Posts Tagged ‘myth’

SERMON: “Living the Dream” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

One shouldn’t watch a movie like “Inception” just before writing a sermon, especially when that sermon is to be about the persistence of myth and this writer’s ongoing realization that our reliance on narrative goes much deeper than he realized.  (“Inception” is a story based on the idea that we can share our dream state with others, and from this a tale of espionage and personal redemption follows.  It’s a really enjoyable movie, but to see it on a day when it’s hitting me that we humans are so deeply enmeshed with our stories that they may be the thing we cannot actually exist without may not have been the best choice).

I’m currently reading a book that carefully (and thoughtfully) examines the shared mythologies and ideas that we Americans share: the ideas through which we have formed (and maintain) our identity as citizens.  It is a “peeling of the onion” sort of book, well written, and mostly right-on as far as I can see (so far).  It is both exhilarating to feel my understanding expand even as it feeds a lingering sense of despair about the future of my own species.  For even with my active pursuit of reason and reality, I carry the imprint of my own culture and upbringing.  I am still an American, and a citizen of the same mythologies that motivate even my most irrational neighbors.

Odd thing, that.

What it makes me think of is the powerful role our youth has on our adult desires, tastes and attitudes.  It makes me realize that our social primate nature — beside being a much deeper force than I think most of us allow — is also deeply local, and that whatever it is that surrounds us in our formative years will forever represent what triggers our sense of comfort, beauty or safety (and, conversely, fear, disgust and discomfort).  And though (in some cases) horrific events drive people to find comfort in the completely foreign or new this is, I think, not the norm.

I’ve touched on this before in discussing the area of personal growth, where in my own case I have endeavored (as fearlessly as I’m able, anyway) to inquire into what it is that really makes me happy/excited/satisfied, and to not settle for the ideas of what I think should “trip my trigger”.  While on that “path” I have found (of late) an increasing sense that most of my “triggers” were formed long ago, and I am faced with an intriguing choice of whether to abandon what naturally (by early experience) makes me “happy”, or to conduct experiments on re-training myself in new means to the same ends.

Considered in the cold light of having only this one life in which to live (and excluding the pathologic or neurotic), which is the better choice?  This is the dilemma I’ve faced of late when confronted with a persistent happiness and sense of well being that has preceded the sought-after events that were to bring about those satisfactions.  Does one go ahead and be happy, or attempt to cultivate enough discontent to continue the pursuit of the idea (or ideal)?

There aren’t complete answers to these questions, just as there may not be completely satisfying answers to all of our other questions about ourselves or life in general.

I will insert here, however, my continued annoyance at the human tendency to see behind each un-answered question the lurking presence of a mystical presence, be it god, spirit, or devil.  Bullshit.  While our fascination with the unknown as home to our fantastical projections is great as entertainment (such as “Inception”), it is crap as actual living (in my humble opinion).  The raising of the metaphysical flag each time a scientist says “I don’t know what’s beyond this” does not do our species proud, and always (always) represents NOT a leap of faith into the unknown, but a retreat back into the darker ages of our emerging reason.

(I told you I shouldn’t be writing a sermon after that movie and the book I’m reading).

But about that book: each page I turn that further explains the roots of our shared ideology as Americans feeds my secret belief that I can understand it all, and take that knowledge and affect it all.  In the end, of course, even as I add arrows to my quiver with which to attack our nationalistic hubris, I am reminded of my own “galloping jesus complex”.  Alas, it seems to be a natural human attribute to see ourselves not only as the center of the world, but to assume a certain sense of omnipotence over that world, to the end that every street corner preacher thinks that he or she is going to “save the world” (even as they struggle to keep a dozen butts in the folding chairs at each storefront service).

But it’s not just the religious evangelist.  We actually buy recycled toilet paper whose label tells us that we are “saving the planet”, and we believe it.  I saw an ad for an electric car claiming that it was “carbon neutral” (as if the mined, refined and manufactured steel, plastic, glass, solvents, paints and rubber were all found ready-to-assemble by the damn roadside)!

Of course buying the recycled toilet paper or the electric car are rational choices (and could have an accumulative effect on extending our pleasurable lives here on Earth), but my point is that we are naturally prone to an exuberant sense of self-importance that is so pervasive I find I have no right to call it a sin.

As the book I’m reading (which I’ll review next week) seems to suggest, the very myths that get in the way of our rational discussion of issues that affect us may in fact also be the necessary glue that allows so many of us to live together in the complex societies that we know as nations.  On a more personal level, it may be my own inherent sense of human importance that moves me to do the many things I do (including this sermon).

Whether I want to admit it or not, I, too, want to save the world.  And whether I want to admit it or not, on some level, I still believe that I can.  The wonder of our evolved human brain is that we can step outside of ourselves and examine, critically, our myths and ideas.  And returning at last to the metaphor of the “dream” movie “Inception”: I guess that this is the difference between the people that exercise that critical ability and the ones that don’t: the one is looking for what the dream can reveal, the other won’t acknowledge that they’re dreaming at all.

t.n.s.r.