Were I to review Terry Eagleton’s Radical Sacrifice, I would recommend it unequivocally. Though Eagleton and I may not see eye to eye in all things (and I would have it no other way; how else would I learn?), this latest addition to his bibliography is well worth the time of any reader interested in revolutionary politics, ideology, or even the Christian narrative itself. Rather than evaluate the merits of Eagleton’s work, I’ve instead experienced it for myself; and in lieu of a review, I have instead opted to share a stream of insights I gained from reading Radical Sacrifice.
I’ve recently found myself fascinated with the surviving fragments of Heraclitus and his philosophy, especially what he has to say about what we may call religious expression. What follows is a brief exploration of his ideas and an application to religion generally, especially my own native Mormonism.
Back in January I read Byung-Chul Han’s Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese (MIT Press, 2017), a deceptively-thin book which I finished in a couple sittings, but which has captivated my attention ever since I finished it. An essay on “decreation,” Shanzhai explores the history of Chinese thought viz. originality and reproduction, while also critiquing Western notions of originality.
Mind is the most fundamental yet enigmatic layer of a being. Arthur Schopenhauer, describing Kantian philosophy’s relation to Christianity, may have described the human being’s relation to his or her own mind: “a man who at a ball has been flirting the whole evening with a masked beauty, in hopes of making a conquest; till at last, throwing off her disguise, she reveals herself—as his wife” (Basis 105). Intimate yet occulted by proximity, mind and consciousness have seemed largely beyond understanding; some have altogether “ignored the phenomena … [as] inappropriate for empirical investigation” (Salamone n.p.). Far from inappropriate, however, Thomas Nagel suggests that mind and consciousness may be simply incompatible with materialist and new-Darwinian paradigms. Ultimately, “existence presents us with the fact that somehow the world generates conscious beings … We don’t know how this happens, but it is hard not to believe that there is some explanation” (Nagel Mind 31).
Often when discussing controversial issues the most popular move is to “straw man” a person’s argument—to devise a caricature of what the opposition believes, tear it down, and pretend that one has therefore won the argument. A Rogerian argument requires one to “steel man” the opposition, to state their case in such a way that the opposition may believe that the writer not only understands their position, but that demonstrates that the writer may pose a counterargument from an informed and thus authoritative position.
The very spirit of the Rogerian argument is comparable to that of Hegelian dialectics: truth is found in between dialectic and anti-dialectic, between argument and counter-argument—through dialogue—not on any particular “side”. I welcome feedback and further information, as this is only a cursory survey of the topic, but I ask that the reader make no mistake in reading this piece: the following does not necessarily reflect my opinion or beliefs on the topic, only an exercise in clear, honest, and fair argumentation.
The eighth-century Buddhist master Vimalamitra described the progress of a meditator: one first becomes acquainted with his or her thoughts, as with familiar friends; they then learn to allow trains of thought to unravel themselves, like a snake effortlessly unknotting itself; finally, one’s mind becomes like an empty house, within which thieves find nothing (Urgyen et al. 53). Not at all an exclusively Buddhist practice, for millennia numerous cultures around the world have utilized meditation in various forms. However, despite the diversity of theories and practices underlying meditation, Vimalamitra’s definition pinpoints what they hold in common: a desire and capacity to quiet an otherwise hyperactive mind. Only relatively recently, however, have researchers been able to analyze these claims. The results of scientific inquiries suggest that meditation provides numerous benefits, including greater presence, an increased ability to manage negative emotion, more productive sociability, as well as potential neurological benefits.
I’ve known about Harold Bloom since I first read The American Religion (1992, 2013) in 2015, but about two months ago I discovered for the first time what may be called (despite Bloom’s own wishes) the spiritual successor to that previous book: Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (1997). In reading Omens, I was captivated afresh with a topic that I had known about since I was a teenager, but which Bloom himself seemed to capture and articulate in ways I never could: namely, the ancient spiritual traditions collectively known as Gnosticism. Instantly intrigued, I devoured Omens, reread American Religion, and set out for more books by Bloom (I’ve attached a list of suggested reading to the end of this post, in fact).