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June 13th, 2006

Jane and I: On Religion

Surprise, surprise: my life is uncanny.  Jane and I first met by happenstance, when I walked into a book outlet when Grandma needed a nap and there bought a discarded anthology of Harrison's writings on religion, science and sexism.  Now, this biography rationalizes why she and I "click"; if I actually enjoyed the Classics, then maybe I could claim to be Jane reincarnate.  I'll settle for temporally transient friends ;)

I picked up a biography of Jane Ellen Harrison, a 19th century, Greek scholar, and read a reason why Jane and I bumped into each other.  Jane told a friend by correspondence "... that all her life she had wanted to be a Buddhist and that, when she found out what Buddhism was, she discovered she had been one all along without knowing it."  I laughed and embraced the biography.  Jane's religion makes sense in context because "she lived a life too marginal and beset by conflict to be entirely carefree", an academic life dominated by men's idealization of the Greeks and a personal life in disagreement with her feminist sisters. (xi. Peacock, Sandra J. Jane Ellen Harrison: The Mask and the Self. Yale Uni.: New Haven. 1988.)

Jane and I suffer 'bouts of illness and depression' but 'rather than being defeated' we practice the cessation of suffering -- a religious ritual for Buddhists -- because we recognize the human attachment to ritual.  After a socially Darwinian analysis of the origins of religion, in her precident and heretical essay The Influence of Darwinism on the Study of Religion (circa 1911), Harrison admits that religions are anti-intellectual and dogmatic.  Yet Harrison challenges the anti-religion -- spiritual or new age -- conclusion by asking, "Is religion, then, entirely a delusion?"  She and I respond:

    "I think not.  Every dogma religion has hitherto produced is probably false, but for all that the religious or mystical spirit may be the only way of apprehending some things, and these of enormous importance.  It may also be that the contents of this mystical apprehension cannot be put into language without being falsified and misstated, that they have rather to be felt and lived than uttered and intellectually analyzed; yet they are somehow true and necessary to life."

(177. Harrison, Jane Ellen. Alpha and Omega. AMS Press: New York. 1973)