Yesterday I was pleased to have Bill Long tell me that he had posted a review of my book about Plotinus, “Return to the One,” on his web site. Bill is a friend, so I sort of expected a friendly review. But Bill also is a most straightforward and honest guy, so the “sort of” was a necessary qualifier.
Bottom line: Bill liked my book, though he has some reservations about what he considers Plotinus’ excessively abstract approach to spirituality. Bill is an ordained minister, an attorney, and much more besides. He has as much capacity for abstract thought as anyone I’ve ever met, which should tell you that Plotinus is way out there.
And he certainly is. I like how Plotinus advises us to strip away everything physical and personal in order to reach what is metaphysical and universal. But I’ve been wrestling with this stripping process during almost thirty-five years of daily meditation. I’m convinced that Plotinus’ via negativa (negative way) teachings are the most likely means by which any non-material reality can be known. Others can validly disagree.
But enough about me and my book. Let’s talk about Bill. I encourage you to visit his web site and browse around the many and varied writings. Bill’s “Latest News” section on the left side of the page reflects the scope of his interests and activities. For example, this year Bill took second place in the National Senior Spelling Bee, for which he got a trophy.
This stimulated him to write a erudite essay on the root meaning of the word “trophy,” something I doubt most trophy winners do. Probably the best compliment I can give Bill is that he is one of a very few people who make me think, when I’m with them, “I may not be the smartest person in this room” (also, not the most humble person). If you read Bill’s abbreviated autobiography, you’ll probably agree that “may not be” should be replaced with “definitely am not” (Bill also has written a longer autobiography.)
“A Hard-Fought Hope: Journeying with Job Through Mystery” is Bill’s latest book. I’m planning to return the favor and review it soon. I don’t know much about the Bible, and Bill does know a lot about Plotinus and Greek philosophy, so this isn’t exactly a symmetrical reviewing exchange. But I’ve suffered, as we all have, which I guess makes me qualified to discuss a book about the meaning of suffering.
Bill notes in his review of my book that we are both members of a monthly “Salon” discussion group here in Salem. This is how I’ve gotten to know Bill, through the group’s always-stimulating three hour meetings in member’s homes where we try to rekindle the art of serious (and not so serious) conversation.
I like how Bill often is unpredictable in his comments, whereas most of the rest of us tend to repeat previously stated positions. He also is wonderfully open to criticism, as befits a scholar. The group met last night. We were talking about gay rights and how this issue affected the presidential election. Bill said “A lot of people think what I’m about to tell you is crazy.”
That’s a nice rhetorical attention-getter. I perked up. Craziness is interesting! Bill went on to say how he thinks a lot of men in the Red states have been in the armed forces, where you spend most of your time with other men—often in intimate settings, such as a barracks. Many men in these situations have sexual thoughts about other men. They may not have acted on the thoughts, but they still had them.
These repressed homosexual inclinations lead to homophobia. And thus to voting against gay marriage. So the right-wing frenzy to turn out and vote for the anti-gay marriage initiatives, which helped Bush win reelection, can be traced to the veterans in the Red states.
When Bill was finished explaining his thesis he sat back and waited for some reactions. I immediately said, “You’re crazy!” He smiled. I like it when you can tell a friend he’s crazy, and that’s the reaction you get. Next time we meet I’ll try telling Bill, “You’re absolutely right.” Knowing Bill, I bet he won’t smile as much. He likes a good argument, as do I. That’s what friends are for—to smilingly argue with and to smilingly agree with.