Sunday, July 10, 2011

The History of Atheism. The Badness of Men Dapple. Marcus Aurelius. Goddess Goldie Peep Chaneski. Atoms.

Dear Bleaders,
Here on "Poetic Atheism," I'll be talking with poetic license and licentiousness as usual but with even more atheism than usual, since I'm usually writing on poetry sites. I'll still start my run at filosophical epiphany with claims like: I'm giving a lot of thought to dapple. It has dawned on me that beyond the biology of aesthetics, the dapple is ample in meaning. It is a little madness of indecision, of mood swing, or a beating heart in endless battle. It has dusked on me that all is opinion. I do no longer believe that all is opinion. 
Oh by the way this is my new puppy Godess Goldie Peep Chaneski, or just God.
I'm thinking about Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, one of the greatest books in The History of Atheism, and Aurelius says a lot of things and sometimes their opposite but one thing he does say an especially lot is "All is opinion." All is not opinion. 
There is plenty that seems objective that is, in fact, opinion. The ways we live, as Montaigne advised us, are just too close a match with the way people around us live for there to be any other explanation for why we choose to live this way. Montaigne being another great hero of The History of Atheism and Doubt. I"m highlighting that I'll be talking about the history of atheism. And Doubt.
But what Aurelius was talking about was heartache, depression, grief, despair, and disappointment. He called himself a Stoic and Stoicism had long claimed and developed the idea that we could think our way out of the pains of living. There were lots of different ways they used to reframe life so it didn't hurt so much. The big idea was that you are part of the giant machine of humanity and the universe and you shouldn't be taking so seriously the specifics of what happens to little you. Stuff's gonna happen. Roll with it. Aurelius tries to cheer up his own blue self, and you, thusly:
For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.-
But perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee out of the universe.- Recall to thy recollection this alternative; either there is providence or atoms… and be quiet at last.- … 
But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgment in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last.
Consider that the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee. 
This then remains…all these things, which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is opinion. 
I quote this in such length because I think it is wonderful and kind of hilarious. I love "endurance is part of justice" and I love "what kind of people are they who will praise you."
"Either there is providence or atoms" means either the universe has meaning or it is all just atoms, either way is fine. Why does stating this make it fine? I think because what we imagine by default is a meaningful universe that is temporarily in chaos, which makes us panic. Whereas saying that it is either meaningful, in which case all's well, or it is material and doesn't matter, in which case nothing can really be wrong because it doesn't matter.
But of course, it feels like it matters, and the feeling like it matters matters. 
wrote something here: a while back that has been rolling around in my mind: "The idea is to try to let yourself feel what is happening to you, which, as the philosophers have told us, may as well be all in your head, and as the poets have told us, isn't."
I think there's something true in this, that poetry in particular and art in general is about how, in fact, all is not opinion, though it may seem to be by every available logic. That an older guy, an emperor, might be trying to calm you down from across the vast gap of two thousand years (he died in the year 189), is itself something that matters and that is beyond opinion. 

As dapple demonstrates though, depending on who we are and at what point in our lives we are presently lingering, we are all in the process of learning lessons on opposite sides of this swinging truth: the terrible importance is an illusion, and also, your life is deep with worth and consequence.
 Endurance is a part justice. Courage! 
See you next time.
ps Yes, my husband John and I got married on a no dogs no gods policy but the kids put up a fuss about the first one. At some point the evidence changes and it become easier to have a dog than to not have one. Thus, I now have something to believe in. She is the greatest and kind of my first dog. I am so in love. She is a little nippy, but I can take it.


  1. Hello! I don't have a substantive comment, but I always enjoy your posts on the BAP blog and now I'm enjoying your posts here! Please keep writing. :)