March 2016 Archives

Hemant Mehta shares an excerpt from Phil Zuckerman's new book The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies, wherein Zuckerman remarks that "Perhaps the ultimate existential threat to control, certainty, meaning, purpose, and social connection is the inevitability of death:"

Given that, for seculars, there is no comfort of literal immortality, does this mean that cultural worldviews do not play the same death-denying function for them? [...] For seculars, self-esteem and symbolic immortality may be derived from cultural accomplishments (such as writing a book!), artistic work, material possessions, or an ideology such as humanism. But are these forms of immortality less satisfying than eternity itself?

"When faced with death," he reminds us, "religious and secular alike often search for meaning:"

In a study about end-of-life concerns, atheists expressed a desire to find meaning in their own lives, to maintain connection with family and friends, and to experience the natural world through the experience of dying.

At last week's National Religious Broadcasters Presidential Forum, Ben Carson claimed that gay rights are a commie plot:

Carson told host Eric Metaxas that "the First Amendment gives you the right to live according to your faith without being harassed," adding that "separation of church and state is not in the United States Constitution, it was a Supreme Court ruling a few decades ago where it actually entered the lexicon." In fact, the phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. [...]

He called Obergefell "way out of whack" because it "impinges upon the ability of people to live according to their faith," saying that "as president I would really encourage them to come up with legislation that protects the livelihood and the freedom of people who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. There's no reason that those people should be persecuted in our society." [...]

He then reiterated his belief that gay rights are part of a larger conspiracy to destroy America, boasting that he knows the truth after reading "conspiracy books": "Many people have been mesmerized by the secular-progressive movement and they have come to accept it almost by osmosis, without recognizing what the implications are. I know fully what they're doing but that's because I do a lot of reading. I read conspiracy books, I read all kinds of books. I also read communist books and socialist books and I know about some of these plans that they have."

update (4:37pm):
The postscript to this story is that Carson has ended "his weird, grifting, bigoted ride to the White House:"

While he is not formally suspending his presidential campaign, Ben Carson said in a statement today that he sees no path to becoming the GOP nominee.

Carson has tried to position himself as the nice candidate in a race of blowhards, although his kindly image probably wasn't helped by the fact that his campaign was apparently scamming supporters in order to make money for its own operatives. It also wasn't helped by Carson's many mystifying statements and his promotion of anti-gay and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Good riddance, Carson. I'll be glad to go back to ignoring you.

Open Culture discusses Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea (1938), wherein:

... the stricken protagonist Antoine Roquentin cures his existential horror and sickness with jazz--specifically with an old recording of the song "Some of These Days." Which recording? We do not know. "I only wish Sartre had been more specific about the names of the musicians on the date," writes critic Ted Gioia in a newly published essay, "I would love to hear the jazz record that trumps Freud, cures the ill, and solves existential angst."

Ted Gioia''s fractious fiction piece calls Sartre "the last writer to reach the highest levels of success as both philosophy and literature," and comments that "as a longtime jazz lover, I am secretly pleased at the cure for the existential nausea:"

Sartre called jazz "the music of the future" and made an effort to get to know Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, and listen to John Coltrane. His writings on the subject are more atmospheric than analytical, but it is likely that Sartre saw jazz as the musical manifestation of the existential freedom he described in his philosophical texts. Jazz musicians, he once explained, are "speaking to the best part of you, the toughest, the freest."

Gioia wonders about the possibility that "perhaps jazz does cure existential angst:"

Maybe it delivers more value for money than a trip to the psychiatrist's couch or the latest advertised chemical cure for your woes. In our current age, when people are increasingly looking for alternative treatments, here's one that can be had for a song.

Sartre's "I Discovered Jazz in America" calls jazz our "national pastime:"

At Nick's bar, in New York, the national pastime is presented. Which means that one sits in a smoke-filled hall among sailors, longshoremen, chippies, society women. Tables, booths. No one speaks. [...] No one speaks, no one moves, the jazz holds forth. From ten o'clock to three in the morning the jazz holds forth. [...]

They are speaking to the best part of you, to the toughest, to the freest, to the part which wants neither melody nor refrain, but the deafening climax of the moment. [...] You will leave a little worn out, a little drunk, but with a kind of dejected calm, like the aftermath of a great nervous exhaustion.

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