Religion of the undead

3monkeyGlenn‘You said your last therapist thought you’re mad.’

‘Yes,’ Daniel replies.

‘How so?’ I ask.

With a heaviness Daniel replies, ‘Umm … You know what zombies are?’ His eyes are intense.

‘I’ve seen zombie films,’ I retort. I don’t think this is the answer Daniel wants.

Daniel continues, ‘Zombies are brain dead; they feed on the living.’ He scans my reaction, then continues.

‘Have you seen Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? These people barricade themselves into a shopping mall, then zombies break in and wander around the shops; the survivors have to pretend to be zombies – it’s the way people have become.’

‘It’s a comment on consumerism?’ I ask.

Daniel looks disappointed. ‘It’s a metaphor, not a comment.’

‘So you’re saying some people are zombies?’ I clarify.

‘You read Nietzsche right?’ Daniel asks. I nod. ‘People’ve become Nietzsche’s last man; they seek only comfort, they don’t think, they dislike and fear the “other” unless they’re subjugated, kept behind a big wall, or Brexited away … This is what zombie films are about. No one’s immune. Christians think they are; they don’t realise they’re already zombies. Christianity is the religion of the undead.’

‘Say more,’ I urge.

Daniel sits forward. ‘Nietzsche understood Christianity wouldn’t die with the death of God; instead it would flourish, because, at it’s heart, it’s nihilistic. It can’t affirm life because it devalues it; it values only a belief in an afterlife. And so it breeds ressentiment towards life.’

Daniel pauses for a moment, then continues, ‘You’re thinking “He’s mad” aren’t you?’

‘Yes I am. You are mad. You’ve come in here and said “People are zombies”, “Christians are the undead” just as Nietzsche’s mad man entered the market declaring “God is dead”. You’re doing just the same. By your own point of reference, and Nietzsche’s, you’re mad.’

‘Huh. Yes I suppose so. But do you think I’m mad?’ Daniel insists.

‘Not in the clinical DSM 5 sense, but yes, in an informal sense, the way most of us are.’

‘So you agree that Christians are zombies, nihilists?’ Daniel asks.

‘Well I don’t know about zombies … but yes they’re nihilistic. Though I wouldn’t include Jesus in that. I agree with Nietzsche about Jesus, he described him as “the first and last Christian”. So Jesus is the exception that proves the rule.’

‘Hmm interesting,’ Daniel ponders, ‘Do you think Jesus was mad?’

‘How could he not be? Though I think he knew he was. Knowing how mad you are makes all the difference,’ I reply.

‘Do you think Richard Dawkins is mad?’ Daniel asks.

‘You tell me.’

‘Yes in a sense; when he attacks religious people it’s clear he doesn’t see how much in common he has with them; he wants to convert them. He picked up on this idea about memes, and said that religion was a sort of meme or virus. That’s similar to what I’m saying, though people seem to think Dawkins is brilliant. He thinks he has the cure; he doesn’t see how he’s just spreading a different strain of the same virus.’

‘You’re quite invested in what people think of you,’ I reply.

‘Aren’t you?’ Asks Daniel.

‘Yes to some degree; mostly not. Being yourself inevitably invites criticism. It’s a small price.’

‘You’re not mad,’ Daniel concludes, ‘You’re a bit odd, but you’re not mad.’

‘I am mad.’ I point at the space on the sofa next to where Daniel is sitting. ‘Three months ago I worked with a talking chimpanzee. She sat right there.’

Daniel looks at me as though seeing me for the first time.

‘Look, there on the rug, that’s a squashed mango stain – she dropped fruit peel and skins on the floor and stepped on them when she got up.’ Looking at Daniel I add, ‘If that’s true – and it is true – tell me I’m not mad.’

Daniel blinks twice, blurts out a high-pitch laugh and says, ‘You’re nuts! … So tell me about the chimpanzee, did you cure her?’

Daniel is humouring me; he doesn’t believe what I’ve said.

‘No, I don’t cure chimpanzees, or humans. Both are terminal conditions; there’s no cure. She did appreciate the fruit though … And our work together isn’t finished.’

Daniel looks up at the wall. ‘You should have one of those signs – you know: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.’

‘I might do that.’ I smile, ‘You’re a sensitive man Daniel. You’re creative and you care deeply. I see it’s a struggle to express that. We can explore anything you want. How does that sound?’

Daniel solemnly nods his approval.

‘But if you eat fruit in this room you can use the bin like a normal person.’

Glenn recommends …

… reading his earlier blog Chimpanzee on the couch; it might help you make more sense of this one.

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

The verificationist

3monkeyGlenn‘How can you know anything?’ Peter asks.

‘How’d you know when you know?’ I reply.

‘Good point. But then you just go round in circles.’

‘Ripples on a pond,’ I suggest.

‘That metaphor doesn’t work; ripples emanate from the centre.’

‘Could that be knowing? Finding the centre, the origin?’

‘Maybe … That’d be convenient; you’re free associating, right? Isn’t that what you therapists call the Royal Road to knowing or whatever? Anyway aren’t you suppose to know about knowing?’Peter replies in an accusing tone.

‘I’m not that interested in knowing,’ I reply.

‘That’s convenient too.’ Peter smiles.

‘How so?’

‘Well you therapists have “privileged” knowledge. It’s hardly democratic. Sure we can all free associate, but analysts have just that bit more knowledge and insight than us humble lay people.’

‘So it wouldn’t feel equal if we free associated together?’ I ask.

‘No it wouldn’t … But go on – I’m game.’ Peter readies himself.

‘Sex,’ I say.

‘Wow, aren’t you meant to start with “window” or “book” something innocuous? Build up to sex. Start with “mother” perhaps,’ Peter exclaims.

I smile.

‘Ah come on, you’re not going link “mother” with “sex”? That’s too easy! Let’s start again,’ Peter appeals to unknown rules.

‘Peter, you made the link! “Sex” was the first word that came to mind,’ I reply.

‘Hang on … this is meant to be my analysis, not yours. Anyway, I thought I was meant to be the one obsessed with sex! Find your own therapist!’ Peter starts laughing.

When he stops I reply, ‘You said it wasn’t democratic. So I joined in.’

‘Yes, but you’re meant to interpret my words,’ Peter exclaims.

‘I thought we were free associating together,’ I reply.

‘Well what’s the point, if there’s no interpretation?’ Peter appeals to my reason.

‘To be free enough to say whatever comes,’ I offer.

‘Yes, but that’s not the point. It’s not why I pay you; you’re meant to interpret what I say.’

‘Well “sex” was an interpretation. Whatever was going on in that moment the word that came was “sex”. I can interpret an interpretation and then we’re back to circles again.’

‘Okay.’ Peter sounds puzzled.

‘So you brought up payment and why you originally came me to see me,’ I recap.

‘I don’t want to go back there. I want to stay with this, with free association,’ Peter insists.

‘Yeah we’ll stay with free association, but I think your relationship to women is related.’

‘Ah I see, you said “sex” because you want to get back to talking about my infidelity!’ Peter points at me.

‘Maybe. I don’t know. It’s a reasonable interpretation, although you’re assuming my motivation. You assume it’s why I said “sex”,’ I respond.

‘But isn’t that how everyone thinks? Anyway, how does that relate to me and other women?’

‘Okay. So if you see a woman you’re attracted to, you want to have sex with her. You interpret your desire to mean: “I want sex”; on one level that makes sense, of course.’

‘So?’ Peter asks.

‘You see arousal as a “thing-in-itself” rather than what it is; an interpretation.’

‘I assure you when I have an erection it’s definitely an erection,’ Peter smiles.

‘Of course. And it is an interpretation,’ I say.

‘Wait no! My erection isn’t an interpretation … It’s a projection! It’s definitely a projection, ha.’ I can’t resist smiling with Peter.

‘Am I making sense at all?’ I ask.

‘Uh yes … I’m not sure. What’re you actually saying?’

‘Curiosity is like an erection: it needs maintaining. If you’re curious about desire, women, your wife … your marriage, you’ll open up other possibilities. Unlike having an erection you’re responsible for your curiosity. It seems to me when you have an erection you don’t maintain curiosity. So if you see your arousal as causal you blame yourself, and if you see attractive women as the cause you blame them. More circles.’

‘So how do I escape?’

‘Maybe you can’t, at least not on that level,’ I reply.

‘Well that’s not much help!’

‘See it for what it is: a dream.’

‘That doesn’t help either. Wait, what does that even mean?’ Peter asks.

‘Dreams are strange. You’ve lost the strangeness of your everyday life; you can only see “things”. If you become curious about desire, arousal, about women and particularly yourself, you’ll gradually stop objectifying them. You need to stop objectifying everything and everyone, including yourself. Remember the mind is always interpreting; what you see is an interpretation … You need to arouse your curiosity.’

‘Okay.’ Peter nods slowly.

‘For example, if you ask “What’s the point of this conversation?” you objectify it. Instead, think of it as a dream; you then open up endless possibilities.’

Peter lays back and pretends to snore: ‘Zzz, zzz …’

I whisper, ‘Peter you’re dreaming of pretending to be asleep!’

Peter opens one eye, winks at me and we both start laughing.

 

Glenn recommends …

… ‘The Gay Science’ by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

The source of the Nile

3monkeyGlenn‘So why are you living on a boat on the Nile?’ I ask.

‘Like everyone else here, I’m looking for the source,’ she laughs. I smile.

‘I value the solitude, the heat and being independent. Now though I mostly feel lonely; all I have for company are mosquitos. It’s self-enforced exile. I can’t forgive and can’t be forgiven.’

‘So you punish yourself in exile. How long will you do that for?’ I ask.

‘There’s no way back; I’ll probably be eaten by a crocodile and no one would ever know.’

Her head swivels around as she takes in her dimly lit cabin. It’s tiny, a few brilliant shards of sunlight pierce the darkness through a hatch behind her. I think of mummies cocooned in tombs.

‘Is there anything else keeping you there?’

‘No, apart from my boat, nothing.’

‘What’s your boat called?’

She looks embarrassed. ‘Dignity. You know, like the song …’ – she sings – ‘… a ship called dignity’.

‘I know that song.’ I reply.

‘The man in the song is a street cleaner. He wants to get away. He saves his money for a boat he’s going to call Dignity.’

‘It doesn’t sound like the right name for your boat.’

‘Uh, how so?’ she asks.

‘A ship called Guilty seems more apt.’ I’d not really seen the link before between dignity and guilt; they’re quite similar … I begin floating away on my thoughts.

She interrupts my thinking, I’m back with her again, ‘I see what you mean but you don’t know what I’ve done.’

‘You could tell me.’

‘You’d hate me.’

‘It must be awful for all your care to be taken up with what other people think of you.’

She looks away. ‘Like a ship’s captain I’ll probably go down with this bloody boat.’

‘That’s up to you. Forgiveness, no forgiveness; either way it’s up to you.’

‘Okay I’ll tell you.’ She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. I feel like a priest in a confession booth – the computer screen in place of the lattice opening both separating and connecting us.

‘I allowed my husband, my ex-husband, to do things, terrible things, to our son.’ Her breathing stops for a moment. Apart from the hum of my monitor there’s silence.

The cabin looks to be closing in on her. Rather than lighting her way out, the sunlight is a chink in her self-created cell.

‘Where were you when he did these things?’

Tears start rolling down her cheeks. ‘At church, for Sunday evening prayers.’

I feel sick.

‘Did you ever tell the priest?’

‘I think he knew. He’d see my son in the morning at Sunday School. He would go on about forgiveness. I don’t think he believed what he was saying, maybe he did, in any case what the hell does the Church know about abuse or forgiveness.’

I wonder if she’ll ever have any peace. With this thought my peace is gone and I feel priestly again. I can feel the tension mounting in the ether somewhere between her cabin on the Nile and my home in Cambridge.

‘So, what do you think?’

‘About what?’ I reply.

‘About what I’ve done, what I failed to do as a mother? What else?’

‘It is awful and yes it’s hateful. Did you know at the time?’

‘No, not consciously, I knew something was wrong … You think what I did was unforgivable, I can tell?’

‘You want to know if I forgive you?’

‘You wouldn’t tell me honestly.’

‘You don’t know, you’ve not asked. I don’t think you want to know.’

‘You’re avoiding the question.’

‘You haven’t asked the question.’

‘I know what you’d say: “I’ve got to forgive myself first”, blah, blah, blah; that’s a dodge too. What I’ve done is unforgiveable, that’s it. Anyway what’s your problem with forgiveness?’

‘It’s self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with your son. Besides that it won’t free you.’

‘Wow! You really don’t like me very much do you?’

I smile. She replies, ‘Okay, now you’re going to tell me that it’s not important whether you like me or not. Come on, really?’

She’s right, it’s an uncomfortable question, I can’t avoid it; ‘I don’t forgive you; your son won’t forgive you. You’ll never forgive yourself, your ex-husband, the priest or the Church. And you’ll never forgive God.’ I give these words time to penetrate her cell.

I add, ‘You don’t need forgiveness; it’s about finding a way to live with the pain.’

She looks sad, then a smile, ‘The priest won’t like that.’ Then letting out a deep breath, her voice now coming from her diaphragm, ‘If that were true I could come back to England. I’d have to sell the boat first.’

‘Maybe you could give it to the priest for dispensation?’ We laugh.

‘You could just leave it behind.’

Glenn recommends …

The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.