You’re only one toothache away from realising how thin the veneer of being a cultivated human being is.
While lying on my bed this afternoon with a bag of frozen peas clamped to my jaw there was still a part of my mind that wondered how this would have all panned out 200 years ago. 400 years ago. 1000 years ago. I’m guessing that some kind of nerve is dying under a tooth somewhere in my mouth. What kind of hell would this have been in the past? Anything to do with teeth. Christ, it must have been awful. When we imagine the past we often forget this. We imagine how wonderful it would be to walk the streets of London in the time of Shakespeare and forget things like: toilets, painkillers, showers and dental hygiene. It makes me think that the main things the future delivered on happened in the bathroom and the hospital.
I’ve been back at school this week and walking to work listening to podcasts. I often listen to On Being which is generally very good (I also listen to Team Human which is also good). It might be coincidence or it might be increased grumpiness but there were two moments in the last two podcasts where I thought: eff off. This is unusual because it’s not that kind of show. It’s an excellent, wide-ranging, and generously hosted series on being human in the spiritual sense. What happened to me?
Anyway, the first incident was Jonathan Rowson saying that some survey had said that by 2030 90% of people would identify as religious and atheism will be in the decline. Well, that turns out to be a trick in statistics: the religious have more kids so even though atheists will increase in number religious folk will out breed them. But it wasn’t that fact that annoyed me it was his talk about economics later. He is into a new kind of economics, the sustainable kind, and that’s all good, but I couldn’t help but think that the other kind – the linear, polluting kind – was a result of man’s (and I mean that particular gender) modelling of himself off God. This idea of God as man, and directives from the top, and obey me or go to hell, and the earth and it’s creatures are there for you: you can’t tell me that all these ideas have not had a big part to play in the how capitalism has unfolded. To then switch the story and say God is big on sustainable economics seems like a sleight of hand; an adjustment to make God not look like a giant arsehole.
The next episode was with Richard Rohr who said:
To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet you got so angry about it or so invested in it.
Which made me think that Richard is talking like a very privileged person. If you’re poor at 22, 42 and 62 then I guess that being poor is still on your mind. If you’re black in America I guess race might still be on your mind when you’re 82. Some issues don’t go away. Is he saying that the passion of some people for the issue of climate change is just an amusing fad that you will laugh at in hindsight? In this respect there is a weird parallel between this kind of spiritual thought and Jordan Peterson. They all seem to discount social justice action. Each year we take classes out to a Buddhist monastery and it is pretty clear the monks there have no interest at all in the suffering in the outside world or would ever take direct action to improve the lives of others. Jordan Peterson similarly has no interest in changing the social order. It is what it is. Which is what Richard is talking about. He seems to say: isn’t it funny looking back how you were so bent out of shape by sexism?
In the light of eternity, this thing that you’re so worried about right now — is it really going to mean anything on your deathbed?
Yes. It could. Some things need to be fought against, and improved and it is not good enough to quote a Latin phrase and say in the infinite space and time of the universe who cares? Especially if you’re going to waste your time thinking that there is an entity called God who knocked up Mary and produced a sprog called Jesus who was resurrected to teach humanity the lesson about being saved from the sins of Adam and Eve. That’s just flat out ridiculous.
Two final things then in what I think we can call a ramble.
Firstly, in both of those podcast episodes both chaps also said things that were interesting. Especially Richard. He said this:
I was jail chaplain here, a few blocks from where I’m sitting right now, for 14 years, and if there was one universal I found among the men in particular… to find someone in jail who had a good father.
And the rage in the young male who never had a dad or had an alcoholic father or emotionally unavailable father or abusive father is bottomless. It’s just — it moves out toward all of society, a mistrust of all authority, all authority figures, all policemen.
Now you can see what a bind this put us in when we defined God as masculine and called God “Father” exclusively.
And then, finally, Theresa May on her way out in Question Time was asked about being a female role model. While it is questionable that she was a role model she had a great point to make: every single party that was represented in the House that day had, or had had a female leader, but not the Labour Party.
It was a cutting point. And a true one. It’s actually a black mark against that party in that country (the Labour Party in New Zealand has had two female leaders; both excellent). If there’s a gender that knows about labour it’s women. Not only is that true of women who have given birth, but of pretty much every women I have known who has run the lives of their families or partners because the men in their lives are complacent and lazy. That’s the labour that makes the world go round. Never mind money.