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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

This is such an important conversation. A beautiful musing on community from this week’s show with Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide.

Ms. Tippett: There’s a way you’re framing this, and you invoke, you know, Maimonides saying, you know, he who destroys himself, destroys the world. You invoke Levinas, French Talmudic scholar that our acts of friendship are the most real and knowable aspect of the entire universe. I mean, you — the discussion you want to have is not so much against suicide, but for staying alive for each other. It’s choosing life.

Ms. Hecht: Yeah. And, it’s, yeah it’s choosing living.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, choosing staying alive.

Ms. Hecht: Choosing staying alive, and yes, I thought of myself as an individual before I started doing this thinking in a way that I no longer do and I feel better.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Hecht: It doesn’t really mean you have to go out and do a lot of communal things, though all sorts of studies show that will help. Force yourself to go be with other people is as a good start, but it’s also just this internal thing where I notice more that I’m part of this human thing. And that there’s no such thing as wasted contributions.

Ms. Hecht: And so, it really is — it’s a better feeling about what we are and what we’re doing, and most people through history had it without trying because they lived in tiny communities that were besieged by either drought or flood or whatever, and they had to work together to do anything. And they were more aware of their connection to each other. And, nowadays, we’re very…

Ms. Tippett: In a way, that connection was also just forced on them, right? It wasn’t optional. It’s optional for us.

Ms. Hecht: Right.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Ms. Hecht: It’s optional, and I suggest taking that option whenever you want. But just be more aware that we have these all sorts of secret web-like connections to each other. And that sometimes when you can’t see what’s important about you, other people can. You know, even Augustine said you can’t kill yourself because God said thou shalt not kill and that’s it.

Ms. Tippett: Right. I mean, I feel like you sound a little bit like Maimonides when you say this is something you rejecting suicide is a huge act within a community. I also think it changes the universe. And you wrote, “Either the universe is a cold, dead place with a little growth of sentient but atomized beings, each all by him or herself trying to generate meaning, or we are in a universe that is alive with a growth of sentient beings whose members have made a pact with each other to persevere.”

Ms. Hecht: Yeah. That feels powerful to me. I feel like just the respect of the idea of love and meaning.

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"We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being."
~Jennifer Michael Hecht
(Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/GettyImages)

"We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being."

~Jennifer Michael Hecht

(Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/GettyImages)

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The Weird Glory and Terrible Power of Nature

Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

It’s hard not to see life as utterly random and meaningless in the face of disasters like the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China. And this is an issue that comes up again and again in theological circles, referred to as as the theodicy question: How could a just god let innocent people suffer and die?

On our show A History of Doubt, the historian Jennifer Michael Hecht addresses the theodicy question through the Book of Job. To test Job’s faith, God takes away his livelihood, his children, his status, his health, and finally Job breaks down and demands to know how God could do this to him, an innocent man. God appears to Job in a whirlwind and responds with a tirade.

Have you walked in the depths of the ocean? Have the gates of death been opened to you? Where does light come from? And where darkness? Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Has thou seen the treasures of the hail? Hath the rain a father? Who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice?

Hecht gives her wonderful reading of this passage in her book Doubt: a History.

This is how God accounts for himself. He does not say, Here is proof of justice or of my existence; he simply cites the weird glory of the natural world…. [The Book of Job] is not a parable of divine justice. It is a parable of resignation to a world-making force that has no justice as we understand justice. God comes off sounding like a metaphor for the universe: violent and chaotic yet bountiful and marvelous.

Krista explored the same theodicy question with the geologist Jelle de Boer, not long after the December 2004 tsunami disaster, in our show The Morality of Nature. Jelle de Boer pointed out that the horrifically destructive power of earthquakes and volcanoes is actually the same power responsible for bringing water and nutrients to the surface of the earth, therefore making life possible.

So through these volcanoes, over billions of years, this beautiful blue planet has formed, and its watery expanse is what gives life. And so life is directly dependent there on these geological processes…the processes where these plates separate and crack and where they run over each other and crack, and as a consequence of that, magmas form at deep levels in the earth, they are brought to the surface, and they bring not only those nutrients I talked about earlier, but also water. And that is the essence of life.

That magma running under the surface of everything, ready to destroy and remake life, puts a dark spin on something the Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote.

By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.

(Image: NASA)

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