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August 15th, 2006

The Great, Graphophobic Teachers

A friend asked, "If you could talk to anybody, who would it be?" He meant from the past.

I picked Socrates, Siddhartha Gautama, and Jesus of Nazereth. He raised an eyebrow and asked why. I said because each influenced religion and philosophy -- some would say these guys were great teachers -- yet none wrote anything. To be sure, there is doubt about Socrates and Jesus' literacy and speculation that disciples destroyed these men's original works to change the religion or philosophy. But when the wish was to talk with anyone from the past, I wanted to talk with people who I believe intentionally decided to leave nothing written.

I think that some philosophers and religious teachers, like the Buddha, understood that if they wrote, then ideas exchanged in dialogue -- there and then -- would place that moment in stasis; words would confine the religious and philosophical dialogues against space and time, and could be abused by those advocating conservatism.  To be clear: I am grateful to the disciples who codified those dialogues yet this appreciation is respectfully checked by the realization that, despite their best intentions, Plato, the Gospel writers and the closest followers of Buddha; these addressed an audience living in a different moment than the now.

I found it interesting that Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale, agreed with many points of my realization.  She articulated this criticism during last week's Faith and Reason.  Atwood likened the "now" realization that I advocate to the "spirit" described by the Gospel writers as living, moving; changing.  So perhaps it is not an uncommon criticism of religion and philosophy, even one alluded to by the authors of canon themselves in reflecting the spirit of the great, graphophobic teachers.  I would want to snatch them out of history -- instead of the myriads of people who codified their thoughts and feelings -- and chat abit about life, the universe, and ... oh, everything.  :)

P.S.

I'm not an advertising agent for Bill Moyer, I swear.