Saturday, August 20, 2005

Anthropomorphizing Demons and Ideas

It’s early Saturday morning. Last night I went to a party where I met this guy who wrote The Science Behind The Science of Star Trek. Andre…something. I can’t remember his last name. We only talked ten minutes, maybe even less, but it was awesome. I was energized by the whole conversation. We talked about how astronomers really do their work off computers now – it’s not like they are outside at night with a telescope. Like at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, mostly the astronomers sit in rooms a few thousand feet below the actual telescope and they can operate the telescopes from their room. They see the images on the computer. I wanted to go visit Keck. I still do, but after learning that, my interest was diminished a bit. If its just images on a computer screen, why not look at the DVDs from the Hubble missions? Which of course, I have. But then those images are enhanced in certain ways – colors, contrasts and so forth. Which makes you think, well – what are we looking out at anyway? Our eyes only can see a certain spectrum of light and color. Why not manipulate that light and color – it’s just adjusting our personal filter of that image. The adjustment might even cause us to understand the image better. But there’s something lost. There’s something that starts to feel all made up about the whole endeavor.

I still have a dream of traveling the world and visiting the great Observatories.

I have still been thinking about that passage in Mark that I “mangled” in my San Francisco Chronicle interview. Why did I get that wrong? Maybe because, in that story, the character(s) that seem the most alive are the demons. A man comes up to Jesus and says he is possessed by demons. The conversation Jesus has is with the demons that describe themselves as of great number. I think that’s where I got the “people” part – not “person.” And then they ask to get put into a herd of two thousand pigs, which Jesus does. In my mind, that’s images of demons and pigs together. Then they run off a cliff. I think one of my problems is that I can’t think of “demons” as anything other than “people.” I anthropomorphize demons. In my mind, they have goatees and black turtlenecks and maybe even capes, and wings, and long crooked noses: witches, warlocks, but in the end…people. People dressed up to look like demons. I guess you could say: actors. Because all my images of demons come from movies where they are played by people. And when their spirits go into the pigs and the pigs kill themselves, it’s people and pigs killing themselves. When the demon(s) go out of the man, he seems to have lost his personality. I lose interest in his character after he doesn’t have demons. He seems to become a zombie, devoid of personality. It’s like Jesus strips him of his personality and then sends him off to spread the “message” of Jesus’ power.

Not that I am excusing myself for my lapse. It’s just…I’ve been musing about why I made that error. Why did I remember that passage that way?

My friend Kevin Gun, who is in seminary school to become an Episcopal priest, wrote and said that his class is studying this very passage at school, Mark 5: 10-20, and that his teacher starts the year with that passage because it’s so bizarre and unsettling. Here is a nice analysis of this Bible passage that I found: (Mark 5 analysis by Austin Cline)

I woke up thinking about these things. I haven’t come to any conclusions exactly yet. But this is what I woke up thinking about:

So many Christians who write to me feel persecuted and in a minority. They feel they are the underdogs. They also often describe the mainstream culture as hedonistic or without morality: society gone out of control. And they think that a return to the laws of God (their particular god) will make society much better and more loving and more pure.

Then I thought this: Christians don’t want evolution taught in the schools. Not only that, they can’t let themselves even consider that evolution is the means through which we people came to be. Probably because it’s too cold and haphazard and accidental. To think we feeling people came from such an unfeeling universe, a universe that doesn’t even have the consciousness to care about us humans is intolerable. Well, that’s understandable. It is very difficult to accept that, because we humans feel so much love for each other. We are deeply, emotionally connected to each to other. It’s almost impossible to think that the universe doesn’t have those same feelings.

These Christians think of evolution as a survival of the fittest method of arriving at dominance. But it is precisely this formula that they advocate economically. (That is, if they are Republican right-wing Christians.) They don’t want government regulation when it comes to business. They want the strongest to have full reign to dominate over the weak. They don’t want government programs that help the poor, they want those poor people to “work” hard and compete for their wages. Their social outlook isn’t one of taking care of others, it’s very much a marketplace, survival-of-the-fittest attitude.

It’s so ironic, to me that Christian Republican conservatives advocate survival of the fittest when it comes to the harsh realities of the marketplace, but they don’t want children to be taught this harsh method of how humans came to exist.

And yet, they get evolution so wrong! Survival of the fittest isn’t even accurate. It’s survival of the most adaptable, survival of the lucky, survival of the most cooperative. That’s what evolution really is. One of the big reasons our species has done so well is because we love each other. And why do we love each other? Because we survive much better in numbers than we do individually. When we cooperate our children are raised with a greater likelihood of succeeding. If these Christians would just learn a little bit about evolution they might be inspired to look out for their fellow human beings a little more. But they want to keep evolution unknown – they want to just think of it as a hash unacceptable theory. And in the meantime, they want to allow huge businesses to roll over common people, unfairly taking enormous profits and paying the top executives absurd bonuses and salaries.

Jesus talks a lot about the love of the Father, God, the Universe. And while Jesus does tell people over and over again to give all their money to the poor, he also encourages people to dissociate themselves from their families—not to care about father and mother, to live without the cares of the world.

But we know that the Universe doesn’t love us. But our families, at least in theory, do. And the religious, at least many of the ones who write to me, seem to feel that this world is not of our concern, that this world is bad and hedonistic, and that there is another world where God is where there is perfect harmony and caring. And this secular world is bad, and this world of God is good.

I guess to me, I think it’s exactly the opposite. I think the Universe is a cold abyss. A fascinating, profoundly awe-inspiring, majestic, beautiful, terrible, heartless, unfathomable, large abyss. And I think that this world, where I live amongst people I care about deeply, to be lovely and small and sweet and painful and poignant.

And I think we’ve got to always be vigilant against our deep impulses to behave in ways that are like that cold, stark, exploitive, life-giving universe – we have to steel ourselves against greed, for example. We have to watch ourselves not to exploit or unduly harm others – to make life fair as much as we can. That, to me, is our most difficult task. We are products of evolution, be we don’t have to behave in the uncaring ways that evolution often does. (See, it’s almost impossible not to anthropomorphize evolution itself! It’s like my demons, how they are really people – it’s just so hard not to think of IDEAS like they are people!)

All right. So, this is what I’m thinking about.

Yesterday I spent much of the day getting my picture taken for People Magazine. My house was overrun with make up and hair people, a stylist, photographers and assistants. Actually – to be honest, the make up and hair person was only one person. I guess People is doing a Desperate Housewives issue and I am going to be in it as one of the writers. Which is so WRONG. Because I hardly do anything for that show. The other writers do so much, I’m just a fly on the wall. Even though I hope to not just be that – over time. But jeez, I felt guilty about it. On the other hand, it was really fun. Often photographers and stylists make me feel so bad and awkward – but these people were great. It seemed effortless. Of course I wished I was 30 pounds thinner, but other than that, I actually felt…well, pretty. For a moment.

Today I’m making vegetable soup and organizing the house. It’s sort of overcast here today, which is perfect weather for this sort of thing.


Anonymous said...

So glad you're here at Blogger with BIG PRINT!

Can’t wait to hear the next honest adventure of my virtual friend.

Hope things are going great with the shows!

A good strong wind at your back! And more logs on your fire!

-Anonymous Julia Supporter

Anonymous said...

Ms. Sweeney. Having studied for the past 15 years exactly WHO (or what) the Old Testament god is/was, I have become an atheist based on what I found.

If you'd be interested in receiving a book that explains the myth and symbolism surrounding monotheism (Christianity, Jesus, et. al.) I'd be more than happy to provide you one. I keep extra copies on hand for those that may be interested.


Anonymous said...

I loved your "Letting Go Of God" excerpt on TAL and can't wait for the CDs. You, and others (like me) who can't accept a conventional concept of diety may be interested in what some call "religious naturalism":

You may also like the poems of Mary Oliver:
You could start with the one titled "Stars".

Anonymous said...

> Then I thought this: Christians don’t want evolution taught in the schools.

Not a true statement, maybe you should say "fundamentalist Christians don't ...".

I hope you are aware that most of the Christians on this planet are not fundamentalists.

Anonymous said...

Re "I wished I was 30 pounds thinner"... You are beautiful. I mean it; you're a truly beautiful woman.