Hmmm… it’s happened again. I start to make a teeny tiny comment on someone else’s blog and suddenly it becomes an essay. Well, this time I’m resisting the temptation to reprint it here as a post, because I think it’s actually better if you go to the original blog to see what I’m responding to and read the other comments. This one is on religion’s role in creating or facilitating morality.

See http://de-conversion.com/2007/07/04/humans-do-not-need-religion-to-be-moral/#comment-5651. In brief, I agree with the writer’s assertion that religion isn’t necessary for morality, and support this with reference to Erich Fromm, but also call to mind M. Scott Peck’s assertion that religion may be a useful transitional tool in the movement toward maturity.

Some of my previous posts that are relevant to this topic (and which also began life as Comments on other people’s blogs) are:

Love as yardstick of truth
What do I believe?

After a month of rain and stormy weather, our King Lear reading took place on the first sunny weekend of the summer. However, with the images of grey skies and floodwaters still strong in our minds, it wasn’t difficult to feel the intensity of Shakespeare’s insistent “Storm continues” repeated so often in the stage directions. Poor Lear is adrift in an awful storm of his own making. Despite their loyalty to him, the Fool and Kent repeatedly assert that he is the author of his own misfortune, for giving up his crown too early and for disinheriting the one daughter who truly loved him and on whom he might have counted when the others betrayed him.

Many hold this to be the Bard’s greatest play, but not always for the same reasons, or perhaps because there are so many possible reasons. As usual, we enjoyed the different perspectives that arose in our group’s discussion. Are Lear’s irrational pronouncements and acts born purely out of wilful folly or monstrous ego, or does his great age suggest the possibility of dementia, something he senses is happening and knows he cannot control? If a king of forty wants to give up his throne in order to “shake all cares and business from our age”, we might well accuse him of laziness, of simply wanting an easy life with the trappings but not the responsibilities of authority. But when the king is eighty (in a world when many people did not live past fifty), and has exercised authority throughout a long life, is the same charge fair? In this latter case, might one not see his attempt to transfer power peacefully during his lifetime as a brave and responsible act, fouled only by the dementia itself when he repudiates Cordelia? Goneril’s and Regan’s references to earlier irrational acts before the play opens lend themselves to this interpretation, as do Lear’s own expressed fear of going mad and his alternating periods of apparent lunacy and lucidity.

Of course he also represents humankind at large, buffeted by the storms of life. We know this because our sympathy for him grows as he rails alone against the storm, even if it is his own fault that he’s there at all. Is Shakespeare suggesting that most of our stormy experiences arise because of our own stubborn refusal to see clearly and to act rightly? Or does the theme of “nothing”, also repeated often, suggest a lurking nihilism, the idea that all our intentions and efforts may be meaningless, subject to the random attacks of nature, no matter whether we act responsibly or not? Cordelia acts according to her conscience throughout, but ends up just as dead as Lear and the traitors. Is Shakespeare evoking an absurd universe, long before Waiting for Godot? This is one possibility raised by the really enjoyable essay “Speak What We Feel: An Introduction to King Lear” by Ian Johnston at http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/eng366/lectures/lear.htm. This essay also raises several other questions, such as the ‘normality’ of evil and the value of individual acts of goodness, like that of the unnamed Servant who challenges and kills Cornwall. There is a wealth of other Lear material online as well — just search on “King Lear”.

After such a stimulating reading and discussion, we are very much looking forward to seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear with Ian McKellen in the title role at the New London Theatre in November. Join us if you can! Note that booking for this production is currently only available to RSC Members. Public booking opens on 7th September 2007. RSC Membership costs £15 and is well worth it, as tickets for most productions over the past two years have sold out very quickly.

The next reading, probably in August, will be The Merchant of Venice.

First off: I’m not a doctor or any other kind of medical practitioner. However, like most people, I can claim vast experience in the wasteland of colds and ‘flu — waste of time, waste of tissues, waste of energy… we’ve all been there! What’s different for me now is that the various treatments and routines I’ve assembled over the years actually do work to reduce the intensity and length of each attack. Feeling empowered to take action also boosts my mood and enables me to continue being productive, so I think less about the way I’m feeling physically.

The actions basically fall into three groups: Boosting the Immune System, Detoxifying and Easing Symptoms. Now, everyone is different, so if you don’t already know that some of these practices are good for you, you should check them out with a medical authority you trust. That said, however, my husband and I are extremely different in temperament and in body type (in Ayurvedic terms I’m vata, he’s kapha), and these things work well for both of us:

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et cetera