Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: William James

“The Varieties Of Religious Experience” ~ “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”


Here we are at the Friday Behind The Scenes of Notes from An Alien post.

This is where I reveal my own thoughts and feelings about my short novel, answer your questions, and share scenes that weren’t in the published edition.

Some of these posts have spoilers (this one does) and, if those trouble you, grab a free copy of the novel and take the relatively short time to read its 90-some pages :-)

Last week’s Friday Behind The Scenes was, The Corporate Education of Children and revealed unpublished scenes of a boy growing up on the totally corporate World, Anga.

Today’s post is a set of scenes about a boy growing up on the totally religious World of Anla.

The first quoted phrase in the title of this post is part of the title of a book by the psychologist William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience: A Study In Human Nature.

The second quoted phrase is the title of a Spaghetti western film that has nothing to do with this post, though the words have much to do with the boy’s experiences

As an intro to the new, unpublished scenes, I offer these quotes from William James:

“Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”

“It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off being religious at all.”

No matter what your feelings are about religion, I hope you enjoy the following scenes

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He was born just before sunrise.

He didn’t know his parents. They may have been involved somewhat in his early upbringing, or not—that was the way of things.

Everything was shared, no one could claim ownership or possession.

His basic needs were met but just barely.

He would grow into a cautious, untrusting young child.

~~~

By the time the boy had reached the age of five, he had become completely dependent on the small clan of children he’d been lodged with.

They were a cohesive band of stunted souls—permitted to wander the main city of the Lord’s Army—given no special notice by the adults.

The most striking event of this period of his life was the Gift to God ritual he observed.

He’d fallen and cut himself many times and cried a bit over it—the people being offered as a Gift to their God were completely silent—blood pouring from the cuts made in their skin—slumping and dying without a sound.

He would wonder long about why they were so willing to die but he would not lose the sealed determination in his heart—they would never do that to him

~~~

By the time the boy had reached the age of ten, he was the secret leader of his small band of children.

The priests were intelligent enough to notice the small preferences the other children rendered him and administered extra lessons—periods of repeating the words the priests uttered—repeating many times—accepting silently the blows to his body when he misspoke the chant.

His lack of ability to bend to their wishes eventually had them deciding his banishment—unprecedented for one so young—necessary for the ordering of things

~~~

His early time in the Unholy Lands was a trial of wits—a strengthening of clear thought—a life of evading contact with the other sinners

He wondered why these were called the Unholy Lands—such lush fields of crops—never a worry over food—surreptitiously observed people who laughed a lot and never hit each other

He slowly evolved a plan—took a few years to gain the courage to implement it—capturing one of the sinners and questioning them.

~~~

It was his fifteenth birthday when he began his interrogation of the sinner—a sprightly  blond woman who hadn’t resisted his manhandling of her, had said lovely things to him as he tied her up, made him feel guilty for the first time in his life

“Woman, be quite!”

She stopped her litany of sweetness.

“Tell me why this is called the Unholy Lands.”

“May I stop being quite?”

“Tell me!”

“You must have escaped from the Lord’s Army territory.”

“They threw me out!”

She had the most melodious laugh. It nearly stunned his senses.

“Forgive me for laughing, we’ve only met youth who escape. You must be a very special person to have earned their expulsion at such a tender age.”

“Expulsion?”

“Throwing you out

He stared at her.

She stared back

She finally said, “You are welcome to our Lands, oh most unholy boy.”

His stare began to melt into tears.

~~~

When he was twenty he met the newly arrived Prophet, Akla—the “Promised One” of these people.

He’d worked up seven questions to ask the Prophet—questions to test his authority.

As he entered the hut, his limbs suddenly weakened and the Prophet helped him to a chair.

He was given a cool drink and a cloth to wipe his sweat.

After he was settled, Akla said, “Your first question is why should anyone believe what a Prophet says.”.

He shuddered and began to cry, very softly

Akla’s next words would stay with him for the rest of his life.

“Never believe a Prophet’s words until you’ve subjected them to your best scrutiny. Use the mind and heart God gave you.”
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“Success” Is Vastly Over-Rated


We’re made to believe we have to succeed or die. We’re made to feel not reaching the top is failure.

We’re driven toward actions that induce impossible decisions and our fuel is stress.

Well maybe not all of us

In 1906, William James said to H.G. Wells: “The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That—with the squalid interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.”

Seems like the only thing that’s changed since then is the disease is nearly International.

It never ceases to amaze me how words are taken from their natal environs and prostituted for ill-gain and nefarious purpose.

If you check the root meanings of the word success, you find ideas like: result, outcome, an advance, succession, happy outcome, which all come from a deeper root meaning: to come after

Who twisted the word to nearly eliminate the happy part? Who made it seem success wasn’t merely the next stage, from which further action becomes possible, but a pinnacle of achievement that leaves all other contenders breathless on the sides of the conquered mountain?

My father was a perfectionist. I suffered greatly from trying to be like my father.

Yet, in all justice, even though I’ve finally caught on and taught myself how to enjoy rolling hills rather than challenging breathless heights, I have gained great respect for making sure my ass is covered—learned how to baffle the fates into giving me what I want without surrendering all that I am.

The worst thing about attempting perfectionistic success is that when I fell on my face in the mud stirred up by my relentless provocations, I’d injured those closest to me

At times, I entertain myself with the nightmare imaginings of the tortured inner lives of those folk who were lucky enough to attain some materialistic mountaintop.

Repeated failure has finally made me humble enough to, very possibly, finish off my remaining years on this planet with one well-attained and widely helpful project—spreading the word about the inevitability of Global Peace

Let me close this rather high-flying post with an excerpt from Andrea J. Wenger’s blog that reveals the valley of rolling hills I’m now wandering with gratitude and patience:

“…when the doubts of my life feel overwhelming, I retreat to the one place where I always feel sure. The one place where struggle is the best teacher and failure the source of deep insight. The one place where I can get it right the fourteenth time instead of the first, and no one will ever know the difference.

“I write.”
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