Monday, December 12, 2016

Toward a Total Explanation of Everything

This next chapter in God's Gamble is called Toward a Theological Anthropology. I find that you have to beware of papers and chapters that begin with the word "toward." It's a tip that the author didn't actually arrive at the destination. Rather, he tried.

Which is sometimes the best you can do. For example, I might call this post Toward a Total Explanation of Everything. That lets me off the hook for failing to explain everything. But I'll try.

Over the weekend I wasn't puzzling over everything, just onething, that is, human sacrifice. Maybe I'm missing something, but as I mentioned in a comment on Friday's post, I'm not so sure uncontrolled mimetic desire is a sufficient explanation for the practice. Nice try, but I don't find it completely satisfying. (And this is not to criticize the book; it's still a brilliant toward.)

How can a practice that was so ubiquitous have no explanation? Virtually all humans everywhere thought human sacrifice was a great idea for coping with reality. It's not as if we're trying to figure out the motivations of some alien species. Rather, we're talking about us! Why therefore can't we just look within to find the answer? Or ask ourselves: if I were an archaic human who suddenly found myself self-aware, what would I do?

The thing is, it's as difficult to put ourselves in the mind of primitive human as it is to put ourselves in the mind of an infant. In fact, infant comes from the Latin, unable to speak. Is it even possible for a linguistic being to (re)enter a wordless reality?

Bailie touches on something similar with a rather interesting take on our prelapsarian innocence. That is, "innocence is never a present experience; it is the memory of a situation no longer pertaining." Our primordial innocence is a kind of backward projection from the condition of non-innocence. We can never fully recover it, for which reason the way back to it is guarded by those sword-wielding cherubim.

"No innocent child walks around aware of his innocence. Anyone older than a child has ceased to be innocent and has access to a lost innocence only as a mental reconstruction..." It is "always in the past. It is always remembered as a prior state of blessedness" (Bailie).

It reminds me of Hesse's Demian, in which the main character, Sinclair, only realizes his innocence upon being tormented by his conscience. Let's see if I can find it....

"[A]ll of it was lost to me now, all of it belonged to the clear, well-lighted world of my father and mother, and I, guilty and deeply engulfed in an alien world, was entangled in adventures and sin, threatened by an enemy -- by dangers, fear, and shame."

He has been expelled from paradise, from where he can now see paradise: the old innocent world is "more precious, more delicious than ever before, but... had ceased to be a refuge and something I could rely on.... None of it was mine anymore, I could no longer take part in its quiet cheerfulness. My feet had become muddied, I could not even wipe them clean on the mat; everywhere I went I was followed by a darkness of which this world of home knew nothing." Etc.

The point is, the innocence is only fully appreciated retrospectively. Thus, in a sense, we could say that paradise is an experience that "never happened," but for which we are nevertheless nostalgic -- in the same sense that we can only know we were an infant retrospectively. What did Churchill say about his birth? "Although present on that occasion I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Might we say: Although present at the expulsion from paradise, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it. That's why the reason for the expulsion is a bit hazy and Kafkaesque: we are guilty of being guilty, you might say.

About that term: theological anthropology. For Girard, each illuminates the other, for which reason a purely secular anthropologist couldn't get on board with the theo- part. But "it's a question of the Light that is at once what must be seen and what makes it possible to see..." Theology illuminates anthropology, and vice versa, for which reason its last -- and first -- Word is Christ.

Girard doesn't explicitly say this, but it is as if the secular anthropologist is trying to use a Light that could only come from above in order to illuminate the below. As such, he can never get back to the point when the light split off from the darkness and became a conscious experience. Although present on that occasion he has no clear recollection of the events leading up to it.

Thus, "When and how the threshold from animal to human existence was crossed is a mystery known only to God" (Bailie). On the far side of that threshold is myth, or stories about the transition.

However, on this side is ritual violence: "Attempts to find evidence for peaceful primitive societies or even to imagine them... are, of course, doomed" (ibid). They don't exist. But the societies remember paradise, and virtually all their rituals -- including the violent ones -- are designed to resurrect it.

Over the weekend I consulted another book that attempts an explanation of human sacrifice, In the Shadow of Moloch: The Sacrifice of Children and its Impact on Western Religions. It comes at the phenomenon from a psychoanalytic perspective, writing that "The religious past of Western culture is alive in the unconscious and is just as important to atheists as to believers." He maintains that the struggle against sacrifice "has been a driving force in the development of Western religions." Even so, "the fear of being sacrificed is still alive in the unconscious of men and women today."

For Bergmann, human sacrifice is a way to try to control a hostile and arbitrary deity who might lash out at any time: "the hostility of the sacrificer has been projected onto the deity and thereby transformed into a fear of being persecuted by the deity. The sacrifice is made in the belief that the deity will accept a substitute victim. Nothing is asked of the deity but that the sacrificer be spared."

Let this cup passover, and all that.

Note that he has an individual-psychological explanation, where Girard's is a collective-anthropological one. Although vaguely aware of a sense of guilt, or wrongness, I'm not sure how much individuality would be present in primitive minds. Rather, they would have been primarily aware of being members of the group; sacrifice was done by the group, for the group. Just as there was no individual without a family, there was no family outside the collective. For Girard, the sacrifice is in order to maintain harmony within the group, whereas for Bergman it is for managing one's own anxieties.

It seems noteworthy that pagan myths feature a great deal of inter-generational violence, including a lot of "hostility of the father directed toward the son." Indeed, "the Greeks never succeeded in creating loving gods." They "could sacrifice to their gods, make promises of further sacrifices, but they could not develop a trust in their gods..." (Bergman).

Thus, the transformation of "the image of the deity from a god who demanded the sacrifice of babies to one who abhorred such rites signifies an inner change, but one can imagine it taking place only gradually" (ibid.).

Out of time for this morning. At least we made some headway toward that Total Explanation... .

11 comments:

Olden Ears said...

"the hostility of the sacrificer has been projected onto the deity and thereby transformed into a fear of being persecuted by the deity."

So - I'm wondering if this explains a lot of anxiety sufferers who, if you talk to them, also seem to be angry and wishing for retribution on the ones they are angry with.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh yes. Hatred comes back as fear. Which is almost all you need to know about the left. They preemptively attack their own projected hatred in order to deal with the fear.

Stu said...

The next chapter, "It is Not Good that Man Should be Alone," is extraordinary. Can't wait to see where it takes you in upcoming posts. Hope it's ok that I'm using your writing as a study aide - thank you.

I was thinking about your response to my comment last week about the emergence of humanity in the space between mother and infant when I read this:

"It is also the case that the fulfillment of our human vocation - though our membership in the human family is unalienable from the moment of conception - awaits the discovery, usually and most properly awakened by the mother's loving gaze, of a communion with another." (62)

At first I thought Bailee was making a distinction between man and his vocation. That he was saying that humanness itself is strictly biological, even though proper humanness is behavioral and relational.

But then I remembered something I read in a Ratzinger book, about early Christians coming to see that Jesus the person was one and the same as his vocation as Christ. That proper man both is what he does and does what he is - the integration of being and doing.

Now I think Bailee is saying that humanness is defined by the human vocation of self-sacrificial love, of which the mother-infant relationship is the first instantiation.

"Creatures made in the image and likeness of such a God will have an ordination to self-gift written into their spiritual DNA." (54)

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. It's remarkable how often Ratzinger and Balthasar focus on that psychic space -- the communio -- between mother and infant.

mushroom said...

...but they could not develop a trust in their gods...

I won't quote it all here, but I was reminded of Ephesians 2:14-17. Christ is our peace, and made peace with God for us through His sacrifice.

julie said...

Yes. It's remarkable how often Ratzinger and Balthasar focus on that psychic space -- the communio -- between mother and infant.

During Advent, one of my studies is watching a lecture series by Cardinal Dolan about the various ways we experience Christ's arrival during Advent. Last week, the bell-ringing point was made that we have a God, creator of the entire universe, who longed to be an infant held in his mother's arms.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of infanity, I noticed this book the other day: Infinity Dwindled to Infancy.

Gagdad Bob said...

"creator of the entire universe, who longed to be an infant held in his mother's arms"

Or how about a mother who longed to hold the Creator in her arms?

Anonymous said...

Yes, human sacrifice seems inscrutable, especially child sacrifice. WTF? A thought crossed my mind that, due to the rough conditions of yore, sacrifice was a convenient way to dispose of surplus or unwanted mouths to feed.

Plus the gods were seen as vengeful, not as loving sponsors. Why? Why? It is inscrutable. Unless, the rough conditions of yore inculcated a chronic dread of famine or attack by hostile persons. Business as usual, for the gods, involved a lot of suffering and mortality? That might explain it.

Much the same way as today the unborn are sometimes slain, so as not to be a financial burden. An offering to the modern god, money, so as to be spared from poverty and want.

Egad. We get up in the morning feeling pretty good for the most part. And yet without our daily exertions for money, we might be under a bridge with some smelly hobos. When, oh when, will the need for money end? So we can freaking relax for once?

kulturochreligion.se said...

Long time no read, but happy to ser that you are commenting on Baile and Girard! Yours truly (hopefully not forgotten) cosmic Swede, Johan. Looking forward to read Gods Gamble and your comments are always useful as a studenter guide, as someone said earlier. Thanks!

julie said...

Johan! Of course you are not forgotten!