You might find it odd that after all my protestations about being a secular humanist that I would pick a book from The Bible, the OLD Testament no less, as the subject of a sequence of blog entries. It is about time I revisited this book that has had such an important effect on me.
In fact, of all the books I have ever read I cannot think of one that has changed my life the way this one has. I first read this book when I was 14. Its first word changed me forever. Soon thereafter I read Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare play, containing these words:
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tommorow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time
and al our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking Shadow
a poor player that struts and frets
his hour upon the stage and then is heard
It is a tale told by an idiot
full of sound and fury
I have had these words memorized since that time. But if you look at what Macbeth says here, you see the book of Ecclesiastes in miniature.
"Vanity of Vanity says the preacher, all is Vanity."
Now, most theologically inclined people try to finesse this as saying life is vain without God. That does not seem to be the emphasis of this book. ALL is vanity. Everything. ALL of it. You, me, the Universe, God, everything. Totally and abjectly futile and pointless.
Sounds like every teenager I know.
Bertrand Russell tries to take on Ecclesiastes in his book The Conquest of Happines but fails miserably. Sorry. He does.
"If he[Solomon] could have heard on the wireless the speech of the Queen of Sheba to her subjects on her return from his dominions, would it not have consoled him among his futile trees and pools? If he could have had a press-cutting agency to let him know what the newspapers said about the beauty of his architecture...?"
The answer to Russell is, "NO". Obviously he had never appreciated the expression "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
"What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?" v. 3
Take that you workaholics! All your superiority amounts to nothing! You're going to die just like everyone else. So there.
"One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises; and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
and then turns around to the north
That which has been is what will be,
that which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun."
This is not about the sun going around the earth, it's about the tedious rythms of nature. You read in poetry about how beautiful and designed and predictable nature is, Qoheleth(look it up), is saying that nature is tedious, mindless, repetitive, as is life. Russell TOTALLY misses the point when he says that all our technology is creating all this new stuff. Perhaps in Russell's time new gadgets were very exciting, but not for me. One replaces another, idiots line up to get the latest iphone or ipad or bullshit and it's always the same. You loser nerds! All to support industries so that folks in China etc.. can work in shitty conditions. Nothing ever changes.
"There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance of things
to come by those who will come after."
We can't even keep straight who/what caused our current fiscal crisis. Our media just drops it down the 'memory hole'(look it up). People are appallingly ignorant about history, even recent history. Think you're going to make your mark? No you won't.
Before long it will be like you were never here. DEAL WITH IT.
Like I said, people try to sweeten this book up because they can't handle it, but it is a violence to the book itself and to its wisdom.
I will continue starting with verse 12 next time.