Carl Jung hypothesized that the European mind found itself motivated to develop the cognitive technologies of science–to investigate the material world–after implicitly concluding that Christianity, with its laser‑like emphasis on spiritual salvation, had failed to sufficiently address the problem of suffering in the here‑and‑now. This realization became unbearably acute in the three or four centuries before the Renaissance. In consequence, a strange, profound, compensatory fantasy began to emerge, deep in the collective Western psyche, manifesting itself first in the strange musings of alchemy, and developing only after many centuries into the fully articulated form of science. It was the alchemists who first seriously began to examine the transformations of matter, hoping to discover the secrets of health, wealth and longevity. These great dreamers (Newton foremost among them) intuited and then imagined that the material world, damned by the Church, held secrets the revelation of which could free humanity from its earthly pain and limitations. It was that vision, driven by doubt, that provided the tremendous collective and individual motivational power necessary for the development of science, with its extreme demands on individual thinkers for concentration and delay of gratification.
This is not to say that Christianity, even in its incompletely realized form, was a failure. Quite the contrary: Christianity achieved the well‑nigh impossible. The Christian doctrine elevated the individual soul, placing slave and master and commoner and nobleman alike on the same metaphysical footing, rendering them equal before God and the law. Christianity insisted that even the king was only one among many. For something so contrary to all apparent evidence to find its footing, the idea that that worldly power and prominence were indicators of God’s particular favor had to be radically de‑emphasized. This was partly accomplished through the strange Christian insistence that salvation could not be obtained through effort or worth–through “works.” Whatever its limitations, the development of such doctrine prevented king, aristocrat and wealthy merchant alike from lording it morally over the commoner. In consequence, the metaphysical conception of the implicit transcendent worth of each and every soul established itself against impossible odds as the fundamental presupposition of Western law and society. That was not the case in the world of the past, and is not the case yet in most places in the world of the present. It is in fact nothing short of a miracle (and we should keep this fact firmly before our eyes) that the hierarchical slave‑based societies of our ancestors reorganized themselves, under the sway of an ethical/religious revelation, such that the ownership and absolute domination of another person came to be viewed as wrong.
It would do us well to remember, as well, that the immediate utility of slavery is obvious, and that the argument that the strong should dominate the weak is compelling, convenient and eminently practical (at least for the strong). This means that a revolutionary critique of everything slave‑owning societies valued was necessary before the practice could be even questioned, let alone halted (including the idea that wielding power and authority made the slave‑owner noble; including the even more fundamental idea that the power wielded by the slave‑owner was valid and even virtuous). Christianity made explicit the surprising claim that even the lowliest person had rights, genuine rights–and that sovereign and state were morally charged, at a fundamental level, to recognize those rights. Christianity put forward, explicitly, the even more incomprehensible idea that the act of human ownership degraded the slaver (previously viewed as admiring nobility) much or even more than the slave. We fail to understand how difficult such an idea is to grasp. We forget that the opposite was self‑evident throughout most of human history. We think that it is the desire to enslave and dominate that requires explanation. We have it backwards, yet again.
This is not to say that Christianity was without its problems. But it is more appropriate to note that they were the sort of problems that emerge only after an entirely different set of more serious problems has been solved. The society produced by Christianity was far less barbaric than the pagan–even the Roman–ones it replaced. Christian society at least recognized that feeding slaves to ravenous lions for the entertainment of the populace was wrong, even if many barbaric practices still existed. It objected to infanticide, to prostitution, and to the principle that might means right. It insisted that women were as valuable as men (even though we are still working out how to manifest that insistence politically). It demanded that even a society’s enemies be regarded as human. Finally, it separated church from state, so that all‑too‑human emperors could no longer claim the veneration due to gods. All of this was asking the impossible: but it happened.
As the Christian revolution progressed, however, the impossible problems it had solved disappeared from view. That’s what happens to problems that are solved. And after the solution was implemented, even the fact that such problems had ever existed disappeared from view . Then and only then could the problems that remained, less amenable to quick solution by Christian doctrine, come to occupy a central place in the consciousness of the West–come to motivate, for example, the development of science, aimed at resolving the corporeal, material suffering that was still all‑too‑painfully extant within successfully Christianized societies. The fact that automobiles pollute only becomes a problem of sufficient magnitude to attract public attention when the far worse problems that the internal combustion engine solves has vanished from view. People stricken with poverty don’t care about carbon dioxide. It’s not precisely that CO2 levels are irrelevant. It’s that they’re irrelevant when you’re working yourself to death, starving, scraping a bare living from the stony, unyielding, thorn‑and‑thistle‑infested ground. It’s that they’re irrelevant until after the tractor is invented and hundreds of millions stop starving. In any case, by the time Nietzsche entered the picture, in the late nineteenth century, the problems Christianity had left unsolved had become paramount.
Nietzsche described himself, with no serious overstatement, as philosophizing with a hammer. His devastating critique of Christianity–already weakened by its conflict with the very science to which it had given rise–involved two main lines of attack. Nietzsche claimed, first, that it was precisely the sense of truth developed in the highest sense by Christianity itself that ultimately came to question and then to undermine the fundamental presuppositions of the faith. That was partly because the difference between moral or narrative truth and objective truth had not yet been fully comprehended (and so an opposition was presumed where none necessarily exists)–but that does not bely the point. Even when the modern atheists opposed to Christianity belittle fundamentalists for insisting, for example, that the creation account in Genesis is objectively true, they are using their sense of truth, highly developed over the centuries of Christian culture, to engage in such argumentation. Carl Jung continued to develop Nietzsche’s arguments decades later, pointing out that Europe awoke, during the Enlightenment, as if from a Christian dream, noticing that everything it had heretofore taken for granted could and should be questioned. “God is dead,” said Nietzsche. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us?”
The central dogmas of the Western faith were no longer credible, according to Nietzsche, given what the Western mind now considered truth. But it was his second attack–on the removal of the true moral burden of Christianity during the development of the Church–that was most devastating. The hammer‑wielding philosopher mounted an assault on an early‑established and then highly influential line of Christian thinking: that Christianity meant accepting the proposition that Christ’s sacrifice, and only that sacrifice, had redeemed humanity . This did not mean, absolutely, that a Christian who believed that Christ died on the cross for the salvation of mankind was thereby freed from any and all personal moral obligation. But it did strongly imply that the primary responsibility for redemption had already been borne by the Saviour, and that nothing too important to do remained for all‑too‑fallen human individuals.
Nietzsche believed that Paul, and later the Protestants following Luther, had removed moral responsibility from Christ’s followers. They had watered down the idea of the imitation of Christ . This imitation was the sacred duty of the believer not to adhere (or merely to mouth) a set of statements about abstract belief but instead to actually manifest the spirit of the Saviour in the particular, specific conditions of his or her life–to realize or incarnate the archetype, as Jung had it; to clothe the eternal pattern in flesh. Nietzsche writes, “The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the ‘justification by faith’ and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church’s lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.” Nietzsche was, indeed, a critic without parallel.
Dogmatic belief in the central axioms of Christianity (that Christ’s crucifixion redeemed the world; that salvation was reserved for the hereafter; that salvation could not be achieved through works) had three mutually reinforcing consequences: First, devaluation of the significance of earthly life, as only the hereafter mattered . This also meant that it had become acceptable to overlook and shirk responsibility for the suffering that existed in the here‑and‑now; Second, passive acceptance of the status quo, because salvation could not be earned in any case through effort in this life (a consequence that Marx also derided, with his proposition that religion was the opiate of the masses); and, finally, third, the right of the believer to reject any real moral burden (outside of the stated belief in salvation through Christ), because the Son of God had already done all the important work . It was for such reasons that Dostoevsky, who was a great influence on Nietzsche, also criticized institutional Christianity (although he arguably managed it in a more ambiguous but also more sophisticated manner). In his masterwork, The Brothers Karamazov , Dostoevsky has his atheist superman, Ivan, tell a little story, “The Grand Inquisitor.” A brief review is in order.
Ivan speaks to his brother Alyosha–whose pursuits as a monastic novitiate he holds in contempt–of Christ returning to Earth at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The returning Savior makes quite a ruckus, as would be expected. He heals the sick. He raises the dead. His antics soon attract attention from the Grand Inquisitor himself, who promptly has Christ arrested and thrown into a prison cell. Later, the Inquisitor pays Him a visit. He informs Christ that he is no longer needed. His return is simply too great a threat to the Church. The Inquisitor tells Christ that the burden He laid on mankind–the burden of existence in faith and truth–was simply too great for mere mortals to bear. The Inquisitor claims that the Church, in its mercy, diluted that message, lifting the demand for perfect Being from the shoulders of its followers, providing them instead with the simple and merciful escapes of faith and the afterlife. That work took centuries, says the Inquisitor, and the last thing the Church needs after all that effort is the return of the Man who insisted that people bear all the weight in the first place. Christ listens in silence. Then, as the Inquisitor turns to leave, Christ embraces him, and kisses him on the lips. The Inquisitor turns white, in shock. Then he goes out, leaving the cell door open.
The profundity of this story and the greatness of spirit necessary to produce it can hardly be exaggerated. Dostoevsky, one of the great literary geniuses of all time, confronted the most serious existential problems in all his great writings, and he did so courageously, headlong, and heedless of the consequences. Clearly Christian, he nonetheless adamantly refuses to make a straw man of his rationalist and atheistic opponents. Quite the contrary: In The Brothers Karamazov , for example, Dostoevsky’s atheist, Ivan, argues against the presuppositions of Christianity with unsurpassable clarity and passion. Alyosha, aligned with the Church by temperament and decision, cannot undermine a single one of his brother’s arguments (although his faith remains unshakeable). Dostoevsky knew and admitted that Christianity had been defeated by the rational faculty–by the intellect, even–but (and this is of primary importance) he did not hide from that fact . He didn’t attempt through denial or deceit or even satire to weaken the position that opposed what he believed to be most true and valuable. He instead placed action above words, and addressed the problem successfully. By the novel’s end, Dostoevsky has the great embodied moral goodness of Alyosha–the novitiate’s courageous imitation of Christ–attain victory over the spectacular but ultimately nihilistic critical intelligence of Ivan.
The Christian church described by the Grand Inquisitor is the same church pilloried by Nietzsche. Childish, sanctimonious, patriarchal, servant of the state, that church is everything rotten still objected to by modern critics of Christianity. Nietzsche, for all his brilliance, allows himself anger, but does not perhaps sufficiently temper it with judgement. This is where Dostoevsky truly transcends Nietzsche, in my estimation–where Dostoevsky’s great literature transcends Nietzsche’s mere philosophy. The Russian writer’s Inquisitor is the genuine article, in every sense. He is an opportunistic, cynical, manipulative and cruel interrogator, willing to persecute heretics–even to torture and kill them. He is the purveyor of a dogma he knows to be false. But Dostoevsky has Christ, the archetypal perfect man, kiss him anyway. Equally importantly, in the aftermath of the kiss, the Grand Inquisitor leaves the door ajar so Christ can escape his pending execution. Dostoevsky saw that the great, corrupt edifice of Christianity still managed to make room for the spirit of its Founder. That’s the gratitude of a wise and profound soul for the enduring wisdom of the West, despite its faults.
It’s not as if Nietzsche was unwilling to give the faith–and, more particularly, Catholicism–its due. Nietzsche believed that the long tradition of “unfreedom” characterizing dogmatic Christianity–its insistence that everything be explained within the confines of a single, coherent metaphysical theory–was a necessary precondition for the emergence of the disciplined but free modern mind. As he stated in Beyond Good and Evil :
The long bondage of the spirit … the persistent spiritual will to interpret everything that happened according to a Christian scheme, and in every occurrence to rediscover and justify the Christian God in every accident:–all this violence, arbitrariness, severity, dreadfulness, and unreasonableness, has proved itself the disciplinary means whereby the European spirit has attained its strength, its remorseless curiosity and subtle mobility; granted also that much irrecoverable strength and spirit had to be stifled, suffocated and spoiled in the process.
For Nietzsche and Dostoevsky alike, freedom–even the ability to act–requires constraint. For this reason, they both recognized the vital necessity of the dogma of the Church. The individual must be constrained, moulded–even brought close to destruction–by a restrictive, coherent disciplinary structure, before he or she can act freely and competently. Dostoevsky, with his great generosity of spirit, granted to the church, corrupt as it might be, a certain element of mercy, a certain pragmatism. He admitted that the spirit of Christ, the world‑engendering Logos, had historically and might still find its resting place–even its sovereignty–within that dogmatic structure.
If a father disciplines his son properly, he obviously interferes with his freedom, particularly in the here‑and‑now. He put limits on the voluntary expression of his son’s Being. forcing him to take his place as a socialized member of the world. Such a father requires that all that childish potential be funneled down a singly pathway. In placing such limitations on his son, he might be considered a destructive force, acting as he does to replace the miraculous plurality of childhood with a single narrow actuality. But if the father does not take such action, he merely lets his son remain Peter Pan, the eternal Boy, King of the Lost Boys, Ruler of the non‑existent Neverland. That is not a morally acceptable alternative.
The dogma of the Church was undermined by the spirit of truth strongly developed by the Church itself. That undermining culminated in the death of God. But the dogmatic structure of the Church was a necessary disciplinary structure. A long period of unfreedom–adherence to a singular interpretive structure–is necessary for the development of a free mind. Christian dogma provided that unfreedom. But the dogma is dead, at least to the modern Western mind. It perished along with God. What has emerged from behind its corpse, however–and this is an issue of central importance–is something even more dead; something that was never alive, even in the past: nihilism, as well as an equally dangerous susceptibility to new, totalizing, utopian ideas . It was in the aftermath of God’s death that the great collective horrors of Communism and Fascism sprang forth (as both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche predicted they would). Nietzsche, for his part, posited that individual human beings would have to invent their own values in the aftermath of God’s death. But this is the element of his thinking that appears weakest, psychologically: we cannot invent our own values, because we cannot merely impose what we believe on our souls . This was Carl Jung’s great discovery–made in no little part because of his intense study of the problems posed by Nietzsche.
We rebel against our own totalitarianism, as much as that of others. I cannot merely order myself to action, and neither can you. “I will stop procrastinating,” I say, but I don’t. “I will eat properly,” I say, but I don’t. “I will end my drunken misbehavior,” I say, but I don’t. I cannot merely make myself over in the image constructed by my intellect (particularly if that intellect is possessed by an ideology). I have a nature, and so do you, and so do we all. We must discover that nature, and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves. What is it, that we most truly are? What is it that we could most truly become, knowing who we most truly are? We must get to the very bottom of things before such questions can be truly answered.
Doubt, Past Mere Nihilism
Three hundred years before Nietzsche, the great French philosopher René Descartes set out on an intellectual mission to take his doubt seriously, to break things apart, to get to what was essential–to see if he could establish, or discover, a single proposition impervious to his skepticism. He was searching for the foundation stone on which proper Being could be established. Descartes found it, as far as he was concerned, in the “I” who thinks–the “I” who was aware–as expressed in his famous dictum, cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). But that “I” had been conceptualized long before. Thousands of years ago, the aware “I” was the all‑seeing eye of Horus, the great Egyptian son‑and‑sun‑god, who renewed the state by attending to and then confronting its inevitable corruption. Before that, it was the creator‑God Marduk of the Mesopotamians, whose eyes encircled his head and who spoke forth words of world‑engendering magic. During the Christian epoch, the “I” transformed into the Logos, the Word that speaks order into Being at the beginning of time. It might be said that Descartes merely secularized the Logos, turning it, more explicitly, into “that which is aware and thinks.” That’s the modern self, simply put. But what exactly is that self?
We can understand, to some degree, its horrors, if we wish to, but its goodness remains more difficult to define. The self is the great actor of evil who strode about the stage of Being as Nazi and Stalinist alike; who produced Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and the multiplicity of the Soviet gulags. And all of that must be considered with dread seriousness. But what is its opposite? What is the good that is the necessary counterpart of that evil; that is made more corporeal and comprehensible by the very existence of that evil? And here we can state with conviction and clarity that even the rational intellect–that faculty so beloved of those who hold traditional wisdom in contempt–is at minimum something closely and necessarily akin to the archetypal dying and eternally resurrected god, the eternal savior of humanity, the Logos itself. The philosopher of science Karl Popper, certainly no mystic, regarded thinking itself as a logical extension of the Darwinian process. A creature that cannot think must solely embody its Being. It can merely act out its nature, concretely, in the here‑and‑now. If it cannot manifest in its behavior what the environment demands while doing so, it will simply die. But that is not true of human beings. We can produce abstracted representations of potential modes of Being. We can produce an idea in the theatre of the imagination. We can test it out against our other ideas, the ideas of others, or the world itself. If it falls short, we can let it go. We can, in Popper’s formulation, let our ideas die in our stead. Then the essential part, the creator of those ideas, can continue onward, now untrammeled, by comparison, with error. Faith in the part of us that continues across those deaths is a prerequisite to thinking itself.
Now, an idea is not the same thing as a fact. A fact is something that is dead, in and of itself. It has no consciousness, no will to power, no motivation, no action. There are billions of dead facts. The internet is a graveyard of dead facts. But an idea that grips a person is alive. It wants to express itself, to live in the world. It is for this reason that the depth psychologists–Freud and Jung paramount among them–insisted that the human psyche was a battleground for ideas. An idea has an aim. It wants something. It posits a value structure. An idea believes that what it is aiming for is better than what it has now. It reduces the world to those things that aid or impede its realization, and it reduces everything else to irrelevance. An idea defines figure against ground. An idea is a personality, not a fact . When it manifests itself within a person, it has a strong proclivity to make of that person its avatar: to impel that person to act it out. Sometimes, that impulsion (possession is another word) can be so strong that the person will die, rather than allowing the idea to perish. This is, generally speaking, a bad decision, given that it is often the case that only the idea need die, and that the person with the idea can stop being its avatar, change his or her ways, and continue.
To use the dramatic conceptualization of our ancestors: It is the most fundamental convictions that must die–must be sacrificed–when the relationship with God has been disrupted (when the presence of undue and often intolerable suffering, for example, indicates that something has to change). This is to say nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present. No other animal has ever figured this out, and it took us untold hundreds of thousands of years to do it. It took further eons of observation and hero‑worship, and then millennia of study, to distill that idea into a story. It then took additional vast stretches of time to assess that story, to incorporate it, so that we now can simply say, “If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favour.”
But how best to do that?
In 1984, I started down the same road as Descartes. I did not know it was the same road at the time, and I am not claiming kinship with Descartes, who is rightly regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. But I was truly plagued with doubt. I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that, I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking. The socialism that soon afterward became so attractive to me as an alternative proved equally insubstantial; with time, I came to understand, through the great George Orwell, that much of such thinking found its motivation in hatred of the rich and successful, instead of true regard for the poor. Besides, the socialists were more intrinsically capitalist than the capitalists. They believed just as strongly in money. They just thought that if different people had the money, the problems plaguing humanity would vanish. This is simply untrue. There are many problems that money does not solve, and others that it makes worse. Rich people still divorce each other, and alienate themselves from their children, and suffer from existential angst, and develop cancer and dementia, and die alone and unloved. Recovering addicts cursed with money blow it all in a frenzy of snorting and drunkenness. And boredom weighs heavily on people who have nothing to do.
I was simultaneously tormented by the fact of the Cold War. It obsessed me. It gave me nightmares. It drove me into the desert, into the long night of the human soul. I could not understand how it had come to pass that the world’s two great factions aimed mutual assured destruction at each other. Was one system just as arbitrary and corrupt as the other? Was it a mere matter of opinion? Were all value structures merely the clothing of power?
Was everyone crazy?
Just exactly what happened in the twentieth century, anyway? How was it that so many tens of millions had to die, sacrificed to the new dogmas and ideologies? How was it that we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant? No one had answered those questions, as far as I could tell. Like Descartes, I was plagued with doubt. I searched for one thing–anything–I could regard as indisputable. I wanted a rock upon which to build my house. It was doubt that led me to it.
I once read of a particularly insidious practice at Auschwitz. A guard would force an inmate to carry a hundred‑pound sack of wet salt from one side of the large compound to the other–and then to carry it back. Arbeit macht frei , said the sign over the camp entrance–“Work will set you free”–and the freedom was death. Carrying the salt was an act of pointless torment. It was a piece of malevolent art. It allowed me to realize with certainty that some actions are wrong.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, definitively and profoundly, about the horrors of the twentieth century, the tens of millions who were stripped of employment, family, identity and life. In his Gulag Archipelago , in the second part of the second volume, he discussed the Nuremburg trials, which he considered the most significant event of the twentieth century. The conclusion of those trials? There are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run counter to the proper nature of human Being. This is true essentially, cross‑culturally–across time and place. These are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and to slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain–that is wrong.
What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no arguments. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief. Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or a gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dungeon, I grasped what it meant to “take the sins of the world onto oneself.” Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori , perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good , then there is something that is good . If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced–then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.
Meaning as the Higher Good
It was from this that I drew my fundamental moral conclusions. Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency–your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.
Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of Being. Why? Because we know the alternative. The alternative was the twentieth century. The alternative was so close to Hell that the difference is not worth discussing. And the opposite of Hell is Heaven. To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. That’s a state, and a state of mind, at the same time.
Jung observed that the construction of such a moral hierarchy was inevitable–although it could remain poorly arranged and internally self‑contradictory. For Jung, whatever was at the top of an individual’s moral hierarchy was, for all intents and purposes, that person’s ultimate value, that person’s god. It was what the person acted out. It was what the person believed most deeply. Something enacted is not a fact, or even a set of facts. Instead, it’s a personality–or, more precisely, a choice between two opposing personalities. It’s Sherlock Holmes or Moriarty. It’s Batman or the Joker. It’s Superman or Lex Luthor, Charles Francis Xavier or Magneto, and Thor or Loki. It’s Abel or Cain–and it’s Christ or Satan. If it’s working for the ennobling of Being, for the establishment of Paradise, then it’s Christ. If it’s working for the destruction of Being, for the generation and propagation of unnecessary suffering and pain, then it’s Satan. That’s the inescapable, archetypal reality.
Expedience is the following of blind impulse. It’s short‑term gain. It’s narrow, and selfish. It lies to get its way. It takes nothing into account. It’s immature and irresponsible. Meaning is its mature replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organized and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world. If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life‑sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. It will make everything matter. It will make everything better.
If you act properly, your actions allow you to be psychologically integrated now, and tomorrow, and into the future, while you benefit yourself, your family, and the broader world around you. Everything will stack up and align along a single axis. Everything will come together. This produces maximal meaning. This stacking up is a place in space and time whose existence we can detect with our ability to experience more than is simply revealed here and now by our senses, which are obviously limited to their information‑gathering and representational capacity. Meaning trumps expedience. Meaning gratifies all impulses, now and forever. That’s why we can detect it.
If you decide that you are not justified in your resentment of Being, despite its inequity and pain, you may come to notice things you could fix to reduce even by a bit some unnecessary pain and suffering. You may come to ask yourself, “What should I do today?” in a manner that means “How could I use my time to make things better, instead of worse?” Such tasks may announce themselves as the pile of undone paperwork that you could attend to, the room that you could make a bit more welcoming, or the meal that could be a bit more delicious and more gratefully delivered to your family.
You may find that if you attend to these moral obligations, once you have placed “make the world better” at the top of your value hierarchy, you experience ever‑deepening meaning. It’s not bliss. It’s not happiness. It is something more like atonement for the criminal fact of your fractured and damaged Being. It’s payment of the debt you owe for the insane and horrible miracle of your existence. It’s how you remember the Holocaust. It’s how you make amends for the pathology of history. It’s adoption of the responsibility for being a potential denizen of Hell. It is willingness to serve as an angel of Paradise.
Expedience–that’s hiding all the skeletons in the closet. That’s covering the blood you just spilled with a carpet. That’s avoiding responsibility. It’s cowardly, and shallow, and wrong. It’s wrong because mere expedience, multiplied by many repetitions, produces the character of a demon. It’s wrong because expedience merely transfers the curse on your head to someone else, or to your future self, in a manner that will make your future, and the future generally, worse instead of better.
There is no faith and no courage and no sacrifice in doing what is expedient. There is no careful observation that actions and presuppositions matter, or that the world is made of what matters. To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may neither know what you want, nor what you truly need. Meaning is something that comes upon you, of its own accord. You can set up the preconditions, you can follow meaning, when it manifests itself, but you cannot simply produce it, as an act of will. Meaning signifies that you are in the right place, at the right time, properly balanced between order and chaos, where everything lines up as best it can at that moment.
What is expedient works only for the moment. It’s immediate, impulsive and limited. What is meaningful, by contrast, is the organization of what would otherwise merely be expedient into a symphony of Being. Meaning is what is put forth more powerfully than mere words can express by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” a triumphant bringing forth from the void of pattern after pattern upon beautiful pattern, every instrument playing its part, disciplined voices layered on top of that, spanning the entire breadth of human emotion from despair to exhilaration.
Meaning is what manifests itself when the many levels of Being arrange themselves into a perfectly functioning harmony, from atomic microcosm to cell to organ to individual to society to nature to cosmos, so that action at each level beautifully and perfectly facilitates action at all, such that past, present and future are all at once redeemed and reconciled. Meaning is what emerges beautifully and profoundly like a newly formed rosebud opening itself out of nothingness into the light of sun and God. Meaning is the lotus striving upward through the dark lake depths through the ever‑clearing water, blooming forth on the very surface, revealing within itself the Golden Buddha, himself perfectly integrated, such that the revelation of the Divine Will can make itself manifest in his every word and gesture.
Meaning is when everything there is comes together in an ecstatic dance of single purpose–the glorification of a reality so that no matter how good it has suddenly become, it can get better and better and better more and more deeply forever into the future. Meaning happens when that dance has become so intense that all the horrors of the past, all the terrible struggle engaged in by all of life and all of humanity to that moment becomes a necessary and worthwhile part of the increasingly successful attempt to build something truly Mighty and Good.
Meaning is the ultimate balance between, on the one hand, the chaos of transformation and possibility and on the other, the discipline of pristine order, whose purpose is to produce out of the attendant chaos a new order that will be even more immaculate, and capable of bringing forth a still more balanced and productive chaos and order. Meaning is the Way, the path of life more abundant, the place you live when you are guided by Love and speaking Truth and when nothing you want or could possibly want takes any precedence over precisely that.
Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 19.