Monday, September 21, 2009

Book excerpt to help understand human nature

The more prosperous people become and the more society controls all of their sources of information, the more people become both inhumane and un-human. Basically, in the past several decades people have done more to lose their basic humanity and humane-ness than at any point in their history. Worse, the past several decades were a total reversal of the trend line, which had been toward increased humanity and self awareness. This ought to be terrifying to anyone who gives a damn at all.

It's a bit of a paradox, the problem of increased prosperity. By prosperity I do not necessarily mean being middle class or rich, but I mean that life is, by definition, no longer a daily struggle just to survive and to subsist. I'm not making this up (this is what you used to learn in history classes, dear young people ;-) Human life can be characterized as "subsistence," which is defined as barely making the necessary gatherings of food, water, shelter and fuel in order to survive and to, hopefully, support one's family, or as "prosperous," which means that you have excess or surplus than what you and your family need to just survive. I write about this somewhat in my understanding capitalism series. So the corn farmer who grows just enough to feed and shelter himself and his family is "subsistence," while the corn farmer who grows extra to sell in the market for optional or "betterment" activities is a basic capitalist and "prosperous," comparatively speaking.

Here is the paradox, and it is obvious to any student of human nature and also any student of the Bible. The subsistence man, woman or child is not allowed much delusion about the nature of human beings. Subsistence is the ultimate "reality show." The subsistence person is hypersensitive, in a good way, to reality. They can look at the crop seeds in their hand, look at the land, watch the weather, and have a very good idea how reality will turn out... will they grow enough and in time to survive, or face privation.

A person with surplus, with that extra produce or production, allowing them relative "prosperity" is able to imagine more, and is thus instantly more vulnerable to becoming increasingly detached from reality. Just to cut to the chase, a person who is prosperous has too much time on his or her hands to guarantee continued contact with reality, because now they can imagine that they are someone they are not, that life "works" in ways that is different than it really does, that they can make dog doodoo up in their minds and writing it down call it fiction, and mislead others, and become self-congratulatory at their own "success" while others suffer (and then imagine bogus reasons for doing so).

So why have humans become, until recently, increasingly humane and understanding their own humanity, even as they became prosperous? Because, until recently, they held tightly to their ultimate reality, as revealed in the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an. In those books centuries of believers recorded the faith history as they interacted with the one true God. When one studies the true Word of God, who made not only humans, but all that exists in the universe and "beyond," one has an accurate view of humanity's reality, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and also the many pitfalls of their imperfection and brokenness. So until the past several decades as the Gospel and the Qur'an spread, many more people had the benefit of hoping for increased prosperity while at the same time remaining firmly rooted in reality. With the rise of so called "New Age" "beliefs, the usual cyclical interest in Satan and "witchcraft," the heavy use of mind altering substances coupled with defiant attitude toward even beneficial authority, "for pay" "religion" and "salvation," the rise of atheism and vampire "chic,"and the incredibly arrogant belief of "caste" systems, for lack of a better word, of the "enlightened" and the "not so spiritual," many people (and I know that most of the world "decision makers") have totally lost touch with reality, and have led many millions behind them into that ultimate dead end.

With this concern in mind I read a passage in a book written by our current Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, written when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy," is about the format and spiritual rationale for the format of worship of God in the Catholic Church known as the Mass. In this book the former Cardinal Ratzinger helps the reader to understand the spirit of the Mass, and thus its history and foundation. Here is the excerpt, where PB16 is analyzing why the Chosen People, the Israelites who have just escaped slavery in Egypt, through Moses and God's personal intervention, could seem to hardly be able to wait to "cheat on God" (my wording) and be unfaithful to God even as God is meeting with Moses to give to him guidance and the Law. I've written about this before, to help my readers to better understand scripture. But here I was impressed at how I can share this excerpt with you to better understand the danger of human nature that I have just described above, and that is now causing the ruination of all that is good and genuinely authentic about humans and humanity.

In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of "what you please." Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (strictly speaking, "bull calf"). The cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God to idolatry. This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes. First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. [My note: and talk about being spoiled! These dummies actually saw God in his cloud form when he met with Moses, to say nothing to have witnessed all of the miracles of Moses, such as the parting of the sea. Sheesh. The Pope is being kind!] They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one's own world. He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.

This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generating cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one's own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.

(Ratzinger, 200, p 22-23).