoist, these slants feel like the ground of life, but everywhere 'irritable reaching after facts and reason' are still highly popular, and the cause of so much strife. The machine insists upon 1, quantifiable things and 2, fixed states. This is why it hates the family, spontaneity, resilient old methods and rules of thumb. All the things I love! Good to speak here Dan, greetings from the wet south of England.

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Nov 15, 2022·edited Nov 15, 2022

"The machine insists upon 1, quantifiable things and 2, fixed states." That's an interesting statement. I'm going to be thinking about it in the context of mental health in which I work. I often call the "Medical Model of Mental Illness" the "Machine Model of Mental Illness," and it certainly prefers quantifiable things and fixed states!

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Yes, it is apropos. I think it was the late Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck who wrote helpfully about emotional 'states' being stuck versions of the natural weather of feelings. It is understandably easier to treat something that one can point at and name. In the bigger picture, we face predicaments, rather than problems, as Vanessa Andreotti puts it, which cannot be solved once and for all. It is how we show up to it all that is the true work. Fixed states help no-one except pharmaceutical manufacturers and admen. 'There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,'.

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That last statement...Wow! Is that a quote from someone else or your own words?

You just helped me better understand my own experience in wild places. It seems to me that the whole modern experiment has made us humans the clear cut and we are all using words to find God in it.

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"by the great stone spirit-dwellings people have created to hold the songs and let them resound a little longer than the open air allows"

Fascinating to think of cathedrals as civilization's response to the loss of the woods and the wilds which inhabited them, including our own God-given wildness.

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This week I listened to the opening chapters of Robin Wall Kimmerer's facinating book 'Braiding Sweetgrass' which seeks to knit the perspectives of Science and Indigenous knowledge together. Kimmerer is originally a Native America and is part of the Potawatomi Nation, she's also a Professor and Botanist. in the opening chapter she recounts the founding story of her people with "Skywoman" who falls to earth from the sky like a seed, her fall is broken by a flock of Geese who gently lower her down to earth which is completely covered in water. All the animals see that Skywoman requires land and they all discuss and seek to help her find land by diving deep into the waters to find soil. None can manage the depths, except, and the smallest of the animals, a Muskrat who dies attempting it but comes back up to the surface with a small amount of earth in its paw. Skywoman gives thanks to the animals and places the earth on the top of the tortoise shell on which she is standing and does a dance in celebration. Tortoise island (the earth) emerges. I've probably murdered this story, but what Kimmerer goes onto to do is contrast the founding story of the indigenous people with the founding story of western civilisation in the bible. When you contrast the two you have one where the woman/mother is in relationship, interdependence/ harmony with nature and in the other you have a woman who is shunned from nature and banished, severing that connection. As someone who grew up in the church but is still lost in terms of predominate faith, I found this contrast startling in terms of it's impact upon me and my world view. I felt like it shook my foundations. I have been a fairly unconscious subscriber to the belief that is not the religion but what people do with it idea which I admit is at best - lazy. But what if the fundamental story, our founding story has fucked us from the get go? Paul, I know you believe in the power of story and myth...whether one has heard the Adam and Eve story or not, whether one believes in it or not, I think we can agree it is an essential and powerful pillar in our understandings of ourselves and the world around us. So if that story is one built upon shame and disconnection, is it not too much to extrapolate that this could be a significant factor in the pattern of human behaviour, where we seek to have dominion, where we set ourselves apart from nature not as part. where we fundamentally isolate ourselves and completely miss the boat? I know i'm prone to over romanticise the Native indigenous people but it seems that their understanding of the world saw them as part of nature, with no rights over land, but responsibilities to play a part with nature. Please discuss....

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Interesting; thanks for this.

I think a lot about the Eden story, and I see it rather differently. In fact, what we see at the beginning, I think, is precisely a situation in which 'the woman/mother is in relationship, interdependence/ harmony with nature.' And the man too. This is what Eden is: interdependence, with creation and creator. God is so close they can see him 'walking in the garden in the cool of the evening.' A lovely image. Our relationship with the whole of creation is intimate.

But there is a snake in the garden, internally and externally. There are always snakes in gardens. This one tells us that if we break away from this wholeness (the word 'holy', comes from 'halig', which is Old English for 'whole') we can be free, independent and beyond the rules. We'll no longer have to obey god. We can be gods ourselves!

And so we choose that path. That path leads directly to farming, cities, murder, technology and civilisation. Civilisation is built on the back of our desire to be gods. On 'do what thou wilt' rather than 'thy will be done.' I find this powerful because it is so obviously a portrait of something that is deep within us all. Native American cultures as well, I don't doubt: they did, after all, drive a lot of species to extinction and relentlessly war against each other. Just like the rest of us.

That's my take anyway. The war against nature is the result of our brokenness, which stems from our rebellion against creator and thus creation. That war sickens creation itself. And when I read the lives of the saints I see again and again the claim that the holiest people come again into communion with nature. The birds feed them, the bears befriend them. I think we can see the same story.

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Thank you Paul, I'm reeling here under the insufficiency of my knowledge and brain power, so bare with me....i guess your answer makes me ask: so do you think the garden of Eden story has largely been misunderstood in our consciousness or maybe worse simplified. Is this a mute point? but could the story in its simplified and synthesised form be reinforcing our disconnection? Can i set up a hypothetical? What if Eve didn't take the apple? what then? what changes...nothing? and I realise i'm opening myself to ridicule here but would it make a difference to our story that followed? If we didn't judge ourselves so harshly, if we didn't carry the burden of this ultimate sin. I feel the weight of your reply... i need to read Genesis again.

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I find the Genesis account so endlessly fruitful and fascinating. Bear in mind I am a beginner too, and no theologian. This is just what I see. The more we read, the more it seems to unfold itself.

In answer to your question, here's my understanding. Humans are made 'in God's image.' This means we are the only creatures able, like the creator, to look on ourselves and the universe with awareness. Genesis (like the theory of evolution, interestingly) tells us that humans were created last of all: we are the youngest creatures. We are not yet fully formed. In some sense, humans in the Edenic state are God's apprentices. At some point, after much training presumably, we would have been ready for the knowledge of good and evil. But we snatched it before we were wise or smart enough to understand it. And so - here we are.

If we hadn't done - well, then, no fall. A mature humanity, living in tune with creation and creator. But something tells me the fall was our destiny. Now, we live on Earth, a spiritual battlefield, and we train ourselves to become worthy to go home again. Only Christ - the 'second Adam' - has the power to take us there.

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I tapped out a huge reply and have just deleted to start again! Ok...so I'm trying to boil this down, find some conclusions, so i don't loose this invaluable thread... to do this I need to trust the pang of pain in my heart when I first heard the skywoman story and it's contrast to the Adam and Eve. So i'm going to try another tack.

Can we agree that there is an insane spectrum in the degree's of human perception? I feel like the vast majority of us are not reaching optimal perception, not even close, our view on teh world and ourselves is but a glimmer of what it could and should be.

can we agree, that If you bring up a child in a negative environment, the story they learn about themselves is negative and they'll spend a lifetime trying to undo that conditioning. I'm calling this is 'a story'. So the story that have been told is powerful, it can be conquered, but it requires massive amounts of work and reconditioning. If we grow up in a loving environment where we are accepted and given positive affirmation we thrive, our understanding of ourselves and our perspective on the world around us is transformed.

Above Paul, you said " But something tells me the fall was our destiny." I agree, this does feel inevitable but what i'm asking is why do we have this feeling? And I'm asking whether the story we've been telling ourselves could be the origin of this? now whether this story is in the biblical tradition, which i think i'm right in saying you believe to be true...then is there something wrong with the story rather than there always just be something wrong with us and our interpretation? Do you get me?

Sorry to boil this down to multiple choice but maybe it's helpful:

A) Are we underestimating the power of the story in determining our fate?

B) Are we allowing the story to dictate and limit our understanding of ourselves and in so doing our perspective?

C) Are we misunderstanding the story?

D) Is the story too confusing and open to misinterpretation?

E) None of the above

As a film maker i guess i'm wondering whether as a piece of communication the bible and it's teachings optimal? Which I realise to a lot of people is blasphemy but I think we have to look at the bible and it’s teachings as subject to all the problems any historical writing would be. I was willing to go along with the..."it's not the bible or the teachings...it's what people do with it"argument but do we also have to begin contending with the idea that the teachings and storytelling might also in some way be to blame for the ills we're experiencing - subjugation of woman, a sort of imperial sensibility that leads those who believe whole heartedly to think they're right and loose humility and empathy, disconnection with nature and balance etc.

Hope something came through here

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022Author

I think there are a lot of things bound up here.

Firstly, in terms of the Bible, or any other story, skywomen included, the fundamental question for me will be not 'is this an optimal story?' but 'is it true?' I'm a Christian, not because I read the Bible (which is more of a library than a book in any case) and decided it was an 'optimal' story to base my life around, but because of an experience of Christ, which was very personal and is ongoing. I think this is probably true of most people. Though religion can also be a cultural inheritance.

Stories certainly shape us. To what degree? Well, it's hard to know. But we also know that humans are not blank slates. If you want to talk about things like, say, propensity to create empires, male dominance over females, 'imperial sensibility' and the like, we can pretty clearly see that these things are universal and cross-cultural. Christianity has certainly been used to justify them. On the other hand, Christianity was also used to justify the abolution of slavery - something that Christian cultures pioneered - as well as anti-war sentiment, poverty alleviation and the notion of human equality. You can choose your story here too.

Stories like the Genesis creation acount (actually there are are two of them) are very old, stem from various sources and have had multiple interpretations. It's not really possible to tell people precisely what they mean in historical or literal terms. And in the end, we follow what we consider and feel to be true. I don't know that I can say much more. We all have to do that.

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Nov 10, 2022Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

As Paul knows, I had a very vivid, revelatory dream about this subject some months ago. I don't need to share details, but my takeaway was, What if 'The Fall' was actually a rejection of Creation as gift, and replacing it with the idea that it belonged to us? In other words, what if that were the original disobedience itself, rather than just a symptom or manifestation of it?

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That would seem to fit with the idea that there is an epistemological dimension to the fall; it was not so much a concrete decision made by distant ancestors, but rather the myth suggests a primordial form of fallen consciousness that we all share in, and which is itself fundamentally out of tune with the way things are, preventing us from really ‘seeing’ properly, from seeing God as all in all...

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I have been thinking a lot about Prosphora baking and I believe there is a pattern of being that it demonstrates for us that relates to this. I'm curious, without me explaining it, if you see it?

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No; but please tell me.

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Ok..let me take a shot at this.

Let me see if I can build out a bit of context so my frame is clearer. We are said to be made in the image of God. One thing amongst several that makes us unique is the role we play in the hierarchy of all things created, is the ability to observe, learn and take things that appear to be their own thing and to bring them together with other things to make a new thing. We then name the thing and give it a meaning and a purpose it did not otherwise have. The question I have been asking and trying to understand for quite awhile is how to do this in a way that is something like pure, clean or beautiful...something that allows that thing to be offered(made) in a way that is accepted like Abels gift.

Ok...on to Prosphora. As Orthodox we don't run by the store, after a text from our priest, and by Wonder Bread on our way to the service so it can be "symbolically" distributed as some sort of vague remembrance. One person who represents the whole Parrish community brings together the 4 ingredients, which historically represent the 4 natural elements of this wonderful earth we have been given, and makes bread. The fire, water earth and air are given attention with the hands, with a seal and with particular prayers. That person is entering into a sacred tradition on behalf of the whole community. Done properly this is seen as an acceptable offering and is received by the priest. If done properly it should be brought through the Exo-narthex, narthex ,into the Nave and with all the gratitude possible brought behind the veil(Iconostasis). The Priest then brings the offering to God on behalf of the community. This involves a series of very intentional rituals that start in Orthros and culminate in the reception of the offering(bread) back into our body completing the cycle. The Diving Liturgy retells the whole story from beginning to end of Gods desire to commune with the world He has made. I am sure you have already looked into what the Priest does in the mystery of taking the loaf and continuing its movement upwards to eventually be transfigured before the people so that we can enter into the the truth of John 6:53-56. Anyway...there are a lot of details that can be added but the basic pattern to me is a pattern of being that can be used in a broader context to re-enchant the world and participate in Saving the World.

I just finished two novels by Daniel Quinn and started reading the book that someone in this thread mentioned...Braiding Sweetgrass, and I am saddened by the reputation Christians have in the modern world. The Orthodox tradition has a lot to bring to the table in restoring God's good name. Unfortunately a lot of great thinkers like Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade etc only see Christianity through a modern lens and their experience of the modern Christian Story which sterilizes the Good News and reduces it into a system of beliefs that amount mostly to a system of behavior modification. I have great hope as I see folks like yourself and Martin Shaw finding the Christ who is worthy to be proclaimed, not by a neatly packaged set of beliefs but by lives fully lived.

I don't write much so I hope I have not massacred things here.

You may like this book btw.

Priests of Creation: John Zizioulas on Discerning an Ecological Ethos

Cheers!

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Nov 15, 2022·edited Nov 16, 2022Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

The Genesis story is infinitely resonant and suggestive, isn’t it. I think of it also as (among other things) the Western instantiation of the famous Taoist formulation of, “Tao gives birth to one; one gives birth to two; two gives birth to three; three gives birth to ten thousand things.” Once we bite the apple, proliferation, fragmentation, judgement, the endless push and pull of wanting this and rejecting that, enter in. And so the rest of Genesis and Exodus can cascade downwards - Cain, Tubal Cain, cities, technologies, wars, history, politics can bust open.

Even “eating the apple” as the source of our fall is suggestive. The apple is the roundest of fruits, the circle representing primordial wholeness. But this is violated by the teeth in an act which is aggressive, intrusive, 90 degrees penetration (Cain) rather than humbly going with the rhythms and provision and grain of nature (Abel). This aggression is accompanied by the mouth tasting and savouring (sensual, consuming: grasping). Aggression and grasping: it’s almost Buddhist. And it indicates that the Fall is happening every moment of our lives.

So is that the “knowledge of good and evil” that makes us fall - the discovery that aggression and grasping are what drive our experience when we are operating through ignorance, i.e. not abiding in that primordial awareness? Honestly - could those rabbis of old discovered what the Buddha did - or am I over-interpreting?

It’s great poetry all the way through, endlessly fertile: deepest truths encoded within images of the greatest economy.

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It was the woman AND the man. They were placed into nature to “dress and keep it” the Hebrew words in other places are translated “to serve and observe closely” those “responsibilities to play a part with nature” are in the fundamental story too. “Dominion” based on service and observation is a blend of love. But our souls filter the stories we hear, and the same story sounds different to different ears. There is strong evidence that back in the day when we were all indigenous native types our ancestors regarded the megafauna we encountered as we spread across the world as a bottomless resource to be slaughtered and used driving them to extinction. You may enjoy the book Tending the Wild which explores the indigenous dressing and keeping of the California which was unbeknownst to the European colonists was a tended and managed landscape.

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Nov 10, 2022Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

hello Simon,

I’d like to point out a few key differences in the stories/creation myths U discuss.

the first story of the Skywoman is a creation myth.

the story of the Fall of Man is not a creation myth, since creation has already happened at the beginning of Genesis.

the Adam and Eve story, to me at least, is the story of the birth of human consciousness and the evolution from the animal world into the world of history.

in the beginning, they live in harmony with nature until eating of the fruit of The Knowledge of Good and Evil and become “like the gods”

now their eyes are open to this reality and everything changes. they suffer.

I realize that a popular interpretation is seen as anti-female and anti-nature, but I don’t really get that when I read Genesis.

anyways, many great minds have written and spoken about the Fall and I gotta go to work, but I hope that is food for thought.

cheers...

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really good points, thankyou

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In the Hodinohsoni (Iroquois) creation story, which also begins with Sky Woman, her daughter gives birth to twins who fight in the womb and are at odds with each other as they are creating all the positive and negative elements in the world. So this is also a similar story of how humans came to a dualistic and out of balance relationship with the Creator and creation and became violent towards it and each other.

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Good Questions! I'm interested in this, too.

https://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/?p=2003

Sorry, I already shared this link last time. It is so incredibly relevant to your questions I just had to copy it again. There are two more posts on that blog that pursue the topic further.

Chris Smaje rightly defines the big question we are facing: Is it possible for humans to live in some edenic state of harmonious equilibrium with the rest of creation or has there been a rift that we can't resolve?

I have been drawn to the permaculture notion that we are somehow severed from natural harmony by our cultural choices (and stories?) and the belief that we can do it differently if we just choose to. (via Perennial systems, cooperation/sharing, soil building, smaller scale etc.) I am also Christian and was raised with the Genesis account. I now think there is more truth in The Fall from Eden than I ever perceived before. I think the story tells us that there has been a spiritual rift and we are dealing with the outfall of that. It seems true to me based on my life experiences.

I tried to read Braiding Sweetgrass twice but I found her style so slow and preachy I couldn't stick with it. It's one of those "correct" books that people are raving about everywhere and quoting all the time. It is rightfully tempting to idealize other indigenous cultures as a way of explaining the awful state our culture is in... but that may be placing the blame on our milieu rather than looking inward as the Christian story calls us to. I have found that even in the permaculture movement and within the local Wampanoag tribe we come up against the kinds of things that Christianity calls Sin, and these are our biggest roadblocks to working hard together to grow food and community.

I hope that makes some sense, but the blog I linked above discusses it much more clearly than my rambly explanations.

Clara

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thanks Clara, so much to think about.

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I know what you mean about 'Braiding sweetgrass' but I think it's great that people are raving about a book that is putting the spotlight back on a wisdom we so trashed. Within her story i see here hardship and struggle ( being left by her husband and bringing up 2 daughters) so I think it's amazing she speaks with such pride about her journey and that people have responded. I think the point of the book is too slow us down, it's one of our ills is that we are constantly moving too fast. I'm only half way and i hear you and feel some of the same things but i wonder how much that is because of our conditioning and it's worth pushing through. Xx

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Thanks for sharing this Simon. I'd like to point out that scripture also presents the feminine as the personification of wisdom (Proberbs 8:22-31) - who was present at and rejoiced in the creation of the world.

I'd also like to challenge the assumption that the biblical story (if that's what you meant by "our story") is "built upon shame and disconnection." The Genesis 3 account has the Lord responding with a solution to our fall (v. 15), as well as to our nakedness (v.21) - both apart from our efforts. This is grace, which is the opposite of (and antidote to) shame.

Shame comes from the accuser, who is also the father of lies. All of our shame fell on Jesus on the cross, where he showed us what to do with it (Hebrews 12:2). His endurance turned the most shameful thing in history into the most glorious; so that we may be clothed in his righteousness (Galatians 3:27). Because of his finished work, we can rejoice when the world tries to shame us as they did him (Acts 5:41).

The alternate story is of humanity's attempts to transcend our need for grace, first by profaning the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26) with religion (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h2490/nasb95/wlc/ss1/0-1/ , Exodus 20:7) and then by attempting to transcend the human condition through secular effort. "Let us make a name for ourselves!" (Genesis 11:4).

The Gospel of Christ directly undermines both man made religion (Galatians 2:21) and man's efforts to transcend in other ways (Psalm 2).

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thanks Andrew, i need to check out those verses.

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Myths have a way of wandering into the truth. Elements of the Genesis story are there in the Indigenous creation stories, although not in the same order or emphasis. As in Genesis, their first task is to separate earth from water. The animals see that the woman needs land, the stuff of which she is made in Genesis, and into which she must fall as a seed. So there's even a fall and a desperate need to survive on land. Perhaps that's part of the powerful connection between Indigenous and Christian faiths. The errors are not in the stories themselves but in the way we use them to explain or justify one version of ourselves.

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I think this is what at the heart i'm asking. Is the problem the story or the way we understand it and when i say 'we' I mean on mass. I think a great deal of people feel alienated from the bible and it's teachings because they feel it props up patriachy and this kind of Male righteousness that seems to have led to a great deal of harm across all realms of society. What this thread is suggesting to me, is that we can't rely on a general understanding because it is so surface layer, we all somehow need to carve space for deeper schloarship and understanding - which feels very hard for most people including myself.

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Nov 11, 2022Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Hi Simon, this is a very interesting subject if I can share a few thoughts that spring up for me, thanks.

Mary's "Yes" to God is the solution to Eve's "No."

Eve “takes” the apple but Mary “receives” the fruit. Mary shows us an embodied-hidden-receptivity in contradiction to taking, force and control. I also think indigenous cultures can help remind all of us modern people of what has been lost. Here’s a wonderful passage by GK Chesterton:

Christianity requires us to be more and not less pagan, with respect to the positive, life-affirming aspects of paganism. In the same way, Christianity requires us to be more and not less attentive to our bodily senses, in order both to fulfill their infinite capacities and yet to rise beyond even their astonishing compass.

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founding

I sometimes wonder if we run up against the limits of words and other symbols when we try to generalize and universalize these stories. For all its faults, I think the (apparent) lack of embedded meaning is why materialistic science has been so convincing in the “lowest common denominator” global context. A small silly example: I happen to like snakes, so I always got hung up on that part of the Genesis story. The judgement-free story of evolution’s happy accidents seemed more inclusive and I gravitated towards that. Now that I’m older and I’ve seen the work of the adversary and my own hubris, I have a better sense of what the Genesis story is pointing to. I’m reading books by Ellul and Phillip Sherrard right now and they are using the word “reality” to point to diametrically opposed concepts. It’s jarring, but it’s helped me learn to try to look past the words. I guess this is the power of art and architecture too.

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I must say I love snakes, having had to live with them for a number of years. I lived a good bit out of Melbourne, in Kilmore and my property did have snakes on it of course. It's Australia! I had a deadly tiger snake that lived under the wooden steps up to the first floor of the house. I never really saw him much though some visitors encountered him. The odd time he might be asleep in the sun.

The other deadly snake was a huge King Brown who was at least six foot long, and lived in the garage along with all the poisonous redback spiders. I left the spiders alone and left them to live their lives. Same with the possum and her baby that lived in the garage. And so too, the King Brown. I saw him occasionally down by the front fence - hunting I suppose. We gave each other a wide birth. We got along just fine. It's only when you don't respect the country you are in, and its wild life inhabitants and their strange old ways, that you get into trouble.

As per my small terrier dog who was not forgiving or tolerant. He hunted the blue tongue lizards, and finally met his demise when he mistook a snake for a lizard. And he paid for it with his life.

There were a lot of snakes in my back garden but I took the appropriate precautions. I always wore big boots up to my knees because if the snake was going to strike it would be at the lower legs. I don't think I ran into snakes too close too. me. I always stomped around so they would feel the vibrations in the earth and get away before I got near. I lived with them, respected them and got along just fine, together. Same deal with swimming in the sea. Full of sharks. But I never swam in the morning or evening when they were hunting and feeding, or I kept to the shallows at those times. I did encounter them from the to time. But I scarpered before we got too close.

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I can speak as a former protestant who is now Eastern Orthodox(11 years), that what you were taught about Genesis as a founding story is worth a deeper look. We have a cosmology that is warped and that needs to be healed. It was never a Christian worldview to separate ourselves from what God has made. The proper world view is very close to what is known about Native Americans and their "way". We do have a distinct role that is uniquely human that places higher in a sense. But it's not higher in the ways we see that distinction abused. Its higher in a more priestly way. Everything is gift and our relationship is one of lifting up in gratitude, not taking like the 🍎. When we make a proper offering then God enters, transfigures and then gives it back. When we take rather than receiving we perpetuate the "fall". We sow disorder and it multiplies and then others inherit the consequences. We don't inherit guilt that must be appeased, we inherit something more like a sickness that needs healing. This is and was the proper understanding of the "fall". If you are in awe and confounded by the world God made then you are seeing well. Give thanks for the gift and cultivate seeing everything as an opportunity. Unfortunately that error and peoples desire to live closer to nature have caused many "christians" to turn to Paganism or other more earth based religions. I am not good at writing so I hope some of this makes some actual sense!

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Beautiful sentiment.

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Nov 14, 2022·edited Nov 14, 2022

Hi Simon, I’m reading Wendell Berry’s new book, The Need to Be Whole, and just came across a chapter where he discusses the Genesis claim for people to have dominion over Earth. Anyhow, it’s not exactly what you’re getting at since you’re referencing the Fall, but it does go to fundamental story and how that may shape future relations. Here’s Berry at the end of his chapter:

“To return necessarily now to the problem of Genesis 1:28, that old bone-in-the-throat: It is precisely our dominion over the rest of Creation, which we have always had and would have had with no help from Genesis, that calls for, in fact demands, the virtues that constitute our truest human nature. It is our recognition of sin, of the real and absolute wrongs made possible by our dominance, that brings us to recognize the need for self-denial, temperance, prudence, mercy, neighborly love, repentance, and (we had better hope) forgiveness. The virtues, I think, are not limited or confined to Western tradition. They amount, in sum, to the condition of love. The real virtues, in their opposition to real sins, work against self-righteousness, division, and exclusion and in favor of the real happiness we may find in life responsibly shared—in conviviality. That is to say that much more is expected of us, and needed from us, than what may satisfy the wishes and perceived needs of individuals and of groups divided by racial, political, sexual, or other differences.“

Also, I got a lot out of Braiding Sweetgrass, and wanted to recommend another book in that vein if you haven’t come across it: Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta. It’s quite profound, though I tell everyone to make sure they get past the first chapter because the beginning is kinda lousy.

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Nov 10, 2022Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

This cathedral is utterly enchanting.

I find myself laughing so much at my foolish beliefs in the past that encouraged an inability to see beauty in the Church.

I am emerging (just this year) from over 20 years of telling myself that I can only find truth in Druid/Pagan religious worlds. I felt this, mainly because I found the natural world to be the thing that would readily and happily enchant me. And so worship OF the natural world seemed to be the natural conclusion (instead of the worship of the Creator).

I am eternally and unyieldingly grateful that Jesus is so persistent. (And that my local Catholic Church is so welcoming, and that my beautiful (stubborn) family of Irish Catholic ancestors are nudging me along.)

Many thanks to you, Paul, (and to Martin) for being willing to share such intimate aspects of your religious travels.

You are fires; glowing bright on the hill, reminding us that there is a way through dark places.

God Bless.

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Wonderful post. I can relate to laughing at my previous foolish beliefs. Once I realized the Catholic Church, with its liturgy and rich culture, provided all the spiritual nourishment I need, I put away silly notions.

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The lantern of Ely Cathedral is also quite nice to stare up into. Gothic cathedrals confirm the teaching of the Fathers that humanity is growing progressively more stupid and awful. And that said, I've been spending much of my free time reading books about Napoleon Bonaparte and his various campaigns; while I am quite happy he was eventually defeated, he certainly put the "art" into "art of war." I think that the great Russian novels of the 19th century were something of a response to Bonaparte - War and Peace, of course, in which he makes his first appearance on page 1, but also Dostoevsky; Crime and Punishment, most obviously, but also in the entire concept of the "man God" above history and morality. Which is, I guess, one of the points Hegel made when he heard the Emperor galloping through the streets of Jena. (And of course one must point out that Marshal Davout's victory over the Prussians at Auerstadt was the more brilliant victory of that campaign.) Abe Lincoln, of course, imagined himself as a sort of Napoleon (see his Lyceum speech) but then proved the dictum that everything happens twice: first as Tragedy (Napoleon) and then as farce (Lincoln). The farce further demonstrated by the Northern armies adopting the Grand Army title for themselves. Sorry, not so. And sorry, where is all of this going? That if the human personality unleashed by the "enlightenment" reached its apogee with Bonaparte, the subsequent decline has been extraordinarily rapid, particularly after 1945 when this unhappy world entered the "american century." One can hope and pray that this dismal period is coming to its end, and that right soon.

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Up to my ears in technology trying to get to the point I can make the "spiritual" film I'd like to. Find myself wondering if the right thing to do might be to quit this filmmaking lark entirely and just privately live my own experiences and visions and insights rather than to engage/bore/pester/annoy this world with my movies. To engage people at all these days seems to draw one inexorably into the grip of the technium. Just watched a couple of Paul's recent videos on YouTube and you can sense he's dealing with a somewhat similar dilemma (ie "why am I on Zoom/YouTube warning against digital technology?")

Thinking further about a "tech-free" lifestyle I can anticipate how I'd still be chasing knowledge by haunting the local library and reading all the works I've never found time to. Even that would seem to draw me back to the world (worldview?) I'd meant to leave behind. An advantage someone like Wendell Berry has is he's simply too busy on his farm to have much time to be seduced/distracted by all the noise of the culture.

The devil finds work for idle hands to do. I suppose that's the advantage of retreating to deserts or caves or mountain hermitages: doesn't leave the devil much to work with in seeking to screw you up.

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I'm dealing with a minor echo of the same.

Just decided to ditch smartphones. Without the boring details, this has made more acute to me the ways in which the smartphone really was genuinely helpful in terms of maintaining community. And, also, about ten percent of that insidious doomscrolling I was doing did lead to legitimate moments of delight where I stumbled into something edifying. Those moments remind me of how the internet used to be, a little. But I'm probably romanticizing the early internet.

The master question, I guess, is "Will the sum total of positives from disengaging from as much technology as I can manage-- progress, not perfection-- clearly overcome the disappearance of the good parts?" To ask the question answers it, really. Obviously true. Maybe I just need to mourn a little over the parts I'm going to need to light on fire.

And, of course, "as much as I can manage" is carrying a lot of freight. I'm here, after all. It's a thorny question.

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🤣 “insidious doom scrolling”

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I can say for sure that my life has greatly improved since ditching my smartphone.

it sucks texting without a proper keyboard and I miss the ease of GPS navigation (I’m a contractor in Texas), but other than that it’s made a huge improvement.

all my life I have been a voracious reader, but I completely stopped reading for 8 years (2014-2021).

the smartphone completely destroyed my attention span.

since getting rid of SM and smartphone, I have read close to a dozen books this year. it’s been a renewal of my mind.

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You know, I've suspected this to be the case for a lot of people, myself included. I didn't stop reading books, but the pace did slow enormously since portable i-Gadgets entered my life. John Michael Greer often talks about the six extra hours a day you get back if you simply throw your TV through a window. He claims this is a big part of how he's already written 70+ books.

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I believe it man. my wife and I are down to one TV in the house, but she would kill me if I got rid of it, hehe...

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You speak to my biggest dilemma. I'm fond of the notion of synthesis as a way of letting go of the pendulum swinging me toward natural then technological wonders. But I'm making little progress on what that synthesis looks like in the world.

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Steven-

My two cents:

1. It is all too easy to rationalize one way or another.

2. We live in a time of radical and unavoidable transition.

3. Those who are younger often have little guidance. They are also more likely to face the worst of this. They are also very much online.

4. Having read your comments over the course of this substack I know that you, Steven, have something deep to offer.

5. You never know who may be helped by what you offer.

6. It is all too easy to rationalize.

For what it is worth. -Jack

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More or less what you said to me when I was reluctant to venture my thoughts publicly. Thanks again for that encouragement

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Beautiful, Paul! From my perspective, this may be a prime example of a genuine Christian alternative modernity.

Blended past, present, and future in and harmonious whole. As I think you suggest. I think Terrence Malick's work in film does the same and Van Gogh. I wonder what are some other examples that bear this mark?

I also see it in the light of David Fagerberg's work on 'consecrating the world'. Which I think you will appreciate.

This consecration takes place after the ascetical groundwork clears away the dross. Fr. Schmemann's 'liturgy beyond liturgy'. Where the world is understood as sacramental & transfigured, now in part and fully in the new heaven and new earth.

I think Gaudi's work speaks to that.

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This essay brings to mind a quote from the Foreword of "The In-Between: Evolution in Christian Faith" (as quoted by the authors in "Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection Within Christian Spirituality"):

"Is not our attempt to fashion the secular city but a projection of what we struggle to create within ourselves? And if a particular expression of God has died, is it not because we have outgrown something within ourselves which needed the support of a certain historically conditioned image of the deity; an image which now no longer speaks to the new way in which we are finding ourselves?"

Rediscovering is a bit 'hippy-dippy' but the foundational premise of focusing one's attention on a body-felt-sense (a la' Gendlin, neither meta-cognitive nor emotive) as a preliminary step in reclaiming our Lifeworld, our birthright, is supported by the writings of countless EO Church Fathers.

Perhaps it is part of The Way forward for our current culture of Christian 'divorcees'?

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Some of the younger people I work with love brutalist architecture. I think it’s a reflection of their shallow, vapid, social media infested lives. Their only concept of beauty is to be found in Instagram thirst traps.

I just need to move to the woods and away from what passes as civilization in these United States.

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I know what you're talking about, but I don't believe them.

Seems to me it must be true, instead, that they love the feeling they get when they say they love it, due to what they think saying they love it conveys to their status. And here's the thing: I do believe they really love that feeling.

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Why can't they have a direct love of Brutalist architecture as I do?

Why is it about loving the status saying that they love it confers, and not otherwise?

Is that how you operate? When you say you love something, is the hope-for status such an utterance will garner you, the actual object of your love?

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Well, I'm certainly not ever in the business to tell people what to like, and what not to like.

Mostly just speaking in generalities, which we all know is a minefield!

I think it would be fair to say that a person interested in architecture over the last seventy years or so would be trained by elite institutions to valorize brutalist architecture, and malign more traditional forms. And I think it's probably also fair to say that someone interested in travelling in elite circles would have radar that picks this up.

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Could be. But there is such a great distaste for Brutalist architecture across the board, I do not get the impression that it loved by anyone. At least among the architects, I know, it is deeply disdained.

As for maligning more traditional forms--they seem to be doing okay. They will work for some, and not for others. I think that Tadao Ando's Chapel on the Water and Church of the Light are two of the most beautiful churches ever built, and Chartres Cathedral an over-ornamented pile. Others will feel differently, but cases can be made for both views.

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I love Brutalist architecture and I am not even on social media.

I find its simplicity refreshing.

The Whitney Museum's old building has always been a sanctuary.

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As a cat, I walk by myself, and all places are alike to me.

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author

What about the places where catnip grows?

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Sounds like the title of an Appalachian fiddle tune.

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Sounds like early John Fahey.

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Nov 10, 2022·edited Nov 10, 2022

They are quite pleasant, as are sunny spots for napping and the places where rabbits and mice abound, where there are plenty of females because they can find what they need to feed their litters there. But cats are not especially spiritual about these things. There are places we like, and places we don't.

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founding

Feral, I see a lot of cats around me on my daily walk. Some of them walk up to me, and are eager to listen to me, and brush against my legs, and some of them are bum cats living in the street who would be very unhappy if any SPA well meaning person caught them to find a home for them.

Cats... are about as different as we are, right ?

My daugter's cats won't even set foot outside, that's how... wild ? domesticated ? they are...

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I have met many former housecats who turned feral. I have met very few feral cats who turned tame.

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*emerges from undergrowth, stares fixedly at Feral Finster, envies his long, bushy tail and growls low before stalking off, miffed*

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

Another cat? Oh, never mind.

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Paul, I encourage people to go also to the Gothic cathedral in central Barcelona. They have excavations open to the public, directly under the foundations. You get there via a lift from a small museum in a side street. You walk around looking on the remains of the city of 200-300 AD.

There is a strange circular hole there. If I recall correctly, it's next to a tannery, so in a poor stinking part of town. There are spiral steps for a person to walk down into water. This is where Christians were being baptised, before even Constantine and the Milvian Bridge.

It was an utterly different experience from Sagrada Familia, and to me equally awe-inspiring.

(and I agree with everything you say about Sagrada Familia. If only Gaudi had survived to counter the Bauhaus and the Brutalists with his spiritual vision of Modernism)

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Yes, I visited that too, in fact. Beautiful place. You can also go right up onto the roof for a panoramic view of the city. Perhaps my favourite part was meeting the 13 geese who live in the cloister. For some reason, there always have to be 13 of them.

In another part of the city they have uncovered the ruins of Roman Barcino, which is probably what you're referring to. I saw the same baptismal font, I think. Fascinating to see the evolution of the city.

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I loved the geese as well. A very special place, that church.

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Longtime reader, first time chimer-in-er. Paul thank you for your work, and for sharing your journey into the Orthodox Faith. I think you've mentioned this in passing, but maybe you've written about it elsewhere, and I haven't seen it: It sounds like, just before you began to investigate the Orthodox Faith, you had a series (?) of darker spiritual experiences that caused you to take a step back from Wiccan, etc. practices. Am I remembering that correctly? Have you written about that? I started as a pretty ordinary ordained Presbyterian minister, but through some strange experiences, pressed more deeply into Church Father and Mother resources and spiritual warfare stuff. Anyway. Thanks again!

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Paul wrote about his conversion in First Things. My favorite piece of his.

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author

Good to meet you! Yes, the only place I've written about this was the essay I wrote a couple of years back about becoming a Christian. You can find it here:

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/06/the-cross-and-the-machine

All the best,

Paul

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Paul,

Thank you for the wonderful image from the interior of the Sagrada Familia. I have almost the exact same image as the wallpaper on my computer.

I was in Barcelona with my son this last May (2022) just before we started our long walk on the Camino de Santiago. Although I had previously visited the Sagrada, on my visit this time I was struck by the two facades as I walked around the exterior of the basilica.

The northeast facade of the basilica is dedicated to the Nativity of christ, while made of stone it is flowing as if organic or fluid, no straight lines to be seen, it curves and bends, almost appearing to be alive, as if it was in motion. Just above the entrance, at the heart of the cascade, is the nativity scene, surrounded by natural elements of the cosmos with animals (roosters, sheep, tortoises and many more), plants, shepherds, angels and the holy family (Sagrada Familia = Sacred Family). It is transcendence captured in stone.

However, walk around the exterior to the southwest side of the building, and you are presented with the Passion facade, depicting the crucifixion of Christ. Contrary to the Nativity facade, it's hard, with straight lines and sharp angles. It features the crucifix at the centre with Christ, naked and suffering. Just below at the entrance is Christ being flogged by the Romans and Judas kissing Christ. Stylistic Roman centurions, vicious dogs, and onlookers all with long faces, deep cut eyes and obvious themes of suffering, ordeal and death.

I heard a guide explaining to a group that the different styles of the two facades was due to them being completed at different times, with the passion facade reflecting more modern styles. However I think they completely missed the point as the entire basilica faithfully followed Gaudi's original design. While both are produced from stone, the Nativity facade represents the incarnation, creation, natural, heavenly, and transcendence. Whereas the Passion facade is earthly, fallen and barren.

Passing beneath either of these grand entrances you enter into the interior nave of the basilica, which you rightly point out takes on the feel of a sacred forest of sequoias or perhaps red wood trees. It is truly a place where heaven and earth meet.

Gaudi was a genius, moved by the holy spirit. the Sagrada Familia is a very special place.

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founding

I haven't been to this cathedral, but maybe I will go, if I leave the country in the future...

I learned recently that the Romans were the first people to use concrete in their buildings. But they were also a people who gave the western world the arch, which is not a straight line at all. And they always DRESSED their concrete ; they wouldn't leave it bleak and naked... the way we do these days. They dressed it with sculptures, and art.

I can imagine the exuberance of the Nativity scenes. Spanish art can be exuberant, and joyful, I think.

In French, the word that translates "straight" is "droit". It is the same word that has given us "Les droits de l'Homme", as in the RIGHTS of Man (same root, maybe). And the law, of course, which is "le droit". And let's not forget all those souls sitting at the right hand side of God...

Reading your comment again reminds me of the image of Mary inflecting her Son's terrible judgmental JUSTICE in the last judgment. Mary who goes with mercy, compassion and... exuberance, maybe ? Mary-who-says-yes.

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When our surroundings become uglier we care less for them. Hard to want to protect and defend a strip mall with gas stations. We lose hope and become depressed. Also true when we hear lies, political, medical, educational. Many of us are lost and despairing of justice.

I have visited this cathedral and found it amazing with its forest of pillars.

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