One of the four reasons why George Orwell wrote was to record historical events in his time with a sense of writer’s responsibility to witness the moments for posterity. Imbued with the Orwellian spirit, but more egged on by the concern for the reign of terror, as a citizen of the world, I care to write about the current volatile situation in the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. Now I can see a danger of theocracy in which religion is a leviathan consistency master computer that controls people’s lives and psyches. Religion becomes an authoritarian Big Brother, the Demiurge that plays the absolute moral and ethical being in the mask of profoundly sacred deity leading to hatred of the physical world we live in. In this situation, the beauty of art intrinsic to our human essence is a decadent luxury, expendable to the bargain in the politics of heritage.
The reinstatement of the Taliban government in present Afghanistan provokes the image of the great Buddha statues located in Bamyan, Afghanistan, until the Taliban obdurately and proudly destroyed in 2003 because the statues were idols opposite the teachings of Allah. The Taliban ignored pleas from the UN, including Islamic countries, that urged them to preserve the world’s treasure of civilization for humanity. The statues of Buddha represented Gandaha art, a wonderous syncretism of Hellenism of ancient Greek culture and Buddhism of Indus Valley civilization. It’s an exquisite synthesis of the West and the East, which tells us that people found a way to cross vast continents and seas and mingled to blossom into a new civilization even a millennium ago. Thanks to the one and only Macedonian Alexander the Great, emblematic of the wise and cultured political and military leader of all seasons, our human civilizations dispersed farther. They prospered further, as evidenced by the now begone great statues of Buddhas built by Bactrians, the descendants of soldiers in Alexander’s army who remained in modern-day Afghanistan by force and perforce and founded Hellenistic Bactria. By the way, there are still the descendants of the ancient Greek forefathers living in the area, even though their cultural expectation in the form of the statues of Buddhas have become mysterious wonders of the ancient world.
I am not condemning the religious whose faith is commensurate with their regard for others because a true believer of any faith is also a good person. The world’s representative religions do not promulgate violence and antagonism, at least not in their sacred texts per se. Still, misinterpretation or over-interpretation of the words have been the seeds of discord in history. I remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person. If you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu, a Muslim, a good Muslim. I wish people of all faiths would take her words to heart. Then we could place the Republic of Heaven on earth.
Great writers are great because they know how to tell entertaining and enduring stories without religious and didactic overtones. Moreover, they are unafraid of speaking their minds without a qualm of conventional belief or sectarian principles. Yesterday, I read an essay called “The Republic of Heaven” from Demon Voices by Philip Pullman, a renowned British best-selling writer whose intelligently tongue in cheek styled narrative raises the dander of the Catholic Church for his acerbic view of the orthodox teaching. With my reading of Candide by Voltaire still fresh in mind, I find Pullman and his philosophy of free thought familiar with that of Voltaire and realize that true intellectuals think among people and live in social companions of public spirits for the good of humanity. Thus, here is my discursive impression of Pullman’s “The Republic of Heaven.”
Pullman urges us to step aside from habit, a banal molded frame of life, to see the world outside the box, which will lead to an immense world of delight, the Republic of Heaven, for we are worthier than we think we know because we are such stuff made of wonder. Pullman’s heroine is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, who has resisted against the magistrate of grim and gray puritanical ethos that decries an expression of feelings and emotions under religious disciplines. She remonstrates against the cold-hearted Mrs. Reed thus: “You think I have no feelings and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so.” Her demand for love stems from her need for it, which is an essential food for the soul that serves a purpose and pique for life. This sense of love so wanting in Jane cannot be quelled by false optimism that such distress is the best for the best of all possible world. On the contrary, it is an outcry of the soul desirous of warm and soft human touch that thrills the heart and invigorates the mind. Human beings cannot live by Reason alone, forced to utilize when the right of five senses is forfeited and bound by misconceived religious concepts and false moral measures.
The founder of Logotherapy, the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, Viktor E. Frankl, witnessed a learned Jewish woman in his concentration camp killing herself despite daily recitation of wise sayings of the Torah supposedly being a consolation. Frankl affirms that we humans cannot live without the joy of life, that is, an appreciation of pleasure to the senses because otherwise, we will degenerate to a provisional being living day to day like prisoners of dreary dungeons in the darkness of hopelessness. Pullman agrees with Franklin the creative and experiential values of pleasure that keep a journey to live a purposeful and meaningful life.
The creation and experience of art spark the joy of moments that can be synonymous with a meaning of happiness in life. Some find consolation in religion, but it does not give them whys to live for, nor kindness to show hows. Pullman’s concept of the Republic of Heaven comes to a head prominently when we are stranded in the chaos of existential vacuum, the kind of which the loyal and conscientious butler Stevens felt when he lost his faith in his idealized employer in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. However, if Stevens pursued his love for Miss Kenton and appreciated the pleasure of love he consciously denied, he would not have felt the sudden void in his life. The sense of delight in the physical world is the essence of the Republic of Heaven that he and we are conditioned to ignore. The point of Pullman’s philosophy is that we are too serious about the pleasure our physical world provides. And it’s not a chemical-induced euphoria for escape from the world but a new attitude toward our perspectives of it. Elenore Roosevelt also knew how to become a citizen of the Republic, thus: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I should try that.