Posts Tagged ‘Real Things’

You Give and Take Away

A (late) Lenten posting, that’s been on my computer awhile: some scattered thoughts on the Book of Job. (This’ll be the last substantial posting; the blog’s been dead for a while anyway. Though I plan on putting up sketches occasionally, as I like the look and feel.)

Job in the rubble

(“Blessed be the Name of the Lord”, by Beth Redman)

This song used to puzzle me. Praising God in good times and bad: understandable. But why do the Redmans sing “You give and take away” with something almost like ecstasy? You can exult in praising God, but how do you exult in God both giving and taking away? I did not even recognise the source of the song, because when Job famously says “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:20-21), I imagined a tone of dull despair or controlled stoicism, rather than rapture. He doesn’t seem impassioned until he begins to rail at Heaven.

This is something that can’t be fully explained, although I came to understand by having something of a bad day myself (not approaching Job-level misfortune, however); and being unable to react in any other way I played this song and sang and finally understood. Job doesn’t stop praising God; he can’t say anything without agony in his voice so he offers pain and praise together. You give and take away. It’s the heart of the song, and sometimes it’s the only thing you can say.


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A man after my own heart: The Advantages of Pessimism by Alain de Botton:

For those teetering on the verge of despair, there can paradoxically be no finer book to turn to than one which seeks to grind man’s every last hope into the dust. The Pensees – far more than any saccharine volume touting inner beauty, positive thinking or the realisation of hidden potential – has the power to coax the suicidal off the ledge of a high parapet.

If Pascal’s pessimism can effectively console us, it may be because we are usually cast into gloom not so much by negativity as by hope. It is hope – with regard to our careers, our love lives, our children, our politicians and our planet – that is primarily to blame for angering and embittering us…

We should honour Pascal, and the long line of pessimistic writers to which he belongs, for doing us the incalculably great favour of publicly and elegantly rehearsing the facts of our sinful and pitiful state. This is not a stance with which the modern world betrays much sympathy, for one of its dominant characteristics and – in my opinion – its greatest flaw is its optimism.

A woman after my own heart: “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” (acoustic version) by Garbage. (The original single version is also excellent – official video here.)

When I was in school, a teacher once hurled the word “pessimist” at me like an insult. I was too young to think of it, but I should have hurled back “optimist” in the same tone of voice. Alas, alas.

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Our blogging schedule has me signed up for artwork production on Saturdays. I’m currently working on a couple of drawings – some for a book, one for a text adventure, one piece of fanart for a Harry Potter fanfiction (which, I think, either I or Nick will most probably be talking about more), and a couple of ideas I had for a site banner for this blog. I’m going to kick things off by presenting one of the drawings I did for a banner:

A Philosophical Refutation

Johnson refutes Berkeley's idealism

The depiction is of Samuel Johnson’s famous refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s idealism. Berkeley, a prominent philosopher, maintained that the world around us existed only in perception: ours, and God’s – a position which made it seem as if the world itself were unreal (he named his philosophy “immaterialism”, which didn’t help; I believe it’s now considered a form of Idealism) and which could easily tip over into solipsism. David Hume famously described Berkeley’s philosophy as neither admitting the slightest refutation, nor inspiring the slightest conviction. Samuel Johnson, as recorded by Boswell, disagreed:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’

It is not recorded, so far as I know, whether Berkeley considered himself refuted by this procedure.

I must here confess that the last time I attempted independent thought (I think it was a little over half a year ago) I came to roughly the same conclusion as Berkeley, and indeed the whole idea of idealism seems to me to be almost common sense (which is not to say that it’s actually right, or useful, or other than totally insane; common sense is very subjective, and a most imperfect authority). The issue of how mind and matter interact can be resolved by claiming that mind is an illusion or emergent property of matter, as maintained by those neurologists who sometimes speak of how the brain tricks itself into thinking it’s conscious; this seems to me a little unsatisfactory, and the idea that matter is an illusion and mind is the only reality has fewer problems. However, this is problematic on grounds religious and aesthetic: that it seemed to me to be a form of Gnosticism, which is frowned upon by all Christian authority and tradition, and which, in dismissing matter and the created world, displays a fundamental ingratitude for the world given us to live in.

I wonder now if I wasn’t too hasty. Berkeley’s idealism does not mean that objects in the world are unreal just because they are thoughts in the mind of God; it means only that reality, or the objects which possess reality, are a particular subset of thoughts in the mind of God. I am unsure if this is a position as unassailable as Hume so flippantly described, but the fact that we think of our own thoughts as unreal does not mean that the thoughts of God are unreal. (It is tempting to utter some deep statement like “God is more real than reality”, but if you were to ask me what I meant by that I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.)

This is the site banner I created from this image (click for larger version):

Johnson refutes Bishop Berkeley's Philosophy

A Philosophical Refutation

We decided not to use this one (as the reader may see; I wonder, however, if we can use chibi-Johnson as a site mascot?), and I’ve got some other promising ideas on the way, my favourite of which I intended to present today; but alas that one’s proving refractory, and is only around 2/3rds complete. Happily, however, I had this post scheduled for next week already, so I merely brought it forward. (I have learnt from experience that art-related deadlines are very easy to miss, and thus have decided on a policy of having art posts done in advance or otherwise held in reserve.)

UPDATE: this post seems to attract a lot of search-engine hits – greetings, googlers! Alas that there’s little hardcore philosophising here to enjoy, but I hope the silly pictures amuse you.

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