Archives for category: religion


My name is Steve, and I don’t exist in the way that the English language would lead me to believe.

I’m made up of numerous little Steves who take turns in the driver’s seat. There’s the Steve who wants to drink vast quantities of wine and beer. There’s the Steve who wants to smoke a cigar, although these first two are pretty close to one and the same guy.

There’s the Steve who loves art and has actually swooned in the presence of a painting, the one who wants to make art just as good, the one who thinks that would be an awful lot of work so it would be best to start it later, the one who finds physics and philosophy very interesting, the one who loves his family and friends, the one who resents obligations and responsibilities, the one who thinks his taste in clothes is indisputably the best, and for all the right reasons, the one who worries about the environment, and the one who believes that there is only one Steve. This last one also rides shotgun with all the others. These are some of my nafs.

Carl Jung would call the nafs complexes, an idea he shared with Freud. Jung also stressed that complexes are merely heuristics – believing in their independent existence won’t help the situation.

As far as I know, the Sufis see the nafs mostly as unworthy, carnal aspects of the ego, but there’s probably a lot more to it than that. Nonetheless, the unworthy ones are certainly the most obvious. The nafs I disapprove of in myself are by far the easiest ones to see as not actually being me.

But naturally enough, I’m prone to find the most flattering explanation to be the one that is most probably true. This is simply a function of Armstrong’s Bin. Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as a curious, artistic, responsible, loving person. That’s a lot better than being a vain, resentful, procrastinating substance abuser.

If I were to see all my proclivities as not me, I would find that there is nothing left. There is also a threatened little Steve who thinks that’s frightening. This one is standing in the way of progress.

It seems that my accomplishments are, in a way, the achievements of a termite colony. As my grandmother used to say, “Fancy that”.


Hans Arp

In the secret life of an artist there are hopes for perfection and eternity, both tinged with the knowledge that this will never be so. Since it’s obvious that these qualities are not to be found in the flawed embodied person of the artist, the impossible hope is shifted to the work. Some works of art do make the world a better place, and some works of art do manage to hang out for a long time. But perfection and eternity are something else entirely – they come from the domain of religion.

The process of art replacing religion was first noted by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century, and perhaps our secret lives provided some of the data for this observation. But art is unable to close the deal because eternity and perfection aren’t to be found in these parts. The art delusion is even more far fetched than the god delusion – it’s a matter of the impossible versus the unlikelihood that the good news that’s too good to be true actually were true. Art may step in to replace god, but it’s very fortunate that it’s not up to the task. This failure puts us in a better position to realistically assess our situation.

Hans Arp said, “No one detects now the track of his baby shoes. They left not even a threadlike trace of a tiny hiking-song in the air”*. Arp’s poignant words lead us to a healthier attitude. We should embrace the ephemeral, or at least tolerate it. Otherwise we will be divorced from the world.

*Hans Arp, “The Seraphim and Cherubim” in Three Painter Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Harriet Watts trans., Penguin Books, 1974, p. 32.

%d bloggers like this: