Thursday, March 27, 2008

Notes on The Stranger by Camus

Notes on The Stranger by Camus:

-The Stranger as the depiction of the Un-man, one of the "men without chests," lacking in natural affections, a malaise peculiar to modernities specific defromities.

-The Stranger as the depiction of the psychopathology of modernity.

-The psychopathologing of modernity, as depicted in characters like Raskolnikov and Meursault, is integrally related to modernity's methodical imbalance.

-Doestovesky, Camus, etc. as modernity being authentic, revealing the disease beneath Enlightenment rhetoric, the wounds it has not cured.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thomas Merton on Sanity, Insanity and Love

“One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it at all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing.

If all the Nazis had been psychotics, as some of their leaders probably were, their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand. It is much worse to consider this calm, ‘well-balanced,’ unperturbed official conscientiously going about his desk work, his administrative job which happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state. He served his government very well.

He was not bothered much by guilt. I have not heard that he developed any psychosomatic illnesses. Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite, or so it seems. ..

It is the sane ones, the well adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying the sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then it will be no mistake.

We can no longer assume that because a man is ‘sane’ he is therefore in his ‘right mind’. The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be ‘sane’ in the limited sense that he is not impeded by his disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly ‘adjusted’. God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for ‘sanity’ at all. It is a religious notion, a spiritual notion, a Christian notion. What business have we to equate ‘sanity’ with ‘Christianity’? None at all, obviously.” –Thomas Merton, “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann,” Raids on the Unspeakable, (New Directions: 1964), pgs. 45, 46-47.

Some Thoughts On the Suppression of Agency by Displacement

Always, it now seems to me safe to say, in trying to explain agency away, materialists merely displace agency onto inanimate objects. A suppressive, barely conscious, occulted mental disposition.

Criminals are fully aware of advantages to the therapeutic and sociological bent of modernity. It pervades their own accounts of their behavior. Eichmann, for example, argued that he was just following orders. It was the system that was broken. He was not responsible.

One has to ask to what extent such “non-responsible” explanations of human behavior undermine behaving responsibly, by moving the onus off the competent agent onto objects now mystically endowed with the agents’ power. This has been a recurrent theme for materialists of various brands: the Marxist historical-sociological determinism being an example and the tendency to anthropomorphize genes and “memes” as determining agents being another. Those taught by these doctrines are encouraged to think of human behavior as something caused purely by outside forces. Concepts necessary for self-discipline are subsequently eroded, while any deleterious effect is loudly denied.

One example of the inculcation of passive, sheep-like self identity is the use of the term ‘consumer’, or, in other words, ‘blind mouths’. A critic of Christianity might point out its stress on obedience and the identity of being “the people of his pasture”, but there is a difference between being obedient and easily led by a God who is understood as being above every man, and thinking in terms of societal organizations which are ultimately in the hands of individuals. If an individuals ultimate dut, a duty which trumps every other duty, is to God, then his obedience to other men and women must always be mitigated by this higher fealty. Not so in social contracts, etc. By exalting a system to the level of primary cause, do we subtly exalt the systematizers?

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” -Proverbs 25:28

“ People know life as a series of choices. Sometimes a choice has no clear outcome; in such cases, people make their best guess. Yet, even when guessing, people make the choice themselves. By robbing people of the desire to think and act differently, or robbing them of the ability to see the consequences of their actions, Artificial Happiness makes the choices for them. Whether it pushes them toward inaction, freezing them in their present circumstances no matter how noxious those circumstances might be, or conceals from them the outcome of different choices, Artificial Happiness disrupts the natural decision-making process by which people navigate life. Doctors abet this paralysis of mind by pushing drugs, alternative medicine, and obsessive exercise. They also contribute to the phenomenon by getting people to see unhappiness as something separate from life. This mind-set prepares people to seek or receive Artificial Happiness. A case told to me by a prison psychiatrist illustrates how far people have taken this attitude. In jail for robbery and second-degree murder, one of the psychiatrist’s patients complained of low self-esteem. The psychiatrist responded, “You have low self-esteem? Of course you have low self-esteem. You’re a murderer and a thief!” The psychiatrist complained that too many of his patients these days saw self-esteem as something disconnected from life and to be given out in the form of a pill. To the extent that people today uncouple happiness from life, they are merely following the doctors’ lead, while the doctors themselves fall into the clutches of this logic after several decades of faulty reasoning.
Doctors once saw unhappiness as something embedded in life. In the late 1960s, during the medical profession’s first crisis, doctors began to reflect on the mechanics of unhappiness. During the course of their reflections, their attention shifted, first from life to the brain, then from the brain to neurons, then from neurons to synapses, and finally from synapses to neurotransmitters. They concluded that the whole unhappiness problem lay in the neurotransmitters, which caused their entire understanding of life and happiness to be thrown out of gear. In a twisted way, they were right; their error led them to detach unhappiness from life and treat it separately. The public took the doctors’ message to heart; eventually the whole country’s deliberations on unhappiness lost their way. Because of this train of errors, Artificial Happiness is now the country’s favored solution to unhappiness, concealing from people a proper understanding of the relationship between happiness and life.” – Ronald W. Dworkin, Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class, p. 252-253.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Your land shall be called Married"

"You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be called married." -Isaiah 62:4

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Excerpts From a Scathing Article on AIDS and the Churches Myths

“Responses to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic are often driven not by evidence but by ideology, stereotypes, and false assumptions. Referring to the hyperepidemics of Africa, an article in The Lancet this fall named “ten myths” that impede prevention efforts—including “Poverty and discrimination are the problem,” “Condoms are the answer,” and “Sexual behavior will not change.” Yet such myths are held as self-evident truths by many in the AIDS establishment. And they result in efforts that are at best ineffective and at worst harmful, while the AIDS epidemic continues to spread and exact a devastating toll in human lives.
Consider this fact: In every African country in which HIV infections have declined, this decline has been associated with a decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting more than one sex partner over the course of a year—which is exactly what fidelity programs promote. The same association with HIV decline cannot be said for condom use, coverage of HIV testing, treatment for curable sexually transmitted infections, provision of antiretroviral drugs, or any other intervention or behavior. The other behavior that has often been associated with a decline in HIV prevalence is a decrease in premarital sex among young people. …

… Katherine Marshall and Lucy Keough, lead authors of the report, are clearly uncomfortable with approaches to HIV prevention that emphasize sexual responsibility, behavior change, and morally based messages. They praise the work and compassion of faith communities in treating and caring for people ­living with AIDS and their families, yet harshly ­criticize the messages of faith communities for increasing the stigma of AIDS. Their discomfort with attempts to change sexual behavior is evident early in the report, when, for example, they muse: “Should the focus be on changing the behaviors that contribute to HIV/AIDS? (Is that possible? Desirable? How? With what assurance?)”
If Marshall and Keough are undecided as to whether changing sexual behavior is even desirable in the context of an epidemic driven by people who have more than one sex partner, they then need to become educated in the basic epidemiology of HIV transmission. One must ask whether they are more concerned with upholding a Western notion of sexual freedom or with saving lives. Their concern over any prevention approach that might be “moralistic” causes them to miss entirely the evidence for the remarkable success of sexual-behavior change in reducing HIV infections. They miss, as well, the crucial contribution of faith communities to HIV prevention, even while they are producing a report on the role of faith communities in the HIV crisis.
The Georgetown report tells us: “While the ‘mainstream’ HIV/AIDS program and global communities accept that widespread availability of condoms and promotion of condom use are major elements in successful HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, a focus on condoms is contentious for some religious communities because it contradicts the core recommended strategy of abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage.”
In fact, the mainstream HIV/AIDS community has continued to champion condom use as critical in all types of HIV epidemics, in spite of the evidence. While high rates of condom use have contributed to fewer infections in some high-risk populations (prostitutes in concentrated epidemics, for instance), the situation among Africa’s general populations remains much different. It has been clearly established that few people outside a handful of high-risk groups use condoms consistently, no matter how vigorously condoms are promoted. Inconsistent condom usage is ineffective—and actually associated with higher HIV infection rates due to “risk compensation,” the tendency to take more sexual risks out of a false sense of personal safety that comes with using condoms some of the time. A UNAIDS-commissioned 2004 review of evidence for condom use concluded, “There are no definite examples yet of generalized epidemics that have been turned back by prevention programs based primarily on ­condom promotion.” A 2000 article in The Lancet similarly stated, “Massive increases in condom use world-wide have not translated into demonstrably improved HIV control in the great majority of countries where they have occurred.”

Dawkins and Cosmopolitan Sex Geniuses

Two things that struck me as ironic today:

In Richard Dawkins' "dangerous idea" article in The Edge, he suggested that we ought to grow up and stop thinking in terms of responsibility. I have noticed the irony or absurdity of this before. But in discussing this matter on discussion board, a defender of Dawkins tried to show that he was only elaborating from things like the insanity plea. The problem with that argument is that Dawkins was arguing that the concept of responsibility itself ought to be suspended, not just in some cases, but in all cases. The irony of this occurred to me in conjunction with his well known pejorative that anyone who didn't believe in evolution was either "ignorant, insane or wicked." It occurred to me that by applying the insanity plea across the board, he in effect called himself and everyone insane.

The second irony was seeing in a grocery store line the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine with a young woman's picture and a caption next to it reading "Sex Genius". It occurred to me that what was being labeled as a sex genius was probably rather the opposite. What passes for wisdom in the world often turns out to be the greatest folly imagineable.

Perhaps there is a connection between this and an editor of Cosmopolitan having called Dawkins sexy?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The eternal wound of existence" : Perceptions of Nietzsche's Pain

“It is an eternal phenomenon: the insatiate will can always, by means of an illusion spread over things, detain its creatures in life and compel them to live on. One is chained by the Socratic love of knowledge and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his eyes; still another by the metaphysical comfort that beneath the flux of phenomena eternal life flows on indestructibly: to say nothing of the more ordinary and almost more powerful illusions that the will has always at hand”…
- Friedrich Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy Translated by Clifton P. Fadiman, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, p. 64.

[Here it seems to me I heard something of Nietzsche’s pain. The is truth in his criticism of Socrates and the Enlightenment for the notion that if people knew the good they would do it. As for his denial of eternal life there is only the assertion of his will, which was not that great after all. When I hear “the eternal wound of existence” I confess I thought of Nietzsche’s father, an evangelical Christian who after an accident, lived a agonized space before dying. It seems this must have been a decisive turning point for him, why the little boy called “the little pastor” ultimately became one of the world’s most famous atheists. I say I confess because I have a sense of discomfort in psychoanalyzing the man but to an extent it is a necessity of human fellowship. I do not find a lot in common with Nietzsche but I do relate to a fellow human being’s suffering. Nietzsche pejoratively, or insultingly, revaluated Christianity and Judaism, much like the ancient Gnostics. In his interpretation, Christianity and Judaism were slave religions and founded on resentment by inferiors of superiors. Rene Girard and no doubt others have remarked on the irony of Nietzsche’s characterization, ironic because it seems that so much of what characterized Nietzsche’s life as whole was resentment, resentment above all against God. ]

“Our art reveals this universal trouble: in vain does one depend imitatively on all the great product periods and natures; in vain does one accumulate the entire “World-literature” around modern man for his comfort; in vain does one place one’s self in the midst of the art-styles and artists of all ages, so that one may give names to them as Adam did to the beasts: one still continues eternally hungry, the ‘critic’ without joy and energy, the Alexandrian man, who is at bottom a librarian and corrector of proofs, and who, pitiable wretch, goes blind from the dusty books and printers’ errors.”
-Ibid., p. 67.

[One of the things I think that is good about Nietzsche is the pitch to which he brings the error of modernity. But he also looks beyond modernity’s faith in Reason, though he looks down. He is pivotal, at the doorway of postmodernity. That is why there is some value in judiciously reading him, as I see it (though he is indeed sadly blameworthy for ennobling crime, lies and blasphemy, like the Gnostics.) In the quote above there is something of an echo of Solomon in Ecclesiastes crying “Vanity of vanities!” He is intent on root realities. At least he is looking at these. Most people are eroding their lives in triviality upon triviality, “distracted from distraction by distraction” (as Eliot put it). Well, he is intent but at root he is turning away from root realities. Like the Gnostics he reality is a cheap phenomenon, a grossness, and the spirit must turn away from the real, from the true to a self-creation beyond the world.

It seemed to me here too that I sensed Nietzsche’s pain, the acerbic acquaintance with the hard, hard aspects of life, in some ways, out of which he spun a spider web of bad choices. ]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Charles Taylor on Conflating Violence with Religion

“The deafness of many philosophers, social scientists and historians to the spiritual dimension can be remarkable. And this is the more damaging in that it affects the culture of the media and of educated public opinion in general. I take a striking case, a statement, not admittedly by a social scientist, but by a Nobel Laureate cosmologist, Steven Weinberg. I take it, because I find that it is often repeated in the media and in informal argument. Weinberg said (I quote from memory): “there are good people who do good things, and bad people who do bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

On one level, it is astonishing that anyone who lived through a good part of the 20th Century could say something like this. What are we to make of those noble, well-intentioned Bolsheviks, Marxist materialist atheists to a man (and occasional woman), who ended up building one of the most oppressive and murderous brace of regimes in human history? When people quote this phrase to me, or some equivalent, and I enter this objection, they often reply, “but Communism was a religion,” a reply which shifts the goal-posts and upsets the argument.

But it’s worth pondering for a minute what lies behind this move. The “Weinberg principle,” if I might use this term, is being made tautologically true, because any set of beliefs which can induce decent people, who would never kill for personal gain, to murder for the cause, is being defined as “religion.” “Religion” is being defined as the murderously irrational.

Pretty sloppy thinking. But it is also crippling. What the speaker is really expressing is something like this: the terrible violence of the 20th Century has nothing to do with right-thinking, rational, enlightened people like me. The argument is then joined on the other side by certain believers who point out that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., were all enemies of religion, and feel that good Christians like me have no part in such horrors. This conveniently forgets the Crusades, the Inquisition, and much else.

Both sides need to be wrenched out of their complacent dream, and see that no-one, just in virtue of having the right beliefs, is immune from being recruited to group violence: from the temptation to target another group which is made responsible for all our ills, from the illusion of our own purity which comes from our readiness to combat this evil force with all our might. We urgently need to understand what makes whole groups of people ready to be swept up into this kind of project…”

–Charles Taylor in “Statement At The Templeton Prize News Conference”,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Science as Disdain for the Material (With Criticism of ID and the New Atheists)

Steve Talbott wrote a very fine essay underscoring the irony of a trend of thinking which finds expression even in the pages of Nature in an article influenced by Daniel Dennett which emphasized evolutionary algorithmic computer "simulations" in such a way as to forcefully downplay the importance of attention to the actual, to the material, to presence. Talbott writes beautifully and insightfully and I find the thoughts in the essay cogent, instructive, and timely. Here is a sample, a section which touches on Intelligent Design and its materialist counterparts:

From: “Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery”
By Steve Talbott

"Machines, Design, and the World
There is one distinction I have thus far glossed over. While the mathematically rigorous laws of physics can contribute in a real and profound way to our understanding of the physical world, the logical syntax of a computer does not in the same way contribute to our understanding of the physical machine. The law of gravity is a native law of copper, glass, and silicon in a way that the computer’s program logic is not. Rather, the program logic relates primarily to the way we have articulated the physical parts one with another so as to create a humanly useful mechanism. The computer’s logic is a function of design activity external to the materials themselves—an activity imposed from without—whereas the law of gravity arises from what matter and space are. Remove the program from the computer, or disassemble the physical machine, and there is no loss to the nature of copper, glass, and silicon; but you cannot remove gravitation without losing the materials themselves—their very substance is in part a “gravitational way of being.”
In other words, we cannot think of the logic or mathematics of gravity in relation to the physical world the way we think of program syntax in relation to a computer. The importance of this can hardly be overestimated at a time when the lawfulness of the universe is increasingly conceived as a kind of software governing a world-machine.

Here, incidentally, we can recognize the common ground shared by the advocates of Intelligent Design and their conventional opponents: both view the universe as a grand machine. This groundless assumption is the explicit foundation equally of the case for intelligent design (“the machine requires a Designer”) and the case for a materialistic, mindless universe (“a machine is merely a machine—and we learned long ago simply to ignore the question of a Designer or First Cause, or to conceal it behind the obscurity of the Big Bang”). The theists correctly understand that a machine requires an intelligent designer, whether we acknowledge this fact as such or attempt to smuggle the designer into our thinking by obscure bits and pieces. The materialists, in turn, see well enough that a machine-world is no suitable habitation for a human soul and spirit.

One way out of the ill-tempered and lightless debate between the two sides is to recognize that the intelligence we see in the world is not imposed from the outside upon pre-existing material, in the way we impose our design upon a machine. The intelligence in nature works always from within. In the world’s phenomena we see intelligence embodying itself in that visible, significant, aesthetically compelling speech we can’t help recognizing everywhere around us. The one thing we can be certain of is that whatever—or whoever—speaks through these phenomena is not doing so in the way we speak through the design of our machines. It is the height of hubris to think that we have become creators in that fundamental sense. Our design of machines does not bring material reality itself into existence as the embodiment of our own expressive powers. It is not both the lawfulness and the substance of things.” From The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Fall 2007. (

Elie Wiesel and Francois Mauriac

“In his interview, Elie Wiesel is unequivocal about his faith in God. Wiesel says this: ‘When I am thinking of my personal experience, there comes to mind, as a luminous example, Francois Mauriac. I, a Jew, owe to the fervent Catholic Mauriac, who declared himself in love with Christ, the fact of having become a writer…Once Mauriac dedicated a book to me and he wrote: ‘To Elie Wiesel, a Jewish child who was crucified.’ At first I took it badly, but then I understood that it was his way of letting me feel his love.’” –Qtd. by Richard John Neuhaus in First Things, April 2008, No. 182, p. 70.

[Mauriac was a profound French novelist, not often spoken of at present. His short novel The Viper’s Tangle (sometimes translated A Knot of Vipers) is a tremendous book which takes a profound look at sin and redemption. ]

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nietzche and Ancient Gnosticism's Pejorative Revaluations

“…The legend of Prometheus is indigenous to the entire community of Aryan races and attests to their prevailing talent for profound and tragic vision. In fact, it is not improbable that this myth has the same characteristic importance for the Aryan mind as the myth of the Fall has for the Semitic, and that the two myths are related as brother and sister. The presupposition of the Prometheus myth is primitive man's belief in the supreme value of fire as the true palladium of every rising civilization. But for man to dispose of fire freely, and not receive it as a gift from heaven in the kindling thunderbolt and the warming sunlight, seemed a crime to thoughtful primitive man, a despoiling of divine nature. Thus this original philosophical problem poses at once an insoluble conflict between men and the gods, which lies like a huge boulder at the gateway to every culture…” –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Part 9, pg. 32.

[A great weak point of Nietzsche’s philosophical argument seems to me to recur in his accounts of origins. We are to believe that man’s discovery of his abilities in relation to the order around him poses an inevitable opposition between the gods and man for the thinking man. But this doesn't follow at all. One of the qualities of A Beautiful World is the illumination to some extent of how the universe seems to have been made for man’s development and discovery. Man's ability in the universe can easily, more easily, it seems to me, be accounted for in terms of a harmonious order, an order that evokes gratitude. Another place where Nietzsche's account of religions seems to me a weak point is in The Genealogy of Morals when he seeks to explain the formation of society in terms of transaction... Commerce establishing society. The more primal, more fundamental reality is that of a mother and child. It is that out of which society springs- love, not will to power. Love will ultimately survive secular impotency.

There is in Nietzsche what seems to me a Gnostic turn, a course of assumptions, a stance, but it is far from being the inevitable outcome of astute reflection.

Hans Jonas in his landmark work of scholarship on ancient gnosticism, The Gnostic Religion, describes an aspect of gnosticism which parallels the nihilism Nietzche enjoins, in this, his first book:
“The cardinal feature of gnostic thought is the radical dualism that governs the relation of God and the world, and correspondingly that of man and world. The deity is absolutely transmundane, its nature alien to that of the universe, which it neither created nor governs and to which it is the complete antithesis: to the divine realm of light, self-contained and remote, the cosmos is opposed as the realm of darkness. The world is the work of lowly powers which though they may mediately be descended from Him do not know the true God and obstruct the knowledge of Him in the cosmos over which they rule. The genesis of these lower powers, the Archons (rulers), and in general that of all the orders of being outside God, including the world itself, is a main theme of Gnostic speculation….The spheres are the seats of the Archons, especially the “Seven,” that is, of the planetary gods borrowed from the Babylonian pantheon. It is significant that these are now often called by Old Testament names for God (Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai), which from being synonyms for the one and supreme God are by this transposition turned into proper names of inferior demonic beings- an example of the pejorative revaluation to which Gnosticism subjected ancient traditions in general and Jewish tradition in particular. The Archons collectively rule over the world, and each individually in his sphere is a warder of the cosmic prison. Their tyrannical world rule is called heimarmene, universal Fate, a concept taken over from astrology but now tinged with the gnostic anti-cosmic spirit. In its physical aspect this rule is the law of nature; in its psychical aspect, which includes for instance the institution and enforcement of the Mosaic Law, it aims at the enslavement of man. ..”
[A little familiarity with Nietzsche would seem to be enough to see a parallel between this notion of Mosaic Law, etc. as enslaving, as slave religion. Certainly there is a pejorative revaluation. There seems to be a widespread tendency not to get this aggressive note. It seems gnosticism is now popularly imagined as a victim, and nihilism too is thought of largely as a passive permissiveness or indifference to transgression. ]

“The law of ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not’ promulgated by the Creator is just one more form of ‘cosmic’ tyranny. The sanctions attaching to its transgression can affect only the body and the psyche. As the pneumatic is free from the heimarmene [fate], so he is free from the yoke of the moral law. To him all things are permitted, since the pneuma is ‘saved in its nature’ and can be neither sullied by actions nor frightened by the threat of archonic retribution. The pneumatic freedom, however, is a matter of more than mere indifferent permission: through intentional violation of the demiurgical norms the pneumatic thwarts the design of the Archons and paradoxically contributes to the work of salvation. This antinomian libertinism exhibits more forcefully than the ascetic version the nihilistic element contained in Gnostic acomism.” –Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, p.46.

This brings me to the second part of Nietzsche’s quote:

“Man's highest good must be bought with a crime and paid for by the flood of grief and suffering which the offended divinities visit upon the human race in its noble ambition. An austere notion, this, which by the dignity it confers on crime presents a strange contrast to the Semitic myth of the Fall--a myth that exhibits curiosity, deception, suggestibility, concupiscence, in short a whole series of principally feminine frailties, as the root of all evil. What distinguishes the Aryan conception is an exalted notion of active sin as the properly Promethean virtue; this notion provides us with the ethical substratum of pessimistic tragedy, which comes to be seen as a justification of human ills, that is to say of human guilt as well as the suffering purchased by that guilt. The tragedy at the heart of things, which the thoughtful Aryan is not disposed to quibble away, the contrariety at the center of the universe, is seen by him as an interpenetration of several worlds, as for instance a divine and a human, each individually in the right but each, as it encroaches upon the other, having to suffer for its individuality. The individual, in the course of his heroic striving towards universality, de-individuation, comes up against that primordial contradiction and learns both to sin and to suffer. The Aryan nations assign to crime the male, the Semites to sin the female gender; and it is quite consistent with these notions that the original act of hubris should be attributed to a man, original sin to a woman.”

Like the ancient Gnostic, Nietzsche not only permits but actively enjoins the commission of a crime as a kind of perverse self-development. Nietzsche obviously favors the “Aryan” view against the Semitic and Christian belief in the Fall. He enjoins the conferral of a dignity on crime. He deems the feminine the weaker and associates it with the Semitic; he deems the Aryan, Promethean view as the masculine and superior.

Nietzsche like Freud attacks the Fall. Freud, in suffering a terrible cancer of the mouth, nevertheless, chain-smoking, commits suicide on the Jewish Day of Atonement, after having written, as his final book, an attack on Judaism, Moses and Monotheism.
Men like Jonas have long been aware of these things but it is something of a revelation for me to see them brought out. (Note: Jonas is a lucid writer. He clearly exposits the foreign terms before he utilizes them and a quote has out of context can be overwhelming but I would hope not to daunting.)

Learning About Versus Learning From Scripture

“Whether or not one is convinced by this or that conclusion of modern biblical scholarship, as a tradition of reading it cannot be incorporated into living religious communities. There is a spiritual parting of ways, [Kugel] suggests, that separates ancient from modern traditions of interpretation. The old ways of reading involve ‘learning from the Bible,’ while the modern critical approaches end up ‘learning about it.’ Ancient interpretation teaches us to live inside Scripture; modern reading keeps its distance…One feels that Kugel overdraws the contrast with ancient interpretations…Yet Kugel sees a real problem, or at least he sees it in outline. The great chasm of difference is a matter of exegetical atmosphere rather than historical techniques or even interpretive conclusions. Modern scholars want to master the Bible. We can see this in their often smug conclusions. ‘Well,’ we are told, ‘this or that biblical story is really about sustaining the ideology of the Jerusalem cult.’ In contrast, religious readers want to be mastered… This spiritual difference is becoming more and more obvious today. It has nothing to do with whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch or whether Isaiah is a compilation of diverse prophetic material from different eras. It has to do with what we let the Bible say to us. On this point, Kugel is surely right. The old influence of liberal Protestantism on elite graduate programs in biblical studies has come to an end. We now see an aggressive indifference to the religious interests of biblical readers or postmodern theoretical gestures posing as theology. These days it is plain to see that a modern tradition of interpretation does not train readers to hear the Word of God in the Bible, even in its darkest corners. One reads purely and proudly as an outsider. This sensibility, this interpretive stance, is irreconcilable with the path charted by ancient readers. They read with the assumption that the Bible has the power to make us insiders. It is the path that faithful Jews and Christians continue striving to walk down.”
-R.R. Reno, “The Bible Inside and Out”, First Things, April 2008, pgs. 14, 15.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Whose the Fount of Your Religion?

“Nothing could be more foreign to the tone of scripture than the language of those who describe a saint as a ‘moral genius’ or a ‘spiritual genius.’ Thus insinuating that this virtue or spirituality is ‘creative’ or ‘original.’ If I have read the New Testament aright, it leaves no room for ‘creativeness’ even in a modified or metaphorical sense. Our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction,… in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours.” –C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Literature”, in Christian Reflections (ed. Walter Hooper) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pg. 6.

[This point attacks a modern concept I want in my tiredness to faintly articulate. One reaction may be, how backward. “Everything must change”. (Man I am belligerent. I keep having to erase what I write.) But I think Lewis hits in the final sentence on why it is not, on the essential point, the difference between humility and will to power, the difference between “you have said you were gods” and real worship of a real God. From one angle, which seems essentially the fleshly angle, the idea of orthodoxy as the bane of creative genius is deadening, deathlike, of graves. But that is an angle from the self as sovereign, not from the self as crucified with Christ. What is remote and lost on the lost is a reality that Dostoevsky referred to when he wrote in his journals for the composition of his great novel Crime and Punishment, “In Christ Jesus, there are infinite resources for life.” I recall an eccentric woman recounting to me in my college days a dream she had had in which she saw cherubim flying around the throne of God with wings over their eyes, as depicted in Revelation. She asked one of them why they covered their eyes and they said, “Because every time we look at the Lord we see a new facet of His greatness that is wonderful beyond description” (paraphrasing). Whatever the nature of her dream, the content struck me then and still does as true of God. God is indeed great beyond all describing and the fount of life and blessing. We were dead in our sins; now we are alive in Christ. The source of our life is to be rooted in Him. ]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Theory, Innate to Man, Turned the Ending of Man

“Modern theory is about objects lower than man: even stars, being common things, are lower than man… (Even in human sciences, whose object is man,) their object too is ‘lower than man…’ For a scientific theory of him to be possible, man, including his habits of valuation, has to be taken as determined by causal laws, as an instance and part of nature. The scientist does take him so- but not himself while he assumes and exercises his freedom of inquiry and his openness to reason, evidence and truth. Thus man-the-knower apprehends man-qua-lower-than-himself and in doing so achieves knowledge of man-qua-lower-than-man, since all scientific theory is of things lower than man-the-knower. It is on this condition that they can be subject to ‘theory,’ hence to control, hence to use. Then man-lower-than-man explained by the human sciences- man reified- can by the instructions of these sciences be controlled (even ‘engineered’) and thus used…And as the use of what is lower-than-man can only be for what is lower and not for what is higher in the user himself, the knower and user becomes in such use, if made all-inclusive, himself lower than man…Inevitably the manipulator comes to see himself in the same light as those his theory has made manipulable; and in the self-inclusive solidarity with the general human lowliness amidst the splendor of human power his charity is but self-compassion and that tolerance that springs from self-contempt; we are all poor puppets and cannot help being what we are….”

-Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 195-196.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dostoevsky and Nietzsche

“Yet, although Dostoevsky is in more than one respect the forerunner of Nietzsche, and although Nietzsche said: ‘He is the only person who has taught me anything about psychology,’ it cannot really be said that the one profoundly influenced the other. Nietzsche’s enthusiasm soon waned. Without disowning his first feeling, he had time for second thoughts. In a note in Der Wille zur Macht [The Will to Power] dated 1888 he still spoke of the ‘release’ that came from reading Dostoevsky. But on 20 November of the same year, when Georg Brandes was warning him against Dostoevsky as ‘wholly Christian in sentiment’ and an adherent of ‘slave morality’, he replied: ‘I have vowed a queer kind of gratitude for him, although he goes against my deepest instincts.’ ‘It is much the same as with Pascal,’ he added. And in Ecce Homo, enumerating the writers who had been his spiritual sustenance, he did not mention Dostoevsky. The initial attraction was coupled with an equally violent repulsion.”-Henri De Lubac, The Drama of Atheist of Humanism, (1950), p. 168.

[Perhaps the author of the essay “Macbeth and the Moral Universe”, Harry V. Jaffa (, is in something like Nietzsche’s initial reaction to Dostoevsky.]

“Nietzsche, in cursing our age, sees in it the heritage of the Gospel, while Dostoevsky, cursing it just as vigorously, sees in it the result of a denial of the Gospel.” -Henri De Lubac, The Drama of Atheist of Humanism, (1950), p. 172.