I just received my first issue of The Sun. It’s refreshing to read real thoughts from real people. I recently tried to find something worthwhile in Time or Newsweek and gave up after having to glean small tidbits of news from page after page of crass commercialization.
Perien Gray’s Readers Write contribution on “The Laundromat” [March 1998] really hit home. I have read her last paragraph several times and even copied it into my journal. Having just retired at fifty-eight, I can empathize with her feeling of being unnoticed, of having no more adventure or romance in her life.
So much of our society is tied to stereotypes about age. Just because a person hits a certain age doesn’t mean he or she no longer feels the same gamut of emotions as a person of twenty-five: passion, loneliness, lust, fear. Why can’t a person just be a person and not a “senior citizen”?
Jake Gaskins’s “On the Sorrow of Receiving a Teaching Award” [March 1998] spoke directly to many of my personal concerns and troubles. My ten years as an educator has brought me accolades from colleagues, students, and parents; yet, each week, I wrestle with a deep sense of inadequacy, failure, and ensnarement. My disappointment and utter inability to understand my students, much as I try, have been the center of my recent writings. My essays seem so laden with the failures of myself and of the system that I have feared they might have no audience. Gaskins’s piece assures me, though, that successful educators need not continue to posture with false confidence and to write solely about those fleeting moments of inspiration or revelation.
In response to Mark Durbin’s criticism of the Correspondence section [Correspondence, March 1998]: Despite the fact that I cannot wait to see what thought-provoking essays and stories appear in each issue of The Sun, I turn first to the Correspondence. I am always fascinated by the opinions of the magazine’s readership, from those I am in complete concordance with, to those I find quite unsettling. Indeed, it is the wide range of responses that intrigues me so. One moment I feel that the majority of people in the world share my views and values; the next I am reminded that certain of my beliefs are held only by a few. The Correspondence section represents the diversity and mystery of human thought. The first two pages of The Sun are wisely spent on it.
Thank you for reprinting James Hillman’s “The Parental Fallacy” in your March 1998 issue. I first got wind of this brilliant thinker in A Blue Fire (Harper Perennial), an anthology of Hillman’s writings, edited by Thomas Moore. Moore’s accessible style has since lifted his Care of the Soul to the number-one slot on the bestseller list, while Hillman’s more difficult books enjoy a smaller readership. But thanks in part to magazines like The Sun, Hillman still finds an audience of readers who are willing to do the necessary emotional or intellectual work to read his luminous words. Every sentence gleamed with power.
James Hillman’s acorn theory, which claims that unborn children choose their parents before conception, explains a lot of unlikely couplings and apparent mistakes. But how would it explain a couple being unable to conceive? Are they simply not selected as parents? What about those who choose to be childless? What would Hillman say about adoptive parents? About court-appointed guardians? About abandoned children?
In one of the Star Trek movies, a charismatic charlatan offered to take away Captain Kirk’s pain by giving him a therapeutic hug. Captain Kirk shot back, “I don’t want you to take away my pain. I need my pain.” When I heard this, I wanted to jump up in the middle of the crowded theater and shout, “Amen, brother! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”
I had the same reaction when I read Scott London’s interview with James Hillman, “From Little Acorns: A Radical New Psychology” [March 1998], only this time I did it — I raised my hands and said, “Hallelujah!” Thank God for this man who is not afraid to use words like soul and calling.
Hillman is right: the old psychology does not work. Its proponents are mired in the Industrial Revolution, with its Newtonian view of the universe. They still think of human beings as biological robots, more sophisticated than a toaster or a vibrator, yes, but still machines that can be fixed. This type of thinking is rooted not in the mind, but rather in the forebrain, where empiricism dwells. The mind embraces the unknowable because it is, and always has been, in touch with the infinite, an idea that the forebrain cannot wrap itself around.
I am not at total ingrate, however. I am very appreciative of the forebrain’s many wonderful accomplishments. I thank it daily for penicillin, sports cars, Windows 95, air bags (but not seat belts), the morning-after pill, dark superior rum, and good hand-rolled cigars. But the forebrain is only a servant of the mind, and as such, it does not always stay where it belongs. Too often, it oversteps its bounds and tries to deal with things it cannot comprehend. Faced with a mystery it is incapable of figuring out, the forebrain will do anything and everything it can to provide a solution. When it finds itself incompetent, it will dig in its heels and become more desperately scientific, more hopelessly empirical. The forebrain will lie, cheat, distort, and rationalize; and what it still cannot understand, it will burn at the stake, or in gas ovens. The forebrain will even go so far as to deny the very existence of the enigma staring it in the face.
The reason most of us Westerners feel lost and confused is that we have allowed the forebrain to become the master, as traditional psychotherapists (and organized religion, and the cult of science) have done. This is exactly why we need psychiatrists to fix us. We have abdicated our rule over the forebrain, and the price of our abdication has been fear, alienation, violence, addiction, divorce, psychological depression, alien abductions, and insanity. We have elevated a slave to the status of master, and have found him to be a ruthless tyrant with only situational ethics and cramped logic to rule by.
My only criticism of Hillman is that he stopped short. Just when it really mattered, he pulled back. He didn’t go all the way. He didn’t say what (or who) he meant by this “something other than humans” (but not quite as “lofty” as God) to which we should be attached. Is it ideas? Theology? Angels? Family? Country? Religion? Why did Hillman not come out and say “God” when it’s obvious that’s what he meant? Was he afraid of ridicule — the price all true prophets must pay? Because of this, the interview was like an unfinished sneeze.
Hillman played it safe, and therefore shouldn’t be hailed as having broken away from traditional psychotherapy. Until he places God at center stage in his theories, Hillman will remain in league with the traditional psychotherapists.
The truth is, nothing can help any of us until we recognize and act upon the fact that we are basically spiritual beings who live in bodies that happen to have forebrains. We cannot be whole or happy until we are in God (though not necessarily the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, and definitely not some vague other-than-human thing), and He is in us.
Having enjoyed John Taylor Gatto’s essays on schooling, I began “In Defense of Original Sin” [January 1998] with enthusiasm. Alas, I found myself dismayed by his essay. True, many good things came out of the early American religious communities of which he spoke. But let us not forget that the U.S. Constitution had its roots in the ideals of ancient Greek philosophers and the example of the Iroquois League, as well as in the American Protestant tradition. The dissenters Gatto admires did give each other room out of respect. Rather, for the first time in their contentious history, they found themselves in a land where they could spread out and avoid one another. And weren’t these the same people who brought us the Salem witch trials, and who banished Anne Hutchinson for heresy?
Gatto acknowledges that the settlers had their flaws, but says the damage they caused stopped at the boundaries of a single church and community. I disagree. It was the colonists who began the deforestation of the continent, not just to create farmland, but because they found the woods dark and demon-haunted. They used Scripture to justify slavery and the genocide of the indigenous inhabitants. The settlers saw the natives’ “sodomitical ways” (they honored people we call lesbian and gay) as proof of their ungodliness, and as justification for torturing and killing them. The verse in Genesis that Gatto sees as an invitation to accept pain these Christians used as a rationale for the oppression of women. (It refers to women having to suffer in childbirth as a result of Eve’s sin.)
You don’t need to believe in original sin to live a moral life, or to respect the planet and the other beings who share it with you. In fact, that belief may undermine such values, as it reinforces woundedness rather than wonder, guilt rather than gratitude.
It’s true, as John Taylor Gatto points out, that society and individuals would be better served, on some level, by a Christian curriculum. It is equally true that we would be better served by schools promoting any philosophy, religion, or belief system that espouses similar ethical ideas — and there are a variety of them. If Christianity is your chosen path, send your kids to a school based on it, but leave others to the path they choose — including none.
I’d also like to endorse Gatto’s debunking of the lies we tell as a society. He cites the purported relationship between school performance and success in life as one, but there are so many. I have often wondered, for example, what the effect is on children when they realize that their parents deliberately lied to them about Santa Claus. A wise teacher once told me, “Tell the truth, because it works.” I tell the truth because I cannot live any other way. Whether I ignore this part of my nature or serve it, I cannot change it. I tell the truth, not because it is morally right, but because it costs me my aliveness when I do not.
In his piece “Connecting a Few Dots” [November 1997], Michael Ventura asks: “What does it mean when American kids can play Internet games with French kids, but can’t find Paris on the map?”
We respond: What does it mean when an intelligent American writer pens an article about the state of the world, but doesn’t include Canada on the map?