Friday, November 07, 2014

The First and Last Temptation of Barack

I'll be spending Thanksgiving with the liberal relatives. As always, I would prefer not to discuss politics, but I can't help imagining what I'll say if this or that question comes up. Every year around this time, we see articles written by liberals on how to talk to your racist, Fox-watching, science-denying uncle. Maybe I'll write one for conservatives, if only to get rid of the voices in my head. But not today.

Unless the question of why one should believe in God comes up (which it has in the past). There are purely utilitarian reasons for choosing to believe in God, just as there are purely utilitarian reasons for getting married, even though there are better reasons. Likewise, behaving morally is a good way to avoid getting in trouble with the law, but it is preferable to actually love virtue and self-mastery.

Speaking of which, after baptism comes temptation: if Jesus incarnates the descent of the absolute, then the temptation in the desert involves a further "descent into the perils besetting mankind" (Benedict). In order for this thing (meaning the whole project) to be efficacious, he "has to enter into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission."

You could say that there is no man without a narrative. Therefore, in order to "become" man, one must not only enter the flesh -- incarnate -- but the story, the essential drama -- for which I can't think of a word at the moment... historify? Enmyth? Bechronicle? Whatever the word, "he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths" so as "to bear it on his shoulders and to bring it home," full circle.

The descent is not a one-time-only deal, "but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginning..., in order to transform it." A constant part of life is temptation, therefore he must expose himself "to the risks and perils of human existence."

Cut to a barren desert, which is a nice contrast to the leafy paradise of Eden, where things went off the rails in vertical space. Man made (and makes) himself ill among plenty, and now we shall see if he can be made whole amidst danger, deprivation, and temptation.

First of all, what is a temptation? Is it outside or inside? Animals don't experience temptation, because it presumes free will: I am tempted to do that, but I choose to do this.

But every temptation holds out a promise, whether explicit or implicit: choose this and _______ (fill in the blank). Often if we simply fill in the blank, the temptation loses its allure. I've been working with my son on this for years in order to demonstrate to him how a desire fulfilled is just replaced by another, in an endless, compulsive cycle. (There are, of course, worthwhile desires, but one must be able to discern the difference.)

If we visualize the mind as a complex phase space, then temptations are like fixed point attractors, i.e., basins toward which desire is drawn. To the extent that we repeatedly engage in the compulsion, then it is as if our subjective phase space is characterized by these semi-permanent and relatively autonomous valleys. Through repetition, these can eventually become as wide as the Grand Canyon, as in alcoholism and drug addiction.

How to rid ourselves of these malevolent attractors? I would say that this space is always dynamic and fluid, like an ocean. Spiritual peace is none other than a kind of "flattening" of the ocean, which immediately brings to mind Matthew 14, with Jesus calmly walking on the storm-tossed lake. Well, the world -- last time I checked, anyway -- is one big storm-tossed lake, is it not?

In any event, if Jesus is going to go to all the trouble of being tempted in the desert, these particular temptations had better have rather wide application. They will need to stand for and subsume any number of lesser ones (there can be attractors within attractors, as in a fractal).

At the very heart of spiritual temptation must be a bad choice: we could even depict this in a completely abstract way: if O is the Great Attractor, then Ø represents the alternative. We could even say that this is the perpetual serpentine Gnostic promise: don't choose O! That's just a lie told to children to keep them in line and limit their freedom. Choose Ø!

Looks like Benedict is on the same page: "At the heart of all temptations... is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives." Thus the refusal "to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion."

Not to get all insultaining, but that is quite literally how one becomes a liberal. I do not mean this in a polemical or insulting way. Indeed, the fact that most liberals do not believe in God (or are confused about God) -- that they reject O -- is a source of pride, not shame. Does Bill Maher look ashamed of being an atheist? The rebellious rejection of O is very much a part of their identity.

Furthermore, as Benedict writes, "moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation." It always goes hand in hand with pride, for which reason it is difficult to find a truly humble liberal. They are all about presuming "to show us a better way, where we finally abandon our illusions and throw ourselves into" the hard work of making the state even bigger and more intrusive than it already is. And of course, these overeducated yahoos always claim "to speak for true realism" (as if Truth isn't the realest of the real).

So, this is the same eternal drama into which Jesus inserts himself. And indeed, he is faced with the eternal temptation of the left, which is to reduce the world to "what is right there in front of us -- power and bread." Although circuses are also important to the left, hence MSNBC, or unreality TV in general.

I would say that this divide between O and Ø is the eternal crossroads, and that a human being can only pretend to make it go away. Man is a moral being, and that's that. Language itself is a moral medium, being that its purpose is to communicate truth.

Therefore, every time you open your mouth, you're making the world more heavenly or more hellish, which explains the aroma that emanates from MSNBC or from Dear Leader himself. Did you see his press conference? One suspects that O turned away from O well before he could have been consciously aware of the craniorectal insertion. His ideology -- and ideolatry -- goes all the way to the bone. Or large intestine, rather.

40 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

...the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary ...

Most Christians who vote for Big Government are deluded or unthinking. But there is a cohort of dedicated leftist Christians who think they can get God to endorse the Baal-Mammon ticket. They think God is important but don't think He can handle things without the help of a few hundred thousand bureaucratic deacons.

11/07/2014 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, didn't progressivism start with the whole social gospel thing?

11/07/2014 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Great post. (Heck, they're all good.)

Hmmm anything to add? Ah! From Fr. Hopko's 55 maxims.

51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.

11/07/2014 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

It always goes hand in hand with pride, for which reason it is difficult to find a truly humble liberal.

Which reminds me, it occurred to me on Wednesday that part of the schadenfreude in watching the meltdown came from knowing how utterly lacking in humility they are - and therefore lacking even the possibility of grace in either victory or in defeat. Which isn't to say that Conservative politicians are necessarily more humble in that regard, but it's tough to picture any leftist do anything other than whine, moan, or point fingers upon losing, and ostentatiously preen and strut upon winning. Again, see the Lightbringer™ for details.

And lets face it, watching a sore winner lose makes for fine insultainment...

11/07/2014 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Just reading in this economics book about the delusions of economic control that animate the statists who have "folly and presumption enough to fancy themselves fit to exercise" such vast power. Same old fatal conceit: the lust for power explains the willingness to believe the lie, which is why Keynesian economics was invented, i.e., to give intellectual justification to the schemes of power-mad politicians.

11/07/2014 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

"Most Christians who vote for Big Government are deluded or unthinking"
Man, no kidding. I immediately think of the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror-all enormous government schemes that have brought what? More poverty, more drugs, and more terror. And then, even bigger government responses (ubiquitous surveillance). It's logarithmic.

11/07/2014 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

As another guy says in this economics book, when some politician asks for power to do good, it's usually wise to subtract the last three words.

Our Constitution was not designed to help men accomplish wonderful things, but to prevent them from doing horrible ones.

11/07/2014 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

From today's Taranto:

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four,” Winston Smith wrote in his diary. “If that is granted, all else follows.”

Later a government functionary named O’Brien explains to Smith, the protagonist of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the totalitarian theory of epistemology:

“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.”

The Party, according to O’Brien, is the arbiter not only of empirical facts about the physical world but also of questions of pure logic. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes?” Winston asks. “Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston,” O’Brien replies. “Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.” In due course, with the help of O’Brien’s torture device, Smith becomes “sane” and sees that two plus two are five.

In the real world, one of Tuesday’s election results has had the same effect on some liberal commentators.

11/07/2014 01:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Animals, free will. Angels, free will. Not all about you.
Just looks like that because you are self referencing, without the ones that build and fix.

I guess this has to happen somewhere. All good dogs are in heaven. And bacteria carries the gut. And if what is being looked for is really all about you, then that is wasted attention.

Seeking and saving the lost is sons and daughters, not exactly human. Even the stones cry out, and that is a choice.

If that does not happen in your world, that is a hell of a thing. That is OK. Just that disrespect, and human imposition of being more, and not less.

Money and life and comfort will not save you, unless you carry the rest. I do not make the damned rules.

11/07/2014 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Say What? said...

And in a world where two plus two sometimes equals five and sometimes three, perhaps the previous comment is perfectly intelligible...

11/07/2014 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

If we visualize the mind as a complex phase space, then temptations are like fixed point attractors, i.e., basins toward which desire is drawn. To the extent that we repeatedly engage in the compulsion, then it is as if our subjective phase space is characterized by these semi-permanent and relatively autonomous valleys. Through repetition, these can eventually become as wide as the Grand Canyon, as in alcoholism and drug addiction.

How to rid ourselves of these malevolent attractors? I would say that this space is always dynamic and fluid, like an ocean. Spiritual peace is none other than a kind of "flattening" of the ocean, which immediately brings to mind Matthew 14, with Jesus calmly walking on the storm-tossed lake. Well, the world -- last time I checked, anyway -- is one big storm-tossed lake, is it not?"

Indeed. Those who do not accept spiritual peace give in to their temptation to obtain More Power (which is never enough) to attack and force others to accept their ideolatry.
Instead of accepting the peace that surpasses all understanding they cravenly crave the slavery of their misunderstanding, with themselves fulfilling the role of slavemasters.

Bow to the golden bureauracy or else.
The gods that theynurture within themselves cannot give peace, only the equality of agitation, strife, punishment, injustice and lies dressed up as truth.

Anyone who disagrees is a heretic and guilty of blasphemy if they dare to speak truth to their power of babble.

11/07/2014 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Never trust any scallywags who want to create a utopia with force rather than liberty.

11/07/2014 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

No need for any further info than "want to create a utopia", that alone self identifies them as untrustworthy scallywags.

It is just barely conceivable that a Utopia could result... from a supremely virtuous society.

But be created? Never. Any who seek to do such a thing, at best know themselves not, and more likely deny anything worth knowing.

11/07/2014 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Van.
I was thinking that if we had an unencumbered free market and liberties as our Founding Fathers meant it, then that would be the closest to a utopia as man can get, with humble respect to Divine Providence, of course.

11/07/2014 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Our Constitution was not designed to help men accomplish wonderful things, but to prevent them from doing horrible ones.

That just bears repeating.

11/07/2014 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Ben, I knew that was what you meant, but Skully, I'm pretty sure he was angling for 'life, liberty and the pursuit of free Grog'ness'.

Gots to keep an eye (as available)on them pirates.

Rrrr.

11/07/2014 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Skully dons a white wig:
Grog is a God given right.

11/07/2014 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, I like this avenue. Please proceed.

UF had this to say just the other night,
"However every temptation is similar to a two- way flow of traffic. Because when evil tempts good, it is itself at the same time “tempted” by the latter. Temptation always entails contact , and therefore an exchange of influence. Every beautiful temptress, in attempting to tempt a saint, risks finishing up by “wetting his feet with her tears, wiping them with the hair of her head, kissing them, and annointing them with ointment” (Luke vii, 38)."

11/08/2014 03:03:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Also, Mush said this yesterday,

"The Sabbath is not a rule to bind us, but a rule to release us."

Can we say that if something is inspiring that it must have been inspired? I hope so.

11/08/2014 03:07:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Another one crosses the line. One simple moment of overkill was all it took.

11/08/2014 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Rick--

What UF says makes perfect sense, in that spiritual gravity seems to be analogous to physical gravity, where the attraction is always mutual. Furthermore, if gravity is the curvature of spacetime, then it is again like a basin of attraction.

You might say that one of the differences between orthodox and evangelicals is over the question of whether saints (or Mary, or certain shrines, etc.) are attractors. In my experience they are. In fact, UF exerts a powerful attraction from beyond the grave!

I don't know if I believe in them. I only depend on them.

11/08/2014 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Of note, "love" seems to be the medium of attraction. or maybe just the name for it.

11/08/2014 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which goes to Joan's link, because I agree that the most obnoxious thing about the left is the hatred. I can't imagine being attracted to that.

11/08/2014 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

There must be a correlation between all that hate and cranio-rectal inversion; I wonder what percentage of leftists spend their lives investigating their own guts only to wonder why it is that they are virtually never happy? And when they are, it is usually because a conservative woman got punched in the face, or something equally uplifting.

11/08/2014 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent article, Joan.
It's amazing what embracing gratitude can fo to focus us on love rather than unjustified hate, and truth rather than lies.

Leftism is unsustainable when one has gratitude and becomes unravelled and exposed to truth, which is why most virulent leftists hate anyone who doesn't share their envy.

11/08/2014 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Rick--

What UF says makes perfect sense, in that spiritual gravity seems to be analogous to physical gravity, where the attraction is always mutual. Furthermore, if gravity is the curvature of spacetime, then it is again like a basin of attraction.

You might say that one of the differences between orthodox and evangelicals is over the question of whether saints (or Mary, or certain shrines, etc.) are attractors. In my experience they are. In fact, UF exerts a powerful attraction from beyond the grave!

I don't know if I believe in them. I only depend on them."

I cooncur, Bob.
If the fruit of attractors, or saints is love, truth and goodness I cannot see why one shouldn't be attracted to them and their wisdom.

Afterall, they are a part of God's hierachy, so to speak.
When one seeks wisdom from an attractor it isn't worship in any sense of the Word.

11/08/2014 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Hate's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

11/08/2014 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

A good wisecrack from Just Thomism:

"It is correct that the precise reason why God hates Joe’s sins is because of what they do to Joe, and so God does not just happen to love sinners and hate sins, but the first is the chief reason for the second. This is something that needs to be said more often: God does not hate sins because of his love of abstract laws but of concrete persons, and a good deal of moralizing can be condemned for just such a devotion to the abstract. But if we press the ontological division of the sinner and sin to an extreme we end up concluding that there is an impenetrable wall between who we are and what we do, which commits us to saying that none of our actions have any effect in determining who we are. And so an axiom which proves a universal human dignity, if separated from the larger reality in which it is embedded, ends up denying something at the heart of the very dignity it establishes i.e. the ability for persons to determine what they will be."

11/08/2014 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I was just reading that; much food for thought, there. It would be really interesting to sit in on one of his classes.

11/08/2014 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I like that. I think it may go for charity too; that perhaps God asks me to be charitable, not for His sake or my neighbor as much as for mine. I mean, why does He prefer I give my cloak to my neighbor. God being God could grant these things all the live-long-day. If He did, when would I?

11/08/2014 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of Orthodoxy (upper case this time), this new book by Andrew Louth looks good. I've read a number of his books in the past & liked them all, especially Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition.

11/08/2014 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, your comment about the Louth book for some reason made me wonder about this other blogger "the ochlophobist". I ran across him I think by some link left by River. Great thinker/writer Othodox guy was this Oclophobist but there was this something mildly hostile in his personality. Anyway I left there but not because of that. He had eventually decided to stop blogging. Then he dropped off the face of the earth. I googled him a few times from time to time over a couple years but nothing turned up except a rumor that he converted to Catholicism. The last thing one one expect. Anyway, no other trace. Until I googled him yesterday and turns out it might be true. He is blogging again and he sounds like someone else. That hostility is gone. But in a way that it he truely sounds like another person. Genuinely.
I'll provide a link if any is interested. But I'm headed somewhere else: was reading his explanation for why he left and this lead to the comments and other threads and Blogger's and this comment by some guy (not the Oclophobist). His name is Reed Robinson:
"I believe that I left [the Orthodox church] because I felt as though I was an intruder in the Liturgy. I loved the whole experience, yet always felt that I strayed too far from what I knew. The bowing, the kissing, the repetition, felt both right and wrong for me simultaneously. I miss the Orthodox Church terribly, yet have no answer as to how I could go back and stick it out. I could never “catch up” in the culture. As I write, my reasons sound silly, yet I’m not sure how to reference my heart in these few words. I wish that I had been born in to the Orthodox tradition. I still search, but at sixty I have begun to doubt that I will find “home” until I pass and enter into Glory."

It's weird, is my point, (weird in a good way), to run across someone's private thoughts freshly written that sound so precisely as if they were your own. Because they are your own private thoughts freashly read.
I think. Not trying to convince anyone of anything either.
Ah well, here's the Oclophobist post if I make more sense to include it:
http://theochlophobist.blogspot.com/2014/03/there-is-post-on-my-old-friend-fr.html?m=1

11/09/2014 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's true -- in practice, there is often a thick ethnicity to Orthodoxy, similar, say, to trying to become Jewish. I have a friend who converted to Judaism, but he is as white bread as I am. Conversely, my father-in-law was anti-Semitic but as Jewish as can be...

Jung once made a sensible comment about the difficulty of trying to adopt a religion outside one's culture. Most westerners can only pretend to become Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim (yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Mr. S).

11/09/2014 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Vis-a-vis my F in L, this would suggest that perhaps anti-Christian leftists are "as Christian as can be," which I think is generally true. For example, their pathological tolerance, or unjust pursuit of justice, could only occur in a Christian context.

11/09/2014 08:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

You can't immanentize the eschaton without an eschaton to immanentize.

11/09/2014 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I hope no one reads what I said as some criticism of Orthodox Christianity. Not at all. But more of a report from the front lines on what it and I "works out betwixt us." We is at an impass for awhile.

But mostly, I can't get over the ochlophobist's transformation. I'm moved by it greatly.

11/09/2014 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I read Joan's link. If I were going to get a tattoo, I might base it on this:

The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had.


Probably not all that original but all that true.

11/09/2014 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You should watch the Journey Home on EWTN (there's also a best of Journey home once a week -- there have been about 800 episodes, and I've never seen a bad one).

11/09/2014 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Mushroom-- file under Breaking Down Doors That Are Already Wide Open.

11/09/2014 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. switching cultures, one of my sisters-in-law converted to Judaism, and is also as white-bread as they come. We only recently learned it was considered a scandal in the family, but almost everyone is over it. We still don't know how they're going to react about my husband becoming Catholic, though...

11/09/2014 09:22:00 AM  

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