Monday, September 12, 2011

No Good Deity Goes Unpunished

In his Vision and Violence, Mendel asks, "Why has the apocalypse persisted century after century, changing nothing but its mask -- from God to Reason, History, and Nature?"

And although he has chapters describing each mask -- e.g. the French Revolution (reason), Marxism (history), and National Socialism (nature) -- he never really gets around to answering that question: why?

Another conspicuous weakness of the book is his misunderstanding of genuine mysticism, which he somehow regards as apocalyptic. Thus, a Meister Eckhart gets lumped in with the Inquisitors who quizzed him.

However, the book is not without its merits. One of the most interesting chapters is the first, which goes into the worldview promulgated by the ancient Hebrews.

What makes it so interesting is that this completely marginal and undistinguished group of slaves and nomads somehow arrived at the most functional and humane way of organizing society. As I have suggested before, this itself argues for a supernatural source, and yet, since Mendel is writing from a wholly academic/horizontal perspective, he just leaves this miracle hanging, with no attempt at a real explanation.

For example, he writes of the unprecedented vision "that commits us to the world, to change, and to the attainment of the good society," describing it as "a gift to us from the ancient Hebrews and their Bible, on which so much of our culture is founded."

Agreed, but who gave them the gift? To leave the Creator out of this picture is to leave no way of explaining it. Oh well. That's our job, I suppose. I'm just gratified that an erstwhile member of the tenured class appreciates the miracle of the Jewish revelation.

Mendel writes that "Biblical man and woman are committed to this world, come what may, because their God not only created it, but called it good, 'very good.'"

This was and is a critical point, for, among other things, it made uniquely possible the eventual emergence of science in the West. Mendel notes that Hebrew sages were "on guard against attempts to spiritualize material reality out of existence" (as in eastern religions), and "repeatedly emphasized the divinity of the world and the necessity of our continuing attachment to it and to our tasks within it."

Another key idea that is rife with contemporary political implications is an emphasis on the "distinct and permanent separation" of heaven and earth, or vertical and horizontal.

In short, all millennial thinking -- whether religious or "secular" -- conflates the two, and is motivated by the belief that we can somehow create heaven on earth. What this ends up doing is either eliminating the vertical all together, or creating a hellish mixture of horizontality and lower vertical energies, with no spiritual telos. Like Obama and his den of Chicago muscleheads, we end up with "thugs for hope."

But the Jewish sages cautioned that heaven is "not fit for earthlings" and counseled man to "seek not what is too wonderful for thee." If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Another central idea is that human beings are in the image of their Creator, which primarily has to do with our ability to reason, with our freedom of will, and with our boundless creativity -- or, one might say, our ability to know truth, to do good, and to create beauty, respectively.

The expulsion from paradise is also fraught with implications that we ignore at our peril. This realmyth may be approached from any number of angles, but Mendel looks at it in psycho-developmental terms, as an evolution from infantile dependence to mature and autonomous individuality.

This necessarily implies work, for no longer are we within the womb of infantile omnipotence, in which our desires are instantaneously transformed into their fulfillment. But enough about the left.

As Mendel describes it, "having to work for the fruit of one's labor" is coterminous with "growth beyond an infant's immediate and total gratification," the latter of which is "always the miraculous core of the millennial fantasy."

This transition from the maternal to paternal sphere involves "the necessity of laboring against obstacles to achieve one's aims; the accompanying necessity of Law and its constraints to curb the rush of infantile desires; and the value of reason to overcome those obstacles and conscience to see the wisdom of those constraints."

Thus, the millennial left is always at war with each of these: with the intrinsic value of work (which doesn't detract from, but adds to, our dignity); with the transcendent order that places fruitful constraints upon animal desire; and with the simultaneously frustrating and liberating application of reason.

One might say that the "romantic" left ignores or denigrates reason, while the pseudo-scientific left absurdly elevates it to a suitable guide for life, which automatically renders it unreasonable in the extreme (plus the vertical always seeps in anyway, since spirit abhors a vacuum).

What this means is that, always and forever, "It is only in this endless enterprise, in which reason, freedom, and conscience are both means and ends, that humanity both is and becomes the image of God."

These are the eternal orthoparadoxical horizons within which man lives, and which generate a humanly insoluble complementarity of is and ought, or being and becoming. The sacred ought is simultaneously necessary and impossible.

To put it another way, we always fall short of what we ought to be and do, but we must never stop trying. It goes with the terra-tory, which is to say, terra, earth.

This also implies that "God himself... awaits the completion that only his created image, man, can achieve," which is nothing less than carrying forward "the work of creation to the world's completion." Lean forward, as it were.

And the greatest task of world maintenance and reparation involves moral repair. Thus, knowledge and thought are nothing if not allied with "ethical purpose." Truth should not only set us free, but is ultimately the foundation of any efficacious change in the world. Clearly, change based on lies and delusions -- or on vacuous Hope -- is not going to be beneficial.

Here is the truly miraculous part, and which probably helps explain the depth and persistence of Jew-hatred down through the centuries; for "what is most remarkable about the Biblical message of moral commitment and action is the fact that it provides virtually all of the basic blueprint for the good society."

Thus, it is axiomatic that bad people -- especially tyrants who do not want competition from another deity -- will oppose both the inconvenient message and the annoying noodges who deliver it, generation after generation.

For this was the first people who sought communion with God through ethical behavior as opposed to, say, child sacrifice. The Judeo-Christian God is very much unlike certain tribal gods of our acquaintance, who justify "territorial conquest" and who legitimize "hatred and annihilation of other peoples."

It is no wonder that all of the wholesale anti-Semitism in the world emanates from the left and from Islam. Evil prefers to operate under cover of darkness, and hates to be watched and judged.

One thing that accounts for the durability of the Hebrew vision is that it is actually in accord with human beings as we find them, not as we wish them to be. It "makes no attempts to conceal human flaws," and yet, nurtures the idea that man may gradually, "over time, sufficiently control the 'evil inclinations' in human nature to establish the good society of peace, freedom, justice, and material well-being."

And of course, there is "no role for apocalyptic-revolutionary violence in this vision." Rather, "the Biblical vision starts with the premises that the goal is too distant; the way too slow and uneven; and both the travelers and their guides too limited and uncertain for violent theory and practice."

Besides, my question to the left is: why do you want to bring a new world into being, when you can't even appreciate and enjoy the existing one?

(All of the quoted material is from Mendel's Vision and Violence)

17 Comments:

Blogger John Lien said...

There is so much explained here.

Thanks again, Bob.

This stuck out.

"To put it another way, we always fall short of what we ought to be and do, but we must never stop trying. It goes with the terra-tory, which is to say, terra, earth."

That is the meaning of life isn't it? Just try to do the right thing. Never reach the goal. It's like life is just one 80 year trip to the gym. (bit of a drag sometimes, isn't it?)

Also, I like the reality that true societal evolution is a slow, steady upward climb. No shortcuts, no fast improvements. Just the cumulative effect of enough people trying to do the right thing.

9/12/2011 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Plus, each generation needs to rediscover and assimilate the truth of Man -- which really slows things down.

9/12/2011 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

For this was the first people who sought communion with God through ethical behavior

and

One thing that accounts for the durability of this vision is that it is actually in accord with human beings as we find them, not as we wish them to be.

Indeed; for if people were already perfect, there would be no need to describe ethical behavior. There would just be behavior. For that matter, following Darwinism to its logical conclusion results in the same description - mere "behavior" - though for the opposite reason.

9/12/2011 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Evil prefers to operate under cover of darkness, and hates to be watched and judged.

This bangs the gong as well; last night reading TotB, JPII included this quote from Sirach 23:

"The man who is unfaithful to his own marriage bed says to himself, 'Who can see me? There is darkness all round me, the walls hide me; no one can see me, why should I be afraid? The Most High will not remember my sins.' What he fears are human eyes; he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; they see all the acts of men and penetrate into the most secret corners..."

9/12/2011 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

On "growth beyond an infant's immediate and total gratification," Kids 30 years ago

Okay, shutting up now...

9/12/2011 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger anon said...


It is no wonder that all of the wholesale anti-Semitism in the world emanates from the left and from Islam. Evil prefers to operate under cover of darkness, and hates to be watched and judged.


Interesting world you live in, too bad it's not the same one the rest of us inhabit.

9/12/2011 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Israelis will be relieved to learn that those genocidal Islamists surrounding them are just a manufactured menace, while Jews may be surprised to learn that marriage is a right wing conspiracy.

Rankly, reality itself is a conservative conspiracy.

9/12/2011 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Frankly. But rankly works too.

9/12/2011 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

What makes it so interesting is that this completely marginal and undistinguished group of slaves and nomads somehow arrived at the most functional and humane way of organizing society. As I have suggested before, this itself argues for a supernatural source ....with no attempt at a real explanation.

This is in the great tradition of Nietzsche, who, though he says such a conclusion is a function of the silly prejudices of philosophers, offers no light himself.

9/12/2011 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...thugs for hope...

Exactly, all the utopians end up being thugs for hope.

Christianity offers hope for thugs.

9/12/2011 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Mendel writes that "Biblical man and woman are committed to this world, come what may, because their God not only created it, but called it good, 'very good.'""

Yep. Without that, all the rest, a True Vertical to make the horizontal distinguishable, would never be possible, let alone become a scientific possibility.

9/12/2011 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"For this was the first people who sought communion with God through ethical behavior..."

It's hard to imagine anything that could more clearly show the vertical relief from the horizontal... I don't know what it would be.

Other than looking up. But I repeat myself.

9/12/2011 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

anunce said "Interesting world you live in, too bad it's not the same one the rest of us inhabit."

Too true. Too, too, true.

wv wishes to add: sadjunde

9/12/2011 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hey anumnuts, you forgot to mention Alex Jones is white and I think possibly a Christian: ergo all white Christians agree with his stooped fantasies.

Jeez, where do they all come from?

9/12/2011 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

anon, Interesting link. What do you guess is the total number of these White supremacists? I did a little digging and found one estimate of 50,000 in the USA and then in the same article it says Stormfront, (the go-to site for racist hate) has 144,000 members. Anyhow, It's a drop in the bucket compared to the billion plus Muslims and the who-knows-how-many, anti-Semitic lefties. The folks you mentioned have no political power in the US, they are fringe nuts. Oh, and a lot of them are pagans. Interesting.

9/12/2011 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - speaking of millenialism, if anyone is looking for a secure shelter for 2012, these guys can hook you up...

9/12/2011 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"As Mendel describes it, "having to work for the fruit of one's labor" is coterminous with "growth beyond an infant's immediate and total gratification," the latter of which is "always the miraculous core of the millennial fantasy."

The big mistake of Adolphus Huxely's book called 'Brave New world' and its dystopian view. As a young man, I was haunted by this portrayed horrible future and saw reflections of this vision manifested in society and the goals of the politicians - especially the Democrats. I am now older and now see the fruits of trying to attain this kind of paradise (why it horrified me, I wasn;t sure, but like 'John' in the story, that society was bereft of meaning - and a soul) with the inevitable collapse of the Welfare State.

I have seem situations which would have been perfect for harmony among people and found time and time again, people would find the damndest ways to fight with each other and create a hierarchy. As the Terminator said in one of his movies "It is in our nature to destroy ourselves". Quite sad, really.

I have learned that Iit is not healthy for adults to get a handout. Children, too, need to put in effort - though at a lessor extent.

St Benedict was right: ora et labora.

9/13/2011 01:55:00 AM  

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