Monday, December 05, 2016

Freedom From and Freedom For

We are about to embark on a very close reading of God's Gamble -- no more than a chapter at a time, and possibly even less. I don't think anything short of this can do it justice.

*****

Land of the free, home of the brave. The former isn't of much use without the latter; it is no coincidence that college campuses are the most ideologically unfree places in the country; and that it is difficult to conceive of a group more cowardly than college deans.

"Academic freedom." What is it for, anyway? Like any other form of freedom, it cannot merely be "freedom from." If it isn't simultaneously freedom for, then it is worthless. It equates to nihilism, or freedom to be absurd (which is no freedom at all).

Toward the beginning of God's Gamble, Bailie cites an article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine (which you may recall from the fourth to last paragraph in this post), called In the Age of Radical Selfishness. In it the author speaks of how our "freedom from the gravity of age-old constraints" has been "accompanied by a weightless feeling that attached itself to even the most fundamental human decisions."

Even? How about especially? For in order to achieve the kind of Timesmanian weightlessness he's talking about, one would require a radical, ontological freedom. It is beyond anything conceived by America's founders, who bequeathed to us an ordered freedom-for, not merely a rootless and chaotic freedom-from.

Given the latter kind of freedom, the author asks: "Why bother? Why get married? What are families for? What was new about these questions was that they didn't have answers, or that the answers they did have were so multiple and contingent and arbitrary that they never felt like answers at all."

Multiple, contingent, and arbitrary. That is the way it must be if there is no One at the heart of it all -- which is to say, no ground and no telos. Bailie is not criticizing the writer per se. Rather, he is to be congratulated for his honesty, for having the courage of his lack of convictions. Thanks for nothing!

But can someone really live from that place? Is this really how humans are made -- for nothing? To know nothing, be anything, and end nowhere?

Possibly. Indeed, there are only two possibilities, and that is no doubt one of them.

No, I should amend that. There are three possibilities: nihilism, religion, and Christianity. (I won't speak of Judaism, which wouldn't exactly be a fourth, but rather, a different take on the third.)

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but one of the themes of God's Gamble is that Christianity is the cure for primitive -- which is to say, pre-Christian -- religion.

Remember when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into the desert bewilderness? For 40 years they lived in this in-between state, but it was always with the faith that there was a deustination. But what if the bewilderness is all there is? Taking the long view, it is as if we were liberated from slavery into spiritual freedom, only to be condemned to a vast prison of postmodern nothingness. At least the slaves lived in hope for freedom! But for what does the nihilist hope? A lost paradise that never existed?

"It is a world in despair even when it remains unconsciously so. It is a world of weightlessness, of 'the unbearable lightness of being,' a fragmented world characterized by what... de Lubac brilliantly termed 'the waning of ontological density.'"

Or, looked at from a different angle, we might call it a loss of metaphysical transparency -- thus, a loss of weight and an occlusion of vision, the former going to absoluteness, the latter to infinitude. You might say that infinitude without weight -- without a center -- reduces to a kind of absolute diffusion. And absoluteness without transparency is like being encased in ice, or released into a null-de-slack called Death Circle.

It reminds me of, say, behaviorism, which explains everything about man, and therefor nothing. Everything is simply a conditioned response -- even language -- so there is nothing that isn't determined. Which certainly cures the disease of freedom. Although the patient doesn't survive the operation.

"Whatever the putative benefits of having been freed from tradition, that freedom has been accompanied by the loss of a sense of being part of a larger story in the context of which one's life might make sense, a story about why we're here and what we should be about while we are, a story that demands something of us and situates our lives in a living historical drama in which what we do has both meaning and consequence" (ibid.).

Well, progress has its costs, right? Perhaps the existentialists are right, that the cost of freedom is absurdity, precisely.

It scarcely needs to belabored that this goes to the unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue. As far as I can tell, most Red Pill People are still rooted in -- or have returned to -- tradition, while our Blue Pill coastal elites have extricated themselves from anything as naive as "meaning," and wish to drag us with them into their cold and dark echo chamber. Perhaps if everyone believes in nothing, it's not quite so lonely in there. But if just one person escapes the Matrix -- AKA Plato's cave -- then that unsettles the herd. The left hates no one as much as the runaway slave.

It's the same vis-a-vis primitive religion, by the way. It only takes one awakened conscience to ruin a human sacrifice for everybody.

Which is an important point, because if Bailie is correct, we all have a deep structure of pre-Christian religiosity. We can jettison Christianity, but don't be surprised when this unleashes a hunt for victims.

About our postmodern idea of freedom-from. Bailie points out that it is "based on a very weak understanding of freedom and its spiritual depth. Our civilization rests on the strength of the natural family and on the willingness to sacrifice freedom, understood in adolescent terms, in favor of freedom freely subordinated to the responsibilities of loving service."

That is a loaded paragraph. The other day we spoke of the energy released from the fission of Trinitarian love. This love is the glue that binds the family, which in turn is the incubator of human personhood. The family isn't just anything, let alone nothing. The Christianized family was a long time coming. It didn't happen overnight, but only after centuries of leavening by the Christian message. Thus, we know there can be Christian individuals. It remains to be seen if there can be any other kind, because the experiment is ongoing.

But if this were real science, the experiment would be suspended on the ethical grounds that it's causing too much harm to the subjects.

To be continued...

2 comments:

julie said...

At least the slaves lived in hope for freedom! But for what does the nihilist hope? A lost paradise that never existed?

If memory serves, upon discovering that freedom was hard the wandering slaves immediately started whining that they wanted to go back to Egypt. That and other endless gripes were why their time in the bewilderness was 40 years instead of 40 days. The sad part was, they couldn't even claim nihilism, since God was visibly present with them every day either as a cloud or a pillar of fire.

Even with miracles dancing before our very eyes, we prefer our own known hell to the promised land, if we first must walk a little way to reach it.

Anonymous said...

A great post; thank you, Blog Author. Of course I have to chime in.

Nihilism is exhausting, as anyone who has tried it knows. Eventually one can't hold it up anymore. And there is a reason for that, which I present as a theory:

All people, at any age, are potentially aware of God; it is in their "hard drive," so to speak, and is also around them like water surrounds a fish. In fact, making it possible for a person to temporarily forget God takes some doing; the 'water of lethe' doesn't come cheap. However, in order for a human life to proceed, certain areas of knowledge and perception have to be 'quarantined' to allow 'game play' (life) to occur. It is essential that a human being does not access the "God-Channel" that ceaselessly fills the cosmos with its transmission. The receptor has to be shut down. Likewise access to stored God information in the deep mind must be blocked.

And Voila! An atheist is created, or an existentialist. These are temporary aberrations that are quite amusing to God; he has gone to lengths to produce the effect. Those that are less fully blocked become conventional religious, relying on faith. Those for whom the block fails know all; they are loose cannons who must be pulled out of the game immediately (or at least only stay a short time) lest they spoil everything. The final score must not be revealed to the players, or its game over.

And the game? It's His game. Why does He play? I don't know.

So goes the theory. It could be all wrong. I admit I'm guessing.