Hemingway on different aspects of religion

Thursday, October 22, 2015
F: 6 a.m. So, Papa, I greatly appreciate the material you gave me yesterday after our morning session, and with luck maybe this winter will see us pulling together a lot of material gathered over eight years.
EH: With luck and perseverance. They are always required.
To continue where we left off. It is one thing to – well, you have the sense of where I want to start, but it is easier if you make those kinds of sweeping statements and I come in and modify them.
F: Yes, I’ve seen that over the years. Okay, first is the difference between internal and external practices in a religion. Then there’s the difference between esoteric and exoteric dogma. That’s what I get just now.
EH: Dogma, you see, didn’t particularly matter to me. Dogma is what you have to take on faith that somebody has worked it out and it means something. But you don’t live dogma, and nobody ever did. Dogma is the logic that people put around things, and you can always poke holes in logic or you can accept it entirely, but you don’t live it. It is useful mainly to put a veneer of respectability around things that are a hell of a lot deeper than reason.

F: How about a clarifying metaphor?
EH: Dogma is metaphor, really. And that’s the other division, esoteric and exoteric. People who believe dogma literally have a firm hold on an explanation that is there mainly to provide an explanation to hold on to. If you are really going to get a religion, you don’t much care about the dogma in practice. I know you want to explain for me, go ahead.
F: It’s like the difference between spirituality and religion people insist on these days. One is the direct connection, the other is a way of managing many people’s connections so that it can be a shared, cultural experience as well.
EH: You could expand on that somewhere and see where it leads. No need to go beyond that in my case, though. I didn’t care about being one among many in those terms. I don’t know that I ever thought of myself as one of a spiritual army or even community. The church is that, for many people, I’m sure. But for me it wasn’t. It was more like the custodian of something you could feel but not think.
F: Yet you did like living in Catholic countries, or, like Key West, parts of countries.
EH: I did, though I never particularly thought of it that way. I could understand people like that. I could be part of them in a way I couldn’t be with my own countrymen.
F: Say some more about that?
EH: As I think about it, I see that a different part of me came into play when I was dealing with people in their own language, or in a pidgin tongue like what was in use in Hong Kong or China. But I couldn’t say how, let alone why.
F: Even among the English-speaking poor, you were different than among the non-English-speaking poor?
EH: That’s a harder question than you realize. Put it this way: One division in my dealings with people was, real or phony. Another was, entitled or authentic, not quite the same thing. Another was, intellectual or simple, call it, or maybe thought versus feeling as our friend Dr. Jung would put it. Another was, what bucket – as you put it – does a person fit into? Writer, artist, fisherman, hunter, warrior, businessman, good companion, lover, inspiration, whore, whatever? And the one you bring up, that I guess was so obvious I never thought much about it – English-speaker or not.
Any of these divisions will include the other divisions, of course, that’s why the world isn’t divided into only two kinds of people. Wherever you start – man or woman, first of all, or thinker or feeler, or wherever you begin – either side of that initial division will then reveal itself to comprise all the other divisions in various combinations. Just common sense, after all.
I know where you are going with the questions, and they do help, but they don’t necessarily get easy answers, and they don’t necessarily get us anywhere in any straight line. We’ll just have to see.
As to Spanish-speaking countries or Catholic countries, it sounds like the same thing but it isn’t.
F: Well, and there are Italy and France, too, Catholic but not Spanish-speaking.
EH: And there is Hong Kong and China, not Catholic or Spanish-speaking. Facts have a way of getting in the way of theory.
F: That last sentence was me more than you, I think.
EH: In a way it hardly matters. Attribution is more arbitrary sometimes than you recognize. It’s like both of us taking money out of the pot. What I get I call mine and what you get you call yours but they’re both out of the same previously mingled whole.
F: Interesting thought.
EH: Yeah. Mine? Or yours? Or –?
F: I know you meant to leave that as a rhetorical question, but – ours, maybe?
EH: Ours to the degree we snagged it and connected it to what we are, which is largely what we have previously snagged, which is what we began with plus everywhere we chose to go.
F: Implications for the joint mind and for the question of how we chose ourselves into various timelines.
EH: True enough. But perhaps a bit off-point here.
F: True. Proceed.
EH: Let’s stick to the simpler questions first. I was a Catholic by instinct, by affinity, by recognition, you might say. With me it was never a matter of belief. It was not a matter of signing on to a creed or even a myth, it was an allegiance to something deeper than all that, something that Christianity had shaped and molded but hadn’t created. I was never very articulate about it then, and I am not now, but I do have a wider view of it, so I can see some things.
If you look at the Catholic world in Europe and you compare it to the Protestant world in Europe, you see what anybody sees, and it looks like superstition versus reason, to some. To others it is tradition versus modernity. To others, sheep versus individuals. To others, rooted versus shallow. Life is never as simple as the way we analyze it, but the process can be helpful to understand what we see.
I was in a good place to act as bridge.
For one thing, I was an American, and I don’t care how deep your family’s roots are in Europe, if you are an American, you feel it, in Europe. I don’t mean they treat you differently (although, inevitably, they do) and I don’t mean you stand there and sneer at the differences (although enough of my countrymen did that too). But – you are not of Europe, no matter how much you like it or dislike it, and nothing changes that. You can see it from the outside.
So there is Protestant Europe – mainly Northern and Western Europe – and Catholic Europe – mainly Southern and Eastern, with Ireland stuck in the Northwest like a big Ulster in reverse.
Countries like France and particularly Germany are mixtures, with all the tensions and possibilities that raises. And of course you’ve got Switzerland, Protestant but as different from its neighbors as Ireland.
In Italy, in France, in Spain, I was at home in a way that had nothing to do with religious belief but had everything to do with the culture that religious belief had grown, over centuries.
F: You didn’t seem to be at home in England, although you got along okay with them in 1944 and ’45.
EH: Mostly ’44. In fact, come to think of it, entirely in a few months of 1944 – May through August. (And don’t start rooting through your books trying to see if it was August or July. Say July, what difference does it make? The point is, I wasn’t there very long even counting the briefest of visits.)
F: It’s just – I know you were on the ground in France in July.
EH: Well, since you know that, if you were making me up, wouldn’t you get that right?
F: Yes, but what if it wasn’t me making it up, but what they call hungry ghosts, seeking attention and putting on as good a story as they can?
EH: Treat it as static on the line and as long as you’re getting good stuff, keep going with it. Everything sorts out over time.
F: I suppose. Bu if you start telling me about your time on the Russian front, I’m going to have serious objections.
EH: I’ll keep it in mind.
F: Too late now to continue, I guess.
EH: I did warn you that this question can’t get a short, snappy answer. It is an important question, but not an easily approached one.
F: Okay, Next time, then.
[Reynolds says Hemingway arrived in France July 18. I see no evidence that he spent even a day of August in England.]

4 thoughts on “Hemingway on different aspects of religion

  1. Interesting dialogue in several respects. First, it surfaces some of the complexities that we often overlook when thinking about a subject like religion. To oversimplify by pigeonholing, even into religious or not religious, or spiritual versus religious, often misses the core that’s there in the form of multiple overlapping belief systems.

    To a great extent those belief systems define us but we rarely introspect to the necessary extent to recognize them in ourselves.

    Attribution, in this case, to the thoughts generated by your joint mind with Hemingway is fascinating. More and more I am seeing that a joint mind is actually a joint mind of joint minds, and that the mind we are in the habit of calling our own is, as Rita often pointed out, a community. The more that we identify with our greater selves, the less our own mind is solely our own personality with the thoughts “coming out of our own head”, and we realize we are a spigot for a greater amorphous consciousness.

    The name below is the name of the spigot. I can’t put a name on the origin of the thought.
    John

  2. Another thing to consider regarding the date discrepancy, is if you were asked to remember the dates when you did something more than 60 years ago would you be able to?

    Why do we assume that just because someone is dead that they suddenly acquire a perfect memory?

    The summer of ’44 for Hemingway may be something of a blur. Bear in mind that in relation to the timeless state after death that our concepts of time as months, years, days may be nothing more than a quaint convention.

    Keep on keeping on …

    1. Point noted, Paul. One of many goals in carrying on these conversations in public is to show by example how we can get wrapped around the axle by our own conscious and unconscious ideas. I’m going to be the poster-boy for wrong turns!

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