Being A Philosopher & Heretic

Finished reading “Giordano Bruno: Philosopher / Heretic” by Ingrid D. Rowland last week, a biography of the sixteenth-century monkwho came before Galileo in accepting that the earth  revolved around the sun, and, unlike Galileo, did not recant his beliefs to avoid being burned alive at the stake.  The more I read about this guy, the more I see myself.

Giordano Bruno’s claim to fame, besides embracing ideas in natural philosophy that would form the foundation of modern science and traveling through Europe during the Protestant Reformation as a lecturer and writer while being wanted by the Roman Inquisition, was the art of memorizing and reciting vast amounts of information using a mnemonic device.  Often this is a process of associating information through a visual representation of a statue inside a familiar catherdal, and then recalling what the statue look like in a specific order to retrieve the information.  A senator in Ancient Rome could give a speech that lasted for hours without consulting notes or, in modern politics, a teleprompter.  A prized skill that many sought out then, and, sadly, too many people don’t know today since the advent of computers to store information.

There’s a passage from the book that I found quite interesting:

As a writer, and probably as a thinker as well, he was split from the beginning into three personalities: one had a Dominician’s philosophical rigor, one a Platonist’s poetic exaltation, and one a dark wit born in his parents’ little house on the slopes of Monte Cicala and stiletto-sharpened on the streets of Naples.

If I was to rewrite that passage to apply to myself, this is my version:

As a writer, and probably as a thinker as well, he was split from the beginning into three personalities: one had a Pharisee’s philosophical rigor, one a Shakespearean’s poetic exaltation, and one a dark wit born from watching Benny Hill on Friday nights when his parents was in bed and stiletto-sharpened in a world gone mad.

The church I was involved in for many years had went through periods where non-paid leaders would bait someone into sinning to score brownie points with the paid leadership to enhance their own position in the pecking order.  Entrapment is a very old game practiced by both ancient and modern Pharisees.  I developed a philosophical rigor towards detecting and evading such entrapment.

Detecting wasn’t hard since those who want to entrap you are often those who don’t associate with you anyway.  I’m usually approached by two brothers since the Bible requires two witnesses (or two liars as was the case to have Jesus sent to the cross), friendly smiles where none were before, and smooth talking that leads to a trap.  If that doesn’t smell of entrapment, I don’t know what does.

Evading such entrapment required deconstructing the smooth talk to find the Biblical counter-argument and/or realizing the one fact they don’t know since most brothers preening for the leadership thought themselves to be clever that they never really think through their arguments.  If that doesn’t work, ensnaring the brothers into a circular argument where their only response to every question is “because… because… because…” and then verbally beat them up “rope the dope” style that they won’t ever pull that stunt again.  Worst case, handing over my Bible and asking them to prove themselves usually send these evil doers scurrying back into the woodwork.

If you write fiction in the English language, you can never get away from William Shakespeare.  He had written a play for every conceivable story plot.  The key to studying his work is understanding his source material and his audience.   The Bible, Greek/Roman mythology, and historical events were fair  game.  He wrote in the language of  the common people (English), not royalty (French) or clergy (Latin).  His stories are often a mixture of both formal speech of upper society and bawdy speech of lower society, playing one against the other.  I started studying and writing poetry, and applying myself to a classical education, to better understand the structure behind Shakespeare’s plays.

As a teenager I enjoyed Benny Hill for the crude sexual humor since there was nothing else like this British show on American television in the early 1980’s.   (My family couldn’t afford cable TV with all the crude humor from R-rated movies, and the junior high school girls took pity on me because I came from a “poor” family for not having MTV.)  This was my first introduction to the British sense of humor, which is an acquired taste and requires an understanding that what’s being said or shown may have a different meaning.  This may have prepared me well in later years for dealing with religious entrapment, and embracing cynicism and irony in my writings.

When I attended San Jose State University for one year before being kicked out in 1995, the clock tower has a bronze plaque with the poem “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham (who graduated from the university when it was still a teacher school).

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

I identify myself with the second line, which, within the poem and by itself, doesn’t make much sense.  I grew up as a child without knowing God (heretic), took an unpopular stand that would get me kicked out of the church (rebel), and I’m now a writer (a thing to flout).   I wanted to be writer when I was a teenager but life has intervene, sometimes for the better but usually for the worst.  I have come full circle after 20 years to find myself.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.