Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saved (the Desire Behind Desire)

Next week I'll be posting my last article. It will be quite short and will include some thoughts about the religion of Adam. I'll also be giving some book recommendations.

Romans 2: 28-29, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

The Apostle Paul seems to state in several places that he believed in all of humanity having something along the lines of what the ancients called the "laws of nature". Some cultures call them "first precepts" or "the Tao" etc. It’s basically the notion of a universal conscience common to all men at all times everywhere throughout creation. For instance, as C. S. Lewis once said, no one has ever admired cowardice or selfishness. We're always amazed when we hear of somebody committing inhumane acts of extreme torture and the like, and say, "How could somebody do that to someone else?", as if they've done something that goes against nature itself--and they have. A materialist would like to think this proves there is no Tao, and men create their own conscience, but this is not so. These are men who have simply chosen not to follow their God given consciences. I had a friend many years ago whose cousin was jumped in a bar by some bikers; they held him down while one of them cut out one of his eyes with a pocketknife. They were following their own design of moral conscience while choosing to ignore the one God gave them at birth. I stated in a previous article that if you ignore your God given conscience it would begin to leave you, and eventually there would be hardly a trace of it left. Men can replace this conscience with one of their own making, and men that do this are capable of any detestable act that comes into their heads.

Another example of this Tao would be its presence in very young children who are molested. Almost every one of them will say on a witness stand that they knew/felt that what was being done to them was wrong even though they were too young to even know what sex was, but that didn't stop them from knowing a universal wrong when it was done to them.

Let's look at the following comment by Paul:

Romans 2:13-16 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

As for Paul's later reference in Romans to being "justified by faith", I don't see this as being a self-conflicting argument against his earlier statement about gentiles being saved by obeying the laws on their hearts, i.e.—conscience. I believe he reasons that the very fact that a man chooses to follow his God given conscience creates a turning point for him. That he has chosen God because God is a part of his conscience in some way.

Nobody can find friendship with God through obeying either the Deuteronomical laws or the laws of nature either one because nobody keeps them all the time. This is true. We all mess up now and then. Neither can anyone aspire to divine favor through faith alone. Paul also states that, even if we prophecy and have faith, we are worthless if we don't love others.

Nor do I think holy friendship is attainable through the magic invocation of names. No one gets points simply for saying they believe in Jesus. You might as well tell someone, "Say abracadabra and click your heels three times; there now, you get to go to heaven!" When Christ talked of separating the sheep from the goats, he was talking about people, all of whom, believed in him and weren't shy in saying his name. Those who were called the "goats" were called so because they didn't do, or didn't want to do, the good works they should have.

We can point to biblical passages that seem to contradict each other concerning the names/works/faith route to heaven all day. Therefore whatever brings us into the presence of Holiness must be something that concerns all of these things, but yet is something a little beyond them--something that is a bit of a mystery. Paul even spoke about "the mystery of faith". I don't pretend to know the mind of God, and I'm no mystic, but I think I may be able to shed a tiny bit of light on this mystery. Paul alludes to it when he speaks of the way the mind (or will of the body) wants to do one thing while the will (of his spirit) attains to something holier. CS Lewis said in The Weight of Glory that he believed the human conscience to be composed of both the Tao (something he likened to moral instincts) and the choices the mind makes between right and wrong where the Tao is unclear. I think Lewis is right. Paul separates the mind from the conscience in Titus 1:15 where he says "…both their minds and their consciences are corrupted", and I think he was right to completely separate the two here. The conscience for Paul seemed to hold a certain reverence. It was God himself, a glimmer of divine light, within mankind. It was like the first precept of all reason, because it was reason without cause. It was simply there, as a gift, just as the formulae of pi exists within all circles. We find that 3.14 keeps coming up in many geometrical measurements. It’s a sort of first precept of geometry, and it exists on its own whether we realize its existence or not. Yet Paul also talked of the conscience in other places where he admits that it's at least partially developed by our choices. So I tend to think he thought of the God given conscience as something like a big dam with Satan on the other side, where the biggest part of the structure was made by God, but where we have the ability to add to it and strengthen it, or to tear away at it until it comes tumbling down altogether. A man who has torn down that dam is the kind of man who can do unspeakable acts. The dam that would have kept the evil out of him is gone, and he's floating in the filth he let in.

Now this is a hard subject to grasp, and I believe that's why Paul thought of it as a mystery, but the body seems to have a mind of its own. It not only has physical desires but also mental desires that are not healthy. We all have thoughts that flood our heads now and then that we wish were not there, yet we find getting rid of them is not so easy as just wishing them to be gone. Yet we do wish them to be gone. How can it be that the minds of our bodies wish one thing, and yet we possess something behind that mind which would wish another thing altogether? It's as though we have a physical will and a spiritual will, and often they are at odds with one another. The closer we grow to Christ, the more at odds they will become. At this point you may think that winning this Olympics of wills is what sets good men apart from bad men, but you would be wrong. Here a third oddity comes into the fray that’s even more difficult to take in.

We may wish to be good and to follow our God-given consciences. Sometimes this involves heavy lifting (both physically and of the will). I may know through my conscience that God is telling me to do a certain good work, perhaps to cut my neighbors grass because they're sick in bed. However, what if cutting grass is my least favorite activity? For that matter, what if feeding the poor is one of my least favorite activities as well? Not only does my physical mind lack a desire to do a certain good work but even my spiritual mind seems to have no will do to the thing. Yet, I know it is a thing worth doing and a thing that will somehow do me good as well as those who are being done for. Therefore, I have a desire to desire that I would do these things. That is, I wish I would desire to do certain things that I have no desire to do--that they would become a part of my spiritual will. They may never be part of my physical will because it's always at odds with my spiritual will, but I at least wish that my spiritual will would be in step with the desires that the Tao is telling me are good and proper to have. I don't want to cut my neighbors grass, but I really wish I could make myself want to.

If we wish to have a desire to do good things, often that wish is fulfilled at some point. That wish can only be fulfilled by another kind of Will, one that is foreign to our own. Only God can convert our "desire to desire" into being a part of our own will. The bible says to love our enemies, but no one in the history of man ever wanted to love his enemies, and you can't make yourself want to. However, as long as you at least desire to want to then God will step in and convert that desire to a want to. (This is very hard to express verbally; I can only hope the reader will understand the mental imagery I am trying so hard, and yet so poorly, to convey). Before long you'll find that you really do want to love your enemies or cut your neighbors grass etc. It came by no power of your own, and it usually came after you gave up on it ever coming. One day you suddenly realize that you have a kind of love for people that you never had before, and this is what Paul meant by transforming our minds. It also happens to be what salvation (for lack of a better term) is. It's not the acts that we do, or the words we say, or opinions about God that we express. It’s the desire to desire goodness in all things. I know of no word or phrase for that desire behind desire, but the thing surely exists, and it’s the most important thing a man must take heed of within all of creation.

A man may choose to desire goodness in all things without ever having heard of Christ. He still chooses Christ, because Christ is the voice calling him to that desire behind desire. Or as Lewis once said, a man can be saved from drowning and never find out who it was that saved him. That's just my opinion, but it comes from something so deep within that it's without.

There's so very much more to this earthly existence than the tidbit I've tried to express here. There are things that Christ did and changed just by coming into the world that I haven't even begun to touch upon--things that changed all of humanity whether they realize it or not. For instance, people no longer build pyramids and mounds; no one builds them today at all. Worshipping in the high places is all but over for the most part. Magic, if it ever existed, no longer does. Mass human sacrifice is no longer a part of everyday culture throughout the world as it once was. The coming of Christ had a lot to do with that. There are ways in which Christ changed the world that even the bible itself doesn't go into. It doesn't matter if we know what all those changes are. We can still be grateful for them.


MattSeven said...

I had been a christian for many years. One of the shortcomings of christianity is its reliance on certain cognitive baselines that don't hold true for all people. For example, when dealing with someone with an IQ of 50, or someone whose conscience was ripped out of them via repetitious or ritualistic physical and sexual abuse, or someone who is organically psychotic beyond reason, or any 2 year old -- it becomes apparent that the ethical and intellectual quandaries of Christianity's Finest are not universal. Not universal to the point that they may actually find relevance among a rare introspective few.

To one scouring the Earth for clues, this inevitable discovery makes it apparent that the reasoning derived from such introspection simply does not apply to all. The causes, rationales, and purposes of human life escape structured, linear reason. Those who excel at such reason find reward in its conclusions, but that may represent the extent of their value to a mildly retarded man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. And yet, the latter's presence must reveal some truth about the system as a whole. The exception to imagined rules reveals the rules as imaginary. There are lying, stealing, immoral men who will live full lives of pleasure till their last breath -- must we imagine some painful consequence in an afterlife to support an imagined rule? Or can we, instead, learn something about Reality?

And so one is struck not with the profundity of Desire, itself, (To Give or Receive), as much as we are confronted with the consequences of each individual's desires -- and the interactions of such desires -- and the effects of desire at the largest systems scales. And what we find is an immense and inconsistent variety. 1000 drunk drivers and only 100 who are ever convicted. 1000 murderers and 500 condemned. And it is this discrepancy that irritates the rational, ethical mind.

Instead of creating or applying contrived rules to condemn the un-condemned, we should learn from what IS, and find what is there to be gleaned. And what is as likely as any other explanation is that life is for living and learning. And what each individual learns is for that individual. The lessons that apply to one in this life may not have importance for the living of another's life. Or, rather, those lessons may go by intuitively known or unknown. Perhaps until some future life.

But punishment and consequences are needlessly entwined in a christian theology. A child bruises its head on the way to learning how to walk -- perhaps in the same way an adulterer fails to find satisfying relationships until he learns how to behave differently. And perhaps not even in this life.

So much remains unknown. We need to be careful about what beliefs and structures we set in place that might hinder out interaction with actual Reality.

C W Seper said...

That's what I'm saying for the most part. I've always maintained that whatever Christianity is it must be simple enough for the mentally retarded to take part in. They are just as responsible for their core desires as anyone else. That desire behind desire isn't mentally exerted. It's something that's part of the soul's core makeup. A mentally retarded person or someone with Tourette Syndrome may have bodies that do some things they wish didn't happen. For that matter, a parasite may try to make you do something you don't want. It may even succeed. But there's a part of you behind it all that may wish those behaviors had never happened and hope they desperately go away. Conversely, there are those who relish those bad behaviors. The mentally retarded or psychologically disturbed are not exempt from judgment on this basis in my opinion.

MattSeven said...

To say a person with an IQ of 50 can participate fully in Christianity is to acknowledge that 99% of its theology is irrelevant. To reduce pride and increase selflessness is not Christianity -- that's a primary part of the major religions on the planet. So you then have to ask yourself what a person who cannot read, think abstractly, introspect, or understand time is actually participating in. I didn't make Christianity a cognitive exercise, its theologians did.

Yes, person of low IQ can "Be Nice," go to church, sing, and participate in the ceremonies and rituals of religion. They can reduce pride and increase kindness. But the distinctness of that religion is irrelevant. It is merely familiar, or pleasant. And so you wind up with "well, I guess God wanted them to be Christian and be saved." Because they certainly didn't search the internet looking for the religion that matched their existential desires.

I get what you are saying re: desire. But you have to spend some time with the severely mentally ill to understand that for many of them, their desires are not in the same universe as ours. One client I worked with was concerned he might be a robot -- and this thought disturbed him regularly. Is his desire to not be a robot "Christian?" Or even righteous? We can imagine that we can indoctrinate him into the understanding that this fear is a suffering his faith might relieve him of some day. In the meantime, it is real for he merely lacking in faith? Or is schizophrenia real?

My point is that you already face the impossible difficulty of reconciling organic brain function and metaphysical cosmology. It's not possible to know where the lines are drawn. So when you imagine your own personally satisfying explanations hold others' fates in the balance (including people who have no hope of understanding what you're talking about) you have to embrace the possibility that you have overstepped your bounds.

C W Seper said...

"To say a person with an IQ of 50 can participate fully in Christianity is to acknowledge that 99% of its theology is irrelevant."

It probably is irrelevant to most people. I fully agree with CS Lewis that a man can be saved and never know who it even was that saved him. I don't believe we should expect other people to fall into our own religious rituals. The only purpose of them is to prepare the mind to enter a spiritual state, and God can do that quite well without our rituals or anyone ever having heard of the church.

I think you're trying to make Christianity into something so difficult that few people can understand it. The crowds who followed Christ around didn't have a church or rituals. He required no special observances of days, no allegiance to a creed. He said when you eat and drink remember what I did for you, but it was the church that turned that simple statement into a ridiculous ritual, and it took the Catholic Church to drain it of its beautiful symbolism and remanufacture it into materialistic nonsense. His requirements didn't go much past the golden rule, and of course the golden rule can be found all over the earth in some form. I agree with MacDonald here:

"In every heart there is a consciousness of some duty or other required of it: that is the will of God. He who would be saved must get up and do that will--if it be but to sweep a room or make an apology, or pay a debt. It was he who had kept the commandments whom Jesus invited to be his follower in poverty and labour...."

A person with an IQ of 50 is generally quite capable of this. And if he's not capable of carrying out the act, he is capable of desiring it. And if he finds he doesn’t even desire to keep the commands on his heart, he is at least capable to desiring to desire to. This simply must be common to everyone or there is no God.

My mom and sister both worked in a home for the insane for many years and used to bring the younger ones home to visit all the time. My best friend across the street growing up was one of six retarded siblings. And my closest cousin has suffered from schizophrenia since his teens thanks to rheumatic fever. I've been around mentally retarded and insane people all my life, and although they don't understand a lot of things I do, and they have fears and anxieties that differ from ours, they're still just people. We all have fears and anxieties of some kind, and there are a lot of things none of us understand including God, although we pretend to. I don't really find the insane or the mentally retarded to be so different from us. Evil is just another term for self centeredness most of the time. There are those among the mentally deficient who are very giving and those who are clingy--just like us. Moreover see some who are sorry for their selfish behavior and who would like to change and be better, and also some who don't give a damn--just like us.

I also think it's quite possible that the insane and retarded may live perfectly normal lives in dream worlds, and they may be judged for the lives they live there. I think we may be as well because the true self comes out there.

MattSeven said...

Well if we both agree that Christianity is a convoluted version of "God Likes It When You're Both Nice And Productive," then I suppose it's all splitting hairs after that. I mean, that's a belief system I can get behind.

I misconstrued your use of biblical text as an implied support of christian theology. I see now that you're simply using biblical figures and terms as a tool to make your ideas more accessible to people inclined toward that theological system.

C W Seper said...

(I left a previous message where I misunderstood something you said, so I deleted it and I'm redoing things a bit--sorry.)

It's not about what you are and what you do. It's about what you want to be and want to do. There's a world of difference. And as CS Lewis said, people are born with different dispositions, thus for some being nice comes very easily and for others it's a struggle just to say thank you for passing the catsup. The person struggling may actually be closer to God even though it appears outwardly that he's losing the battle. It's really about the struggle. Some choose not to struggle at all. That's what Lewis thought God looked at, and I'm simply agreeing with him.

Blessings Matt

MattSeven said...

I don't disagree at all that there is beauty in striving beyond self-absorption, or striving to care for others more. And while I see it as indicative of authentic spirituality, I just don't see how it can pass as sufficient for salvation under strictly Christian terms.

For my part, I want to be clear that I agree with you wholeheartedly, but in so doing reject Christian theology as a requirement for spiritual vitality. I think there are many people in many situations that could not adequately demonstrate a level of consciousness necessary for salvation under Lewis' (or any strictly biblical) framework. I suppose that's just a matter of belief that cannot be proven either way. One can always choose to imagine choices where there was no conscious effort, or see subconscious choices as lacking conscious effort.

I was (probably because of my own past) distracted by the biblical references in the discussion. I've likely read too much into your essay, overreacting to the thought of original sin as a starting point requiring some sort of spiritual cleansing under a christian banner in order for one to be "saved." That's a wholly offensive framework central to christian theology that I misguidedly attempted to address.

Thanks for being a thinker with the courage to throw your ideas into the open, and share in a discussion of this sort. I think that's the sort of thing that redeems humanity as a whole.

C W Seper said...

Yeah, that's cool with me. I liked what James said: "Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world." You take that and put it together with what MacDonald said about sweeping a room, making an apology, or paying a debt etc, and I think you have something that's much closer to what God is after than all other Christian creeds and doctrines combined. Real religion is real simple. Church leaders have just perverted the hell out of it.

You've inspired me Matt. Thanks bro.