“If the Universe is a mystery, and if the key to this mystery is hidden, are not myths an indispensable means for expressing as much as we can express of the ineffable? ‘No man hath seen God at any time’…This similitude of Absolute Reality in the World of Time and Change is the nearest approach to the Beatific Vision that can be attained by human souls; and myths are the instruments through which these farthest flights of the Human Spirit are achieved.” – Arnold Toynbee.20
The last four posts introduced and offered short synopses of the stories in Mr. Breen’s book bringing us now to my humble commentary on the book. I cannot help but tell the reader that the author’s voice is one I remember from the classroom – a peculiar mix of cleverness, imagination, a rich lexicon, and a tinge of sarcasm. I feel sure I would have been able to identify him from the narrative of at least the first story.
In any case, should you read the book (available on Amazon®), be prepared for a rich vocabulary full of lesser-known words like eremite, palimpsest, corrody, aspergillum, and lemniscate. Also plan on searching for the significance of ancient and historical allusions such as Mount Saphon, Aryaka, Julian of Norwich, Asaph, Parthia, and Semjaza. I like to think of myself as fairly well-read and my library as comprehensive, but Breen forced me to reassess. Thankfully Wikipedia conquered my ignorance.
The 195 pages contain immense variety from science fiction to comedy with settings varying from biblical milieus to a particle accelerator installation. The tales are full of metaphors, analogies, and allegory. Breen effortlessly takes on meta-theology in an ecumenical and non-dogmatic fashion. We witness his deployment of opposites, paradox, and irony reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching. But there is so much more: discussions of good and evil, absolute truth, science, suffering, immortality, human weakness and salvation, personal fate, and human destiny. I too have explored, though in a different fashion, many of these topics over the last five years on this site, and believe Mr. Breen and I have been traveling on parallel tracks in our reading and contemplations.
Last I would like to offer my brief take on the dominant lessons from each of the stories:
- God is not timeless, but adjusts to the reality of the unfolding universe.
- Good and evil both originate from God and thus both are part of every life.
- Rituals fail to assure divine favor or desired outcomes.
- Voluntary suffering can be part of a meaningful life, but may not secure blessedness.
- Goodness is abstruse and elusive, and its dogmatic pursuit is perilous.
- Organized religion is no guarantee of spiritual harmony.
- In matters of ethics, irony is inevitable.
- Science is ultimately limited in understanding the Ultimate.
I would like to thank Mr. Breen for sharing his text with me and highly recommend it for open-minded readers.
Next time we return to Ultimate Reality in the works of Aristotle.
20Toynbee, Arnold, An Historian’s Approach to Religion. Oxford University Press, London, 1956. Page 282.