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On Not Knowing (Peter reads the Neoplatonists, part II)

I’ve been reading Greek philosophers.  I formed a neoplatonist book club recently with a couple of Pagan friends, and we’re reading Iamblichus’s On the Mysteries.  I’m plowing through it, chewing on some very dense prose as I try to take in and understand neoplatonist ideas about God and the Gods, time and eternity, body and mind and soul.

I am aware of being very attached to some ideas about the soul.  It’s not all that different from the way Christians cling to their orthodoxy.  Christians (and that includes me when I was younger) will do a lot of mental gymnastics to make their experiences of the world to fit into Christian doctrines they can’t afford to let go of.  Everything new they learn gets reworked and reinterpreted to fit with their core beliefs.

My own attachment, the idea I find myself clinging to, is the idea of an immortal soul.  The reason is simple and obvious: I want to keep going and keep growing after death.  I don’t want it to end.

Personal identity may not survive death…and I can be OK with that.  But if the soul includes a divine spark, an immortal component, then I would find it very comforting to believe that that spark—that of God within me—goes on to survive and to grow even without Peter Bishop and his memories, his consciousness, and his individuality.

I wrote a while ago about wanting to be buried in a shroud impregnated with mushroom spores, so that my body would return to the Earth more quickly and more profoundly as it was consumed by mushrooms.  That’s not incompatible.  The neoplatonists viewed the soul as having a dual nature, connected at one end to flesh and time and generation and at the other end to eternity and to the realm of the Gods.  I could see those two aspects dissociating at death and each going its own way, the earthly aspect returning to the Earth and the eternal to the Gods.  Both are sacred.  Each would be a kind of homecoming.

I like that idea.  I like that image.  I like that as my future after death.  And I know that liking it, by itself, is not sufficient reason to believe it.

But over the last few years I have been trying out philosophical systems—the Builders of the Adytum, Plotinus, and now Iamblichus.  As I study a philosophical system, I adopt it and live it for a while, growing into it as if it’s true, and thus finding the good within it as well as its limitations.

I see nothing wrong with living as a neoplatonist for a while.  Nothing in it violates me spiritually, nor does it violate my scientific integrity to adopt a hypothesis and thoroughly test it.

Though always maintaining that integrity.

I know myself.  I know what I want, and I know that wanting it doesn’t make it so.  But wanting it doesn’t make it wrong either, and it does make it worth investigating, out to the furthest edges and into every nook and cranny.






Image credit:  "Grief" sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), photo by Peter Bishop

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