Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:

Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. For the severest punishment God ever lays on us is to let us have what we want.

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).