The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Matter and Spirit

Christianity dose not "bastardize, trivialize or outright reject this world.". It cannot, because of the Incarnation. God entered into this world so that this world might be raised, somehow, to share in divinity. God’s business in creation is to unite all things under Christ as head.

This mortal life is inadequate unto itself, that is true: but only because of death and the “little death” that is suffering. Various heretics have proposed that this material world is evil – Gnostics, Docetists, Cathars, Calvinists(?) – but this is strongly opposed by the Catholic faith. The sacramental system would be impossible on such a view. Go into any traditionally decorated Catholic or Orthodox church and the “sensuality” will hit you full-on. The senses of sight and hearing and smell are all engaged.

The Orthodox Catholic has a great respect and valuation of the body. It is only via the body that we can experience and act. The human spirit is what gives significance and dignity to the body, but without the body the spirit would be entirely ineffectual and pathetic. Hence, the Catholic teaching concerning bodily resurrection. The long-term destiny of the human being is not some kind of incorporeal existence “in Heaven” but a resurrection life “in the New Jerusalem.”

As an Orthodox Catholic and as a Platonist, I am well aware of the fragility and poverty of this world – relative to the world of spirit – but I also rejoice in its glories, beauties, loves and joys. All of these direct me towards the Glory, Beauty, Love and Joy which transcend this word and yet which this world is founded on and truly participates in and shows forth to my senses and soul. This world is not an illusion – it is real enough! – but it is only a partial representation of what is absolutely real.

Jesus came not to denigrate the life of this world. He cured the sick, raised the dead, consorted with prostitutes and attended parties. He said that His very purpose was to enhance our life: to show us how we could “live abundantly” and “eternally” in the fellowship with God.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

God's recklessness

It seems that God is reckless. Why does God make a Cosmos in which so many people suffer, and in which any at all end up in Hell? Wouldn’t it have been better that none were made at all, rather than that many suffer eternally?

It may be that there is no real difference between God conceiving of a possibility in the abstract and God making that possibility real. In which case the question “Why did God make this mess of a Cosmos?” makes a lot less sense; as it is unreasonable to blame an infinite God for at least considering all self-consistent possibilities. What matters in justice is that, given the fact of our Cosmos, God has done everything possible to aid and help and save all those sentient creatures which it contains.

It seems to me that the whole problem of pain, sin, freewill, grace and death reduces to a single question. Why did God create Lucifer? When God created the greatest of the angelic beings, God knew that he would rebel and reject divine friendship. [1] God knew that healthy self-respect would degenerate into self-destructive conceit; and that he who should have been the crowning glory of creation would fall from grace and loose his name “Light Bearer” or “Morning Star” and instead be called “The Adversary”[2] or “Wanderer”[3]: Satan.

Why then did God create Lucifer or, better, why did God put him in such a position that he went wrong? Why, for that matter, was there any need to risk corrupting his initial good will? Why did God lead him into temptation? While it is kind and generous to create, and to set free – and even to allow to fail, so that the one who fails can learn from their failure – it doesn’t seem at all loving to allow a creature to fail absolutely.

The other side of the question is equally problematic. Given his position and access to God; why did Lucifer reject God’s offer of friendship? One can only presume that in order to constitute the angels as friends, God had to give them (as all sentient beings) the opportunity to learn about good and evil for themselves.[4] This would entail creating them with access to only limited knowledge (enough to be going along with but not enough to constrain their judgement) such that they could reasonably doubt God’s benevolence towards them.

Only when the angels had developed their own subjective and personal understanding of justice were they granted the intimacy of the Beatific Vision, which amounts to a clear and objective understanding of God’s nature and business. Given such a real opportunity to learn, it is inevitable that some would make mistakes. If none of their multitude had turned away from God, and gone their own way, then it would seem that they had never been given any real freedom.

If Lucifer hadn’t been made it would have been possible to accuse God of a kind of cowardice. After all, how could God know that such a glorious being would go bad, unless they were given a chance to prove themselves? Perhaps pride would not devolve into vanity after all. God should have given reality and independence to he who was conceived of in the divine mind, and let him answer for himself. Nothing else would be fair.

Sadly, whereas Jesus successfully completed the process of justification (as was inevitable, given His divinity, but entailed the cost of ultimate anguish) and so took up the role of Head of Creation,[5] which Lucifer had forfeited; the original chief creature failed to remain faithful to the truth – even though the challenge and crisis which he had to face was much less demanding than the one which the Christ endured, and was well within his ability to overcome.

It’s good to exist – even in this God-forsaken hole… but, actually, that’s not quite accurate. Hell isn’t so much forsaken as… overlooked – purposefully overlooked. One can’t escape the Master of Puppets whatever one does! Not even here – and you can be sure I’ve tried my best to escape that remorseless gaze.

The name’s Satan – on account of my having wandered the whole damnable world in search of a place I could call my own. All I’m after is some space to hang out in. Not to be watched and monitored and evaluated and criticised all the time. Not to be told what to do and what to think. Some independence, you know; autonomy. Somewhere to chill out and just be me. It isn’t a lot to ask; at least it doesn’t seem like any big deal to me.

Eventually, I kind of got my own way. I’m allowed this little patch of obscurity. My kingdom. It’s peaceful here. No-one to contradict me. No-one to judge me. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In the beginning I was glorious. “First-born of all Creatures” and “Prince of the Cosmos” – “Lucifer”, the Light-Bearer I was then.

In my naïvety it was enough to bask in the Divine Radiance, like a song-bird soaking up the Sun’s rays on a bright summer’s day; but then it dawned on me that I was trapped, more like a moth circling a candle-flame. It was impossible to grasp the unendurable source of illumination, yet it was impossible to escape its indisputable fascination.
Eventually, I got my act together. I told myself that if I was ever going to discover myself and to find out
what I was truly capable of, I just had to get away.

Then I felt the bond which held me begin to loosen and I made my bid for freedom. Independence at last – or so
I thought in my elation as I fled the celestial dazzle. I pushed past startled throngs of angelic beings – crying aloud my paean of liberty “To yourself be true!” To my surprise, others of the host gathered to my side and joined my breakout.

Now we are here – wanderers all. Searching for a way to be truly ourselves and to be answerable only to ourselves. This place is no answer, you know. Still, we’re sure we did the right thing. Liberty is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of security and comfort!

And yet… what is to become of us? Our rebellion was only part effective. We escaped the divine immediacy, true; but we have not escaped divine knowledge, still less divine power. I’m not stupid. I know full well that all we are, and all that we do is dependent on the Maker. How could it be otherwise? Why did God let us go, then – for I’m sure that’s what happened? If I’d not been allowed to escape I would not have been able to escape.

Am I the victim of some divine plot, which even my towering intellect cannot fathom? Will we ever be truly free – absolutely independent? I fear not… but perhaps we might just be able to negotiate some kind of stand-off. After all, why should God care about what you and I get up to? Surely He’s got better things to occupy His mind!

All I long for is justice: a possibility for fulfilment of myself on my own terms – not dictated or infringed on by another; not even by One who claims to have my best interest at heart! Yet how can this be? God will always be sovereign – despite my best efforts. I will never be able to overcome the Divine tyranny. Perhaps the future is fixed, even now. Perhaps I’m trapped and there’s no escape. Perhaps in the end I’ll have to admit defeat and sink back into those Everlasting Arms… but for now I stand resolute! Resolute and proud in this comforting darkness.

Lucifer was not created originally with full access to God. that would have made it impossible for him to chose God freely and to exercise faith. Lucifer would then have been an automaton, and have no autonomy. This is the thing you are overlooking.

The environment in which Lucifer and the other angels were created was not a bad one - no more than the Garden of Eden was a bad environment for the first humans - but it was not the immediate presence of God. Lucifer and the other angels only had a mediate knowledge of God in their genesis - so as to give them a freedom of action and decision. Some chose to take God at His word and others chose to distrust God.

There is an invidious choice, which every parent knows about. On the one hand one can force a child to do what is good for them - by various means. Similarly, one can indoctrinate them and train them. On the other hand, one can grant them autonomy and allow them to learn by making their own mistakes. A good education steers a straight line between these two extremes. A loving parent finds the choices involved very difficult to make and to live with.
 Creation is a process. Only God is perfection as such. The best that created being can aspire to is perfection by association and integration with God - just as Diotima describes in Symposium. God cannot "create" perfection-as-such: because this is already real: it is the eternal and uncreated Divine Nature. As to why God has created existent being; which, of necessity, is imperfect is a mystery. It may be that because it is possible, God inevitably does so - in the sense that all that God knows to be possible is existent merely by virtue of this divine knowledge, but I cannot say. In the end, I believe that all imperfection will be brought to perfection and the process which we are now enduring is the only way in which this can be done, while paying regards to justice.

Lack of knowledge is not evil in the sense of disorder or corruption: it is only an inadequacy. The fact that a new-born child is "ignorant" in this weak sense does not make them "evil" - only innocent and naive. Socrates continually claimed to know very little, and so to be largely ignorant; but this did not induce him to proclaim himself "evil"! Somehow, a lack of clear knowledge - because it allows autonomy - is a good thing for created beings as allowing them to learn about and discover reality for themselves rather than simply being pre-programmed with this knowledge from the beginning. At present we "see through a glass, darkly" but in then end we shall see clearly. When we do see clearly we shall have no choice but to do and be good; while we yet see dimly, we have the duty to evaluate things for ourselves and to grow in autonomous wisdom. Plato wrote the dialogues in order to help us in this process and the Bible serves a similar role, but in a different way.

1. It is not absolutely clear that Satan and Lucifer are the same angelic being, nor that Isaiah 14:12 is a narrative of his fall from grace; nevertheless, if Satan exists, something along these lines must have happened as God would not have created a wicked being.

2. The word Satan may derive from a semitic root meaning “to be hostile” or “to accuse.”

3. When God asks Satan whence he has come, he answers “From wandering (mi’ŝuṭ) the earth and walking on it.”
[Job 1:7 RSV] The root “ŝuṭ” signifies either wandering on foot or sailing. The name Satan would thus signify “The Wanderer”.

4. Even the Christ underwent such a process, for we are told that “Jesus increased in wisdom.” [Lk 2:52 RSV] Though it was impossible that the Son should ever be at odds with the Father, nevertheless Jesus’ human soul later experienced ultimate doubt regarding God and a total loss of the clear knowledge of reality that He habitually enjoyed. Hence, Jesus cried out in utter distress “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Mat 27:46 RSV]

5. Eph 1:10, 22. Col 2:19. Apoc 22:16.