Sunday, January 13, 2008

To Untell

We navigate through vast seas of stories. It's all narrative therapy: to tell and retell until you get it right, or at least closer to it. Your life's unfolding in various languages. Everything is a language.

Someteimes to get a little deeper into it, stories must be untold.

Like religious stories. Or patriotic tales. Emergency room anecdotes. For some people this has posed no special difficulties. Snopes. For some it can be profoundly uncomfortable. For example:

God is dead. That bothers some people. Many just refuse to accept it.

From Nietzsche's The Gay Science, an examination of moral psychology that he published in 1882.

Nietzsche himself does not say this. Those words come from a madman walking around the streets with a lantern during daylight hours.

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!"

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?

Well, he wrote that before the establishment of commonly held cosmological facts. The universe is expanding. We are moving away from all suns. There is no up or down, there are only infinite ups and downs.

This was also written before, but the madman's questions certainly presage, development of evolutionary psychology. Not exactly a sacred game. Just another way of applying scientific enquiry.

The madman (who really isn't) continues:

Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?"

The Bible, Koran, book of Mormon, whatever, are not the arbiters of morality that many of us have been told. Sam Harris speaks to this succinctly in the 2006 best-seller Letter to a Christian Nation.

It's simple really and you can do it yourself, assuming you're not a total psychopath. If you'd never ever heard of Jesus or god or Allah or the covenant of Baha-u-llah, no matter, you'd still know it was wrong for the Nazis to cremate millions of Jews. That sense of morality came to humans long ago, before any of the holy scriptures; before any scriptures.

Even lower primates abhor murder, stealing, and disruptions of family life like adultery. These moral abilities evolved. Chimpanzees have moral systems.

Evolution is narrative therapy, written in the language of all of nature. That's the story. The real one, the one that will be left when the others are unspun.

Plan 9 From Outer Space, however, was absolutely true. You can take that to the bank.


dbackdad said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Very poignant for me in the midst of trying to get my crazy mom into some adequate care situation. Talk about untelling.

wunelle said...


(I love Sam Harris.)