Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Midnight Deliberations, Diatribes and Delusions

  • The Koreas might be warring.
  • The Federal Reserve is essentially printing 600 Billion bucks out of thin air.
  • Ireland needs EU bail outs. Portugal and Spain may be close behind.
  • The Kingdom of God is expanding.
This is the news.


And yet, I am rattled and absorbed in my own little world of thoughts and conjurations.

This is from the hogwild-crazy opening of Ingmar Bergman's 1966 released Persona.
I'm about a thousand pages into Ayn Rand's epic "Atlas Shrugged". The hero of the story has just given his speech, which in essence, answers the first line of the novel; Who is John Galt? He is the consummate capitalist, a faithful follower of all that makes humans hold close to the ideal of humanness. He is the great advocate of reason, the prophet of hard work. To an extended degree, I not only sympathize with his position, but assume to myself that his position is in fact a correct and moral viewpoint. But then bad things come my way. John Galt's words wound me. Hold onto your butts; I quote:

If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. 

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge -- he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil -- he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor -- he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire -- he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy -- all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of the nature as man. Whatever he was -- that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love -- he was not man. Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Son. His evil, they charge, is that he's man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. 

They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man. No, they say, they do not preach that man is evil, the evil is only that alien object: his body. No, they say, they do not wish to kill him, they only wish to make him lose his body. They seek to help him, they say, against his pain -- and they point at the torture rack to which they've tied him, the rack with two wheels that pull him in opposite directions, the rack of the doctrine that splits his soul and body. 

They have cut man in two, setting one half against the other. They have taught him that his body and his consciousness are two enemies engaged in deadly conflict, two antagonists of opposite natures, contradictory claims, incompatible needs, that to benefit one is to injure the other, that his soul belongs to a supernatural realm, but his body is an evil prison holding it in bondage to this earth -- and that the good is to defeat his body, to undermine it by years of patient struggle, digging his way to that glorious jail-break which leads into the freedom of the grave... Do you observe what human faculty that doctrine was designed to ignore? It was man's mind that had to be negated in order to make him fall apart. Once he surrendered reason, he was left at the mercy of two monsters whom he could not fathom or control: of a body moved by unaccountable instincts and of a soul moved by mystic revelations -- he was left as the passively ravaged victim of a battle between a robot and a dictaphone.

Man's mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God... Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith... The purpose of man's life... is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question. His reward... will be given to him beyond the grave. 

That was long, but I needed to show an aspect of the continuing hunger in the evangelistic tone of Miss Rand's vitriolic rhetoric. These words do not slay me (entire). They do not barrel in some mind-crucifying new truth; by no means. Nevertheless, they merely cause me to hurt. They hurt me because they raise questions I don't have answers to. They poke at the scars of my doubt. They stretch the tear marks of my reasoning. They use my earnest inquiries into the ways of Our Lord and levy them for my suffering.

Foremost among the Shrugger's (that is John Galt, who I think could reasonably be considered the paragon of the Greek titan Atlas) arguments is his contention that the idea of Original Sin/Sin Nature is unjust. This has long been revolving door of vexation for me for some years now. In my mind, when this debate really gets raging with Calvinists/Determinists, the problem comes down to 1 John 4:8... because God is love.

How can God, the auteur and very essence of love, condemn men by a legislation that damns them from birth? FORTHWITH AND PROMPTLY THEN, I get knocked about by a slew of guilt because inevitably the conversation turns to Romans chapter 9, wherein Paul hashes it out. Verses 14-16; What shall we say then? Is God unjust? By no means! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy." 

Then Paul directly calls me out, as he answers my own question; verses 19-21, You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use  and another for common use? OW! I don't know how to respond to such words.

My mind innately has the same response as the disciples, who, having heard a perplexing teaching from Jesus, said, This is a difficult statement: who can listen to it? John 6:60.

All I can do is fall prostrate and proclaim as Job did; I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted... I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know... Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:3, 6.

We can get through that moment, sure enough, but then the next comes. And with that next breath, comes another thought. I am well acquainted with its drum beat by now.
It is a simple formula.
An excerpt from such an internal dialogue:

What can this other worldview offer you?
Not much.
Are you sure.
Yeah I'm sure. I cling to the cross. Desperately. There's nothing else out there that even sounds attractive. Without God, there is nothing. No purpose. Then it is all for rot. Why would I be coaxed to accept anything less?
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
Sexual intimacy is what you lack. You could have it, in many forms, if only you let go of this idea of God. Rand is right, religion keeps you in a place where all your expectations are set for the supposed next world.
To live is Christ, to die is gain.
And if you never marry? Then you'll die alone, seeking after a God who may not be there.
Jesus is my rock, my great advocate and example. He knew no woman, and yet He is the greatest of all men. The perfect one. God incarnate.
Forget it. You're closed minded, and refuse to follow the evidence.
I am not.
Just let go. Indulge yourself. 
Look at how you are struggling, even now -- over nothing. Where is your God? Where is that Helper? Isn't the Holy Spirit dwelling within you? Why does He not speak up? Call Him to action.
I don't yet understand how the Spirit works in my walk of faith. Perhaps I am not yet mature enough to hear His voice.
If a witch tells you that you will win the lottery, you could go back to her everyday and tell her, "It hasn't happened yet," and her response will just be, not yet. Be patient. It will happen. You will wait forever, and then you will be dead. Go indulge your flesh. You can repent later if this Ghost shows up. You are waiting for a Savior that will never arrive.
No. That's it, I'm going to bed (or eat, or call a friend, or anything that takes me out of the moment's endurance)!!

These personal battles seem rather absurd. I'd prefer to not encounter them. Many may propose that there is an easy answer to such problems; stay away from the things that poke at my scars of doubt. Stay away from the works of atheists. Be wary of movies made by blasphemers. Perhaps I have not taken this route serious enough.

Take, for example, Persona by Ingmar Bergman. Ol' Bergy is a friend of mine, in that much of the content of many of his films is relegated to subject matter that I find of deep personal interest. Somehow, despite my fond feelings for the Swede, I'd somehow missed Persona, one of his most famous flicks, until a couple weeks ago. I went into the viewing ever-so excited... I left it drenched in pent frustration, anger, and a bit of agony.

Mulholland Drive by David Lynch -- a film made perhaps in the same vain as Persona.
The film revolves around just two women. Almost naturally, the two people bleed into one collective soul and la-di-da, we've got confusion, jealousy, and eroticism galore! This appears to happen somewhat often in psychological dramas about two or more female protagonists. Anyway, somewhere amidst the thick of the film, the bodaciously beautiful Bibi Andersson begins to speak of a vivid memory. She recites, in excruciating detail, the moment in which she was unfaithful to her husband with a weak stranger boy who was staring at her on the beach. Bergman keeps the camera on the actress's face the whole time while she unspools the story. The story was so horrifically abrasive and infested with sickly sinful fantasy that I loathed the scene -- yet at the same time, there was that internal drum beat of eroticism welling within me. There certainly was withheld within me a deep yearning to continue in the fantasy; to take part. DAMNATION! Generally speaking these days, sex scenes in films do not bother me. I look away, think about other things, or just feel a bit of pity for the actors who don't know what they are doing (And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34)... but damn...

Despite such displeasurable experiences, I don't want to let my intake of the world around me go. I know that it is not because of the nasty things in these artworks that I long to continue to breathe in. I want to interact with God through these things. I want to wrestle. I want to have such a foundation of faith that I know that the likes of Ayn Rand or Bibi Andersson will not slay me and lead me to a path of destruction. I want to stand like Joseph, confident in the Spirit, and say to the world that doesn't know what they do, "Look, I see in you the spark of creation. I see that which God has gifted you with. You meant this thing for destruction, but the God of all Creation can see in it the very fabric of His workings." This is my desire. But I have many desires, not all of them Godly. May the Lord's will be done, not mine, if it shown to be errant of the Father's path.

Listen to the words of Genesis 45:1-8, 14 (emphasis mine):

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, 
"Have everyone go out from me." 
So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 
He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it
and the household of Pharoah heard of it. 
Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" 
But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 
Then Joseph said to his brothers, 
"Please come closer to me."
And they came closer. And he said, 
"I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who me here, but God... 
Then he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

Did you catch the tears? How much emotion lie behind Joseph's actions! If I am remembering correctly, I believe Joseph is the only one of the Patriarchs that the Bible does not record a sin for. That's saying something. Joseph was a Godly man. And still, he bled on that battlefield. He ran the race with much sweat and struggle.

Cries and Whispers -- a later Bergman, female driven film.
It may be that various minds that are far more cunning than I will continue to strike me. Those wounds will tear my flesh and burden my soul. That's okay, right? Let it be so. 

Perhaps my answer is simply to continue on, repenting, working, humbly seeking the Lord's path through the mercy bestowed upon me by my glorious Savior, Christ Jesus my King. I serve the King. There will be blood. There will be hard times, both physically and mentally, nevertheless, my life for the King. My all.

But gosh, Romans, you slay me. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. Nights of Columbus, that hurts! I don't understand!

I serve the King, even while I don't understand. I serve the King. I serve the King. I serve the King. Say it again and again and again and again.

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