Gerald Jampolsky and Healing the World

Years ago, I read a book by Gerald Jampolsky called Love is Letting Go of Fear that had a profound influence on my thinking. Jampolsky was among the handful of people who read ACIM before it was published. Judith Skutch gave him a photocopied version she had received from Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman.

In looking for Kindle books by him on Amazon, I found Finding Our Way Homewhich Jampolsky co-authored with his wife, Diane Cirincione. I purchased it and finished it one sitting. It was a very enjoyable read! The idea that love is our goal and forgiveness is our single function fits perfectly with my idea of ACIM (and spirituality in general). I was somewhat bothered, however, by the heavy focus on receiving guidance about trivial things like asking what you should do about your car being blocked in a hospital parking lot.

I agree that we receive inner guidance when we silence our screaming egos long enough to listen, so it’s very practical advice. I don’t think that is what ACIM is ultimately about, however. So I decided to check out another book by Jampolsky called Poetry and Notes to Myself: My Ups and Downs with A Course in Miracles which was also a very quick read. Again, quite enjoyable but much of the focus was on receiving guidance so I finally re-read Love is Letting Go of Fear,the book by Jampolsky that had so much influence on my understanding of ACIM decades ago,

I can see why Love is Letting Go of Fear was so influential for my younger self 30 years ago. I used to believe that religion/spirituality was about saving the world. The possibility that we could save it single-handedly through love and forgiveness was especially appealing. Then I read Nietzsche and the other existentialists and found that I agreed with the idea that the western focus on a future, more perfect world, is problematic. This world is viewed as faulty and so rather than being here, in the world now, the focus is on some future world that has been perfected through missionary religions, the “right” political thought system, futuristic technology, an escape to heaven…

Spiritual traditions claim that they have received their wisdom through divine guidance. If you believe your choice is “right” because you were guided by something beyond yourself/ego to make that choice, then it feels justified. But ACIM says nothing about the outcome of our practice being a perfected world and I think Wapnick would probably agree. It’s message is existential. Our thoughts create our reality. Change our thoughts, our reality changes. But to expect a perfect world to be created by perfect thoughts is the stuff of the ego.

Let me try to explain… if our thoughts are merely projections, then isn’t the choice to listen for inner guidance just a projection, too? Granted, it is undoubtedly healthier, cognitively speaking, to feel happy with your choices, but your decision to be at peace with your decisions and to view the outcomes of those decisions as positive is likewise a choice, not some sort of absolute truth reigning down from on high.

ACIM is about non-dualism which helps people have the courage to accept things as they are. In some ways, I think this was one of Gerald Jampolsky’s primary goals in working with sick children. He created the Center for Attitudinal Healing, which now exists all around the world, to help children who were suffering from cancer and other illnesses let go of their fear of being sick and dying. He modified the principals in ACIM to help children discover joy through a shift in perception. (Thus, the name: Attitudinal Healing, not bodily healing.)

So why does Jampolsky’s writing (and that of his wife) place such a heavy focus on inner-guidance and healing the world? I think it’s probably the same reason Robert Solomon says Sartre, who coined “bad faith”, was ultimately in “bad faith”, too. Sartre was so mired in the Cartesian philosophy that he didn’t realize he had dropped God but maintained the guilt. All of Western society remains trapped within that “Christian guilt” mindset because it has been an integral part of Western thought for thousands of years. It is such an integral part of our thought system that we don’t even realize it is there. The world “out there” continues to be viewed as guilty and in need of perfection.

I genuinely appreciate Gerald Jampolsky because his approach to dealing with personal hardship through healed relationships with ourselves and others is very practical. And while I do agree with Jampolsky that all of life is relational, maybe we need to quit insisting that the world needs to be peaceful? That it needs to be healed/saved? Everyone has their own idea of how that salvation will come about and many of the ideas are in direct conflict with one another. Perhaps we need to forgive our misperceptions of the world, too?

Jampolsky constantly says that you can’t simultaneously be fearful and loving. But if you believe the world needs to be healed/fixed, isn’t that belief based on a fear that something is justifiably wrong with the world? How can you forgive the world while simultaneously fearing it? I am hopeful that Wapnick can help me figure that out this time through ACIM. According to Wapnick, ACIM is more specifically about letting go of the guilt that causes our fear.

I’ll try to read something by Hugh Prather before I begin the lessons because he was another person who very much influenced my views on ACIM and it looks like he was close friends with Jampolsky.

ACIM Lesson 184: The name of God is my inheritance.

You live by symbols. You have made up names for everything you see. Each one becomes a separate entity, identified by its own name. By this you carve it out of unity. By this you designate its special attributes, and set it off from other things by emphasizing space surrounding it. This space you lay between all things to which you give a different name; all happenings in terms of place and time; all bodies which are greeted by a name.

This space you see as setting off all things from one another is the means by which the world’s perception is achieved. You see something where nothing is, and see as well nothing where there is unity; a space between all things, between all things and you. Thus do you think that you have given life in separation. By this split you think you are established as a unity which functions with an independent will.

Very Buddhist – everything is nothing because nothing is every thing.

Reality is made by partial vision through the names we give to everything, including the names we have given the nameless.  What is named is given meaning and therefore seen as meaningful, when in fact, it’s individual existence is meaningless.  Very existential.   We give everything all the meaning that it has for us.

This is the way reality is made by partial vision, purposefully set against the given truth. Its enemy is wholeness. It conceives of little things and looks upon them. And a lack of space, a sense of unity or vision that sees differently, become the threats which it must overcome, conflict with and deny.

Reality threatens our version of reality.  We think learning is about learning the 10,000 names – this is the teaching of the world.  But we all must unlearn the teachings of the world eventually.   We have not made the world.  We have made illusions and call them real.

Think not you made the world. Illusions, yes! But what is true in earth and Heaven is beyond your naming. When you call upon a brother, it is to his body that you make appeal. His true Identity is hidden from you by what you believe he really is. His body makes response to what you call him, for his mind consents to take the name you give him as his own. And thus his unity is twice denied, for you perceive him separate from you, and he accepts this separate name as his.

We need to use the symbols of the world, but we need not be deceived by them.   It’s exactly what the existentialists have realized – our symbols don’t mean anything.  Like Roquentin in Sartre’s Nausea, it can make us sick to our stomachs to realize this.  It’s a harsh realization, but a necessary one if we are to continue to grow.  And that’s why meditation is so important – it provides a much gentler transition into this realization than what Roquentin went through.

God has no name. And yet His Name becomes the final lesson that all things are one, and at this lesson does all learning end. All names are unified; all space is filled with truth’s reflection. Every gap is closed, and separation healed. The Name of God is the inheritance He gave to those who chose the teaching of the world to take the place of Heaven. In our practicing, our purpose is to let our minds accept what God has given as the answer to the pitiful inheritance you made as fitting tribute to the Son He loves.

There is no God, but we have yet to realize it because we still believe our individuality is meaningful! That makes me smile because it seems opposite of what Nietzsche meant when he said “God is dead”.  But it’s not at all.  The meaning we had assigned to God is dead because we have moved beyond that meaning.   The symbol ceased to be useful.  At some point we have to allow ourselves to be the lion and slay the dragons of our perception so that we can realize the truth of our being.

No Excuses: Lectures 19-23, Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre is the ultimate existentialist. He named the movement and when people talk about existentialism it’s usually Sartre’s philosophy they have in mind. Emphasis on freedom and choice and responsibility are the center of Satrean philosophy. (These are not central for Nietzsche or Heidegger. They are problematic.)

The title of Solomon’s lecture comes from Sartres idea of “No Excuses” and is based on the idea that one is always responsible.

Sartre denounced his fellow Frenchmen for their cowardice, their collaboration, cooperation, etc. He questioned their choices and motives. If you want to understand human nature, you have to look at humans under stress and so he watched his fellow citizens while being occupied during one of the most brutal wars in history.

What he noticed is that their answers all came out as excuses:

  • What can I do? Impotence.
  • I didn’t start the war. Innocence.
  • Everyone else is doing it. The herd instinct.
  • I’m just looking out for myself. Self-preservation.
  • I had no choice. Helplessness.
  • I was afraid. The appeal to emotion.

We are absolutely free, so we don’t have any excuses. We are responsible for what it is we do. We aren’t free in the sense that we can choose anything we want to do – but that we always have choices.

Absolute freedom is the absence of ultimate constraints. It is our responsibility to recognize our choices even in the most limited circumstances. We are always responsible for what we make of what is made of ourselves. Also, we are not caused to behave by our emotions or motives, but rather emotions and motives are part of the situation in which we choose what to do. We have a picture of emotion being inside us but intruding upon our rationality. We say, I didn’t really mean it. I was just very angry. But you know that what you said was not just a product of anger, but a deep and cutting insight about something you really feel. There is a sense in which the anger is a choice. When we get angry, we make a decision. We feel that flush and we have to decide – do we keep our mouth shut or act on it?

We are as responsible for what it is we do as well as what it is we don’t do. We make choices to the exclusion of other choices we simply choose not to think about. We are not just responsible for deliberate choices, we are responsible for choices made out of default, or out of neglect. No excuses.

Emotions are choices; they involve alternatives and options; and they involve purposiveness. They are “magical transformations of the world.” He wants to move away from the idea that emotions are bodily upsets of physiological intrusions. They are our responsibility and not a source of excuse.

William James, an American Philosopher, wrote an essay called “What is an Emotion?” in 1884. He said an emotion is an upsetting perception which causes in us a physiological disturbance. This perception of the physiological upset IS the emotion. Sartre says James ignores two important features of emotion. 1) Emotions are necessarily intentional. 2) Emotions are always about something. You can’t just be angry, you have to be angry about something. You can’t just be afraid, you have to be afraid of something. All emotions are intentional in that they are always about something. They can’t be mere sensations or feelings because sensations and feelings aren’t about anything. A headache is not about anything. It might be caused by something, like your mother in-law coming to visit. But your mother in-law didn’t cause the headache. A pain in your toe might be because you stepped on a nail. But the pain is not about the nail. But we are sad or joyful or depressed or angry about something.

Emotions have finality. Emotions are purposive. This is a bold thesis because we typically think of emotions caused in us and if they have a purpose, they aren’t our purpose. An emotion is a strategy, a way of dealing with the world. It is chosen and chosen with a purpose for a reason.

There is a story that comes from Aesop called "Fox and the Grapes" that explains this. A fox sees some yummy, delicious grapes and craves them. But with all of his ingenuity, he can’t reach them. So he says, they are probably sour anyway. What Sartre says is that the fox has made a magical transformation of the world. The grapes haven’t changed. But the fox has changed his attitude – he comes to see them as sour. What has changed isn’t the world. What is changed is the fox’s way of seeing the world. This makes sense from a phenomenological point of view. But what about the magical? The fox refuses to accept himself as a failure. He refuses to see himself as up to the difficulty of getting the grapes. He’s not willing to expend anymore energy on a wasted project. This is using emotions to escape from the world. Emotions are a mode of escape behavior. We have our emotions not because they are caused in us. We have them because they are a way to deal with the world so that we can see ourselves as better off than we would otherwise be.

Sartre rejects Freud’s idea of the unconscious. Unconscious mental events are not just unconscious, but those that cannot be made conscious. They are repressed. Sartre also rejects Freud’s idea of psychic determinism. Sartre thinks they are strategies rather than forces within us as Freud says they are.

Part of the magical transformation of the world is the transformation of the body. For instance, fear could be seen as “getting ready to flee” and the bodily sensations follow from the emotion and are not causes of it.

By separating the discussion into two terms, consciousness on the one hand and the world on the other, Sartre puts himself in the French tradition in which he was raised (Cartesianism). But he had read Heidegger and was convinced by the argument that there is nothing to distinguish consciousness and the world at all.

Sartre says consciousness is freedom. Freedom is consciousness. Responsibility is the idea that we are the incontestable author of our actions. Consciousness is nothingness. Consciousness is intentionality. It is always about things. We don’t have to look at it as a transcendental ego. We can look at it as an activity. It’s like looking around a room with a flashlight. Consciousness is the beam of the flashlight without the flahslight. It is nothing but an awareness of things in this world. Consciousness is outside of the causal relations of the world. Kant says that consciousness imposes causal categories on the world. It is by seeing the world in a certain way that we see things in terms of cause and effect relationships. But when we examine ourselves, that is not how we see ourselves. Consciousness is not an object of consciousness. Consciousness is not a thing.

The idea of Spontaneity allows Sartre to carve out a middle range between indeterminism and determinism. Much of what we do is pre-reflective. We don’t think about it, we just do it. Consciousness acts and it acts without prior causality.

Sartre eventually gives up the idea that all emotions are a mode of escape behavior. Emotions are still not causes of behavior, but they are spontaneous outpourings of consciousness in which one takes the world in a certain way. Not emotions in consciousness, but emotions as ways of structuring consciousness as one way among many.

Consciousness has the power of negation. What I see is always more than what I see. When we see, we are never passive receivers. Consciousness is an activity not only of receiving, but also of shaping. Desire isn’t just seeing the world. It’s seeing the world in terms of what it is we want. We see things in terms of what we can do with them and how they fit in our plans. Consciousness is also able to perceive lack. If we are expecting our friend at the bar, we notice our friend isn’t there. We construe it in terms of what’s not there.

Sartre tries to focus on the key, essential experiences that define our experience in general. He wants to use this in place of the kinds of arguments philosophers have often given. Nausea is a dissatisfaction and revulsion with the meaninglessness of the world. The status of the external world or the status of our knowledge of the external world is in question. The broader philosophical idea is that somehow we are stuck inside our own experience or own consciousness. It’s a philosophical fabrication that comes out of the Cartesian split. But is the world “out there”? Or is it just an idea? Sartre says existence is not inferred from other experiences it forces itself upon us in a way that is undeniable. Anguish is the sudden spontaneous realization that I could, at any moment, take a step and go hurtling to my death if I’m standing on a cliff. Anguish gives one the basic experience of one’s own freedom. Nothing stands between me and my self-destruction, except my own decision.

Philosophers ask, how do I know that other people exist? Sartre says we know other people exist when we notice someone looking at us when we are doing something embarrassing and we feel embarrassed.

His Being in Nothingness is a Phenomenological Ontology. It is phenomenological because it is from the first person standpoint. It is an ontology because we are describing things in this world.

He uses three concepts:

  1. Being-for-itself. When we reflect, we recognize that we are conscious. Consciousness is aware of itself aware of objects all the time.
  2. Being-in-itself.
  3. Being-for-others. Shame and embarrassment.

The self is out there in the world like the self of another. It is an accumulation of actions and experiences. To find out who we are, we have to look back and see what it is we’ve done. Consciousness is an activity directed towards the world and its objects. Sartre also differentiates between self-consciousness (reflective sense) and consciousness (pre-reflective). We shouldn’t always think of consciousness as self-consciousness. Consciousness does not contain the “I” or the “self”. We are both being-in-itself and being-for-itself. We are both body and mind. We have two different sets of attributes. Facticity is the sum total of facts that are true about us. (That I was born on a certain date in a certain year.) Facticity is contrasted with transcendence. This is the sense in one overreaches the facts of ones life. This is also a transcendence of the present. We transcend the present into the future all the time. I am what I am not and I am not what I am.

What we all want is to be pure facticity and pure transcendence. What we really desire is to be God. (God as described as complete in himself. Everything that God can be, he is. God can do anything he wants.) On the one hand, we’d like to determine exactly who it is we are. But at the same time, we have a desire for negative freedom – to be free of constraints. But when you put these together, you get a contradiction. You can say, this is my birthday. But you may think it is too early, or too late and not accept it about yourself and replace it with another fact. How the date plays in his life is subject to transcendence.

Bad Faith: Self-deception about oneself. We can live through our hopes or our fears and deny the facts that are true about ourselves, or simply reject them (like pretending to be 29 rather than 39). Freud says there is a psychodynamic – we cannot take certain positions. Sartre says it is really, “we will not” take certain positions. When we are in bad faith, we misperceive and misjudge ourselves and we do this for a purpose. We don’t want to take responsibility.

Sartre says he is not doing ethics. But bad faith is bad. It is something to be avoided. Sarte is after a theory of integrity.

Being-for-others: Has a paranoid ring to it. Heidegger used Being-with-others which is much less paranoid and non-conflicted. When we say “being-for-others” we think of being used by others, being an object for others, or others being there to manipulate. We are only aware of our own consciousness. We cannot be aware of the consciousness of others. Philosophers sometimes suggests that taking people as other people requires a leap of faith because we cannot prove that other consciousnesses exist. What Sartre says, following from Hegel, is that we can know ourselves only with the recognition of other people. Self-knowledge is not captured by Descartes’s “I think therefore I am.” We become conscious only through our confrontation with others. Knowledge comes, not from observation, but from the experience of being looked at. Being for others is being objectified. We are always on trial in the eyes of others. Sartre says we cannot be indifferent to what other people think of us because this is as much a part of our identity as a clear determinant of who we are.

This leads to another dimension of bad faith: to accept what people think of us as the truth and to define ourselves as who we are for others. (What Heidegger talks about in terms of the Das Man self.) You could be in bad faith in the opposite way and say you don’t care what other people think. This isn’t psychology. It’s part of the essence of being human. We are social creatures in the perverse and disturbing sense that we are the objects of other people’s judgments and how we judge ourselves is very much defined by how we are judged by others.

There is a sense in which we are all guilty: for not living up to others expectations of us or living up to the expectations of others but not living up to our own expectations.

For Sartre, our relationship with other people is basically conflict. It’s always about setting aside their judgments of us or trying to get them to have judgments of us that are in line with our judgments of ourselves. Sartre explains this best in No Exit which is one of philosophies greatest contributions to the theater. The main theme of the play is “Hell is other people”. Our conceptions of ourselves are always compromised by and determined by other people,

It’s not enough to look at the facts about ourselves and what I think about myself, but we have to also take into consideration what others think of us. Even relationships like love and friendship are struggles. Love is a struggle for authenticity. We choose our friends on the basis of our conception of ourselves – those who reinforce the conception of ourselves. If we think of ourselves as not very intelligent, we might take up with someone very intelligent, etc. Friendship is a kind of agreement or contract. “I’ll approve of you in your terms if you will approve of me in my terms.” Friendship involves a mutual identity.

But when we talk about lovers, the picture becomes very different. Sartre introduces love as a seductive strategy. It’s an attempt to win someone over – a sort of control. When this love fails, it results in sadism (a desperate attempt to take control). Or, we can also take a submissive role where the other must please me. When this fails, it results in masochism (a manipulative attitude toward the other). Other possibilities of failed love are indifference (profound indifference – the other doesn’t exist) which can lead to hatred (on the part of the person who wants to exist). Love is a dynamic in which a kind of mutual manipulation is essential.

Sex, like love, is a kind of manipulative strategy in which we try to win over the other to our own self-conceptions. Pleasure is not the aim of sex, but rather a kind of vehicle one uses to control the other person. If you take too much pleasure in it yourself, the pleasure gets in the way and you are very likely to eliminate sex as the power you are trying to attain. Sex is about power. It’s a powerplay.

Hegel uses an example of two people fighting it out until one becomes master of the other and the loser becomes slave. It’s not a stable relationship. Both parties leave quite unhappy. This is the same sort of view Sartre wants to give us. It’s not benign. Sex and love are much more complicated, threatening and dangerous than we tend to think. He’s trying to dig us out of the nonsense about love that has been piled on us for 2000 years.

An example of a traditional myth comes from Plato’s Symposium which is supposed to characterize the true nature of love: Aristophenes tells us love is the product of an ancient history. We were double creatures, two sets of legs, two sets of heads, two sets of arms. Zeus threatened to split us in two and he did. Ever since, we’ve been running around trying to find our other half. The other is a completion.

The idea of completing ourselves with another person is at odds with Sartre’s view. There is no such perfect fit. Even in the best relationship, there is a kind of struggle going on. If you pay any attention to your relationship, what becomes clear is that there is a struggle going on and there is an accommodation over the years that makes it seem like less of a struggle. Sartre says we are trying to maintain our own conception of ourselves in the face of the judgments of the other person.

Solomon corrects Sartre because he says that what Sartre doesn’t take seriously enough is the fact that very often our conceptions of ourselves are not only in the face of the other, but there is a kind of cooperation that takes place on the level of actually trying to think of ourselves in mutual terms. But it is true that the way we think of ourselves is always at risk because of the other person.

Relationships, however stable they may seem, are never truly stable. They exist in metastability – any situation which appears to be perfectly in balance can fall into disarray from the slightest imbalance. The same is true about our conceptions of ourselves. It may seem stable, but it is metastable. One thing can throw the entire thing into catastrophe.

Solomon says he doesn’t endorse Sartre, but what Sartre does is opens our eyes to all the complexities of relationship. Sartre had a life long relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. Despite a few infidelities on both their parts, they maintained an intimate closeness until Sartre’s death. They were one of the main couples, in fact the premiere philosophical couple, of the 20th century. Contrast this with Bertrand Russell, who despite all of his many words, went through quite a few marriages and found none of them satisfactory.

Sartre claimed that true being with others was something people found together under threat. You only learn to be with others in extreme circumstances.

No Excuses: Lecture 15, Husserl and Phenomenology

Husserl [1859-1938] created a method called Phenomenology which is a version of Cartesianism and includes a strong emphasis on subjectivity and consciousness. Simply defined, Phenomenology is the examination of consciousness. Or literally, the examination of phenomena – that which appears to consciousness.

Intentionality is the thesis that consciousness is about something. If you believe, you believe something or other. If you perceive, you have to perceive something or other. If you have an emotion like anger, you have to be angry at something or someone. All consciousness for Husserl is intentional in this sense.

Husserl gets dangerously close to the problem of solipsism except he does not examine things as objects of the world, he examines them as objects of experience. Ontology is a study of the things of the world. Phenomenology is a study of the objects of experience.

Husserl was not an existentialist. He came into philosophy through mathematics asking questions like: What is it that makes 2+2=4 true? Is it a matter of convention? A matter of logic? Husserl says it is none of these. Phenomenology is a way of talking about mathematical truth in terms of necessity, and necessity in terms of the structure of consciousness.

Husserl seeks certainty. Husserl needs an archimidean point and this place turns out to be the transcendental ego. This influences Heidegger and then Sartre. But the ways in which they use it is very different than how Husserl used it.

Camus & Sartre by Ronald Aronson

I found Camus & Sartre: The Story of the Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It at the HalfPrice Bookstore. I’ve intended to read it since I first started researching Sartre and Camus. It wasn’t available through our library and was quite expensive so I decided to forgo it (especially since there are so many other books I still haven’t gotten to yet.) Glad I found it because it was quite helpful.

Doing a decent summary of the book would be far too time consuming because it involves a lot of history. So here is a quick and dirty summary…

Camus and Sartre were great friends. They were both becoming famous about the same time and shared philosophical and literary interests. There were definitely differences, but nothing friendship threatening. For the most part, they were able to laugh with each other about them. With the occupation of France, Camus swung into action and joined the Resistance movement. He took huge personal risks. Sartre admired this in Camus and tried to do the same but couldn’t quite bring himself to do so. It took him several years to work through his philosophy before he could figure out how to act on it.

Both he and Camus became involved with the Communist party because it seemed to be the only means of supporting the working class. But Camus became disillusioned early on because of it’s violent nature and decided that he did not want to be a part of a system that used violence as a means of control. Sartre, on the other hand, became a spokesman for the Communist party saying that Camus no longer knew what it iwas he stood for. Passivism wasn’t a stance.

The problem was the Cold War. It drew a line in the sand and people had to choose – are you Communist of anti-Communist. Camus and Sartre had both desperately attempted to come up with a third option. But there was no room for that third option at the time so the choice was either/or. Camus chose anti-Communism (although at one point he spoke harshly against anti-Communism) and Sartre chose Communism.

But Sartre wasn’t actually a Communist and Camus wasn’t actually an anti-Communist either, although those were the sides they chose. What it boiled down to was that Camus didn’t want to get his hands dirty and Sartre did. Camus had been born into a working class family in Algiers and already felt that his hands were dirty. He wanted to do the humane thing and could no longer condone violence. Sartre had been born into a well-to-do bourgeoisie family. What Sartre wanted to do was “come down” and be a spokesman for the working class. He felt the only way he could do this was through Communism because anti-Communism wasn’t speaking for the working class.

The division began after Camus published The Rebel which was his bomb dropped on Communism, linking it with violence and pointing it at Sartre. Many took the book to say that if Camus was right, Sartre was wrong. Camus expected to see Sartre’s review in Sartre’s Magazine but it didn’t come for months. When it finally did come, the review wasn’t by Sartre, it was by one of Sartre’s assistants and it slammed Camus’ book. This was insulting to Camus (because of the condemning review but primarily because it was not Sartre who reviewed the book.) Sartre replied to Camus through his newspaper and a very public quarrel was on with each man representing one side of the two sides of the Cold War division. Infact, they each became the main spokepersons for anti-Communism and Communism in France.

By keeping his hands clean, Camus’ completely lost sight of the Algerian struggles even though he became a spokesperson for Algerian issues. He was more hindrance than help. By wanting to get his hands dirty, Sartre got in touch with the people he wanted to get in touch with, but failed to notice the horrors that were being committed in the name of Communism.

It is very likely that without the divisive nature of the Cold War, Camus and Sartre would have remained friends despite their differences. But the world had moved into “either/or” thinking and it didn’t allow for dialogue. It demanded a militant stance. Aronson contends we are still living with that “either/or” thinking from the Cold War and that it is time we find a way out of it.

Both Camus and Sartre were ultimately in bad faith. Both were concerned ultimately with France – even Camus, who claimed to be so interested in Algiers, always made France the audience for his books. (He wrote to be read in France, not in Algiers.)

Aronson writes: “The deepest issues motivating and dividing Camus and Sartre are still with us…the time is ripe for a new type of political intellectual who might bring together each man’s strengths and avoid each man’s weaknesses. We can imagine someone speaking the truth at all times, and opposing oppression everywhere, uniting each man’s characteristic power of insight under a single moral standard. Such an intellectual would illuminate today’s systemic violence while accepting the challenge of mounting an effective struggle against it without creating new evils.” Aronson admits this might be like asking for an angel (as Sartre once said). “Angels do not exist, but they can be a yardstick for human beings.”

Thoughts on Infinite Potential, Original Sin and Western Idealism

Hubert Dreyfus described Dostoevsky’s use of the term God as infinite potential. This likewise seems to be how the term is used in ACIM and much of Hinduism. It’s also the understanding within Buddhism which doesn’t use the term God, but according to Robert Thurman, it would be accurate to describe Buddhist Nothingness as infinite potentiality.

We are completely responsible for what it is we create/experience within this infinite potential. If you wish to transform yourself into a thing of infinite love and infinite beauty, you can do that because there is no limit to the ways in which we evolve. The danger, of course, is that if you can evolve into a thing of infinite beauty, the negative is also possible. Our fate is in our hands, not because there is a supreme being who will punish us for doing the wrong thing, but because there are no limits beyond the ones we create surrounding our evolutionary ability. Sartre says we are condemned to freedom which is a really negative way of saying that freedom requires responsibility. Perhaps Sartre is in bad faith by thinking of it in this way since the idea of condemnation is a potential obstruction to our recognition of total freedom? What is it that makes us think of freedom as a condemnation? Western Idealism based on Western Christianity.

The idea of Original Sin came about through the story of Adam and Eve. But this is sort of curious because no where in the story is the term “sin” used. In fact, Judaism emphatically rejects Original sin and man as fallen. St. Paul, a Helenized Jew, introduced the idea to Christianity in Romans: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned – sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.” (Romans 5:12-13, NRSV). It is significant that Paul was Helenized because what he was doing was reinterpreting a Jewish text in Greek terms.

In Greco/Roman thought, the universal is higher than the individual. Being an individual is not important. What is important is obedience to the highest good. But in Judaism, the individual is higher than the universal. Truth is local and historical and is arrived at through individual commitment. The emphasis in Judaism is on individual responsibility, not faith to a higher universal.

Rabbi Kushner says if there was to be an original sin in Judaism, it wouldn’t be that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it would be the fact that they tried to pass off their individual responsibility – Adam by blaming Eve and Eve by blaming the serpent. (The word “sin” first shows up in Judaism in the story of Cain and Abel and is used in connection with Cain blaming his “fate” on Abel.) The death we experience is based upon self-consciousness. When Adam and Eve ate the apple, they became aware of “good and evil” which signifies the pairing of opposites from which identity as a separate self arises. The punishment is separation which is a result of individual choice and perception. It’s not a universal condemnation as understood by Paul.

But even Paul’s universal condemnation isn’t so bad if seen in terms of the continuation of a pattern – a tendency to sin that has been passed down to us by previous generations. This is how it was understood in early Eastern Christianity. It is simply the first sin like the first car is the first car – it has an influence on the present. The introduction of the first car has brought about a change in the way we experience the world, so did the first sin. The introduction of sin brings with it the tendency to sin and the introduction of a good act brings with it the tendency to do good. Humanity is not condemned to anything it can’t overcome on its own accord. It is not condemned to a prior definition.

But in the late 4th century, St. Augustine, who attempted to Platonize all Christian terms (one of the first major attempts to fully merge the absolutes of Greek thought with the individualism of Judeo-Christian thought), determined that humanity is condemned to sin because all of humanity took part in the sin of Adam. See the universals working here? The individual doesn’t matter. If it happened to Adam, then it happened to humanity. Rather than humanity being understood as having a tendency to sin, humanity is understood as sinful. Augustine thought that even a baby who wasn’t baptised would go to Hell because the baby was born sinful. The church later relaxed it’s stance on this thinking, but you get the idea. Man is born sinful and can only redeem himself through obedience to the church. This thinking (the Fall of Man theory) was widely accepted within Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism) and became extremely popular during the Middle Ages when Greek ideas were being translated into Latin. To overcome Original Sin, humanity was required to offer his faith in God and obedience to the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually he would be saved from his condemned state by getting to go to an other-worldly heaven.

Original Sin was heavily adopted by Protestantism in the 16th century. The Protestant interpretation made man even more guilty than did the Roman Catholic interpretation. Unlike Roman Catholicism, obedience to church was not necessary for salvation. Salvation required an individual response: a profession of belief, often based on John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

To understand God as the Infinite Potential in which man freely creates doesn’t register within the understanding of a Fallen Man whose freedom has been compromised by Adam. We can only be saved from our fallen state through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior who died for our sins or obedience to the church. When I was growing up, the Protestants thought the Catholics were condemned to Hell because they weren’t Protestant and the Catholics thought the Protestants were condemned to Hell because they weren’t Catholic. Since then, Protestantism has become more Catholic and Catholicism has become more Protestant.

But it still seems that Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov was absolutely correct in his story of the Grand Inquisitor to show that these two views are irreconcilable, unattainable ideals. As Charles B. Guignon explains, the Inquisitor is Roman Catholicism and Jesus is Protestanism . Both represent the encroaching idealism of modern society (whether religious or not). Roman Catholics are dedicated to achieving happiness for all while Protestantism stresses the dignity and well-being of the individual. The conundrum Ivan presents is this: Either we follow the Catholic dream of happiness and peace for all in a vast totalitarian state and abandon our desire for freedom and dignity (turning people into slaves), or we accept the Protestant demand of individual freedom and responsibility without worldly supports and condemn the vast majority of humanity to a life of abject misery in a war of all against all. There is no way out of it.

But notice – this conundrum is based specifically on ideals that have come out of the West. The conundrum doesn’t exist within Eastern Christianity or other Eastern traditions. Or, at least it didn’t until the 17th century when Western idealism started creeping in to Eastern thought.

According to Dostoevsky, Eastern Christianity has a completely different understanding of Christ. The image of Christ shows us that we should embrace our concrete being on earth, with all its suffering and joys, without trying to be more than what we are. This, we do, in the spirit of interconnectedness and with the understanding that we exist within Infinite Potential. We are not condemned to our humanity or to our freedom!!! We have creative power within Infinite Potential to influence our evolution.

Guignon points out that Ivan’s dilemma only works if we assume that humans are fundamentally isolated individuals (Fallen). From the standpoint of a primordial sense of the connectedness of life, the Western image of fallen isolated individuals motivated only by self-interest is a deformation of human nature, and not at all a truth about who it is we are.

This follows on my post from yesterday about Gratitude. I’m still trying to imagine Sisyphus grateful: “Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” could potentially be gratitude.

Sisyphus’s enjoyment was based on taking advantage of others. He was avaricious, murderous, deceitful, power hungry, hubristic, and crafty. Those sorts of characteristics do tend to isolate us from others rather than connect us. And of course all of us are guilty of these sorts of passions to some extent. If we don’t actually commit murder, perhaps we have wished someone dead and if not dead, maybe just out of the way. But what, exactly, does Sisyphus’s punishment represent? I get that it represents the Absurd and I agree that it is representative of the present state of Western idealism. But, from the standpoint of a primordial sense of connectedness of life, does Sisyphus represent the truth of humanity or a deformation of nature?

I don’t have an answer for that right now.

What has bothered me all along is that Camus’ example relies upon the idea of Original Sin. Sisyphus bares the human guilt of passion and therefore must suffer. The greater the passion the greater the suffering so Sisyphus gets a doozie! Because Sisyphus is so passionate, if Sisyphus can overcome his despair, then anyone can. ” You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is,as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.” Is this not the spitting image of Original Sin?

I can’t help but think that what Camus is saying is that we have the ability to be happy despite being human and that bothers me. But at the same time, what we can’t imagine we can’t achieve and maybe this is what Camus means by saying “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” But then again, I totally agree with Kierkegaard – we can only be an individual through our recognition of “the other”. Robert Thurman says, if there was an individual that was the real you, not only would you not be individualistic, you wouldn’t even be there because in order to be there you have to be related. But if there was a part of you that was non-relational, then you couldn’t relate to other individuals. You couldn’t exist. [Hell may be other people (as Sartre says), but it is also a requirement of existence.] If we are an individualistic society, then the highest purpose of the collective is the individual purpose of all of us. Society’s purpose is to bring each of us to our highest potential.

Has Sisyphus achieved his individual potential? Does Sisyphus care at all about the happiness of others? Or is his only concern his own individual happiness?

I don’t know. This is one of those infinite loops for me. I have a feeling about it, but I can’t intellectually confirm it. I think part of the problem is that while I don’t particularly like Sisyphus, I do like Camus.

Thoughts on Existentialism, Responsibility and Gratitude

Back to contemplating existentialism and the Myth of Sisyphus…

The main characteristic of Existentialism, according to Walter Kaufman, is “the refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life”.

Robert Solomon said “the message of Existentialism, unlike that of many more obscure and academic philosophical movements, is about as simple as can be. It is that every one of us, as an individual, is responsible—responsible for what we do, responsible for who we are, responsible for the way we face and deal with the world, responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is. “

Solomon said that he was originally a Medical Student but immediately dropped out when he happened upon a lecture where a professor was talking about how Nietzsche’s ideas ask the fundamental question: “If given the opportunity to live your life over and over again ad infinitum, forced to go through all of the pain and the grief of existence, would you be overcome with despair? Or would you fall to your knees in gratitude?”

Nietzsche was famous for saying “God is Dead” (The Gay Science). What this means is that the idea of God is no longer capable of acting as a source of any moral code or purpose. Nietzsche felt that if we stopped placing our belief in a supernatural God, we’d quit focusing upon some distant supernatural world and focus upon this world. But when we drop the idea of God, what is it, exactly, that we are thanking when we fall to our knees in gratitude?

Ronald Aronson wrote an interesting article called “Thank Who Very Much” which addresses the problem of gratitude in a godless world. The idea of “giving thanks” is central to the Abrhamic religions but is virtually absent in the secular world. Aronson, an atheist, describes an experience he had while hiking:

     Hiking through a nearby woods on a late summer day recently, I followed the turning path and suddenly saw a pristine lake, then walked down a hill to its edge as birds chirped and darted about, stopping at a clearing to register the warmth of the sun against my face. Feelings welled up: physical pleasure, delight in the sounds and sights, gladness to be out here on this day. But something else as well, curious and less distinct, a vague feeling more like gratitude than anything else but not towards any being or person I could recognise. Only half-formed, this feeling didn’t fit into any easily discernable category, evading my usual lenses and language of perception…

     Thanking God out here on the trail would tie together everything I see and experience, it would direct me towards its source, and would give me a personal relationship with that being. It would, moreover, unite my feeling of pleasure with my understanding and fill me with a sense of gratitude that points towards my life’s meaning and its purpose.

Religion provides the language for this sort of gratitude. Absent religion, there is no language for such an experience so living without a supernatural being seems to rule out gratitude.

Aronson suggests that Camus perhaps discovered a way to tolerate the emptiness, silence, and absurdity of a universe without God that he describes in The Myth of Sisyphus by being able to stretch out on a beach and enjoy the sun’s heat on his body as Mersault did in The Stranger. However, being warmed by the sun, feeling no intention and no being behind it, gives us momentary pleasure, but does not offer a basis for a feeling of gratitude.

Aronson offers an alternative…

…Think of the sun’s warmth. After all, the sun is one of those forces that make possible the natural world, plant life, indeed our very existence. It may not mean anything to us personally, but the warmth on our face means, tells us, and gives us a great deal. All of life on Earth has evolved in relation to this source of heat and light, we human beings included. We are because of, and in our own millennial adaptation to, the sun and other fundamental forces. My moment of gratitude was far more than a moment’s pleasure. It is a way of acknowledging one of our most intimate if impersonal relationships, with the cosmic and natural forces that make us possible.

What Aronson experienced is what I call a transcendent experience. The experience isn’t “other worldly” It doesn’t take us “out of the world”. It makes us more aware of our position within it. It allows us a broader view of what it is we perceive and allows us to recognize our interdependence. In this sense, it is a transcendence of the self.

Robert Solomon says we need to abandon the interpersonal model of gratitude (thank you God, thank you Jesus, thank you mom and dad, etc.) and turn our focus, instead, toward impersonal forces. When we do this, what we confront is our dependence on the cosmos, the sun, nature, past generations of people, and human society. Solomon says that by living without a God, we may finally be able to become intensely clear about all that we do and what it is we rely on.

Aronson writes:

One’s map of dependence stretches in every possible direction and across every possible plane, but it is always real and it is always concrete. And it sketches the paths for one’s gratitude. It tells, after all, the story of our connections with the world and the universe, and it gives us a core of obligations and a core of meaning. To give thanks is to honor this.

I know it may seem contradictory to be studying ACIM and presenting this sort of idea on Gratitude. But the God of ACIM is not the idea of God that Nietzsche said was dead. It’s a different idea. God, in ACIM, is the ground of being for “all that is”. It is a field of infinite potential. It doesn’t provide meaning, judge us as “bad” or “good”, or establish a destiny or fate. It’s completely meaningless in that sense. It doesn’t give us value or worth. It simply provides the potential for being. I think an experience like Aronson’s, in which he feels himself to be connected through his dependence on “all that is”, likewise contains a realization of potential. We are co-creating reality in infinite potentiality. (Which includes the potential to wipe ourselves out.)

This, I think, is what Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard realized and that is at the crux of Existentialism. To steadfastly hold on to any body of belief or belief system obstructs our creative capacity. It is, of course, necessary that we adopt ideas, belief systems, laws, etc. in order to function. But we must likewise allow ourselves to move on when those beliefs no longer serve us.

I started thinking about this based on my obsession with trying to get a handle on Camus dropping the Absolute but not the guilt in The Myth of Sisyphus. I know the subject has been beaten to death but I genuinely think I’ve finally got a firm hold on it after leaving a comment on poor BookCrazy’s blog who must be completely sick of me by now! It went something like this…

Sometime around the 4th century ACE up until the 18th century ACE, Western society was immersed in the idea that humanity’s passions are at odds with reality and that the only way to overcome the dilemma was through obedience to the church which required a belief in God. Much of Western society started placing its faith in reason rather than in God after the 18th century, but there remained the belief that humanity was still at odds with reality so science and technology replaced God as the savior of humanity.

Camus and the Existentialists saw the folly in believing that science, technology, God or anything besides humanity itself could save us. Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus because he believed suicide to be the most urgent philosophical question. If there is nothing we can place our hope or faith in beyond ourselves, what reason is there to live? He names the incompatibility of human passions and reality (meaninglessness) “The Absurd” . Camus explains Sisyphus’ situation in this way: “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.” But is it a given that we are at odds with reality? That we are being penalized through an exertion to accomplish nothing? Or is this simply our experience based upon how it is we’ve defined ourselves for hundreds of years? Camus assumes that it is a given and then tells us how to overcome it without God. This is what I mean when I say he drops the God but maintains the guilt.

I’ve written this several times and will say it again because I think it is such an extremely important point. Camus did not consider himself an Existentialist and many internationally renowned professors of Existentialism think he was absolutely right not to consider himself an Existentialist. His ideas are closely related to Existentialism and Existential elements abound in his writing. But there is a subtle, very important difference. Existentialist ideas are post-Christian. What Camus wants to do is drop the Absolute altogether which is pre-Christian. But we don’t live in a pre-Christian society. We live in a post-Christian society. Is it possible for us to drop the Absolute altogether when we’ve so heavily defined ourselves by it?

The Existentialists, atheistic Existentialists included, think we are too heavily defined by Absolute thinking to just drop it. That we have defined ourselves by an idea does not mean the idea exists. Just because we defined ourselves for hundreds of years as children of God doesn’t mean there is a God or that we are children of God. (Especially that we are fallen per Augustine). But the idea has become so much a part of the way we understand ourselves that we maintain it without realizing the subtle ways in which this idea has influenced our understanding of ourselves – even after we’ve recognized “God is Dead”. Nietzsche knew we couldn’t just drop it. So he attempted to show us how to overcome it. This is what all of the Existentialists do in various ways. Attempting to overcome the Absolute is much different than attempting to drop it altogether.

As Sartre says, human beings are “condemned to freedom”. This freedom requires that we recognize when we are enslaved by an idea. If we don’t first become fully aware of the ideas that influence us, we can’t overcome them. This sets up what Sartre calls bad faith and Nietzsche calls slave morality. It is the denial of one’s total freedom.

I think Sisyphus is in bad faith. That humanity doesn’t currently experience itself as at home in the world isn’t because we can’t be at home in the world. The experience is based on how it is we have defined ourselves. We have to take full responsibility for our experience. To conclude that we can overcome our experience by ignoring it through scorn, rejecting it, revolting against it, etc. is not taking responsibility for it. Just the opposite. It maintains the idea and makes it impossible to overcome. The best we can do, like Sisyphus, is be happy despite it.

Perhaps we can imagine Sisyphus happy, but would this happiness drive him to his knees in gratitude?