Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, December 24, 2010

pealed the bells more loud and deep

Useless, and worse, wicked, to say "Peace, Peace," when there is no peace. With all my heart I believe this.

And with all my heart I believe the call has gone out from heaven's mouth: Peace on earth.

I did not always believe this and even now I do not find it easy to keep faith with it. Compared to so many, my life has been like a warm bath; and yet even I have learned enough of how the world can veer wildly and without warning into irreparable loss to know that there are griefs for which it is sacrilege to offer consolation. I tremble to think of it.

There are those I know and those I love for whom even the kindest-meant wishes of peace and expressions of faith in it (to say nothing of the cringe-making pseudo-cheer of cheap smiles and saccharine carols) are shallow at best and bitter mockery at worst. Some have been deeply hurt by what they know of Christianity; some have had their hearts broken by life. How little good to tell them, "But you are just the one for whom He came. He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed." One can only mourn with those who mourn-- mourn without understanding, what we may never understand. Ruin reigns over the world, our own failures haunt us, and everything we love is fragile before the stupidity, chance, and evil that threatens it.

And yet. And yet loss is loss precisely because life is good; only what is good can be marred. This is what makes me sure that those are wrong who say (and I have said it) that it might well be better not to be.

But more than this-- and I cannot justify it, I can only say it and ask pardon for its inevitable untimeliness: though every blessed thing we love vanish, and though each of us will one day no longer be, yet All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well. This too I believe with all my heart, and if in anyone's pain they find it naive or irrelevant or insulting (and I can well imagine any of these), I can only ask; tell me if you can, if you have the patience, what hurt you, so I can try to put it next to this faith-- not to cancel either one out, not to presume to heal you, but only to ask how two such things can be in the world at once. We need not agree on the answer to this, but there could grow between us, at least, the beginnings of what we hope for.



  1. One wants to know the substance, if any, behind the comforting rhetoric in this post. What do you mean by "Peace on earth"? Why does it depend on a decree issued through "Heaven's mouth"? And what is the relevance of this decree to the actual or prospective victims of war? When will this decree materialize? Of what value is the promise of "peace on earth" to those living now if the decree will only be realized in the remote future?

  2. Lovely work, Skholiast. I think I am too much of a Buddhist to believe it myself. In the end, it seems to me, the righteous often do perish with nothing, while the wicked are rewarded; and this is no mere matter of free will, since diseases and natural disasters continue to cause more suffering than do human beings. (In the mid-20th century, I think, human beings briefly managed to outdo God in their ability to inflict human suffering. But that was not the case before that dark era, and is the case no longer. Now our chief tormentor is the same cruel nature that it had always been.)

    Nevertheless. In the midst of all that suffering and cruelty - this is where the need for consolation is the greatest. Inside of us, at least, there can be some small amount of peace on Earth, good will to men and women. The story of Jesus of Nazareth offered this peace to billions of people, and for that reason it is worth celebrating and rejoicing.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  3. Prudence, the exercise of intelligence which the so-called cruel nature has endowed us, must not be sacrificed on any religious altar of "righteousness". The main trouble with life-denying, vitality-sapping, and depression-inducing religions such as Christianity and Buddhism is that they ask us to abrogate and grossly violate the requirements of prudence essential to secure and protect the well-being of self, family, and other loved ones, in a dangerous world.
    We have the intelligence and the scientific and technological knowledge to avoid or escape many natural disasters. In addition to other pathologies, the pathology of believing that a "higher power" is taking care of us like a loving Father may well be contributing to a deadly complacency in the face of natural threats.

  4. I don't think it makes sense, on pain of anthropomorphism, to describe nature in terms of "cruel", or "benevolent", or "indifference" (to use Richard Dawkins' favored term of appraisal of nature).
    Cruelty, benevolence, or indifference are properly ascribed only to entities which have some form of consciousness, and, hence, purposive behavior. Only that which is capable of caring for the other is also capable of failing to care, i.e., cruelty or indifference.
    Since it makes no sense to ascribe consciousness, or a capacity for caring, to nature as a whole, it does not make sense to ascribe cruelty, benevolence, or indifference to nature as a whole.
    Contrary to Dawkins, I must reiterate that it does not make sense even to describe nature in terms of "indifference". That's a property properly ascribed only to entities capable of taking an interest in something!
    So, nature is just what it is, its processes or events are just what they are. On many occasions they are compatible with our interests, but this is not a case of their "benevolence" towards us. On many occasions they are incompatible with our interests, but this is not a case of their cruelty towards us.