Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Two Wisdoms

If you read scripture, you start to notice something lacking in modern Christianity, especially in our Catholic homilies.  You notice that our Faith is no longer radical.  It no longer gets to the root of the problem.  Here's one example of radical Faith from the epistle of James ...

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.
My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. (James 3:7-12)

What we do, says James, flows from who we are.  We can no more do good things, or even say good things, if we ourselves are not good at the root.  

New life in Christ, which begins in us through Baptism, is an ontological change.  It is a death to our old selves and a birth to our new selves, remade in Christ.  From that point on, all that we do must be the fruit of the Spirit, the work of God within us, a work with which we willingly cooperate and bear forth.  Our fountains must stop sending forth bitter water - for the source of our fountains is no longer bitter, no longer deadly and sinful; the source of what springs forth is now life and light.  We become the branches grafted on to His vine (see John 15:5), and the fruit we bear are the good works our new natures generate within us, for "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

But if we are false Christians (as all of us are, to one degree or another), our vines bear figs, and the works we do reveal our true unsanctified nature - until we mortify what is dying and death-ward in us, and until we allow the grace of God to remake us.

This all sounds wonderful, but it's all very painful, for it necessarily entails the cross, dying to selfishness so that we might live to love.  Maybe this is why we don't hear the message of radical conversion or ontological change preached - since the cross is secretly despised.  Or maybe most Catholics are simply Inconsequentialists and can't even imagine a connection between Being and Acting, between Identity and Daily Living.  We have become so Unreal in our modern world that we have a persistent tendency to believe that what-we-are and what-we-do are always and everywhere separate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And that is the radical challenge of life itself.

But what interests me is not so much the fact that this central message of ontological change is ignored, even in the Catholic Church which guards it, but how the fact of this change plays out psychologically and practically in our lives.

James continues ...

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. [in other words, you must be wise within in order to do wise things without; however James quickly points out that there are two types of "wisdom"] But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.  Such wisdom does not come down from above, [James now goes on to describe "such wisdom", the first kind of wisdom, the wisdom that "does not come down from above"] but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.  [He now begins to describe the characteristics of the other wisdom, the wisdom that does indeed "come down from above"] But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17)

If you'd like an example of the first kind of wisdom, of wisdom that is "earthly, unspiritual, devilish", producing "disorder and wickedness of every kind", look no further than Facebook - and not the Facebook in which people share photos and keep in touch with their friends; the Facebook where people argue and discuss issues and ideologies.   Eric Voegelin, following Plato, makes a distinction between dialectics, which is argumentation, discussion and investigation that seeks to discover Truth; and eristics, which is arguing to win, discussing to defeat your opponent or to defend your ideology, using the intellect to acquire and shore up power, and not to seek and discover Truth.  Eristics are the tactics of Pride; Dialectics are the tools of Humility. The one seeks to turn Truth (and God) into a tool for human use; the other seeks Truth (and God) humbly, to wonder at it and to worship it.

The Wisdom that dialectics seeks is "from above".  The worldly wisdom of eristics shows its radically different source by springing forth at its fountain the "bitter water" of "envy and selfish ambition" (i.e, the kind of attitude in comboxes, especially on Facebook, which can only be described at "gnarly").

This has been the main lesson I have learned from the internet.  Most people do not argue in good faith.  Most Catholics will sacrifice their Faith to their ideology in a heartbeat.  That's because Faith is from above; but ideology is not.  Ideology is from below: worldly, concerned with power, pride and control.  At the heart of all this Unreality I talk about on this blog is this same worldly wisdom, the wisdom from below, the eristic lust for power and control.  Such a dark and selfish lust is behind even those dreadful and cloying pop songs that we are forced to listen to at Mass.  We don't want to live in a fiction that's sweet and harmless; we want to live in a fiction that gives us the illusion of power and domination, no matter how sweet and harmless our airy separation from reality may seem to be.

Even the contrived and weird artificiality of the Devout Catholic dating world and Pop-Chastity movement has a darker design than is first apparent.  It seeks to kill and strangle Eros, for Eros prevents us from reigning like petty tyrants, keeps us from doing what we want to do: manipulate, emasculate and imprison the most important thing in our lives, which is love.


Now, obviously I'm not simply pointing the finger at others.  I attempt to articulate these things because I am victimized by them so often, since I pour forth plenty of "bitter water" from the source of my unsanctified spring, sinner that I am.

But I have noticed, as perhaps have you, that there are odd times when I do the right thing, not in order to win or to dominate or to control, but out of a sense of peace, out of an unworldly wisdom, a wisdom that is not of my own making, a wisdom that is first of all "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy."

I don't typically act this way, as I am more habitually sinful than virtuous.  But sometimes I do.

Maybe sometimes you do, too.

When you do, recognize the difference.  Recognize that the purity and willingness to yield that sometimes motivates you is utterly different from the eristic drive to power and strife, which more typically motivates all of us.

The one is from above.  The other is not.

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