1. I saw the bears the other day, but, alas, only two of the original four (mother and three cubs), about which I had written more than a year ago. These were probably siblings, possibly sisters from their wariness and their observant stroll. Where was the peevish brother who had tossed about and explored and one day come up to a window to peer inside mischievously? And the attentive and kind-eyed mother who would stuff seeds to maintain her lactation for the cubs, and who always kept an eye on the straying cubs as they climbed trees or explored too far from mother’s range and had to be called back with a stern grunt?
2. Sitting indoors with a full view of a bird feeder hanging from an eave, I recall an unusual little cardinal visiting regularly last year. My eye was drawn to him (it was a grayish-red, hence male) because he sat within the feeder trough rather than perch like his fellows. Was he so greedy and slothful as to occupy the feeder for himself in comfort? One day I realized the explanation. The bird was half-perched, a withered leg dangling from the feeder edge. He could not stand fully upright. He had managed valiantly so far, but he would not return when woodpeckers scared him off, and his feeeding sessions were labored and short. I wondered how he got on. I only saw him a few times more.
Jean Giono’s “The Man Who Planted Trees” is a wonderful tale of a hermit in Provence who takes upon himself the planting of oak trees in a barren, desolate landscape. The man lives in a clean little house, tending sheep (which he later gives up for bees); he had lost his family before the war (WWI). He knew that of the 100,000 acorns he planted, about a tenth would grow into trees and prosper. That is a given of life , an acceptable reality. It does not trouble him. The story is so measured, reflective, so full of empathy that it stands alone as a paradigm for life itself. The first English language printing is filled with clean and quiet woodcuts worthy of appreciation in themselves.
Brought to our attention by a friend of Hermitary. Also suggested is the half-hour animated film of the story, which our friend considers “the best and most accessible portrayal” of what a hermit is.
That religions, especially Western theisms, are rooted in specific historical and cultural circumstances does not of itself impinge upon their “validity.” The truth of a given belief depends upon the belief’s approximation to what is perennial, what is common and transcendent among all religions. Of course, the Western theisms have historically maintained that they are unique and exclusive, cutting off their ability to transcend local culture and society by being so rooted in history. It is left to mystics, saints, and sages of these traditions to pull the elements of belief and good will up, up to that level of the perennial and universal.
To the hermit or solitary, already disposed to minimizing the effects of society and culture on his/her vision of reality, the approach to the perennial and transcendent can be easier. The hermit or solitary is already disposed to thinking like a sage, even if not quite sagacious. By no longer depending on the social side of religion or theism, the nature of things drops foible human interpretation. Nature (or Tao or God) can speak directly to the heart and mind.
Though modern atheism is built upon rejection of the social and cultural premises of theism and religion, it does not share the perennial because it still needs the social and cultural context, the approval of history. Thus atheism remains equivalent to theism in its inability to transcend time and space. Nevertheless, many scientists, especially the prominent physicists of the early twentieth century, do pursue a transcendent view of the universe as the equivalent of sages of the past.
Atheism is not the skepticism of antiquity with reference to the gods nor that of the Age of Enlightenment with its nascent individualism. Modern atheism is based on science, mathematics, and logic. Its fruit is positivism, behaviorism, technology, and materialism.
Modern culture continues to subsist on the moral capital of theism, both in positive and negative ways. Scholasticism only codified the dichotomies of theism that continue to plague society: war versus peace, liberty versus authority, charity versus justice, obedience versus power. In short, theism made no progress on these essential issues. But atheism, rather than point to a resolution of these dichotomies, has instead created the technological tools that allow the powerful in society and the world to choose the negative of the dichotomies. Modern science, technology, and cultural materialism have allied themselves to the most primitive elements of theism to produce institutions and powers inimical to humanity.
Atheism creates of theism — its antagonist — a system and logic that is a counterpart to be refuted point by point. This assumes that theism is a logos, what the Greeks called a system of rational knowledge. That theism, especially as derived from the Western scriptural tradition, should be looked upon as a logos is partly the fault of scholasticism, confuting belief and reason. The counterpart knowledge that neither theism nor atheism take into account is gnosis, which is knowledge derived from intuition, insight, experience, and wisdom. Hence Alan Watts could quip, “If you say that you believe in God, I will say that I do not. If you say that you do not believe in God, I will say that I do.”