Sunday, December 18, 2011
TERRY EAGLETON 6
I continue to share thoughts here about Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.*
Since my last Eagleton Post Christopher Hitchens, one of the triad of ‘New Atheist’ writers comprised of Daniel Dennet, Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, has died. I shall continue to use Eagleton’s handy though lightly facetious term “Ditchkins” to refer to the triad’s common thought; it’s excellent short-hand.
Eagleton notes (p.39) that “the advanced capitalist system is inherently atheistic”. This is an acute insight, and should cause Americans a great deal of serious and urgent thought. He’s making a verrrry interesting point.
There is a sense in which the actual operating dynamics of many of modern humanity’s cultural or economic or political structures are – even without intending or considering themselves to be so – anti-Beyond.
That is to say, they require humans to focus their energies, and even hopes and dreams, largely on the Mono-Plane, on this PoE.** They require humans to focus and invest all of their energies on their own working on the Mono-Plane. (You may want to read Note ** now before you proceed, just to clarify my terminology.)
Which means that these dynamics almost inevitably tend to seek to swallow up human energies like black-holes in deep space swallow up light. These dynamics are ‘jealous’ and ‘demand’ that they be given complete attention; simultaneously seeking to reduce any ‘distractions’ by human investment in the dynamics of the Meta-Plane and the Multi-Plane.
Nor do the dynamics of ‘this world’ (as Scripture would put it) seek to be ‘under the judgment’ of those Higher PoE’s. They gravitate away from being judged according to their relevance or irrelevance, helpfulness or harmfulness, to the Core Purpose of a humanity made in the Image of God. The dynamics of ‘this world’ seek to avoid any ‘regulation’, seek to operate in a de-regulated or unregulated way, free of the constraints and bounds imposed by the Larger Purpose of the Meta-Plane, of – that is to say – God’s loving, Providential, and (incredibly dynamically active) Grace-full Plan for the genuine (Echt, as the Germans say) fulfillment of the life and being of the humans and the humanity Shaped in His Image.
The horses of this world – as it were – require a very attentive and competent human charioteer or they are going to run away with the wagon altogether (and you wind up in a ditch or over a cliff). It is to help in the charioteering that both Grace and the previously-departed continue to ‘ascend and descend’, interacting to help us still-physically alive human charioteers trying to keep our horses – personal and structural – from taking us off the Road.
So then, the New Atheism is primarily seeking to eliminate any human investment in the Multi-Plane and seeks – although it tries to put an upbeat optimistic spin on it – to Flatten humanity and humans, stuffing and squashing them into an existence consisting of only the Mono-Plane.
And you can see why governments in the Modern and Post-modern era find a certain and definite usefulness to Atheism in its New variant: governments have a nasty tendency to not-want to live under the judgment of any Higher Plane or Power – they want complete and un-regulated authority to do whatever they think best and will tolerate no objections or ‘rival’ authority.
My objection to Atheism, New or otherwise, is that I can’t accept its grossly limited (and I believe inaccurate) vision of what Reality consists of, with all of the consequences to human individual and communal life that goes along with such a Flattened and inaccurate vision.
And any effort – no matter how blusterously strident or pleasantly kewt – to ‘re-frame’ what is essentially and profoundly an enslaving Flattening and reduction of human existence to the basal Mono-Plane is nothing but trying to put lipstick on a pig. And not just a barnyard bacon-bearing cuddly pink pig, but rather a rather nasty, feral, and lethally powerful wild warthog. And that's actually Warthog with the capital 'W'.
You can see where ‘religion’ – meaning the institutionally organized human effort to preserve and maintain the Great Vision of humanity and of existence, smoothing out the kinks in the Circuit of God’s energetic Grace in the still-unfulfilled Mono-Plane – is not really for kiddies. This is an adult’s work, and a vital, urgent Work it is.
In a very real sense humans are thus charioteers and bullfighters (except the bull is this Warthog I’ve been talking about). Again, this is not for kiddies. But then again – and this runs counter to the basic inertia of the Nanny State – human life is not designed to be lived to fulfillment by kiddies; adulthood is a vital requirement, toward which marvelous but strenuous challenge all childhood development and nurture should be unfailingly and unflinchingly directed.
(And perhaps, now that Americans are coming to see that the national Ship is going to have to put out to sea again and face the treacherous and monstrous waves of raw History – say goodbye to the 1950s and even 1999 and all that – then as the blinding and blingy glow of the past few decades fades ever more quickly, we shall be able to perceive more clearly just how vital maturity is and always has been. Time to take Maturity off the blocks in the national garage to which secularism and the Correctness of both the National Nanny State and the National Security State had consigned it. Time for “a new birth of freedom” – maturely and accurately conceived – and a Merry Christmas to you too!)
So then Eagleton rightly bells the cat as he classifies New Ageism as simply one more Romantic, sentimental, mushy and un-Grounded effort to put lipstick on the Warthog and somehow try to make it cuddly-kewt and tame.
(The happy-face logo so emblematic of the 1970s is not going to be able to bear the weight of the challenges of “strenuous liberty” – to use a 17th century English phrase – in the times ahead. A simple burbly ‘optimism’ isn’t going to get you very far on its own; as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said – and Ronald Reagan didn’t want to hear it – ‘once you have gotten on the wrong train and it’s moving at speed, walking backwards through the cars isn’t going to help much’.)
Western Romanticism, developed in the very late 18th century and flourishing in the early 19th century, sought to recover the shadowy and emotional ‘mystery’ and ‘otherness’ of human existence, which the bright, confident, piercing light of the Enlightenment’s excitements over a controlling human Reason had discarded.
But the Romantics also didn’t want to simply go back to the early 17th and 16th century Calvinism or of ‘organized religion’ generally. The Romantics therefore limited themselves to finding ‘mystery’ merely on the Mono-Plane, and any ‘beyond’ was limited to kiddie nightmares of dark, evil, shadowy forces beyond any human (or divine) ken or control.***
More efforts to put lipstick on the Warthog.
The Romantics sought to avoid ‘organized religion’ by getting rid of the Meta-Plane, but wound up instead emphasizing some Evil PoE, some ‘Meta anti-Plane’ where Evil dwelled and could come crashing or slithering into this PoE pretty much at will and raise hell.
Eagleton nicely mentions Marx (p.40), who sensed that somehow humans had this stubborn tendency to seek ‘mystery’, to find “some heart in a heartless world, some soul in a soulless reality”.
But Marx – a Mono-Planar guy from the get-go – ascribed this to a human weakness, to a human retreat from what he saw as the harsh realities of an urbanized, industrialized world where the only solution would be to take some practical action against the structures of this-worldly economic and political power. Which wasn’t a bad idea, but in disallowing the Meta-Plane as anything except the symptom of human weakness and fear and the desire to escape (rather than wrestle with) harsh and hard reality, Marx still wound up Flattening the human ‘world’. And then Lenin and Stalin and Mao (from the Left) and Hitler and Mussolini (from the Right) put the power of modern government behind that vision and that plan and you see where that all led.
The idea that humans stubbornly seek a Beyond because they are responding to the Image of God built into them by God … that wasn’t a possibility that Marx would consider. Like Scrooge confronted by Marley’s ghost, the Beyond was merely “an undigested bit of beef” or whatevvvverrrr. Yah.
(You can almost consider the human soul as something like a Good version of Tolkien’s evil Ring of Power: constantly trying to make its way back to its Source.)
For Marx religion merely reflected “the sigh of the oppressed creature”. But the solution to that “oppression” was only to be had in vigorous action in the political and economic realms, thus on the Mono-Plane. That eliminating the Meta-Plane and disallowing that humans might be made in the Image of a God Who sought to support and sustain and bring that Image to fulfillment … that eliminating that bit of Reality might create a profound and lethal “oppression” all by itself, did not occur to Marx as it does not occur to later Atheists who are also seduced by the Mono-Plane.
Better, Marx thought, for people to just get angry and start kicking butt and taking names. Better even than that, his erstwhile disciple Lenin thought, was for those ‘vanguard elites’ who actually saw the problem clearly to take over a government and force people to realize this. Since, Lenin thought, most people are sheep and are never going to ‘get it’ on their own; they need to be led – and if that means killing a whole bunch to encourage the others, well it’s all in a good Cause, said Lenin to himself one day. After all, you have to break eggs to make an omelette, don’t you?
Such penetrating and incisive analysis.
Get rid of the distracting illusions of religion, Marx thought, and thus enable people to focus on what they really might do against economic and political “oppression”, which – as I said – was the only and worstest form of oppression he could imagine. Lenin simply erected that thought into a Plan enforced by all the violence and terror which modern government could inflict.
And here we are.
Well, I’ll leave you with that much more of Eagleton for your contemplation.
As I’ve been saying in other Posts on this site recently, one of the watershed developments of recent American history (and it will be clear to future historians, even if it is not discussed by mainstream commentary now) is the importation of Leninist-Maoist thought and praxis, the Content of the vision and the Method by which it must be imposed, into this country when the Beltway embraced the Leninist/Maoist-based vision starting in the late 1960s (imported by radical-feminists as if it were all brand new and ‘cutting edge’ and embraced by the vote-hungry Beltway pols and the status-hungry Beltway elites).The Leninist-Maoist vision was bound to create a Leninist-Maoist universe, but somehow the Beltway and the various ‘cutting edge’ thinkers advocating this and that either a) seemed to think they could somehow ‘control’ Leninist-Maoist dynamics; or else b) figured that they could ‘baptize’ Leninist-Maoist dynamics with ‘democracy’ so that it would all lead to something different and/or better; or else c) quietly decided that the Leninist-Maoist dynamics were worth the price of introducing so fundamentally anti-Constitutional and anti-democratic a set of dynamics into this country and imposing that vision on everybody.
And that’s why after 235 years now, it seems like the American Framing Vision doesn’t seem to be working well at all anymore – and perhaps hasn’t been for the past 40 or so years.
The genuine American Framing Vision hasn’t been working well recently because – although nobody in elite authority wants to admit it now – it has been continuously disconnected and replaced with Leninist-Maoist thought, vision, and praxis for all that time.
And that treacherous deconstruction has – in a hellish symmetry – served the purposes of both the putatively ‘liberal’ National Nanny State and the putatively ‘conservative’ National Security State.
So the country is faced – funny how the night moves! – with a multiplanar problem: it is 1) infected (and with government collusion) by Leninist-Maoist thought and praxis, while 2) most of the Citizenry don’t even realize that because it’s all been spun as either ‘patriotism’ or ‘reform’.
Now, in this Christmas season, we are faced with the stunning (but hardly surprising) fact that the President who was elected as the supreme triumph of American ‘liberalism’ is going to sign into law the authorization for the President to use the military domestically to round up anybody the President deigns to designate as somehow a ‘terrorist’ (which, in the words of the repugnant Senator Lindsey Graham, is defined with chilling clarity as “doing anything against America”).
This is all – in terms of what I am primarily speaking about in this Post – rather remarkable, and perhaps even Providential. Americans themselves can now share a bit in what God must feel like, seeing the Genuine Vision betrayed by self-satisfied but deluded humans “dresst in a little brief authority” (as Shakespeare puts it).
This can be food for profound spiritual contemplation, not simply ‘religious’ but ‘political’.
In fact, perhaps I can borrow a trope from Marx and Lenin (and their radical-feminist roadies): The spiritual is political.
Contemplate well and deeply.
But waste no time. There is not so much of it as there was before.
*New London: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-15179-4
**Since it’s been several weeks, let me quickly refresh a couple of my own terms and the concepts underlying them.
Reality, in the classical Christian view, is Multi-Planar: there are several ‘planes’ that comprise Reality for humans, rising like Vulcan chessboards stacked one over the other. The bottom or base Plane of Existence (PoE) is the physical, material world we perceive with our five senses.
Then there is a Meta-Plane, a PoE where the ‘Meta’ (Greek for ‘Beyond’) is centered. On this PoE, there are non-material, non-physical forces; in the Christian view, this is the ‘heavenly realm’ and here dwells God as classical Christianity sees Him: omnipotent, omniscient, yet benevolent toward His Creation, especially human beings, who have been made in His Image.
While there are operating rules which apply to the material realities of the Mono-Plane (necessary to provide some sort of regularity and predictability to human existence), yet God’s love or Grace (the energy of His love) suffuse and interpenetrate the Mono-Plane.
There is also an intermediate PoE (I like to think) wherein dwell the spirits of humans who have already ‘died’, and who have yet chosen (given the choice by God) to remain close to the Mono-Plane to support the lives and efforts of the humans still physically alive. Under rules of ‘intervention’ set by God to preserve the integrity of living humans’ freedom, these ‘departed souls’ can also influence activities on the Mono-Plane.
Thus there is a Triadic Communion, a circuit of energy, based on God yet comprising also the necessary points of the still-physically enfleshed human soul and the souls of those humans who have physically died but seek to remain close to the Mono-Plane out of care and concern. This creates a remarkable circuit of spiritual energy.
And thus also the human being still physically alive ‘participates’ in this circuit in two way. One way is by developing his/her own interior competence through overcoming ‘inferior’ elements of the Self and thus approaching God through the interior path of self-mastery, continually conforming oneself closer and closer to that Image in which s/he is made.
The other way is by reaching out willingly and deliberately with one’s gifts and the skills resulting from that (life-long) ‘conformational’ project into the material and physical world of the Mono-Plane, seeking to help other humans and share in the common human task of bringing life on the Mono-Plane a bit closer to the fullness of the Multi-Plane and Meta-Plane life.
This, in the classical Christian Vision, is the Large and Ultimate and Foundational Reality of human existence, and thus the Core and Foundational Purpose of human beings.
All else is subsumed under that Ultimate Purpose. And all else is subject to the ‘judgment’ as to whether it is relevant to and conformable with the essential Integrity and Purpose of the human who is made in God’s Image and whose Purpose is to participate ever more fully in God’s energy-filled life of Grace.
There is also, alas, the reality of Original Sinfulness: to preserve human freedom, the human Will must be free to reject the path of its own Core Image and Purpose. (These aircraft, brother and sister pilots, can tend to get away from you if you don’t pay attention to operating them properly!)
Enough of that has been going on and continues to go on here on the Mono-Plane so that the tightly interwoven and interdependent and interacting nature of human life as it plays out on the Mono-Plane have become damaged or deranged. The derangement causes all sorts of malfunctions and hurts, and not necessarily to those who are the most deranged; there are plenty of physically-alive human beings who are ‘innocent bystanders’ or ‘collateral damage’ in the mis-, mal-, and non-feasance of other physically-alive human beings or even of now-departed human beings whose selfish screw-ups still continue to echo – like bad notes played in a symphony – on the Mono-Plane.
THIS is the great 24/7-365 drama of human existence in the Multi-Planar, Christian Vision (and how anybody can claim actual boredom or lack of interest in life and living is, frankly, beyond me).
I’ll also add that this Vision is at this point in human history most comprehensively retained (if imperfectly implemented) by the Catholic Church.
***Although among others, Shelley’s “Frankenstein” did a nice job of making some sort of philosophical statement about what happens when human reason cuts loose from any Higher regulation and tries to do what God does. And American authors such as Hawthorne and Melville made their own powerful points as to the complexity and chiaroscuro of human motivation.
But you can see the result of the general Romantic thrust even today in the many horror movies on TV or in the theaters, where demons and malignant forces seem to run rampant and there is no God, no Good-Beyond as it were – that seems to have any ability to help. Although there are still films that pit God against Evil: Stellan Skarsgaard’s ‘Father Merrin’ and Anthony Hopkins’s recent portrayal of a crotchety old Roman priest-exorcist breaking in a Flattend, psychiatry-soused younger American priest still keep the flame alive. (Skarsgaard’s two films are “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” and “Exorcist: The Beginning”; Hopkins’s film is “The Rite”.)