Our December service may sound as if it were a “downer,” especially for those who love the winter holiday season. But it was intended to quesiton the whole point and purpose of it, and of all such holidays, all rituals and cultural practices and even of life itself. It was a melding of “the meaning of Christmas” - about which there is of course much argument! - and the “absurdist” philosophy of the 20th Century French writer and journalist Albert Camus (1913-1960). Camus most important non-fiction musings on the subject are to be found in his extended essay – a small book actually – entitled The Myth of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus was a semi-mythical Greek hero – actually, there is at least as much evidence that he actually existed as that Jesus existed since Sisyphus was the founder of the Greek city-state of Corinth – who, in the afterlife, was condemned to roll a great stone up to the top of a hill, only to see it roll back down again. Thus, Sisyphus is the “patron saint” of futility and of useless and pointless effort. Camus considered Sisyphus something of a stand-in for all of humanity, living life as if it will never end but, in the end, all of coming to nothing. That this is actually the case is, in fact, arguable, but Camus' solution was not to commit suicide, but, rather, to “revolt.” A key passage from Camus' essay is:
“[Sisyphus] is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock. If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition … The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn. … One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. ... This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
And so it is with Christmas. We do it over and over again. We wonder if it is to any greater purpose, whether anything is really accomplished by all the effort put into it and the trouble and nuisance we endure. Therefore, we take whatever pleasures we can in the doing of it all, trusting that each aspect of it “in itself forms a world.”
Our December service also included a Moment of Science(TM) on the recently-successfully-landed Mars Insight spacecraft. And we considered, as well, some interesting ways that the idea of deities can be thought of.
ALSO: check out the December 2018 NTCOF bulletin!
Postings about each monthly service includes topics discussed and an open forum to further discuss those topics.
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