Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get Out of My Life, God! But First Could You Drive Me & Dawkins to the Mall?

Wait, don't go away! Acedia is actually very interesting. And important.

After all, if it's a capital sin, there must be a reason. And a capital sin is...

Hey, what is a capital sin, anyway? I'm assuming that it involves choosing a course of action that places one's soul in real danger, ultimately running counter to one's very reason for being. These sins lead to spiritual suicide, if you will -- a self-administered celestial abortion and an in-your-face rejection of O. It is not just the flight into Ø, but the prideful celebration of it.

Again, since there is no adequate translation of acedia, it has become associated with "the middle-class work ethic" -- as if the latter could have anything to do with spiritual perfection. But if anything, acedia is at a right angle to the work ethic, in that Aquinas associates it with forgetting the sabbath, "by which man is enjoined to 'rest his spirit in God'" (Pieper).

And if you will turn your new testavus for the rest of us to page 236, you will see that Toots Mondello enjoins us to observe the sabbath speed limit, which does not mean putting your pedal to the metal, but rather, slowing down, precisely. To quote ourselves, it involves "turning toward what is 'behind' and 'above' the external world and its nihilocracy of urgent nonsense." Furthermore, it is simultaneously a "memoir of the future" and a return to "the unmanifest paradise of Eden."

One might say that the paradoxical "work" of the sabbath involves internalizing its essential contours and rhythms, so that there is a peaceful "zone of silence" between oneself and the world. The work of the sabbath is not "not doing" -- which is only the opposite of doing -- but non-doing, as per our friend, the gentleman from China, LaoTsu.

We prefer to call it non-doodling, because it may look like we are just doodling around doing nothing, but it's true. We are indeed doing nothing, which requires the effort of no effort. In fact, I'm not doing it right now.

Speaking of this return to the vertical source, I just want to share something that ba-lew my mind, as they used to say. This weekend I was reading this fine little book on Aquinas, by Josef Pieper. I am embarrassed to admit that I've never actually read the Summa Theologica, a failing I am about to rectify.

Anyway, I get to the bottom of page 101, and Pieper says that in order to understand the structure of the Summa, one must imagine "a circular diagram, in a ring returning back upon itself."

What the!

And here is Aquinas' bottom line, which turns out at bottom to be a metacosmic circle: "In the emergence of creatures from their first Source is revealed a kind of circulation, in which all things return, as to their end, back to the very place from which they had their origin in the beginning."

Who knew? Aquinas was a Raccoon!

Where were we? Yes, back to acedia, which, in a way, can be thought of as the perverse struggle to convert the above-noted circle into a straight line. Doing so automatically takes one off the path, and prevents one from floating upstream on the cosmic winds.

Acedia fundamentally involves choosing worldliness over spirit; it is to commit oneself to the horizontal over the vertical. Thus, it "lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian" (Pieper), so that the acedic man hasn't "the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness" (ibid).

One can well understand how acedia represents a kind of "perverted humility"; Pieper aptly compares it to the neurotic patient who consciously wishes to get better, but unconsciously resists it because of the responsibilities it will bring in the future, not to mention the regrets about the past.

Resistance is ubiquitous in psychotherapy, if only because any dynamic system first and foremost wishes to go on being. But there's more to it than that, as genuine growth is always a double-edged sword, as is seen quite vividly in developing children. Every major movement toward individuation and autonomy brings with it a little separation anxiety that needs to be tolerated and worked through. To put it simply, gaining individuation means losing mommy.

I might add that we never truly resolve this dialectic between merger and autonomy, a topic I will be posting on in the near future. It's just that instead of fleeing back and dissolving into the loving arms of mommy, we regress in different ways, some healthy, others pathological.

For example, it's no secret that for the Raccoon, the Beer O'clock slackrament is a kind of dissolution into the arms of the cosmic mother, but there are many other examples. Always there is the father principle of doing and the mother principle of being. Obviously there are many ways for pathology to enter into the marriage, but that's a subject for a different post.

Pieper goes on to say that acedia can go from mere passive drifting to "an actual fleeing from God. Man flees from God because God has exalted human nature to a higher, a divine, state of being and has thereby enjoined on man a higher standard of obligation."

Again, man is condemned to transcendence. But to paraphrase Pieper, acedia ultimately expresses the wish that God would just leave us alone and stop pestering us with these annoying calls to dignity, nobility, and greatness. Go away, God! I'm not your baby anymore! I can do it myself!


Jules said...

Great post, as usual. Went into my "divinity" folder. Thanks for the lessons in divinity. I know of people who get uncomfortable when I talk of religion - this "fleeing God" phenomenon. It goes from being uncomfortable in some to outright hostility in others.

It annoys me especially when fools mention, say, the hamish and islamic radicals in the same sentence, saying they are "fundamentalists". So cowardly to conflate the peaceful Hamish with the islamic mass murderers.

Rick said...

"Hey, what is a capital sin, anyway?"

Calling a tax increase a contribution?

I stole that joke from a former President.
But he started it.

Rick said...

"Furthermore, it is simultaneously a "memoir of the future" and a return to "the unmanifest paradise of Eden."

I tell you...if I ever get my hands on that Adam..

Rick said...

Boy, for a Tuesday it sure feels like Sunday around here.

walt said...

Rick -

When composing a comment about non-doing...

One. Must. Do. It ... S-l-o-w-l-y.

Rick said...

A wise man told me once, "you gotta be fast.

Rick said...

I dropped everything I was doodling and tatooed it on my arm.

anon said...

I know you don't like compliments from me, but great title today.

julie said...

Rick, the trick is to hurry up slow. Time's a wastin'; if you ain't non-doodling now, you might not have time to not do it later.

And for once, I agree with Anon - great title :)

julie said...

(nothing to see here, just remembering to click the "Email follow-up comments" box...)

Rick said...

My Momma told me there'd be no tricks on this test.

mushroom said...

...lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian...

That's insightful. It unpacks a really big box that can easily get labeled as pride or arrogance. Of course, there are Christians (prominent and otherwise) who deserve to be labeled as spiritually prideful, but more of us use it as an excuse to avoid the burden.

Northern Bandit said...


If it's a sincere compliment, what's not to like? Raccoons and Christians adamantly believe that people can change. We attack ideas and ideologies here, both of which are completely separable from the holder thereof. For all you know you might be a much more spiritually developed person in 3 years from now.

Van said...

"I am embarrassed to admit that I've never actually read the Summa Theologica, a failing I am about to rectify."

I haven't read it all yet, but I've made it through the sections on Law and Justice and a couple others, but even with only that, yep, definitely a ringtail.

"Get Out of My Life, God! But First Could You Drive Me & Dawkins to the Mall?"

First you'll need to strap in the immovable baby seat to the unstoppable farce....

Magnus Itland said...

Ah. I have long suspected that this would turn out to be my favorite sin. This is like the guy who dug a hole for the rather large amount of money he had been entrusted with, so he wouldn't need to actually DO anything about it, right? I always understood that guy really, really well.

Van said...

Magnus said "This is like the guy who dug a hole for the rather large amount of money he had been entrusted with, so he wouldn't need to actually DO anything about it, right?"

May need some more clarification on this, but sounds to me more like a classic deliberate underachiever... sort of a spirtual Ferris Bueller's Dei off....

Van said...

Here's a new one out, perfect for anunce's bookshelf:
"Dismantling America" by Thomas Sowell (might want to check and see if there's anything you've missed).

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: Acedia

How do you differentiate between acedia and depression? They both sound remarkably similar. In both cases people seek to cut themselves off and castaway themselves. I would imagine that in Aquinas' time there were a large amount of people seeking the solitude and space of a monastery to maroon themselves from failed lives. I can see as an administrator of monasteries that he would find depressed people in robes sinful. Your thoughts

Northern Bandit said...


I've always wondered how much of what we call depression is to some degree voluntary behavior. I don't mean to belittle the suffering of those who have clinical depression (it exists in my own family) but I also know numerous people whose "depression" seems very much like a form of willed hopelessness -- especially when the depressed person is living in a 7 figure home...

walt said...

If we take the "middle-class work ethic" as an example, which you point out is not right at all, then acedia would find lots of cousins in the secular world. You could point to soldiers that lack espirit d' corps, or athletes who become a cancer to their team, or a perfunctory team member that drags an enterprise down.

But these are not capital sins, and they aren't necessarily deadly to anyone's (genuine) soul.

A little closer might be someone involved in an art form, who learns the form but never comes to embody the art, thereby killing the art.

But perhaps acedia refers to utterly missing the spirit of the Way, the guiding rhythm, the perfume of the soul, and therefore the Spirit, finally, altogether? Correct as a spiritual technician, but never aspiring to inhabit the station of Saint?

Very interesting analysis by you. I'm guessing, but having read two of Pieper's other books, I'll bet your description of acedia is some easier to think about than his. (That's meant as a compliment.)

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I have noticed that before the development of modern psychiatry and psychology, mental disorders were often attributed to spiritual disorders.

But in modern times -- at least in the west -- spiritual problems are often diagnosed as mental problems.

Having said that, there are obviously genuine mental disorders, and one of the most hellish aspects of most any mental disorder is the way they cut one off from the divine.

It's rather complicated, with no easy generalizations, so you really have to take it on a case by case basis. There are many other factors to consider, such as healthy relationships, diet, exercise, adequate rest. You really have to address the whole person, body, mind, and spirit -- or soma, psyche, and pneuma.

Gagdad Bob said...

There is also the issue of whether the depression is an axis I or an axis II situation, i.e., a time-limited illness vs. the inevitable side effect of a dysfunctional personality with what are called "structural defects." The latter are more often as NB describes -- self-defeating, annoying, touchy, dramatic, or clingy, dependent and insecure. It's very much as Freud said: such people either cannot love, work, or play (be creative), so their depression comes out of that.

Gagdad Bob said...

Memo to ge if you're out there: I have a feeling you'd really like the Rhino box set, San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970. I was listening to it today while driving up the coast. Lot's of cool acid-drenched rarities I've never even heard, so it's not exactly nostalgia, more tuning into a certain frequency.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or maybe flying on Translove Airways...

Susannah said...

Thus, it "lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian" (Pieper), so that the acedic man hasn't "the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness" (ibid).

Ouch. That one kinda hit a soft spot.

Re: that non-doodling...coonfess to Martha issues as well. When the whole POINT of existence is "the one thing necessary: choosing the better part."

Rick said...

I think maybe Magnus is referring to the parable of The Ten Minas (or Ten Pounds)
Luke 19:11-28

Jack said...

Totally unrelated...but I was wondering if any fellow music-obsessed Raccoons know anything about the intersection of Jazz and Country music, particularly any artists that would exemplify this.

I am aware of Bob Wills and some of the early forms of Western Swing and then the more recent Asleep at the Wheel. Certainly Chet Atkins , Jimmy Bryant etc. Even Bill Frisell in his own way, to a degree....

Wait, what was the question? Oh, yeah...any thoughts on Jazz meets Country music?

Sorry, if this is *completely* out of left field...it's been slowly becoming an obsession and thought I'd tap into the collective musical wisdom around these parts...

Van said...


Yeah (the Talents, right?), but that guy was scared... true he didn't live up to, or attempt to live up to his potential, but out of fear (maybe I ought to read it again first), but seems to me that the capable, calm, cool and collected one who goes with 'cool' rather than what he knows he could and should do...

... worse?

(I've no particular dog in the fight... I know myself to have tarred myself enough in both camps - just curious)

Van said...

Jack said "...Raccoons know anything about the intersection of Jazz and Country music..."

No... but I'd like to own a body shop servicing the area.

Gagdad Bob said...


For starters, check out Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming guitars Of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant and Swingin' On The Strings by the same. Almost 60 years old and still ahead of its time.

Gagdad Bob said...

Of Course, in a totally different bag, there's always Ray Charles Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, which combines country, soul and some big band jazz arrangements.

Rick said...

I don't know Van, what Magnus said just reminded me of that parable.
I don't know if the guy was scared, or simply not "fruitful". He "wasted" his "coin". He may have fed five thousand.

Gagdad Bob said...

Who could forget Sonny Rollins' classic Way Out West? And for a left-field ambient western vibe, check out Dust to Dust by Steve Roach.

Jack said...

GB- I will get my hands on the Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant recordings (maybe some pandora in the meantime). Thank you for the recommends. Feel free to suggest any others if they happen to arise.

Van- I like the "body shop" line. Perhaps some interesting wreckage when the two meet?

Gagdad Bob said...

Grant Green made Goin' West, but that's really like the Rollins -- just a jazz guy doing country tunes.

I'd stick with the Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. Those guys were really doing something different.

Gagdad Bob said...

One more thought -- there's this European company named Proper that puts out incredibly cheap, well made box sets, including this great 4 disc survey of Western Swing. Ten bucks used! If you look down the page, you can see similar items under the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought." That will give you some other solid tips.

Jack said...

I am intrigued by the Western Ambient idea. I think that Daniel Lanois can border on Country Ambient on some of his solo records, particularly his "Belladonna".

Lanois played on Brian Eno's "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks" where "Deep Blue Day" (used in the movie "Trainspotting") is pretty much a slowed down country tune, complete with Lanois on pedal steel.

I've got some Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant on pandora right now (ah, technology!). Okay, this is what I am talking about!

Gagdad Bob said...

Indeed. Those two are from another planet! It's like retro-futuristic country from outer space.

Jack said...

I've previously heard a little bit of Jimmy Bryant's solo stuff and the same for Speedy West...but the two together seem to be a whole different ballgame entirely!

Magnus Itland said...

The human body, mind and spirit are as interwoven as a coin's metal, imprint and value. You cannot really extract one of them without destroying the whole.

I am convinced that proper spiritual practice could have helped a majority of people who have mental problems, but it would take an awesome amount of wisdom to find the right starting point for each person.

It is a sad thing that most mental health practitioners are themselves somewhat twisted and with big dark spots.

Susannah said...


Congress: "Free Speech, yada yada, whatev. People should be registered before they can express their opinion through their free association."


wv: subtl

gunnar said...

Dan Hicks ("and His Hot Licks").
He's country, he's swing, he's too hip for the room!

Lurker uncloaking... (for real, this time)!

Bill said...

for Jack, and other interested racoons:

"Wait, what was the question? Oh, yeah...any thoughts on Jazz meets Country music?"

"Redneck Jazz" is whatcha want.
(and several othr Gatton titles.)

Danny Gatton is possibly *the* geetar
slinger. Lots of jazzy instrumentals.

also try Brad Paisley,more lyric-oriented and pop-country,with some great arrangments and tasty Tele work.

for that matter just try google with "Telecaster , Jazz"

...as an example,
that will poP up:

Jimmy Bryant
Danny Gatton
Brad Paisley
Bill Frisell

and no doubt several others that don't come to mind at the moment.

also David Grissman for the intersection of Bluegrass and Jazz.
lots of fun stuff there,th jazz mandolin bits, especially.
a deep vein.
Uncle Jerry(Garcia) played frequently with Grissman and you might enjoy some of that also.

if you want to get *blasted* with leads and suggestions, post the same
"any thoughts on Jazz meets Country music?" question here:

Telecaster Discussion Page -
TDPRI - Music to Your Ears

"Discussion of Music, albums, live performances, favorite tunes/performances and other music (non-theory) related discussion - including YouTube postings."


PS - don't forget Enrico Morricone's
"spagetti westerns stuff...quite jazzy too,imo.

pps -
then there's this...

Redneck Jazz Explosion - Danny Gatton
and Buddy Emmons

Danny Gatton Red Neck Jazz -