Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Take 'Em Away

It's not the first time putting my music on random shuffle has enabled the synchronicity fairies to work their magic. Here's what popped up today.


Of course, what I immediately noticed was the corvid so prominently featured on the album art and in the band's name. (As for the rest of the band name, well, isn't "old ... medicine" more or less the opposite of a "novel ... virus"?) The chorus is consonant with the totalitarian conditions under which most of us are living in the post-birdemic world.
Take 'em away, take 'em away, Lord
Take away these chains from me
My heart is broken 'cause my spirit's not free
Lord, take away these chains from me
That relevance diminishes, however, as one listens to the verses, which make it clear that the "chains" refer to grinding poverty and the necessity of backbreaking work -- quite different from the current situation, where people are locked up at home and not allowed to work! Perhaps an entirely different song is more appropriate, as so many of us have been shanghaied into that infamous gang of scallywags, the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything,


Note: I should mention that I myself live in Taiwan, which is still a tolerably free country, and that my work has continued uninterrupted. I post this in solidarity with those who have not been so fortunate.

"Birdemic"?

The birds spit acid and explode into flames upon striking the ground (having become mutated and toxic due to, uh, global warming).
-- Wikipedia s.v. Birdemic: Shock and Terror, "uh" added

Q: Why use a codeword?

A: As a sort of perfunctory protection. Spreading "false" (i.e., true) information about the birdemic is already a crime in some countries, and we can expect more of that in the future. Dissent from the party line is definitely "denial," and probably "hate" to boot. While it would be a stretch to say that using the word birdemic provides plausible deniability, it does make what one writes less searchable. Even if someone thinks to search for "birdemic," which they won't, results relating to the 2010 James Nguyen film of that name will swamp out everything else.

Q: What have birds got to do with anything?

A: The corvids are a family of passerine birds comprising the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, etc. Their family name happens to sound a bit like the official name for the birdemic.

Q: Isn't this infringing on James Nguyen's intellectual property?

A: No. His film uses a capital "B."

Q: Does the actual movie Birdemic have any relevance to the current unpleasantness?

A: In a general sense, yes, in that the characters in the film seem inexplicably oblivious to the fact that the birds are obviously fake and that the story they are living in doesn't make any freaking sense.

A few scenes have more specific relevance. For example, the safety measures taken by the characters to protect themselves from the birds call to mind similarly effective measures recommended (or coerced) by governments today.


And of course, there's the famous "clap for carers" scene.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

What mortality means

 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.
-- John 6:27 
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
-- Ecclesiastes 2:16 
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
-- every logic textbook ever written

The convention of using the name "Socrates" when giving an example of a logical syllogism is, of course, entirely arbitrary. Any other name would have done as well. So, for that matter, would predicates other than "is a man" and "is mortal." Nevertheless, allow me to proceed on the conceit that whoever first came up with that now-hackneyed example (not, as you might assume, Aristotle; perhaps Mill) was inspired.


Once there was a man who liked nothing better than the feeling of heroin coursing through his veins. So he shot himself up with gobs of the stuff, died in short order, and that was the end of him. Those few moments of inexpressibly intense pleasure he had enjoyed were gone as if they had never existed.


There was another man, wiser than the first. Realizing that the short-sighted hedonism of the junkie leads only to suffering and death, he pursued an enlightened hedonism of the sort advocated by the likes of Epicurus, Lucretius, and their many modern-day epigones. He led a measured, responsible life, ever mindful of his health, and enjoyed the civilized pleasures of gardening, long walks in the park, and the jovial (but not too jovial) company of good friends.

Then, like the junkie, he died. His friends mourned him briefly, as is fitting, but naturally not to excess, and in very little time normal life resumed just as if the enlightened hedonist had never been born -- or, come to think of it, just as if he had been a junkie.


A  third man, wiser still, understood that even a good life ends in death, and so he focused his efforts on those who would survive him. He had many children, loved them, raised and educated them well, and worked hard to leave them a generous inheritance. They, for their part, loved and honored him, as did the many grandchildren he lived to see.

He died, too, of course, but he lived on the hearts of his offspring, who would often tell stories of their father and grandfather -- what a good man he had been, how much he had taught them, how he had made them what they were. But eventually all those who had known him died as well, and then all those who had known them. The stories ceased to be told, his name was forgotten, and with each succeeding generation his influence for good became increasingly diluted and diffuse and hard to identify. A few short centuries later, it was as if he had never lived at all.


A fourth, even wiser man, strove to live on forever in the hearts of his people. A just and benevolent man, brave and determined and endowed with great charisma, he united the tribes into a great nation. He made laws, founded cities, made the wilderness blossom as a rose, subdued their belligerent neighbors, and ushered in a golden age of art, industry, learning, and peace. When he died, his people, his cities, his laws, all lived on and flourished. His likeness and memory were to be found throughout the country. He was venerated almost as a god. The dates of his birth and death became public holidays. His name passed into the language as the name of his country and people, and eventually even as a common noun meaning "king."

But now that people has vanished from the face of the earth, their cities have crumbled to dust, and their once-fruitful land is desert once more. Their laws and institutions have been forgotten, and the language in which the name of their king had been immortalized is extinct. As for the king himself, he is still known to a few archaeological specialists, who may recognize his name as one of those that survives on a fragmentary list of kings. Its etymology and pronunciation are a matter of conjecture. The birth and death dates given are obviously fanciful. He is generally assumed to be entirely mythical.


We come at last to the wisest of all, whose legacy -- being spiritual and intellectual in nature -- is of such universal significance as to have survived the fall of more than one civilization, and who may well be remembered for as long as the human race persists. He founded not a kingdom or a school of thought but philosophy itself -- to such an extent that all those who came before are lumped together in a sort of prologue to the subject. His influence on all subsequent thought has been incalculable, and some two and a half millenia after his death, his is still a household name the world over, and he is remembered for his wisdom and integrity. And when a logician needs a name, any name, to use as an example in a syllogism, it is his that springs most readily to mind.

But he, too, is mortal, and there will come a time when even his legacy -- enormous by human standards, minuscule by cosmic ones -- will have vanished without a trace. Perhaps it will be when the human species goes extinct, or evolve into something unrecognizable. Perhaps it will be when a sufficiently large asteroid finally smites the Earth, blasting its oceans and atmosphere out into space and leaving the solar system with a second Mars, or when the inner planets are swallowed up into an expanding Sun -- or perhaps, as much as we might like to think otherwise, it will be considerably sooner than any of that. But, be it sooner or later, come that day will, and death, the great leveler, will have made him the equal of the junkie.


People who believe in mortality -- truly believe in it -- but who deny that it makes their lives meaningless, haven't thought things through. Yes, mortality absolutely does make your life meaningless. If mortality is for real, it won't make the slightest difference in the end whether you were a saint or a serial killer or some schmuck who spent all his time playing video games. No difference at all.

So ask yourself, which are you more sure of: that it does matter how you live your life, or that mortality is the last word?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Someone set us up the bomp

One of my favorite things to listen to as a young child was the White Album at 45 rpm. Unfortunately, most modern music technology lacks that handy option for playing a recording 35% faster than it was meant to be played. YouTube does offer something roughly similar, though. Click on the "settings" icon, and you can adjust playback speed to, among other values, 1.25 (42.7 rpm) or 1.5 (50 rpm).


This isn't quite the same as playing a 33.3 record at 45, though, because YouTube uses some newfangled technology to increase the tempo without making everything higher pitched -- which, unless you happen to be an Alvin and the Chipmunks fan, is generally a feature rather than a bug.

The optimal playback speed for "Who Put The Bomp" is 1.25 -- or sometimes 1.5 or even 1.75, if I happen to be in a particularly manic mood.


The Me First and the Gimme Gimmes version, on the other hand, is best listened to at a playback speed of 0.75.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

To those in despair

No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.
Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.
-- They Might Be Giants, "Don't Let's Start"
When the green field comes off like a lid
Revealing what was much better hid:
Unpleasant.
-- W. H. Auden, The Two
Dogs! Would you live forever?
-- Frederick the Great
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
-- Paul McCartney, "You Never Give Me Your Money"

Others are posting messages of comfort, but I get the distinct feeling that what some people really need is a message of discomfort -- a swift kick in the seat of the pants. So, never being one to dismiss distinct feelings, here goes.

Ahem.

Listen. You were always going to suffer and die. Everyone in your family was always going to suffer and die. Everyone you know was always going to suffer and die. All your earthly efforts were going to come to nought, your country and culture -- and, least we forget, "the economy" -- were going to degenerate and disappear, and the sun was going to expand into a red giant and consume the earth as though it had never existed. All that was always going to happen, and you knew it all along, or would have if you had been paying attention.

If you are in despair now but weren't before, you're an idiot. You do realize this game you signed up for is called mortal life, right? Did someone not explain that to you? Were you expecting something different? I don't know anything about your situation, but I know it hasn't fundamentally changed. You were born on death row. Don't you think that should have made you a little tougher than this?

As for the all the dupes and caitiffs and hypocrites and quislings you suddenly find yourself surrounded by -- I hate to break it to you, but they were already like that. All you're seeing now is what their true colors were all along. That's what the word apocalypse actually means, you know: Revelation. Revealing. Uncovering. The green field coming off like a lid. For just a second, you get a glimpse of all the men behind all the curtains in the world. The whited sepulchers may have looked nicer before they were opened, but they were full of dead men's bones all along.


You should have come to terms with death and suffering and evil a hell of a long time ago, but if you somehow haven't gotten around to it yet, well, now's your chance to do so. (Or not. Distraction is always an option, of course. I hear porn sites are offering premium memberships for free.)

Suffering is nothing. Suffering is ephemeral. If you think it matters, you're not thinking clearly. Next question.

And death? Well, that's the big question, isn't it? If death is for real, if mortality is the last word, then nothing at all matters or could matter, and you have nothing in particular to do except enjoy "that magic feeling" and kill time until time kills you. Or cut to the chase and kill yourself. It doesn't really matter one way or the other.

Or perhaps there's something after death, in which case something very likely does matter, and you'd better figure out what. Don't expect me to hold your hand here. Do I look like some sort of spiritual guide? Do your own thinking. Get out there and figure things out. It's a pity you waited until you were scared, though. Now it's just going to be that much harder to trust your intuitions as anything other than wishful thinking. Still, better to trust them, as compromised a they are, than what some Random Internet Person says. Best get on it.


Shall I close by saying that God loves you and everything's going to be all right? Fine. God loves you, and everything's going to be all right. Just keep in mind that God has loved everyone who has ever lived on this earth, and that "everything being all right," by God's standards, is evidently consistent with every imaginable human tragedy. Go read Candide sometime. Or the Book of Job. Or any history book, really. God's love offers no assurance at all against the kinds of things you're probably scared of. In the end, I'm afraid there's just no substitute for learning not to be scared of them. And there are only two ways of doing that.

So, what's it going to be? Philosophy or distraction?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Deep orange

I tend to be a very verbal dreamer, sometimes even having "radio" dreams with no visual content at all. Last night my sleeping mind revealed to me the mysteries of orangeness.

The dream began with a sort of half-verbal, awe-filled brooding over the fact -- and a singularly momentous fact it seemed! -- that the orang-outang (for the dream used this archaic, or French or Dutch, spelling) is an orange animal, and that its name includes almost the whole word orange, despite the two words being completely etymologically unrelated! If that doesn't just blow your mind, well, that's probably a sign that you're not asleep.

I, however, was asleep, and my mind was suitably blown. But then it became even blown-er as a voice explained (for the dream had now become fully verbal) that the word orang-outang actually contained parts of not one but three similarly colored fruits: the orange, the mango, and the tangerine. It just doesn't get any deeper than this, folks!

Move over, bananas, coconuts, and grapes!
By then, the voice was on a roll, and further revelations about the deep, mind-blowing appropriateness of the English names of various orange-colored things came so quickly that I've only been able to remember a few of them. Here, for the benefit of posterity, they are:

Another orange fruit is the mandarine -- incorporating parts of mango and tangerine. Yet another orange fruit, the nectarine, is also clearly akin to mandarine and tangerine.

The name of the orange tiger harmonizes with tangerine and nectarine, and the orangutan's fellow orange-furred primate, the golden lion tamarin obviously has a name which is a portmanteau of tangerine and mandarine.

The main points should be clear by now: (1) the names of many orange things have many of the same letters, in the same order, as the names of other orange things, and (2) that's, like, deep.

Another, somewhat independent, family of orange things is represented by the pumpkin and persimmon, and perhaps a few other things I've forgotten. (These are not entirely independent from the others, though, as there are pumpkin-mandarine and persimmon-tangerine links.) The carrot and cantaloupe form another semi-independent group.

Finally, I remember that the voice noted that tan -- as in tangerine -- is a color closely akin to orange, especially in its dihydroxyacetone "spray tan" variant -- which Donald Trump used to use, and which has made him permanently "orange" in the minds of many. The real reason, the "orange" label has stuck, of course, is that the name Trump is made up of the tr of tiger and tangerine and the ump of pumpkin, with a hint of cantaloupe to boot.

Now you know.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Every cat has a right to eat fish

This isn't a terribly impressive synchronicity as synchronicities go, but it still left me with the feeling of living in a rather surreal world.

I had just finished having lunch with my wife. She had had a salad with shrimps in it but had given at least half of the shrimps to the very insistent Geronimo, one of our cats, who likes shrimp better than anything else in this world. This led me to comment on how strange it is that cats should have such a strong preference for seafood given that they can't swim, hate water, and would presumably never eat seafood in the wild. It's not just fish but shrimp, squid, oysters -- almost any kind of seafood, really -- and even among fish they have a strong preference for large marine species such as tuna.

After lunch I opened up a book I had just started, Jonathan Cott's biography of Dorothy Eady, alias Omm Sety, a 20th-century Englishwoman most notable for her firm belief that she was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian priestess. Wanting to have a mental picture of this character as I read, I flipped forward to the plates and found this.


The caption (also notable for its curiously "broken" English) mentions the clay figurines just barely visible in the background but has nothing to say about the feature that dominates the scene: an enormous poster of a cat reading "Every cat has a right to eat fish."

Why should such a poster exist? It seemed as if it could only be an advertisement for a particular brand of cat food, but no brand name was visible. Googling the slogan yielded, amazingly, only one hit (this post will bring the total up to two), but that did lead me to a vintage cat food advertisement (UK, 1979, just a year before the Eady photo was taken).


This is obviously an ad from the same series as the one that appears in the Eady photo, differing in that it features a different cat and, more importantly, that it has the expected brand name written at the bottom in huge letters.

One can only conclude that Eady, a fondness for cats perhaps being part of her "ancient Egyptian" shtick, got a Choosy cat food advertisement, cut off the part with the brand name, and put it up on her wall -- but left the slogan intact because there was no way to remove it without also cutting the cat's ears out of the picture. This strikes me as rather eccentric even by reincarnated-priestess-of-Isis standards. It's not as if pictures of cats -- even Egyptian-looking ones! -- are so hard to come by that anyone should have to resort to incompletely mutilated cat food ads.

Note also that one can buy an ad like this on eBay now because it's a vintage ad of the sort some people like to collect -- but it wasn't "vintage" in 1980 and would not have been for sale to the general public. It's the sort of poster that would have been displayed on the wall of a pet shop, veterinary clinic, or some place of that sort, and Eady must have specially requested it from the owner of some such establishment so that she could take it home, cut off the bit with the logo, and put it up on her wall!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Distinctive vocabulary of each of the four Gospels

A reader has provided me with a spreadsheet of all the words in the King James Version of the New Testament, with the number of occurrences of each word in each book. Using this data, I have put together these lists of the most distinctive words in each Gospel.

To be included in the list for a given Gospel, a word had to (1) occur at least 10 times in that Gospel and (2) have a frequency (per 1000 words) at least twice as high as its frequency in any of the other three Gospels.

  • Matthew: begat, deliver, end, field, gather, heaven, hypocrites, multitudes, O, prison, reward, righteous, talents, think, wherefore, wise
  • Mark: asked, began, hands, immediately, James, looked, ship, straightway, such, themselves, unclean
  • Luke: angel, certain, company, named, pass, returned, rich, sight, ten, years, Zacharias
  • John: abide, am, answered, bear, because, beginning, believe, believed, believeth, born, die, disciple, doeth, ever, except, Father, feast, flesh, glorified, greater, hast, honour, I, Jews, judge, keep, knew, know, known, Lazarus, life, lifted, light, love, loved, me, might, mine, myself, now, Philip, record, scripture, seek, seen, seeth, sent, sheep, Simon, sin, true, truth, verily, water, whence, whither, whom, witness, words, work, world, yet

There's obviously a lot of noise here, but one can still see the familiar areas of emphasis of each Gospel. Matthew is the most moralistic (righteous, hypocrites, reward, prison). Mark is the fastest-paced (immediately, straightway) and has a special focus on exorcism (unclean spirits). Nothing in particular stands out about Luke. John is, of course, the most distinctive; aside from the familiar themes (believe, know, life, light, love, truth), we can see that it is the Gospel in which Jesus talks the most about himself (I, me, mine, myself, am). It is interesting to note that sin (singular) occurs almost exclusively in John, while sins and sinners are more typical of the Synoptics. This is consistent with the idea (see here) that John means something else by sin than "moral transgression."


It can also be interesting to look at the words that meet the converse requirements: (1) occurring at least 10 times in each of the other three Gospels and (2) being no more than half as frequent in the target gospel as in any of the other three. No words meet these requirements for the Gospel of Matthew, but here are the lists for the other three.

  • Mark: hast, law, light, nor, prophet, then
  • Luke: answered, disciples, king, saith, sea, verily
  • John: against, began, children, devils, enter, fell, great, house, kingdom, multitude, or, over, pass, scribes, their, upon, wife

We can see here how John differs from the Synoptics in hardly mentioning the kingdom of God, which (with its Matthean variant kingdom of heaven) seems in the Synoptics to be the center of Jesus' whole message. The complete absence of devils (plural; the devil is mentioned about equally in all the Gospels) reflects the fact that there are, uniquely, no exorcisms in the Fourth Gospel.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Christianity of J. W. Dunne

J. W. Dunne in 1909
Among those interested in the work of J. W. Dunne (1875-1949), aeronautical engineer and philosopher of time, there seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding Dunne's religious beliefs or lack thereof. I have seen him described as a devout Catholic, as a devout Anglican, and as an atheist.

In point of fact, Dunne was (briefly) an atheist and at another time (also briefly) a devout Christian of unspecified denomination, but it appears that he spent most of his adult life, and ended that life, as a firm believer in God but not in Christianity. Most of the available information regarding Dunne's religious beliefs is to be found in the posthumously published Intrusions?, the most autobiographical of his works, from which I excerpt a few relevant passages below. I quote only those passages that have to do with Christianity as such, as the material dealing with God (in whom Dunne indubitably believed) is too voluminous to be summarized here. As the author sometimes uses periods of ellipsis in the original, I have enclosed my own ellipses in square brackets.

In Chapter IV of Intrusions?, Dunne recounts his first -- somewhat abortive -- conversion to Christianity.
At the age of seventeen I was a pupil on a South African farm, and I was, for several reasons, in an extremely disgruntled condition. To begin with, I had just lost all belief in the existence of God. This was from the usual cause. A foolish cleric had given me false reason for that belief. It had seemed to me sound; and, in accepting it eagerly, I had realized that my previous grounds had been utterly insufficient. Later on, I discovered the fallacy in the man's argument -- and found myself with nothing left. 
In the second place: I was extremely keen on singing, and had just discovered that a callous choir-master had ruined my voice (I had been the school soloist) by making me continue to sing alto long after that voice had begun to crack. I had waited for two years before trying my new, man's register; but, when I did so, I heard to my dismay a horrible reedy thing with a range of barely twelve notes. How I cursed that master, and how I longed to curse the God in whom I no longer believed. 
Finally: I had supposed that I could write. I had sent a short story to a Capetown periodical. After two months had elapsed without an answer, I had written again. Now, a fortnight had gone by without any reply. So that enterprise had failed. I was only seventeen, and these three major disappointments, one on top of the other, had shaken me to my rather shallow depths. 
At that moment I made a rather curious discovery. Normally, I was a fairly decent young fellow. But I had strange bouts of savagery in which I was no better than what we should call to-day, a young Nazi. I did things at which I was aghast in my more normal moments. Thinking this over, I came to the conclusion that I was in some strange way two diametrically different persons occupying the same body. [. . .] My angry disappointment about God bid fair to turn the scale. Goodness was nonsense: there was neither good nor evil: my so-called 'evil' personality was by far the freer of the two, and there were no limits to what it might achieve. Reason said: give it rein.
At this point, Dunne happened to find and read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which had been published some 7 years previously and about which he had previously known nothing, and it made him realize the folly of his thinking regarding his 'evil' self. He continues his narrative.
But (I thought) what a marvellous coincidence! At the very moment when I had decided to give my Hyde the mastery, I pick up the grimmest story ever written -- the story of a man who did that very thing. Coincidence be damned! The chances seemed millions to one against it! There was a God! and He had intervened in the promptest and the most effective way possible. 
Then I did an extraordinarily silly thing. I offered God a bargain. (I was very young, of course; but I had no business to make such a bumptious bloomer.) I promised that, if the despaired-of letter would arrive by the next post, I would believe 'the whole thing', by which words I meant 'Pauline Christianity'. And next morning that letter arrived! My story was accepted! And . . . I found, a little later, that I could not believe what I had promised to believe. 
[. . .] 
Now, I want you to understand why I had offered that absurd bargain. I wanted very much to believe the Christian story. Had my desire been in the other direction nothing would have made me let the decision rest on a chance which so easily might have gone against me. But I was tired to death of the whole business of religious doubt and speculation. And it seemed to me that, if God was so ready to intervene, He might be ready to intervene a little further -- in which case I should be saved the bother of having to make up my mind. And if the letter did not arrive, no harm would have been done. I was not, in that event, bound to disbelief. I saw an opportunity of saving myself trouble -- of throwing the onus of a difficult decision to God -- and that with the proviso, 'Heads! I win. Tails! We'll try another way.' 
[. . .] So I remained stuck in the curious pit I had digged for myself. I wanted to credit Christianity. Reason refused permission. But I must do so, because I had promised that to the God in whom I did believe! For ten uneasy years I had to shilly-shally in this fashion; and, during that period there developed within me what grew to be a veritable horror of the notion of urging upon anyone any belief which could not be securely based upon cold, unsupplemented reason. There was a great deal more than ordinary scientific reluctance in this. There was an absolute loathing of the idea: a temperamental terror that I might through carelessness do some such thing. Later on, that proved to be an attitude of mind almost essential for the work I had in hand. So, if it had been intended that I should tackle that task, those ten years were not so much punitive as educational. Hence I might have been even prompted to make my foolish promise.
Dunne picks up the story again in Chapter VIII.
You will remember that at the end of the Jekyll-Hyde episode, I dug for myself a trap in which I remained caught for 'ten uneasy years'. [. . .] I have pointed out that the ten years of shilly-shallying which followed were of high educational value [. . .]
Returning to my own, private difficulty: What happened was that I surrendered -- from sheer mental exhaustion. The word 'promise' seemed to me to be the key to the whole problem. I might have done wrong in promising; I might have promised on insufficient ground; but a promise I had given -- and given to God. Honour demanded its fulfilment. If reason rebelled, reason might hope for clearer light later; but meanwhile it must remain silent. So I became a Christian: as humble, unquestioning a Christian as any Catholic might desire. 
And, oddly enough, with that surrender came peace. It was not merely quietude after storm: it was a deep satisfaction: a sudden flooding up of the belief which I had never really lost. I wanted nothing better. And I was enabled, at last, to address my prayers to that Jesus of Nazareth I had never ceased to love. 
Now this occurred just after the conclusion of the Boer War; and it so happened that, perhaps two months later, I found myself riding through the rolling grass-lands of the Orange River Colony in the light of the intensely bright African full-moon.
I at first thought that this was the same surrender narrated in Chapter IV, in which Dunne, "tired to death of the whole business of religious doubt and speculation," gave up and let chance decide his religious beliefs for him. However, the Second Boer War concluded in May 1902, when Dunne was almost 27 years old, so this was apparently a second surrender, coming at the end of the "ten years of shilly-shallying." It appears that Dunne was only a proper Christian for approximately two months.

The story continues, with Dunne riding through the moonlit grasslands.
Perhaps you can imagine something of the unearthly beauty of that scene [. . .]. I rode enraptured, with loosened rein, looking now at the unutterable loveliness of the earth and now into the depths of that miracle sky. Then admiration changed into adoration; for Heaven and Earth seemed to be filling with the 'glory', and it was more glorious than I could have believed possible. I began a half-wordless paean of thanks, addressing this to that Christ whom, I realized -- and never before so fully as now -- was indeed One with God. The last vestige of doubt had gone. I was soaring up, unchecked, towards the zenith of that prayer when suddenly . . . 
It was like a blow in the face. The whole marvellous scene -- sky and rolling down -- had gone empty. There was nothing there to answer me. I was addressing a blank. 
The shock was quite real. It was so utterly unexpected, and it had happened so instantaneously. I stared at that uncaring exhibition of Nature, and tried again. But it was hopeless -- and the words faded away. The void remained. Jesus of Nazareth had died nearly two thousand years ago. He was not present in this lovely 'now'. 
For perhaps half a minute I rode on in perturbed silence; and then, more than a little doubtfully, I tried offering my prayer to God. I had got no further than, 'Oh God! Thank you for' . . . when instantly -- as instantaneously as it had emptied -- the scene had filled to overflowing, and I had the most tremendous awareness of a Great Being, who was not only listening to me, but pleased with my delight in all this beauty, and sending out response. 
I realized then that God Himself had released me from my ridiculous, unfulfillable promise to Him. And, as I rode on in deep gratitude, I felt myself enveloped within and without by that friendliness of God which is so much greater than any emotion like 'love'. [. . .] Obviously, I had been going from bad to worse; for to make truth subordinate to a vow is to fall very low indeed. And it is clear that I had got myself into such a state that I would have accepted release from none save Him to whom I had vowed.
Intrusions? includes accounts of three vivid dreams in which he appeared to receive messages from an angel. There was a fourth such dream, which he related to his wife and son, but he died before he could put it into writing. An account of this last visitation, written by Dunne's son, is included as an appendix to Intrusions? Dunne is referred to here in the third person.
In the third appearance he described the scenery as having grown dark and stormy so that he could barely see the 'Angel'. In the fourth and final appearance it was pitch black with a raging tempest. All that he could see of the 'Angel' was a white something which he took to be his robe and which he caught hold of, for (here I quote his own words) 'I knew that it was the last time I should see him.' 
This Appearance was very brief and I think it took him by surprise. He said that he thought rapidly for some question to ask the 'Angel'. The question which had always worried him came out -- 'Christianity, is it true?' and the 'Angel' replied: 'God lets it be true for those who want it to be true.' 
He said that he had no interpretation of the 'Angel's' reply to his final question.
To summarize, then:

1. I have not been able to find out in which denomination of Christianity Dunne was raised. His father was Irish, and his mother was English, making both Catholicism and Anglicanism reasonable possibilities. In describing his brief period of orthodox belief, Dunne says "I became a Christian: as humble, unquestioning a Christian as any Catholic might desire." To me this description of himself as being as unquestioning as a Catholic would be unusual for someone who actually was a Catholic, so I lean toward the assumption that he was an Anglican.

2. He was very briefly an atheist around the age of 17. In giving the background to the experience that convinced him there was a God, he writes, "I had just lost all belief in the existence of God" -- implying that his conversion came close on the heels of his loss of faith, and that his atheist period was likely a matter of months rather than years.

3. At the age of 17, he had his Jekyll and Hyde experience, which convinced him of the reality of God. There is no indication that he ever again doubted God's existence. At this time he also made a promise to God that he would believe "Pauline Christianity" (i.e., Christianity as presented by the Apostle Paul in the Bible; no mention of any denomination) but found that he was not in fact able to believe it.

4. There followed "ten years of shilly-shallying," during which Dunne disbelieved in Christianity but felt guilty about that disbelief because of the promise he had made at 17. No mention is made of church affiliation or activity during this period, but one assumes he would have participated in public worship at least sporadically out of a sense of duty. Looking back on this period later, he said that at some level he "had never really lost" his Christian beliefs and "had never ceased to love" Jesus.

5. Around the age of 27, he finally found that he was able to believe by an act of will, and he "became a Christian" (implying that he had not been a Christian, not even a doubt-ridden one, before).

6. Some two months later, he had a spiritual experience of which the import seemed to be that Jesus was dead but that God was real, and he understood that God had released him from his promise to believe in Christianity. From then on he was a firm theist but not a Christian. All his books were written well after this experience, when he was no longer a Christian.

7. However, it appears that he was never entirely sure that Christianity might not be true after all. Given the opportunity, near the end of his life, of putting a question to an angel, the question he chose was, "Christianity, is it true?" -- characterized by his son as "the question which had always worried him." The angel's reply was ambiguous and confusing, and it appears not to have precipitated anything like a deathbed conversion.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

"Hyper-Johannine" vocabulary in the First Epistle of John

One of the things that has come to my attention in the process of my ongoing examination of the Fourth Gospel ("of John") is how much of its distinctive vocabulary is shared by the First Epistle of John, leading me to state in a recent post that the two works are "almost certainly" by the same author. In this post I attempt to quantify that similarity.

I began (somewhat unscientifically, I must admit) by making a list of words that I think of as "typically Johannine" -- that is, as being typical of the Fourth Gospel as opposed to the Synoptics. One of these, comforter, was excluded from consideration because it occurs only in the Fourth Gospel and thus cannot be used to compare that book's style to those of other New Testament books. The remaining 10 words were: begotten, born, eternal, father, know, life, light, love, truth, and world.

Though this list of words was derived from my own impressions rather than by any quantitative process, quantitative measures back up those impressions: each of the 10 words does in fact occur significantly more frequently in the Fourth Gospel than in any of the Synoptics.

The charts below show the occurrence of each of the 10 target strings in each of the four Gospels and in the First Epistle of John. The numbers indicate what percentage of verses in each book contains the target string. Words that include the target string are included in the count; so, for example, instances of knoweth, knowledge, etc. count as instances of the string know. I have used the King James Version for convenience. The numbers would of course be somewhat different in the original Greek, but the overall patterns would presumably be similar.


Two generalizations are immediately apparent:

1. Every one of the target strings occurs much more frequently both in the Fourth Gospel and in the First Epistle of John than in any of the Synoptics.

2. With two exceptions (begotten and father), the frequency of a given string in the First Epistle is not similar to its frequency in the Fourth Gospel but is rather much, much higher. For example, love occurs in about 1% of Synoptic verses, in about 4% of the verses in the Fourth Gospel, and in nearly 25% of the verses in the First Epistle!

There are two possible interpretations of this second fact. One possibility is that the differing frequencies are due to the presence of a great deal of narrative material in the Gospel, whereas the Epistle is more or less entirely theological in character. If this is true, then removing the narrative portions of the Gospel from consideration should yield frequencies more in line with those found in the Epistle.

The other possibility is that the stylistic differences are real, and that they show the Epistle to be written in an exaggerated caricature of the Johannine style. This would imply that the Epistle was not written by the author of the Gospel but rather by someone making a conscious effort to imitate his style.

On not writing about the birdemic

Though the earth stops spinning round
And the heavens explode and death rules the road
And all the mighty mountains come roaring down
It's only a sound
-- William John Tychonievich
"Word problems," in which a mathematical problem is couched in the form of a story, however contrived, are a staple of children's math textbooks, and one of these from my childhood has stuck in my memory all these years as being so obviously perfunctory and irrelevant as to be funny. It began: "As the Saxons waited for the Normans to attack, they thought of consecutive odd integers. . . ."

Lately I've been feeling as if the unfolding birdemic apocalypse were the only thing I had the right to write, or even think, about -- so I'm officially rejecting that view. This has never been a topical "news and views" blog, and I'm not about to start now. Whatever hell may be breaking loose out there, I reserve the right to think about consecutive odd integers.

Is that escapism? I guess that all depends on how you answer the question -- and everyone will answer it differently -- of what is really important and what is just a distraction.

Five cornerstones

I recently received another batch of emails from a correspondent who keeps encountering repetitions of the number 5 (55, 555, etc.). This ma...