Making the World Ugly and Evil

Nietzsche said the Christian decision to make the world ugly and evil has made the world ugly and evil. Of course the Christians were only mimickers and mirrors of the neo-Platonism and Gnostic perspectives that became so influential in late Antiquity. Quite a contrast to the Hebrew Bible. Demons, Satan the Devil, eternal Hellfire, and the idea of the “total depravity” of humankind. It is not so much there there was nothing “new under the sun,” but rather nothing good under the sun. As several ancient Greek funerary prayers written in thin gold sheets and rolled up to be put in graves record the “great confession ” of Late Antiquity: I am a child of earth and  heaven but heaven alone is my home!” Salvation became an ascetic denial of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Nietzsche was not so much an atheist but a rejector of the “schlechte Luft” that fouled our European culture world and its quest to stamp out every “Heresy.” As Empedocles put it–long before Plato and the Gnostics: “I was once a bird, a fish, and now a man–I wept, I wept, when I saw this dreadful place.” Rather than the “good earth” as the place to be (i.e. Frost: “The earth’s the right place for love, I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”), as the ancient Creation Hymn of Genesis has things, this dark world was a hopeless prison into which we had fallen.

I began my academic biblical studies with New Testament Greek at the tender age of 17–my freshman year of college. And I have more or less shifted to a more “Hebraic” perspective, as I explain here in this article I want to share with my readers. For more see my article “Death as Life and Life as Death: Revising Rohde.”

HebBible NT JRJ 1990

Bits and Bites Here and There


From some of my recent television viewing of various shows, both documentary and scripted:

I don’t really do that. Chat.
Amy Adams in the first episode of Sharp Objects HBO

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist, nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Emerson

Come away with me my love, they will not see us for the dust!
Frank Lloyd Wright to Olgivanna

I am guilty only of the deadly sin of having ideas.
Frank Lloyd Wright regarding his love affairs and unconventional choices

A Grief Observed…

I love the phrase, the title of C. S. Lewis’s complex book about his “raging” grief and anger, against God and the cosmos and anything and everything after the death of his late-in-life-discovered beloved soulmate, Joy Davidman, in 1960. He published it originally under a pseudonym, lest the millions who saw him as a man faith be disturbed. It is well worth reading and there is a wonderful film, Shadowlands (1993), with Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger–well worth watching.

The inaugural 2020 issue of The New Yorker (January 6, 2020) has a wonderfully complex personal reflection by V. S. Naipaul about his own coping with grief–over the loss of family, friends, and even beloved pets. It is well worth reading. There are many quotable lines and paragraphs but one in particular stood out for me:

The many anxieties I lived with helped to push grief away. I felt I had been inoculated against grief. I had drunk that bitterness to the dregs, and since human beings have limited capacity I didn’t think I would be able to do so again…It was a poor way of thinking. We are never finished with grief. It is part of the fabric of living. It is always waiting to happen. Love makes memories and life precious; the grief that comes to us is proportionate to that love and is inescapable.

Emptiness

This quotation was sent to me by someone who read about my son’s death. I found it to be true to my own experience and expectations. I know many take other approaches and views about death. This is basically mine, in thinking of those I have lost over the years–and especially this latest one.

There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it.

At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship.

Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Blinded by the Light…

“I know that in writing I have to blind myself artificially in order to focus all the light on one dark spot, renouncing cohesion, harmony, rhetoric and everything which you call symbolic, frightened as I am by the experience that any such claim or expectation involves the danger of distorting the matter under investigation, even though it may embellish it. Then you come along and add what is missing, build upon it, putting what has been isolated back into its proper context. I cannot always follow you, for my eyes, adapted as they are to the dark, probably can’t stand strong light or an extensive range of vision. But I haven’t become so much of a mole as to be incapable of enjoying the idea of a brighter light and more spacious horizon, or even to deny their existence.” (Sigmund Freud, Letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé, May 25, 1916)

Taking Mother Mary Home at Last…

You know, you really got the short end of the stick. You know that right? You had to be a mom and you didn’t even get to have sex. I mean, what do I know? It’s not like I’m reading your diaries. It’s not like you wrote any diaries. Do you really want to be up here. I can get you out. You want to go home?

Bridget in Showtime’s SMILF, addressing the statue of Mary in her nearby Catholic Church. She then steals the image and takes it to her apartment, thus liberating Mary and allowing her to roam the streets of humanity again rather than remain on her immovable pedestal. Season 2, episode 2 “Sorry Mary I’m Losing Faith”

I hope I can prove worthy to take Mary Home…at last…I can open that door, we can walk again on those ancient paths of old Jerusalem and Mt Zion…

The Lost Mary: How the Jewish Mother of Jesus Because the Virgin Mother of God (New York: Knopf, forthcoming late 2020)

Predators and Prey

I have become convinced over my tiny “blink of an eye” three-score and ten years on this pale blue dot that our natural world, as it has unfolded through time, most acutely reflects the dichotomy of  Predator and Prey–especially at the higher levels–those creatures, humans included, with brains and central nervous systems. Humans especially, and here I am thinking about individual psychological traits, are one or the other–not a mixture of the two.

This goes beyond the scientific understanding of our 3rd/Reptile brain–from which all of us certainly operate in a hard-wired fashion, given our instinctual drives, reflected in self-preservation–food, sex, and aggressive self-protection and promotion.

With our fellow inhabitants of the planet whose brains operate at a more instinctual “3rd brain” level, there is no moral judgment to be made. They are what they are, from the cute little kitten torturing the hapless wounded mouse, to the lion devouring the tiny lamb. But we humans have a choice, as self-conscious, self-determining “actualizations” of reality operating in a more free and adaptable arena. We call it social and individual “morality” and it is surely culturally determined in its manifestations, but not wholly so. Not at the deep level of individual Self.

Predators are those who push, manipulate, and appropriate as much as possible for the individual and extended Self. Violence, aggression, greed, and power are their hallmarks, even if such behavior is on a micro-level. Prey are their object–as one must conquer and oppress to obtain this power. Those who are Prey of course have their own system of individual and social values, chiefly the internal ethic of “Do No Harm.” Of course all give lip service to the virtues of giving, sharing, loving, and caring–but Predators do the opposite while claiming to reflect such. Prey, however, are not weak and defenseless. They are in fact “fiercely” powerful and strong in behalf of those in their care–and I mean in an extended planetary sense.

Who has the insight to do a bit of self-classification? It is tough and requires introspection and meditation on the self and the paths we have taken with their resulting consequences.

In terms of which side “wins” or dominates, the balance is overwhelmingly in favor of the Predators. After all, there is nothing stopping them from their behavior, even if it results in untold suffering and sorrow for others, and the destruction of our planet. But I am one who holds to the simple core authentic teachings of Jesus and the GENESIA vision of Isaiah the Prophet–and I take them as “apocalyptic” and “eschatological” in the long arch of history–not magical mysteries from heaven:

Happy are you poor, you who weep, you who are hungry, you who are persecuted–yours is the kingdom of God–not in heaven but on earth. Yes, the meek shall inherit the earth!

On these I stand, God help me, I can do no other…

New Lights…

The new lights that break in on us are not always the lanterns of burglars.

Quoted by Hugh Schonfield, The Lost “Book of the Nativity of John” Edinburgh: T&T Clark 1929 and attributed to Rev. S. Baring-Gould