Easter Contemplation

Being an outsider in all matters religious I must confess to a certain unease with the concept of Easter. It is a period of observance that, laying it all out on the table for you, kind of gives me the willies. The joy that springs from death, and not only death but a savage, grisly, barbarous death at that, unsettles me.

Yes, yes, I do understand that this is the serious meat and potatoes of Christian faith. Death and resurrection and one must die in order to live eternally and that Jesus was put up on the cross for our sins but couldn’t he He have taken the whole Socratic route and insisted on drinking a cup of poisoned hemlock instead? Too suicidal for you? How about just one to the back of the head then? Clean, simple and we’re all off for the rest of the weekend to wait for his miraculous, heaven-bound reappearance.

It’s the reveling in the gory details of the death – the Gibsonian Passion of the Christ – that seems so unnecessary, so full of life denouncing abnegation. Existence is nasty but we must bear it devotedly in order to live again gloriously in the presence of our Lord and Saviour. Just putting in time, probably miserably, until I can shrug off this mortal coil and kick back to enjoy eternity without a care in the world. Far too much stake in the future for my liking.

In addition to which, if the whole Easter holiday is so important to Christians, why did I get a phone call from a friend in the U.S. yesterday who expressed surprise that I wasn’t working? It’s Good Friday, dude. The whole place is closed up almost as tightly as it would be at Christmas. Apparently not so much Stateside. Aren’t they supposed to be the most religious country in the western world? If the whole Easter commemoration isn’t that important to them, are they practicing their religion incorrectly? Should someone explain it to them?

And another thing. If the death and resurrection of Jesus is so integral to Christian doctrine, what’s with all the Christian based anti-Semitism? If he He had to die in order that we all shall live again, shouldn’t we be thanking our Jewish friends for setting the Romans on Him? Judas should be celebrated rather than reviled for betraying Jesus. If he’d done the honourable thing and not sold Jesus down the river for a few pieces of silver, history, as they say, might have been entirely different.

Still, I’m not going to turn down the prospect of a couple days off for the sake of a theological quibble. Especially not this weekend given that it seems we’ve skipped the whole spring thing and plunged right into summer. I slip into my sockless shoes, pull out the old straw fedora and head out for a mid-afternoon promenade along College Street.

Only to be stopped up by crowds of people that can only be described as nothing less than a throng. It’s as if taking a cue from the weather, the street festival season has just decided to start. Cars are parked everywhere. Huge packs of families meander, ice creams in hand. It’s a holiday, sure, with exceptionally good weather but.. all of Toronto has descended onto College Street? The Eaton Centre must be closed.

Then the music kicks off, a dreary funeral dirge, and I suddenly come to my senses. The Good Friday Easter Procession making its way through the heart of Little Italy. You think I would’ve remembered, what with all the previous talk about this particular religious festival. So I step up onto a restaurant doorway to watch the passing of the parade.

Almost immediately, The Godfather or, more precisely, The Godfather Part II springs to mind. Robert DeNiro’s young Vito Corleone stalks the white suited local mobster, Don Fanucci, during a similar religious procession in New York and kills him in the darkened hallway of a tenement walkup. Another Easter. Another execution. There seems to be no escaping it.

The procession participants are mainly older expect for those having to do anything at all overly physical. Like the Jesus who’s getting beaten up by Roman soldiers. Outside of that, the numbers skew heavily toward the elderly. I wonder if their children, down visiting from places like Woodbridge and now watching from the sidelines, will step up and fill the void when this generation dwindles. There’s that whole death and rebirth symbolism at work again. It’s hard to imagine. Rather than occupying a central spot in the lives of the younger folks, religion is merely observed, thought of only during the holiest of days and on monumental occasions like weddings and funerals.

There it is again. Funerals. Death. No escaping it, it seems when Easter comes around. A funny thing to design a life around if you ask me.

Politicians on Parade

No wonder they came up with the whole bunny angle. Sure, sure. Life is full of pain and misery. Death awaits us all. But it’ll all be worth it when we go to heaven (if we go to heaven… otherwise… well, just get to heaven) and live forever in blissful contentment. Not sold? OK, so there’s this bunny and he brings you chocolate…

religiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Word Of The Day

Some words are elusive. Regardless of how many times you encounter them and look their definition up in a dictionary, the meaning slips your grasp. Retention is temporary; gone as soon as you try summoning them again.

Solipsism.

A philosophical theory that the self is the only thing that can be known or verified. A view that the self is the only reality. From the latin, solus, alone and ipse, self. One who practices solipsism is said to be a solipsist. If one tends toward solipsism, one can be labeled solipsistic.

I can read the word over and over in an attempt to commit it to memory yet invariably the definition fails to stick. It’s not as if I have a beef with the word and am subconsciously trying to keep it at bay in order not to deal with it. Like say, subcutaneous. A perfectly good word that gives me the creeps. It’s too medical-y, clinical. Brings to mind a corpse or something that is said during an autopsy. Subcutaneous reminds me of my own mortality. Subcutaneous freaks me out a little. It gets under my skin. So I don’t go out of my way to remember what it means.

Part of the problem with the word solipsism is that from a philosophical perspective a debate rages as to whether there exists a rigorous enough definition of the word for it to have any concrete meaning. If philosophers can’t agree on a definition, how can I be expected to keep on top of it? On the other hand, to a true solipsist wouldn’t the ultimate meaning of the word be theirs and theirs alone? How many solipsists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, because who else is there to do it?

What am I talking about and why does it matter, you’re probably asking at this point. So what if there’s a word you don’t remember? There are plenty others to choose from, hundreds maybe even thousands. If only philosophers understand the word solipsism, what use is it in the real world anyway?

True enough and not to toot my own horn here and insinuate that I am the bookish type immersed in highfalutin texts but I do come across the word fairly regularly. Why just the other day I saw it used 3 times by Lewis Lapham in a Harper’s editorial from last May. (You may ask why I was reading a Harper’s magazine from last year just the other day. As a magazine subscriber, I always keep a distance of a year or so from the most current issue in order to see if what’s being written has been proven to be bullshit. If so, I then stop reading anything further that the writer has written.)

To hear Lewis Lapham use solipsism is to get the sense that it is a derogatory word. Being solipsistic in Lewis Lapham’s view is a bad thing. Militant anti-smokers represent the height of solipsism to a long time smoker like Lewis Lapham because they only see the world through their eyes, opinions and sensibilities.

The word itself drips derision. Solipsistic. Sloppy. Slurry. A staggering, incomprehensible drunk. You.. stupid, fucking solipsist, you. Onomatopoeic almost.

Yet I think the word might’ve come from a more positive place. In a pre-Socratic world of oracles, seers and divination through animal entrails, to believe that only your existence was real because everything else around you was ultimately suspect due to your perception of it through fallible human senses was to reject given orthodoxy. You were questioning societal hierarchy, authority and even the gods. It paved the way to René Descartes and his ‘I Think Therefore I Am’; one of the cornerstones of modern philosophy and scientific methodology. Solipsism once did battle with the darkness of superstition.

That modern science has proven one aspect of solipsistic theory correct – our 5 senses are undoubtedly fallible – is only a minor irony of the word’s usage today. As Lou Reed sang (channeling Benjamin Franklin), don`t believe half of what you see/And none of what you hear. Trusting our instincts, ‘gut’ or screaming front page headlines may be the surest way to get things wrong. But to believe nothing is real aside from our own existence is, well, a little shortsighted and self-absorbed. It displays an inhuman lack of empathy.

The major irony of solipsism’s fate is that its ranks have been filled with those who believe in all sorts of extraordinary things outside of their own being. The inerrant word of an all-seeing, all knowing, ineffable God. Adam Smith’s perfectly tuned invisible hand of the free market and its corresponding faith in a laissez-faire, trickle down, government bad, business good economic system. (See? We got to politics eventually.) Those with an unshakeable conviction that Avatar is the greatest movie ever.

Solipsism is now the exclusive realm of the worst kind of solipsists and the only good news about it is that I may finally have a firm grasp of what the word really means.

In our next installment of Word of the Day: epistemological.

pretentiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat