Saturday, 17 May 2014

The prowde spirite

"The devil...the prowde spirite...cannot endure to be mocked" —Thomas More

I was having my morning smoke when I saw the graceful, silent take-off of a jet plane. I know it wasn't silent at all and its apparent silence only the play of the atmospheric pressure with where I happened to stand at the moment.

Those who read my blog can get a pretty good idea that I want to reclaim my Christian upbringing. In the little over a year that I've started exploring and seeking, I've come to realize a few things: left to their own devices my own immature, ever-shifting perspectives (raw wants and desires clothed as rational, extremely compelling arguments (self-justifications)) pave my way to danger and destruction; my ego—without checks and balances—knows no bounds or limits; my notions of abstraction and objectivity are at once my protection and source of weakness (ie, what is now haphazard can become deliberate, once properly examined and informed).

When I first read the above Thomas More quote my immediate, visceral reaction was fear (superstition). There are outward signs and other indications from personal experience that the "devil" really does exist; woe to me if I should actively draw attention to myself...sort of thing. Then I realized that the "devil" is really me, my ego: to paraphrase Socrates, my unexamined life.

Two people that I consider very close and dear to me (a brother and sister) observed something about me on two separate occasions (I know they didn't communicate this insight with each other—I just know) that I can paraphrase thus: beware of your sado-masochistic tendencies. -Well, one told me to be kinder to myself and the other not to focus on my (past) "sins" but what I can now intend.

I've been having intense struggles of faith, of wanting to feel like I've been saved. Then I realized I've been trying to feel my way to Christ when faith itself is the very definition of trust in things not seen (or, more precisely, not felt). It's less about feelings (circular and intractable as they can easily become) than it is about taking the Word of G*d at its face value and making a decision to accept our free will and our ability to act in the here and now "to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our G*d".

In CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters (1942), the demon Screwtape writes to his nephew, Wormwood:

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when a boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His "free" lovers and servants—"sons" is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to "do it on their own". And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become less dependent on emotion [last two emphases mine] and therefor much harder to tempt.

As I "know" the truth of quantum reality forming the logical basis of all that is materially and relationally possible, my feelings really are immaterial to this undeniable fact. The quantum theory and its line of reasoning and what it can demonstrate and account for is truly objective and utterly above reproach, which I've always taken as indicative of the hand of G*d at work (some ironies are truly exquisite given that I completely believe in one area and not in others). To be able to contemplate and revel in this nature of reality is a reward unto itself, and I have not in any way wanted some kind of a reward for being able to do so.

Spurgeon, in Around the Wicket Gate, talks  of a man who's lost his purse and how utterly he's made despondent and inconsolable by his loss because he knows exactly how much money was in there: my take-away from this parable is that the past cannot be changed; realizing that one can decide and do after is what matters.

This fact is as good as divine salvation and redemption when the proper perspective is taken. Faith and trust in the divine reality must grow (ie, is not a given) because our decisions to act consciously and deliberately take time to generate a track record of learning. Making decisions in good faith and acting upon them, though their consequences can never be certain, make all the difference: to thine own self be true.

The Gospel and ultimate sacrifice of the Lord Christ makes absolute sense because the undeniable psychological reality is that, in our "natural" state, we want to remain selfishly juvenile and irresponsible (asleep). The capacity to make self-justification arguments in this state of apparent "innocence" is literally unbound and limitless, at once crude and sophisticated, and ultimately unsustainable.

I read on the internet yesterday that the big, red spot of Jupiter is shrinking, and the posted comments were of the kind: should we be blaming Harper? After itself, this is the binary "innocence" I'm talking about. We all have it within us. Again, this hypocritical default setting is captured by Lewis' Screwtape most succinctly:

It sounds as if you suppose that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That may have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

Jay

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