Kierkegaard: Philosophical Fragments and the History of Coming into Existence. (10/10/2001)

When spirit was stripped away from nature by Christian missionaries as they spread the Faith among the tribes of animistic people in Western Europe in the early centuries of the first millennium, characterizing spirits as diabolical projections of Satanic power in the world meant to prevent goodness, morality, salvation from taking hold in the lives of those who accepted their existence, Europeans forever lost any means they had to understand the natural processes that determine the success or failure of human existence in the real world. Drawing the full implication from this statement, it is proper to say that goodness, morality, and salvation, as understood and preached by Christian missionaries, are in fact detrimental to the possibility that human beings will be able to survive the consequences of their collective ignorance of those processes. The idea that it is better to live in ignorance of natural reality, for the sake of securing an eternal blessedness in the afterlife, may not threaten the future of human life on the planet as long as it is limited to a small minority of powerless individuals but, when that ideology becomes a standard of living for the vast majority of human beings, life of every kind on the face of the earth falls under a universal threat of extinction and annihilation. While it is always easy enough to characterize someone who expresses ideas like these as a mentally challenged ecologist only interested in preventing future economic development, doing so in this case ignores the fact that native Americans, as well as most other tribal people, have lived life in the real natural world, with a fully conceptualized system of natural forces meticulously articulated and classified as spirit-power, for many thousands of years longer than anyone else has done who adheres to antagonistic points-of-view that not only deny the validity of spirit-power but seek to eradicate such beliefs, even with extreme prejudice, from their perception of what moral society and culture ought to be.

Soren Kierkegaard, not at all unlike his predecessors who also articulated orthodox Christian perceptions of the relationship between time, nature and Eternity, takes the view that the Eternal is far superior in its state and in its significance than nature can ever be. In the more distant Christian past, Eucherius of Lyon wrote a treatise (De Contemptu Mundi) that was typical of the belief at the time (500 AD) that Christians best served God if they held the world in profound contempt and devoted themselves to a cloistered existence behind the walls of a monastery where they would not be tempted by the allure of the real world. Kierkegaard certainly does not advocate withdrawal from reality but, in his Philosophical Fragments, he does express a more moderate view of the tradition that Christians should value the potential for eternal life, promised as a reward for adherence to the Faith, above a mere acceptance of benefits, even to the point of avoiding the dangers to salvation, that living in the natural world produces. The idea that nature constitutes a danger to life, that it is somehow inimical to existence, while perhaps vaguely comprehensible in terms of one's personal salvation and ultimate escape to an eternal, extra-temporal existence in the Otherworld of an afterlife, is an inversion, if not actually a perversion, of the fact that human beings utterly and absolutely depend on nature, in every way imaginable, for their collective survival as a species. A point one can make here is that Christianity is essentially anti-life at the deepest levels of its ideology, an argument made forcefully by Nietzsche in the Antichrist.

Kierkegaard, then, makes the following statements about the relationship between nature, time, and Eternity, in his Philosophical Fragments:

"nature is too abstract to have a dialectic with respect to time . . . . This is nature's imperfection, that it has no history in any other sense; but it is a perfection in nature that it nevertheless has this suggestion of a history, namely that it has come into existence. (This constitutes its past, the fact that it exists is its present.) On the other hand, it is the perfection of the Eternal to have no history, and of all that is, the Eternal alone has absolutely no history." (Princeton UP, 1967, p94)

While there are any number of things one can say about this statement, only two stand out in my mind as being ones directly connected to issues that are ultimately raised in confrontation with native American perceptions of reality. In the first place, to say that nature is "abstract" illustrates exactly what I mean when I say that Europeans in the context of long-standing Christian tradition have removed themselves from it to such an extent that they no longer recognize it as a force having anything to do with their existence or survival as a human species. Putting aside the assertion that nature's abstraction prevents it from having "a dialectic with respect to time," which is a statement I prefer to avoid here because I have no clue what it means, and following the rest of the idea instead, especially to the part where Kierkegaard claims that nature's history is barely a suggestion, and that it has that only because it once came into existence by virtue of having been created ex nihilo by God, and that this fragile and barely discernible history is the only thing that rehabilitates and rescues nature from total degradation, that saves it from its "imperfection," since it can be said to have a past, leaves me with the distinct impression that Kierkegaard's perception of nature is sadly lacking in the kind of direct and personal contact with it that turns any mere abstraction into a vital, life-affirming, and concrete reality. When I said earlier that Christianity has stripped nature of spirit, I meant to foreshadow precisely what Kierkegaard says about it here: that it is, or has become, an abstraction. Spirit defines nature in its concrete reality. Bear, wolf, eagle; willow, honeysuckle, grass, are spirits, each of a distinct kind, that behave in ways completely peculiar to their own natures, that differentiate and define the concrete reality of each part of the whole and prevent any of it from ever falling into abstraction. Eradicating spirit, and the people who honor it, who recognize and speak it, reduces nature to the dead things Europeans buy and sell in commodity markets, to abstractions that have no more value than a bag full of plastic garbage.

Contrasted to his notion that nature is nothing more than an abstraction, imperfect and degraded by virtue of lacking a dynamic past, Kierkegaard then asserts that the Eternal possesses an absolute perfection precisely because it is the only thing in existence that has no history at all. This is not the contradiction it might appear to be initially, where nature is suspect because its past is only dimly perceived as a suggestion, while the Eternal is completely exonerated from any doubt because it does not have one, for the simple reason that the Eternal is thought to have always been, never came into existence, except as Christ which Kierkegaard justifies in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and was never subject to creation. Being subjected to creation, as everything in nature has been, according to Christian ideology, necessarily reduces it to a lower ranking in the great hierarchical structure of the Christian universe, and anything lower than the Eternal, which is at the highest level because its other name is God, is flawed, transitory, time-trapped, sin-ridden, and only a detriment to achieving a blessed existence in the afterlife.

When Kierkegaard says that the Eternal has "absolutely no history," that it is the only thing in that category, native Americans know that he is not talking about anything of substance or significance in the context of the real world. This is true because native Americans in Central America embraced a conceptualization of time that was circular, cyclical, and repetitious over intervals that range from 52 solar years (called the Calendar Round in Maya civilization) to 5,200 years in duration (referred to as the Long Count notation in that same culture). While these concepts are not in widespread use today, due to the virtual annihilation of native cultures in the Americas that occurred after the beginning of the European invasion in 1492 AD, the Long Count notation reaches across such a long interval of time, with each day in the sequence specifically identified by numerical position and name from the cycle's initial day ( 4 Ahau 8 Cumku on April 29, 3171 BC), that it is still possible now to fix the European date exactly in the continuation of the Classic Period count. That count ended on August 14, 1955 AD, after each of its 1,872,000 days had been tabulated, at 4 Ahau 3 Kankin. This was the day of solar zenith passage at Copan, Honduras, a ceremonial center that has architectural structures (Temple 22) oriented and aligned precisely to register the occurrence of this event both times it happens during the tropical year. The next day, August 15, 1955 AD, marked the beginning of the next sequence of 1,872,000 days in the continuing Maya count. When this count reaches the end of its 5,200-year run, another count will begin, and so on, ad infinitum. The point here, of course, is that native American conceptualizations of time do not, and never have, included any recognition of the existence of the Eternal, since all time is accounted for by discretely counted, properly named, individual days, a circumstance, if not a fact, that leaves no space for the existence of the Eternal. In the context of Maya calendrical time, then, the idea of Eternity, of the Eternal, is meaningless, if not actually nonsensical.

With regard to spirit, each day in the Maya Calendar Round, a repetitious sequence of 18,980 days, where there are 98 cycles plus 11,960 days in each Long Count notation, is composed of four spirit-powers that influence the course of the day. Two spirits are reflected by numbers (1-13 and 0-19) and two are expressed by names (Imix-Ahau and Pop-Cumku, respectively). The entire cycle is composed of days from the 260-day cycle (tzolkin) and from the 365-day interval (haab). Combining one day from each cycle, in identical sequences over time, produces a continuum of 18,980 days in length, where each day is characterized by a specific collective of spirit-power, each of which repeats only once in every cycle of the Calendar Round. Hence, in native American perceptions of time, spirit-power is precisely counted and is never totally absent from the real world, ad infinitum.

A curious coincidence: the Maya "ruler" who built Temple 22 at Copan acceded to that position at 7 Lamat 1 Mol on February 24, 638 AD (Julian Day #1954142). While I do not know the exact day on which this event occurred, the first time Jerusalem was conquered by an Islamic army came in the year 638 AD. One thing has nothing to do with the other, of course, but it is curious that, while the Maya were building a temple to count the motion of the sun along the western horizon at Copan at significant points of the tropical year, Christians and Muslims were just beginning a process of mutual destruction whose most recent moment of glory occurred on September 11, 2001 AD with the annihilation of another 7,000 people who got in the way of Jihad, in the name of Allah, and Crusade, in the name of God. Good Works, like the Eternal from which they spring, have no apparent end. Whether or not any living thing will survive this latest round of Christian and Islamic insanity is a question no native American can answer. Knowing what we know about Christian charity, we harbor little hope any of this will reach a just conclusion or a "good" end.

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