Yesterday TAO 61 got drenched, flooded really, because I neglected to put the top up in a parking lot, foolishly not paying attention to the clear signs that it was going to rain...hard. Nothing that won't dry out, though the ever-cryptic radio is having a moisture-related problem. Last night it didn't seem to actually turn off; I wanted to make sure the battery was still live today. It was. But I still need the humidity (and foul sour stench) to dissipate before I reprogram the settings...assuming I can.
But to the mailbox where I retrieved the usual bills, charity solicitations and catalogs, and a couple of magazines: Shambhala Sun with the ubiquitous smiley face of the Dalai Lama on the cover, and Time, with its standard pre-Easter cover feature, this year, "What If There's No Hell?" Not only that, but a sub-feature called "Living Younger Longer." Could this be the year for Taoism?
Let me say I love magazines, the real kind on paper that come in the mailbox or are discovered at newsstands (brick-and-mortar phenomena that seem as doomed as Blockbuster and Borders stores). The current Time issue flashed me back to maybe 1966, when my college mailbox was the receptor of Time and Reader's Digest, both subscriptions subsidized by the parents who wanted to make sure I was current with the mainstream culture. I recall the Time issue, probably also a pre-Easter feature, (on searching I find it was indeed April 8, 1966, my memory does not fail me) that proclaimed on the cover, in big white Helvetica type on a black background, "God is Dead!" ** Although Nietzsche had made that suggestion 80 years earlier, for some reason in 1966 it was news. (I had a professor in the religion department of my church-related college who was widely assumed to be a death-of-god theologian, purveying the pernicious concept that the Time article was about. It was a big deal then, someone had written a book.)
Reader's Digest was a counter to that, I guess, but really the only things I remember about that little journal were the jokes (like the cartoons in The New Yorker), the"notable quotes" and one article about "Red China" that described torture: "Then they plunged chopsticks in his ears!" (Which I have no doubt "they" did.) Reader's Digest summarized and packaged a particular American cultural vision; today I get Utne Reader, which does something of the same, although I am sometimes as sceptical of it as I am of Reader's Digest.
So what if there's no hell? The actual article in fact is titled "Is Hell Dead?" (Ah, the deja vu!) "Rogue pastor Rob Bell's argument about salvation and judgment has Evangelicals in a fury --and a younger generation rethinking Jesus," the subhead relates. I haven't read the article yet, but it looks interesting.
Curiously, the article that precedes it is a profile of Ai Weiwei, "The Activist Artist of China," (as subversive and pesky as the Dalai Lama), whose works include the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium and a piece of pottery I would really like to own, a Han Dynasty-style urn emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo.
And following the article about hell, "Amortality: Why acting your age is a thing of the past." Taoists call it longevity or immortality, but some of the "sages" cited seem far from Taoists:
Hugh Hefner (about to begin creepy dual cultivation with a woman 60 years -- that Chinese life cycle --younger than him; Joan Rivers, jewelry and cosmetic surgery queen and comedian I always confuse with Joan Collins (another amortal); and Mick Jagger. A "Sympathy for the Devil" reference is probably too obvious for this post.
The conclusion I am left with from these articles is that in America, amortality has to do with never growing up, I mean, if there's no hell....it's just biological and let's have fun, eat right, exercise, and play golf or sky-dive. Or do qigong or tai chi. But I see no spiritual aspirations here. But I haven't read about Rob Bell, the rogue evangelical, yet. Hope springs from the strangest sources.
**Searching further, I discover that the magazine cover I remember actually featured big red type on black and did not proclaim, but asked, "Is God Dead?" Whatever. Close enough after all these years.