Friday, October 13, 2017


At NU in 1957 I missed Alan Watts who earned his theology Masters Degree at the adjoining Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1950, but I enjoyed watching the Episcopal proto-priests swirling around in their capes as well as listening to their carillon.  I was not aware that AK had come to the theatre department of NU through teaching interpretation at on-campus Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary which was United Methodist.  They seemed to be missionaries who played a lot of volleyball.

Paul Schilpp, my "Philosophy of Religion" professor

I didn’t even know that Paul Schilpp got his BD from Garrett, MA from NU, and Ph.D. at Stanford.  I didn’t know he attended Ethical Culture services (didn’t know there was such a thing) But I did know he had been born in Germany, was passionate and belligerent in his teaching, scorned both the Methodists and his first wife, and yet was one of the few professors who really reached out to students and tolerated their dissent.  

One of my cherished memories is sitting on a stairs at a party at his house (I am a cat), just watching.  He came to sit alongside and prompted me to react to his fond definition of “art is an expression of the relationship between man and the universe.”  It was too early to point out that “man” didn’t necessarily include me.  But I was adamant that art was the COMMUNICATION of the relationship.  I was focused on acting, which IS an art of communication.  I said an art (painting, sculpture, music) had to mean something to another human being before it could be an “art.”  The resulting debate has been in my head for the last fifty years.

Just now I went into the garage to look for my notes from the two “World Religion” classes I took then.  I didn’t find them.  Mostly they were the major Asian religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, plus all three Abrahamic strands and some of the smaller Mediterranean threads.  Put alongside Malvina Hoffman’s Hall of Man sculptures, which AK used as sources for actors, the result was that I was forever after impatient with people (so MANY) who cannot get out of the Christian bubble and constantly obsess about the concept of God.  

I wrote to my bigoted Presbyterian minister to withdraw my membership.  He had made a huge fuss about the formality of joining, and I thought it logically followed that if one were no longer in sympathy with the church, one should withdraw.  He had a fit and denounced me from the pulpit. ("Students who go off to fancy schools are corrupted there!")  My mother rose from her pew and transferred to Westminster Presbyterian Church where eventually I was married and my father was buried.

These are institutional religious terms.  Eventually I came to lose interest in all religious institutions except as sociological phenomena, reactions to their times.  Much of it economic.  When I first got to Browning, the Blackfeet rez, I attended the Methodist Church, which was really the only Protestant church and therefore white, at least until Rev. Jim Bell arrived and began outreach to the rest of the rez.  The church has struggled throughout its whole existence, which is a long story but basically related to them being partly a mission and partly a community church.  Actually, Methodism per se is a pretty good fit since it was devised as a strategy (method) for resisting gin and sin in England during brutal factory times.

In 1988-89 I was the pulpit supply for this Methodist congregation in Browning, because their appointed minister abruptly left.  He was a big handsome blonde Navy chaplain who was surprised Indians were not in the 19th century.  I wasn’t the official “called” minister, but occupied the parsonage in exchange for preaching.  If a parsonage is occupied by an ordained minister, it is not taxed.  The small congregation accepted me as a friend.

There have been several major relationships that have brought me to where I am now.  One was a decade in the Unitarian Universalist ministry, one was inclusion in “Bundle Opening” with 19th Century-born Siksika, and one was trying to meet the outrage and sorrow of a group of outlier boys around the planet via the Internet.

Today I reach some conclusions:

1.  Emergence is a phenomenon in which pre-existing elements interact to create something new.

2.  Consciousness emerges from the “dashboard” of the felt body.  It is the ability to organize feelings and control reactions, which pre-exist (unconsciously) in most creatures.  Consciousness confers the ability to reflect on and shape the “dashboard” processes.  It operates by metaphor, building on the felt meaning of what has been perceived before.  In the "Western" world it has been distorted by valorizing the definition of intelligence so it has been equated with mathematical rationality.

3.  Art and religion (on the same continuum) are made possible by emergent relationships with the felt meanings of the world outside the body (the universe) and operate via metaphor.  “Felt meanings” are sensory: concepts that emerge from electrochemical perceptions of what is “out there.”  

Diminishing or ending sensory life and felt metaphors will shrink and decompose both art and religion.  The more one experiences deeply, the more human one will be, the more effective the “religion” will be.  It is not a matter of book learning.

4.  The emergence of art and religion are made possible by experience.  But it is possible to have a lot of experience without art and religion ever emerging.  What prevents emergence?  Fear?  Lack of resources?  What makes it work?  Memory?  Language?  Ritual?

5.  Empathic awareness between mammals emerges from the Theory of Mind, “understanding behavior.”  In humans with language it can become a direct connection by vicarious sharing in story, image, metaphor.    

6.  This is made more likely by the formation of “holding communities” — that is, groups based on trust and a common view of life, which is to say “congregations”.  (Maybe “embracing communities” would be more accurate.  Or “enfolding communities.”)  If those groups form into institutions (churches) and then bureaucracies (denominations) they can become “confining” or even “imprisoning communities,” all about money and politics.  Willing to enforce obedience even unto death.

If a person has impoverished experience, a confining community may be a relief, supplying a strategy that isn’t based on the person’s real life.  If it fits the situation of many lives -- cultural which in turn is ecological -- then it “works.”  If that holding community has become rigid and rule-driven as a “church”, the whole culture can use it as a weapon for conformity and order.  The “gospel” good news becomes promisespromises and threatsthreatsthreats.

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