Tag Archives: Philosophy

Semanturgy and Religion

Beginning at age 13, I have searched for meaning in many religions. Raised Catholic, I have explored New Age ideas, a couple of Native American spiritual paths, I have experienced a couple of other kinds of Christianity, I’ve read Taoist and Buddhist texts, even attended a couple of Unitarian Universalist services. I’ve read many Wiccan texts and participated in several rituals.

In short, it has been a long and widely wandering journey so far, with no destination in sight. Though every system has bits of wisdom that shine for me, no one structure rings true enough for me to feel right about adopting it as my own personal religion. Sometimes this lack of structure feels freeing, but at other times I wish I had a label to insert into the blanks on forms, I wish I had a name to provide to those who want to know, in a word, what I believe.

Cruising news sites yesterday, I came across a link to Tom Cruise’s latest discussion of Scientology, which led me to their official website to investigate. It made me feel sick to think of how someone can take an idea or system of ideas, as one might do with Semanturgy, and make a dogma out of it. I do not believe that Semanturgy can be a dogma, because the root “-urgy” or “work” indicates that the meanings being dealt with are not stagnant, not immobile, not at a distance being admired or worshipped. The meanings are being worked, whether created, debated, interpreted, or rearranged, it is not about standing passively and being dictated to. It is not about consuming thoughtlessly like a drone in a cult.

If a semanturgist found themselves doing something ritualistic, like say, trimming a Christmas tree, it would be an individual experience full of personal significance. It might be rooted in memories of previous Christmases, it might signify a personal goal of finding and cutting down a wild tree, it might show the consideration the person has for their children who will learn a new tradition or enjoy the sight of the lights, it might be the same plastic tree one’s grandfather had in his house and so be infused with Grandpa’s history. The act of trimming and the presence of the tree would show an active, thoughtful participation and an assumption of responsibility that would feed the rest of the person’s life, and possibly the lives of those around them.

I guess this demonstrates my problem with organized religion, and why I find it so difficult to “pick” one. There is a point where I am not allowed to decide for myself, but must just accept certain tenets as given. This was my original path away from Catholicism, when I was informed that, however logical or reasonable the possibility of reincarnation is, “We don’t believe in it.”

One thing I do firmly believe, I am now and will in the future be held responsible for the things I say, do and believe. For this reason, I cannot blindly follow what someone else decides is true or right, but I must think it through for myself. I must decide what the world means to me and then make sure that my words and actions reflect my personal truths.

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Semanturgy, a preliminary discussion

I am imagining an alternate way to approach meaning in the world.  Semantics and other similar studies deal with meaning in what seems to me a very passive way, simply observing the relationships between symbols, signs, and meanings.  I added a suffix that signifies “work” so that the word denotes an active usage of meaning.

It seems to me that human consciousness is evolving to greater awareness.  At some point we became aware of meaning, how to create it and interpret it: that a certain sound uttered signifies a certain message, that a certain marking on the cave wall indicates a certain event. We even developed special rites, gestures, and other indications that communicate meaning to ourselves and the outer world.

But we have become spectators, passive consumers of meaning. I humbly acknowledge a huge debt of inspiration derived from the philosophy of the Situationists, who dealt with the phenomena of spectator and spectacle in modern times.

 As we move from being spectators to being agents in the world, in our own lives, we must be guided by something.  Can we go through our daily lives and infuse every action with a good intention, can we make every word reflect our truth, can we keep in mind a purpose that fits into a bigger picture, whatever that might be for each of us as individuals?

Sounds like an overwhelming project, but what is the alternative?  Have our lives dictated to us by the media?  Flail thoughtlessly through our days?  Speak what people want to hear, or parrot what we’ve always heard?  Focus on the little details, like the labels on our clothes and the hood ornament on our SUVs, without considering how these details make up the story of our lives? 

I choose to work with meaning as though it were a medium like clay or words, to weave significance into every aspect of my life, to make sure my actions and words represent what I think and believe. I reserve the right to interpret the meaning of events, art, nature and the world itself in ways that might be different from the way others tell me I have to understand them. I want to open up the discussion to all thinking people, to share what seems true to each of us and learn something new.

I leave behind the role of unthinking spectator, consuming what the commercialized world tells me is valuable, and take on the agency of participant, producer of meaning, accepting the freedom and responsibility that comes with open-eyed awareness and intentional living.

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All is nothing but flowers in a flowering universe

One needs only study geology to realize, once and for all, that even the mountains we take as symbols of eternity are, in fact, like everything surrounding us, only manifestations in motion, the illusion of stability which is actually the true face of change, yet another being in the process of growth or decay.

Why do I insist on complicating things that are really quite straightforward? It’s just a mountain, for crying out loud, get a grip.

Years ago the symbol of my life became the spiral, (I suspect it was the symbol all along and I just eventually realized it), but in any event, the spiral is movement: here to there, in and out, forth and back. When you see it drawn in two dimensions, it appears just to move from the center to the edges, or from the outer to the inner, but in 3 dimensions, though ultimately it may be tending in one direction, if you follow it closely it moves in a lot of directions in rapid succession. Rather dizzying, really.

The way a boring, plain little seed makes its way up towards the sun, then falls back down again into the dirt, possibly providing us sustenance somewhere in the middle, delaying our own spiral downward.

Somewhere in the middle of my flowering life other flowering lives have appeared, whose stems grow strong and whose leaves drink in the light. It is dizzying the way our individual spirals reach out into the world like the tendrils of a bean plant curl around whatever stable object the wind blows them up against.

The decay will surely come, the petals falling, sagging bits, furrowed brow, death. Name forgotten. There is no monument, not even faces carved into the side of a mountain, that will survive time’s dizzying spiral forward, warping all of space in its wake.

Sometimes, riding the waves of the wake, we stop to smell a flower: a friendly face encountered, fresh bread eaten, groovin’ tunes enjoyed, cool fat raindrops in a summer thunderstorm. It will all be gone soon enough, but today, how sweet.

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