Monday, April 18, 2011

You Shall Not Turn Stones into Government Cheese

Dante concludes his parsing of the Lord's prayer with Try not our strength, so easily subdued, / against the ancient foe, but set it free / from him who goads it to perversity.

He adds that this last petition is not for his sake -- since he no longer has that particular weakness -- but "for the ones whom we have left behind." He has this, er, friend who, you know, kind of has problems in that area.

The latter souls trudge around in circles with weights on their backs, hoping to purge themselves of the world's impurities -- or, the terrestrial impurities they have assimilated and internalized.

"Lead us not into temptation" has obvious resonance with Jesus' forty days in the desert, just after his baptism. If baptism is the "purification," then temptation is the test of purity.

And as we have discussed before, the adversary never forces the issue; he does not operate through coercion, like some mid-level government functionary, but through temptation.

Temptation is the test of purity, and purity is the victory over temptation. The purifying "fire" that occurs in the space between these two poles is our phoenishing school, so long as you make ashes of yourselves.

Temptation is etymologically related to stretch, so that it implies a kind of centrifugal pulling of ourselves outward, from the center to the periphery, from cooncentration ("coon central") to dissipation. The world itself is a giant test, an opportunity to challenge our ability to resist its seductions.

According to Pope Benedict, Jesus' time in the desert is not for his sake per se, but for ours, both as archetype and as mission.

Jesus has to plunge down "into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths.... He must recapitulate the whole history from its beginnings -- from Adam on; he must go through the whole of it, in order to transform it."

To put it another way, Jesus must retake the test that Adam FAILED, and this time obtain a passing grade. Please note that this is not so much a recapitulation of horizontal history as of the vertical history that is lived -- or relived -- by every man.

You might say that Jesus needs to come down and find out the exact nature of the problem by actually experiencing -- and undergoing -- it.

We are all dropped into history, just like Jesus. Indeed, if we weren't so dropped, then Jesus' own plunge into history 1O1 would have no meaning for us. For Man is the best judge of where his shoe pinches, and Jesus aims to walk a mile in our crockosins.

But Jesus skips the multitude of middlemen -- the multifarious manifestations of maya -- and goes straight to the source, for that is just the way He rolls. This way he can reduce the whole existentialida to a more digestible three-entree combo plate, confront the "quintessential human drama," and get on with it.

Benedict reminds us that the synoptics recount "three temptations of Jesus that reflect the inner struggle over his own particular mission," but simultaneously go to the question of "what truly matters in life."

Appropriately, the temptations all ultimately flow from the violation of the first Commandment, in which God is pushed aside "as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying."

With this primordial "act," man inverts the cosmos and places himself at the top, thus replacing the Abbasolute with a middling relativity. Doing so redounds to countless errors of every kind, e.g., cognitive, spiritual, philosophical, political, scientific, moral, etc.

This cosmic inversion cannot fail to result in epic falls, for no house can be built upon sand. In replacing God with man, we necessarily replace truth with opinion, virtue with convention, beauty with pleasure, and wisdom with tenure.

Now, "forty days" has a number of resonances, perhaps most especially the forty days Moses spent on Sinai and the forty years the ancient Israelights stumbled around in the bewilderness.

According to Ratzinger, this cosmic number is another symbolic hint that we are dealing with a totality -- with man's entire cosmic exodus and return, i.e, History as such.

Or, one might say that History has become derailed, and Jesus' mission is to get it back on track -- or at least show us where man has buried his tracks.

The three temptations of course have an exterior and interior meaning. They involve, 1) turning stones to bread, 2) taking a flying leap, and 3) the promise of worldly power and prestige.

Do we need to repeat the verticalisthenic exergesis? These three have so many dimensions and implications, that it would be difficult to explore them all in the space of a post. Besides, I believe we have discussed these in the past, in the context of our card-by-card series of posts on MOTT.

One popular way to try to turn stones to bread is through the apparatus of the welfare state. In its case, it attempts to transform money obtained through coercion into compassion. But the state has only enumerated powers, not innumerable feelings.

In the case of, say, the Palestinians, it tries to turn money into civilization and common decency, and we see how that has worked out. It is the same with Africa. It may temporarily relieve the guilt -- and inflate the self-image -- of liberals, but that's about it. The liberal temptation is always to turn stones to bread in one form or another.

But this temptation is rooted in the prior rejection of God (temptation one) and the subsequent consolidation of power (temptation three). So it's all of a piece for the liberal statist, who stands as a vivid example of how to fail Adam's test. And why God wanted a Word with Mary, since Eve wouldn't listen.

Liberals even tendentiously interpret the First Amendment to say that it is illegal for the state to traffic in bread, or to even acknowledge its existence. Rather, it insists upon a radical separation of stones and bread.

Which perhaps might not be so destructive if it didn't then pretend that stones are bread. The liberal fuses magical faith and raw power with an irony so thick that his mind cannot penetrate it.

For the leftist, taxes are his eucharist and entitlements his benediction. His appeal to "progress" is likewise an empty gesture in a world deprived of hierarchy. For how does the materialist measure progress except in the form of more and bigger stones?

Which generations to come will carry on their backs, trundling around in fiscal circles.

Obama's temptation in the desert: "if you are truly the One, then transform this stolen pork into prosperity!" (via American Digest):


Blogger Van said...

"This cosmic inversion cannot fail to result in epic falls, for no house can be built upon sand. In replacing God with man, we necessarily replace truth with opinion, virtue with convention, beauty with pleasure, and wisdom with tenure."

Even if you don't build your own house there, you can't help but get sand in your shoes everytime you go walking around.

It is sooo annoying. Take a few steps, stop, empty them out; take a few steps....

4/18/2011 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Appropriately, the temptations all ultimately flow from the violation of the first Commandment, in which God is pushed aside "as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying."

I was watching a bit of a George Carlin routine last night, part of which was a shtick about how there were too many commandments, and he could narrow them down. Not the way Christ did, of course, but the way a "rational" person ought to do it, and the first step was to pitch the first three as oogedy boogedy talk meant to control the people. The rest was as enlightening as one could imagine.

Of course, when people choose stones over bread, that is the only way they could possibly see it: A request to love God as a horizontal power grab that just happened to have long-term consequences.

Poor George - he was funny sometimes, but by the end he was mostly just marinating in his own humorless bitterness, on the one hand lamenting man's inhumanity to man, and bemoaning how we would appear should we ever meet some higher (alien) life form, and on the other wishing horrible death upon those men of whom he frivolously disapproved.

4/18/2011 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Even if you don't build your own house there, you can't help but get sand in your shoes everytime you go walking around.

It is sooo annoying. Take a few steps, stop, empty them out; take a few steps….

4/18/2011 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

OT: Fair and balanced, though tardy, TIME is apparently now asking Is Hell Dead?

... which might be an even worse question.

4/18/2011 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

I know for a fact that they have Time magazine in the waiting room of hell.

4/18/2011 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

MizzE, sites blocked for me here... does it have anything to do with someone else carrying you across the beach?

4/18/2011 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Wouldn't surprise me a bit, seeing as having only TIME magazine on hand turns waiting rooms into hell here.

4/18/2011 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic, I'd love to see the naked bike riding protesters or the topless lady protesters have the guts to organize an event there, where it might actually make an important statement. They love to stand up to non-existent faux persecution, but when the real deal is happening just down the street, they're resoundingly absent.

4/18/2011 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

"……..does it have anything to do with someone else carrying you across the beach?"

Not exactly, but it has a lot to say about oceans and fish….Hint: grace at work in the mind of a character played by Chris Cooper, who'd, no doubt, agree that "having only TIME magazine on hand turns waiting rooms into hell here." (Ha, good one, Van.)

4/18/2011 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Re: Rob Bell

And the name of the boy in The Secret in the Matchbox is BOBBY BELL! "A droll tale of a mysterious Bobby Bell, whose secret is a tiny dragon that escapes from its matchbox dwelling and grows at an alarming rate."

I love reading this story aloud, which much drama, to my young art students. We then draw a fantasy image, with narration, and slip it inside a matchbox for safe keeping.

4/18/2011 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Calculadora said...

I enjoyed the the topic of temptation as a test of purity in your post.

For most people there is a certain failure rate in resisting temptation;

A failure rate of 25% or below is acceptable. A rate below 5% is exemplary.

On the contrary, rates above 25% are unacceptable, are rates over 75% are outrageous.

A 100% failure rate at resisting temptation implies debauchery.

My rate is: 25%. Yours?

4/18/2011 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

More grunting from the black hole of

4/18/2011 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

On the topic of bread and stones, there's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, which has me wondering.

For anyone paying attention to trends in healthy - or maybe "healthy," since often the expert advice we are given turns out to be completely wrong-headed - eating, there is a new scapedough on the scene in the form of all things bread. The Paleo dieters believe man wasn't evolved to eat grain, period, and do all they can to avoid it; the low carbers, not unreasonably, distrust it for glycemic reasons, and of course there's the whole "gluten-free" movement full of people convinced that gluten will kill us all.

In a sense, then, there is a movement to turn bread into stones, and I have to wonder whether that is wise.

While I agree that culturally, we probably eat too much of the stuff, especially overly-processed white breads, the fact that it is given such Biblical importance makes me think that for most people, a little bread is a good thing, literally and figuratively. If we take too seriously the argument from evolution, while objecting to the notion that the last five thousand years of human history could have played any significant role in our development, does that give an undue amount of weight to what we assume based on scientific theory? And doesn't that also then, for the vertically minded, too easily reject the blessings of agrarian cultures - the gifts of bread?

Maybe I'm being foolish and overthinking the issue. I just wonder...

4/18/2011 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous occult syndrome X said...

Hi Julie:

It's logical to assume that bread is a mixed blessing.

For people who do hard physical labor or exert themselves, a moderate amount of bread will be burned off quickly without deranging the system.

Howevever, for people who are not moving around much, bread will slowly derange the glucose metabolism system, namely the insulin.

The resulting chaos leads to "Metabolic Syndrome X" which eventually kills by blocking the circulation to stratetgic organs such as the brain or heart.

The current advice is to severely limit bread; a little bit goes a long way. Think of it as an occasionsl treat, but not necessarily the "staff of life."

Unless you're poor. Then you're stuck with it and yer going to die.

4/18/2011 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Believe me, I am intimately familiar with insulin resistance/ syndrome x. Though I suspect that for most people, bread in general is less the issue than the insane amounts of sugar and hfcs added to pretty much everything these days, I know that once the damage is done regular bread becomes decidedly unhelpful.

That said, what we think of as "bread" these days, so I've read, more closely resembles what people historically thought of as "cake." If so, again it is not bread as such that's the problem, it's the essentially dessert-like nature of our version of bread.

And agreed, moderation is key.

4/18/2011 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Julie -

Interesting connection. Maybe something to keep in mind without drawing immediate conclusions. ?

wv says: worsome

Shorthand for worrisome? Or... some Word?

4/18/2011 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...


Ya know, I bet I could get a government grant for an exploration of "the meaning of bread." I could start by parsing the original meaning, doing an exploration of different forms based on different types of flour, throw in the requisite condemnation of modern America's obsession with bleached flour and the evils of mechanized food production, wax rhapsodic about some obscure culture's use of manioc or coconut flour, chastise Western European agrarian culture, all while carefully coming to no conclusion whatsoever. I bet they'd give me millions.

4/18/2011 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Ah ha! Well, eventually one could certain draw some conclusions upon further examination of the matter. :)

Remember - man does not live by bread alone! (Somehow had to toss that in there. Hmmm... Oh, and one must always remember to combine it with protein.)

Bread is even part of the Jewish patterns - Shabbat Challah.

Grateful for the Bread of Life... it really fills you up! No simple sugars there, always a complex carbohydrate.

4/18/2011 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Grateful for the Bread of Life...

Oddly enough, that's what got me going in the first place :) In the past couple of months, I've pretty much stopped eating bread. Which seems to be good for my health, but the down side is that, before, whenever I'd have a piece of bread I made it a habit to try and think of it as a small sort of communion, keeping in mind the Last Supper. But since I've stopped eating bread (and drinking much wine, for that matter), that small bit of conscientiousness doesn't come up.

On a larger cultural scale, what happens when people stop seeing bread as the stuff of life, and instead see it as something to be avoided? Maybe I'm wrong, but given that so much of the Bible revolves around bread so specifically, it seems at least a little relevant.

4/18/2011 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Then again, maybe I'm just being a dork about the whole thing. That's always a distinct possibility.

4/18/2011 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Good point Julie. For comparison: What happened to Jesus' message of God as our Heavenly father, when earthly fathers became people who live far away and hopefully send money?

4/18/2011 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger phil g said...

Not to turn this into a diet thread but I follow diet and exercise info closely and have a couple of thoughts to share...

Forget about the paleo and other fads, they're too extreme and unnecessary.

Eat like your Grandmother used cook. High quality, home cooked meat, 'taters and veggies. Don't eat too much fruit = too much fructose. Basically flip the FDA's food pyramid upside down...this should be a familiar solution to fellow coons.

Avoid as much as possible HFCS and industrial seed oils (vegatable oils) as much as possible these act as poisons to our systems. Almost all processed foods and juices contain HFCS and/or hydrogenated oils...these should be consumed rarely if ever.

Balance your Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. We're way too heavy on Omega 6 and typically deficient in Omega 3 which is manifesting as severe health issues in our population. Omega 6 comes from the vegetable oils we consume. Omega 3 primarily from wild fish that we typically don't. Eat wild fish (frozen is typically best way) and take quality fish oil supplements or cod liver oil. Today's cod liver isn't the same as the rancid stuff you were probably given as a kid.

Drink your wine/beer in moderation, exercise regularly even if it just walking and enjoy life.

A healthy lifestyle really isn't that complicated and would do wonders to reduce our health care costs.

4/19/2011 03:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This cosmic inversion cannot fail to result in epic falls, for no house can be built upon sand. In replacing God with man, we necessarily replace truth with opinion, virtue with convention, beauty with pleasure, and wisdom with tenure."

Don't forget the great human effort known as the Reformation which replaced Catholicism with Protestantism.


4/19/2011 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

this should be a familiar solution to fellow coons.

Oh, indeed. I'm taking it a little further because of the metabolic issues, but for most people I think that's the best route.

4/19/2011 07:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Proteen Diffishent said...

Well I think we SHOULD turn stones into Government cheese.

So what do you say to that?

And furthermore, Jimmy Carter is a swell fellow and so is Deepak Chopra.

I'm tenured and I think that's good.

So what do you say to all that? Huh?

4/19/2011 08:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Old Fart said...

An ill wind passes through...

4/19/2011 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

For the leftist, taxes are his eucharist and entitlements his benediction.

"This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:1-7)

More proof that Jesus was clearly a liberal socialist.

You know, Republican Paul Ryan, whose budget is designed to slash entitlements for the poor and disadvantaged? When Ryan was 16 years old , his 55 year old father passed away from a heart attack. After his father’s death, Ryan started collecting social security benefits that paid for his college education. Like conservative hero Ayn Rand who smoked 2 packs a day and secretly took gov't assistance after her cancer surgery.

It's about time to realize we're all related.

4/19/2011 06:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Old Fart said...

You're a day late and a witticism short.

Re. The language link, well duh. Given that all living humans are descended from one very small group, it stands to reason that small group had one tongue.

Come to think of it, I believe some old Hebrews had a nice bit of mythos pertaining to that fact.

This does nothing to change the fact that charitable giving at gunpoint has nothing to do with caritas, and everything to do with greed and envy.

4/19/2011 09:42:00 PM  

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