Friday, August 7, 2020


Mesha Stele (Louvre), photo: Henri Sivonen

Religious relics and sites like the Shroud of Turin, Mecca and Jerusalem possess an enormous magnetism even for the secular imagination. The sociologist Max Weber used the term "disenchantment" referring to the force of scientism which removes the ineffable spiritual element from human existence. Bruno Bettleheim wrote an essay, Freud and Man’s Soul addressing  English translations of Freud’s work which attempted to lend credibility to psychoanalysis by increasing scientific terminology at the expense of the sublime. When you were a kid you may have seen the old 30s horror movies in which Oxbridge archeologists incur the wrath of dead Egyptian royalty when they attempt to invade sacred tombs. It’s hard not to see of a statue of Ramesses II or the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut and not feel stirred by a mixture of awe and fear. Will the walls begin to shake? After a parent or loved one has died many people feel the presence of a dead spirit in the room. A flickering lightbulb may be indicative of the presence of the departed. Whether there is one or not, you can safely say the deceased are alive and well in your imagination. You swat a fly or step on an ant. In reality, cremation is no different. The living form disintegrates. Even the bible intones “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Yet something indescribable remains. Bishop Berkeley famously said “esse est percipi,” “to be is to be perceived.” For him only God made the world real.

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