by Joseph Natoli
Oct. 19, 2011
The Author finds himself in a Dark Wood
My dear Reader, I feared traveling during the day when I could be easily seen from above, from that floating Isle which could, I knew, espy, like a hawk, anything below and swoop down upon it instantly.
I had fallen onto a grassy plain and that night, thankfully moonlit as it was, I made my way to some hills that seemed not far away. I had with me the possessions of a prisoner: just the clothes on my back. I moved through the tall meadow fescue and the next day lay in it and slept.
The next morning, at the edge of the grass I found berries which I recognized as Autumn berry and crouched down I picked and ate like a frenzied creature, nervously looking up at the sky for any movement, nervously looking at the ground for any shadow cast from above.
When I reached the hills I moved through wooded ravines and along creek beds during the day, feasting on flowers, grasshoppers, nuts, berries, newts, frogs, and garter snakes. I vomited up more than I could keep down. Desperate, I made some attempt at creating a fire lighting spark with whatever I could find but I had no success. I tried to deceive my hunger by drinking water until I felt my stomach would burst but I could not work the rabbit’s foot for real hunger cannot so easily be distracted and all that I succeeded in doing was, one morning, drinking stagnant and not spring water, with disastrous result.
I will not put my dear Reader through the agonies of retching, fever, chills, diarrhea, and abdominal pains I suffered sprawled out in that rocky terrain. My fevered mind could not keep from trying to make sense of my cursed experiences on the Isle of Babel, and though some part of my awareness questioned the very sense of this fever sponsored appraisal, I could not stop it. It was as if my mind possessed a Celestial clarity which could not cease from casting its light upon whatever His Exalted High Fever could bring before it.
I should have lived happily on the Floating Island of Babel had its inhabitants but succumbed to the clarity of Reason that our Lord and Savior has gifted us. Unfortunately, this was not so and thus reason and good sense and a correct use of language ensuing from both were treated heretically and most shamefully as mere sock puppets.
Is it not preposterous to hold that humanity can share this same Earth and yet differ drastically as to what is there to be seen, even, dear Reader, question that it is our seeing that leads to our knowing, question our own eyes and our own ears?
If I put on a pair of spectacles the lens so ground as to confuse my vision I grant then that there will be dispute as to my talk and those of a man whose vision is clear and unfiltered. Absent such distortion we must all readily acquiesce to the observations and conclusions of reason. Assertions, as those on the Isle of Babel make, that our identities are indebted not to our personal will and choice but to the world, and further confound that with talk of `worldings,’ that are neither commensurable nor conceivable one by the other, must necessarily, and my dear Reader must agree, drive a man of good sense to a quick departure.
I concluded that had I not been unjustly and scandalously accused of regicide, had I not by some turn of the wheel of Fate or the detonation of yet another bomb, been miraculously expelled like Jonah from the belly of the whale, my own departure from the Isle was called for and imminent.
Determined as I was that my rejection of all that I had heard was just and appropriate, I yet found myself neither relieved nor refreshed by my mental travels but severely depressed. My fevered mind had promised to bring all to clarity, and perhaps it had in some small way, but the feeling that I had failed to see and hear what was there to see and hear, that I had traveled in my own mind no further than where I had begun, would not leave me.
At the apogee of my fever, I brought darkness to perfect transparency but saw that slide, like mud in a pounding storm, into no more than a man tarred in feathers on a rail, and a man in a cell block awaiting execution.
My travels had not begun well.
How long I remained in a state between death and life I do not know but a blessed time came when I felt the sun on my face and I had the strength to stand. I found myself a staff to lean upon and I walked, in a sad state of mind but yet not defeated. After many hours of slow walking and long rests and as the sun sank I was out of the hills on the edge of a dark wood, and finding a path I mustered all the spirit I could and walked into an almost impenetrable darkness.
I realized I had lost my path but where and when? All that came to mind and would not leave me were Dante’s lines:“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark for the straight forward pathway had been lost.”
It was then that I heard sounds, human voices, in the distance and I walked in that direction. I soon came upon a cluster of cottages in a small clearing, flickering lights at windows.
I knocked at the first door which was opened by a figure in a hooded shroud that reached the floor. I could not see his or her face but I quickly made my apologies and explained that I was a traveler who had lost his way. The sound of my own voice frightened me because I did not recognize it.
An invitation to enter was prompt and I found myself in a room of shadows wrought by a robust fire entombed within a stone fireplace that filled the far wall. After a good but humble meal of cereal and bread but no wine, I sat with my host who had thus far been a man of few words up until now when he proceeded to tell me what had brought him to this dark wood.
He had been seized by an unquenchable patriotism after a terrible attack on his country, had enlisted and fought in several far off places where he was wounded, but not seriously, in an IED attack. He returned home in the Fall of 2007 and began to suffer greatly in his mind to such a degree that he could not direct himself properly to his work. A medical decision had been made that his psychological problems were unrelated to his military service and so without employment and any medical relief, he had collapsed under what he called “a dark sun.”
It was within the warmless rays of that dark sun that he had decided to retreat to this place, where he had hoped to explore for the first time in his life the nature of this dark wood that surrounded him.
Dear Reader, because I was myself where my dispirited host was, because I myself had been bathed in the dark rays of that same dark sun, I could not linger and so next morning I took my leave, extending my warmest gratitude to my host and wishing him the relief the blessed sun gives to us all but mindful myself of Milton’s words that when the soul is dark no walk under the midday sun releases you from your own dungeon.
For the good part of that day I wandered further in the dark wood until I came to a poster on a tree announcing at the Church of Glad Day the “Spirited Talk of Glad Day! Come and Hear the Reverend Jeremiah Prophet Evoke the Message!”
To my total delight there was a map at the bottom of the poster leading to the congregation site. I followed it with only one or two missteps and by twilight I was entering along with others a steepled church without cross or other emblem of divinity.
I took a seat in a long pew in the rear as a stocky black man in colorful vestments climbed invisible stairs leading to a pulpit. He looked very glad indeed, and I set myself to hear his talk.
“Some call me Prophet Against Empire,” the Rev. Jeremiah Prophet began, his voice singing out so joyfully that I found myself, though seated in a back pew, instantly gladdened in spirit.
“I must certainly be on the `no-fly’ list in many lands today, but, my friends, I fly but I have no need of airplanes.
I must certainly be bound for one free flight to Guantanamo for `interrogation.’
Will I be warned in time to escape imprisonment?
Will the Angel of the Lord arrange my flight?
I must certainly be bound for a night in jail for civil disobedience as our brother Martin went to jail for his civil disobedience.
I tell you, brothers and sisters, I am bound
some day to pay for my antinomianism. Maybe I am a harmless madman, as free as anonymity and penury can make me.
Everyone who opens up a sacred book rewrites it. That’s a fact. Satan is the hero of most people’s lives. Why do I say this, brothers and sisters? Because their sacred book has been rewritten by them to make it so. Better, they say, to be rich and rule on Earth than wait to reap rewards in a grave that shows us no rewards.
When Satan is the hero of your life you reason against your neighbor in a game where you must win and he must lose. Good is what you do. Evil is what he does. We fire our imaginations to break through the confines of Nature.
Brothers and sisters, we need a miraculous jump away from all the so-called truths of our time. We need to spend our lifetime raging against them.
But –hearken — most miraculously, we must spend that same lifetime living as if none of the false stories of our world mean anything, as if what demeans and devalues us, what incites our rage, can yet not put out the fire by which we create something else.
We can have our being somewhere else. We can see through the eye to what this world can be and like Aunt Beast and her kind we can know the world without knowing what `seeing” is.”
My sudden alertness at hearing the name “Aunt Beast” caused me to wonder whether I had been fully awake up until then.
Perhaps my fever had not left me. Perhaps I had not eaten porridge in the hovel of an Olympian god in disguise? Surely, Rev. Jeremiah Prophet had not said “Aunt Beast.” Need I point out that this recognition was not greeted warmly by me. But once again the gladdened face of the speaker urged me to attend further.
“My brothers and sisters, I do not believe the world we are in is anything more than a disastrous consequence from our fall from divinity.
This `mortal vale’ is not providing us with an opportunity to work our way to Heaven. Nor will our `accepting Christ as our personal Savior’ stand as a necessary pre-condition of our salvation, predestined to it or not.
The material world we are in now is not a testing ground but an illusion. It’s a self-delusion we have conspired against ourselves at the moment we allowed talk of enlightened reason and talk of Christian faith to initiate our fall.
What is now `that which is’ was once only imagined and thus with a reinvigorated and re-established imagination we could bring into being our own divinity, not personal but expanding to include all living creatures.
Brothers and sisters, I feel bound to spread the news of the hidden divinity of all living creatures but I know that any talk today can not be liberating but only ensnared within the order of today’s Caesar.
Whether or not or to what degree technocapitalism or individual choice or artificial intelligence are glorified or challenged, our talk has to slip past these.
Our talk has to encourage an exercising of those faculties this fallen world has demonized and diminished. We have to do no less than reach beyond and outside `that which is.”
Once again, dear Reader, words and in this case these words…`that which is’ sparked a renewed attentiveness to the strange talk of Rev. Jeremiah, a reverend in the Church of Our Own Divinity surely.
“I am fired up today, my brothers and sisters, because I see with a fourfold vision a way out of the dark wood.”
Aha! Finally a way out of dark, depressing talk and the world it creates…not, of course, that our talk creates the world but most assuredly it can confound our seeing.
“…a moment of illuminated perception through which we could once again become aware of what we are. The task is not to accept the fallen state but `to cast away the former things’ because though our reason and science said they are real I believe they are a confounding mask for what was real.
Am I an evangelist then? Not certainly an evangelical Christian. I claim to be no more than a visionary who believes the fallen world is nothing more than a dissipation and dispersal of one living entity, not God but Man.
All creation observed with a fallen one-fold vision is no more than the broken and collapsed parts of an original indivisibility, not a transcendent God but the fragments of humanity.
My end will be bad, my brothers and sisters, because my goal is the revolutionary, apocalyptic moment when all the chains tying us to this contrivance of what the world is will fade away.
Some see only what is rational as real. I despise the real that rationality concocted.
Should I be a blogger? Should I go on-line to a chat room to talk about this vision? Should I jump into hi-tech and spend my days in front of a computer screen so that I can in cyberspace project my vision all over the planet? I’m asking whether cyberspace is a good home for the imagination?
In a time, our own, when we stand ready to kick human reason up to biochip levels, envisioning a cyborg with the kind of `positronic brain’ of a Star Trek Commander Data, cyberspace has become a new world. But it’s a technology that science has brought forth, whether it’s a quantum mechanics that classical physics can digest or a quantum science that establishes a new scientific paradigm.
Sci-fi writers have speculated on various extrapolations of new technology. They have not infrequently fabricated post-apocalyptic dystopias that technology has created. They’ve also shown us hi-tech worlds that have retrogressed to medieval or archaic worlds. We can be led by technology into new worlds but thus far we have not seen technology leading us into new paradigms of being in the world.
My brothers and sisters, technology talk is like the talk of a celestial entity: it has only the power we give to it, here and now.
Only a blind seer would argue that cyberspace will ultimately expand or contract our imaginations. This will all work itself out in the coming years, perhaps it will take generations.
What does not need prophecy at the present moment is the global market’s command and use of the World Wide Web. Cyberspace is not nationalized but globalized and its globalization has made our quick transformation to a globalized market available.
Without this transnational medium capitalism would not now be free to seek and utilize the cheapest labor available on the planet, would not be able to track production or workers, would not be able to engage in a variety of worldwide investments, currency exchanges and financial operations of an incomprehensible dimension, and transnationalize corporate management and investment.
I say, my brothers and sisters, though it may seem hi-tech opens up numerous opportunities that were once only imagined, it does so within the very strict order of maximization of profit. Tied to this is a lot of talk of `greater comfort,’ `greater speed,’ `infinitely easier,’ `infinitely larger,’ `growth,’ `progress.’
I say this talk of technology, brothers and sisters, is unassailable, sacrosanct as only globalized capitalism could allow. Originality is handcuffed within notions of `innovativeness.’
Imagination has an entrepreneurial end and therefore is hardly the kind of imagination I am preaching about here today. What I mean by the imagination has no presence in tech talk.
“Bring out number, weight & measure in a year of dearth” is one of William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” found in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. At the beginning of that work, this terrible prophet against Empire, this antinomian, this rebel to the bone Blake announced `As a new heaven is begun’ and then he proceeded to marry heaven and hell, good and evil, and thus announced the beginning of a new heaven no Christian could recognize.
It was a new understanding but it wasn’t the one our cyberspace has descended from.
My brothers and sisters, you have to look closely at Blake’s watercolor of God creating the world to see where our world comes from.
Amen, and may your eyes be open to see, your heart be open to feel, and your imaginations expand to make all this possible.”
I left the church of Glad Day too bewildered, dear Reader, to be glad and more than a little disappointed that a promised way out of this dark wood had detoured into questions of whether the preacher was a Blogger, a matter of no concern to me. He was quite clearly an irrationalist and doubtlessly mad in his belief that men were gods and that imagination could someone transform reality usefully. And I was not at all disposed to make a mentor out of a man who had seen “a world in a grain of sand.”
And so I was more depressed than ever and in response to a query as I made my exit as to how I enjoyed the talk, I expressed that dark state of mind. My questioner surprised me by at once urging me to come with him next morning to hear a more orthodox talk, one which he promised would “pick me up by my bootstraps” and refresh my soul. In the meantime I was welcome to share his humble food and board, for a few coins. I accepted, refraining from saying “gladly” as I had now a certain allergy to the word.
The next day I went with my new friend to a huge outdoor emporium in the very center of a large field. As with the Glad Day temple there were no signs of the celestial and our sermonizer was a young man with a crown of curly hair wearing a tight jacket and sun glasses. He h ad a guitar slung on his back and wore some sort of device which rested on his shoulders and positioned a harp close to his mouth. He mumbled and I strained to hear him. I knew his name was The Bob because those around me were cupping their hands to their mouths and screaming “The Bob! The Bob!”
“You know there’s a lot of Bible talk today,” The Bob said in a cigarette cracked throaty twang, peering at us over his monumental sunglasses though very little sun entered these woods, “and a lot of Koran talk and some Book of Mormon talk. Little bit of Gita talk. What about Christian evangelical talk? Yeah, there’s always that around here. There’s also some Rapture talk. Isn’t it strange that the Rapture…what would you call’em? Rapturites I guess. Well, they’re a sort of Christian and they like Jews. I mean Israel all the way. They say it’s because for Revelations to go the way it says things will go, the Jews have to be in Israel. Then with the Rapture they get sent off to hell cause they ain’t Christians. I was born a Jew and I gotta tell you that when I hear this Rapture scheme, well, I’m telling you, it’s a hard rain that’s going fall in those end days for Jews if you follow the Rapturite book.”
Here The Bob swung his guitar around, played and sang and then worked his harmonica to a soulful finish.
“There is a lot of `spirit’ talk on TV and the radio,” The Bob said, continuing. “Ms. Oprah will take time out from interviewing big shots so that we can all focus on our `spirits.’ I’m not too modest to say I’m some kind of big shot so maybe I can let that spirit stuff slide. I assume that being so well known by you all as I am I could forego the `spirit’ time out. You know you got to serve somebody and I might do. What do you think?
If you want to lose weight, I mean really lose weight and not just go on a diet, you need to get in touch with your spiritual side. If you’ve been downsized, foreclosed on, gone into bankruptcy, lost your healthcare, watched your 401 plan reach the bottom, gotten toxic poisoning on the job, come back from Iraq, can’t focus and can’t see a doctor, got left on a roof in a flood, botoxed your left eye shut, run out of gas on the Interstate, run out of water, lost your food stamps, stocks went into the toilet, got a boner that lasts more than four hours, or maybe you can’t get it up and you can’t get your cholesterol down, got a reckless leg, suffering with social anxiety, can’t sleep, or you sleep and snore or you got sleep apnea or you can’t get Alpha sleep or your wife can’t sleep because you snore, can’t program your Tivo, got no friends on Facebook, lost your cellphone, had your stomach tied off or your tubes, don’t like your nose and need a new one….you need to talk with a spiritual adviser, a new awakening mentor, a stadium preacher., a TV prophet, a genuine Born Again, heaven guaranteed, no money down, Bible quoting son of a gun who talks to God. You need to hear God’s talk.
I mean you need to hear somebody talking for God.”
The Bob once again played guitar, harp and sang.
“You got to admit you got some strange dudes talking for God these days,” The Bob now continued.
“Some reporter asked me when I said this what’s the harm in this talk? Well, I don’t know if there’s harm in this talk but I want to talk about it. I did my reading and here’s my report.
(Shouts of “The Bob! The Bob!)
“American evangelical talk got a notion that `grace is everywhere.’ I’m quoting a Michael Novak in his 1969 A Theology for Radical Politics.
`[B]y the fact that anything is, it is already good, already gracious, already redeemed.’
I kind of like that notion. It says we’re not in Dante’s dark wood of a fallen world due to original sin. And though this is a powerfully ungodly material world, that’s only sort of a messy extreme of something good.
And I like the idea that this world ain’t just a `vale of tears’ but it’s already full of grace. There’s no need to separate the City of God from the City of Man. The actions of men and women, mountebanks and cosmic clowns, politicians and economists, dipsomaniacs and hard shelled revivalists, historians and philosophers, low riders and out riders, saints and sinners, losers and winners, saddle bums and brave hearts, addicts and advocates, flat earth folks and cyborgians, folks on hemp, hash and peyote, folks ping ponging between bennies, coke and Dexedrine and heroin, laudanum and Demerol included, all have to own up that `grace is everywhere.’ Once they do that, the spiritual fulfills itself in the world.
Evangelical theology is not the Roman Catholic Church’s or the High Priest of Ra or any of those V type Hinduisms or C type Buddhisms and it ain’t Zoroastrianism or any church’s but just a theology of the secular. In The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982) the same Novak I just quoted presents a `theology of economics’ which according to Damon Linker in The Theocons sets out to supply a spiritual justification to the market economy. I would like to read this to you, my friends:
“Opening a business doesn’t just potentially enrich yourself and marginally increase the wealth of society; it does God’s work by creating jobs, and thus wages, for others. A business career isn’t merely an enjoyable and possible lucrative line of work; it is a `vocation’ in the sense of a calling from God. The invention and marketing of innovative products doesn’t just provide a creative outlet; it expresses your essence as a being made in the image of the divine Creator. Markets don’t simply produce economic growth; they mirror the divine Trinity in the way they enable many diverse individuals to function as one, in perfect harmony. Corporations aren’t merely large, profit-seeking businesses; they `mirror the presence of God’ in seven sacramental ways and even offer publicly accessible `metaphors for grace.’”
Now who would have thought corporations help you get to heaven? I had less than any idea of that.
But this is the evangelical view where no religion is needed to link God and man because `by the fact that anything is, it is already good’ no middle man is needed, thank you.
I like that part. Nobody between you and God and that if it’s here, it’s good.”
For the third time, The Bob went to his music.
“Of course,” The Bob now said, “a cat burglar could be here or a bad tumor or a wet fart and they’re not particularly good. In fact history has a lot of folks who were here who weren’t particularly good. Nixon was here and he wasn’t particulary good. You might say history ain’t anything more than a list of names of folks who weren’t particularly good.
Now when the evangelicals jump into government they don’t think it’s a violation of the First Amendment since that amendment forbids the establishment of religion, not anything evangelists want to do.
And they also feel that they Constitutionally cannot be prohibited from pursuing the spiritual into the world. You know since the evangelists don’t have a church they don’t mind separating church from state. That doesn’t mean that you can keep spirituality out of the secular. That blasphemy of keeping spiritual talk out of secular government would be left to what Richard Neuhaus called the `cultural elites.’
I might be called a `cultural elite’ because I write my own songs. I guess if I just sang somebody else’s words I’d be okay. But I’ve recognized that if you are wealthy and privileged socially you don’t have to worry about being called a `cultural elite.’ I mean if you’ve gone to some private country day school and then an ivy league college and then had your dad buys you an oil company and such and you inherit grandma’s stock portfolio and a yacht and ten homes and such you don’t need to worry about being called a ‘cultural elite.’ That title is reserved just for folks who cut hair and lawns, sling burgers, drive trucks, work on the line, and just plain work for wages but also happen to want to cut the wealth pie evenly so we’re all just one among equals.
So the way I see it if you want to get rid of the elite, the elite you want to get rid of will call you an elite. And when they call you that, folks who ain’t elite, won’t like you.
Sometimes I ask myself why would the American evangelists piggyback on the talk of conservatives rather than liberals, talk from the right rather than from the left?
I suspect you might have asked yourself that question. Then I ask myself if Jesus Christ would have been a liberal or a conservative? Well, he lived like a socialist. Little commune, everything shared, sort of a hostel dorm life, say he had a posse, laying some prophetic grief on the rich and promising the poor front row seats in Eternity and so on. Not a lot of private property talk. Not a lot of stock portfolio talk. Fact is, Jesus Christ didn’t seem to have a portfolio. And I don’t think he thought corporations had souls to be saved. In fact he didn’t think at all of corporations cause they weren’t around. I find that kind of funny that Jesus Christ didn’t talk about what’s the most important thing in the world right now. Can’t even find it in the Christian Bible.”
The Bob played us a bit of what he meant.
“Blessed are the shareholders for they shall collect dividends.
I never read that one.
And blessed is technology for it makes things more comfortable for those who collect dividends.
And why aren’t the conservatives who don’t want to share their wealth — I mean the way that’s done is through taxes and they don’t want taxes – shy of letting the evangelicals into their party?
I’d say it’s because they don’t think evangelical beliefs are going to hurt them or their treasure trove. They seem to know that these evangelicals won’t be campaigning on behalf of the Have Nots or the environment or workers. There must have been a thirteenth apostle they’re following who went solid for the `I got mine, screw you’ beatitude.
No, I’ve decided that conservatives don’t fear the evangelicals.
Why, they actually find them real useful in beating their opponents with a righteous rod.
Conservatives just don’t mind getting these non-Church evangelists into politics.
Liberals on the other hand fight to keep prayer and Intelligent Design out of the schools and they advocate legal abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia rights. And legalizing marijuana and, hell, why not prostitution?
Now if you were a strictly logical sort of dude you might wonder why abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are not `anything that is’ and therefore `already good.’
I guess they kind of fall into the `already bad’ side of things.
Don’t ask. If you have to ask, you’re a liberal.
What’s already good and what’s already bad are self-evident. To the evangelicals.”
I had been at first offended both by The Bob’s croaking voice and by his piercing harp solos but when he swung the guitar around this time and started to play I realized he was an acquired taste and though I was yet struggling I could see a future interest.
“What is self-evidently good is God’s creation,” The Bob told us, “the spiritual value of families, the wisdom of including the spiritual in all our talk, the right to life, the sacredness of a marriage between a man and a woman, the missionary position, private property, compound interest, sharp edged lawns, cars built like tanks, silicone hooters, shopping choices, the goodness of Putin’s soul, self-interest, automatic weapons, chocolate, rhinoplasty, all hand holdable fast food, white skin, high speed internet, and cyberspace. And so on.
The secular rationalists and empiricists demand proof and evidence for what is `self-evident’ in the eyes of the evangelists. And in that they give themselves away. Evangelicals don’t need proof.
Market conservatives, on the other hand, have no problem with evangelical talk since it recruits the `we don’t have a stock portfolio’ part of the population to identify with the `we have a stock portfolio’ class. When they do that, they just naturally cuddle up to the folks who are sucking their blood.
I don’t mean that in any mean way. It’s just business and business ain’t mutual aid.
History and psychiatry show us that the wealthy just don’t let trivial matters get in the way of wealth gathering and wealth protection. But the masses of great unwashed – and I’m talking about most everybody – care more about two gays marrying than they do about being unemployed.
Insider trading, globalized credit pass-off, the dark mysteries of private hedge funds, and other diabolical practices may take away all a man’s savings but most folks are focused on the fetus and whether some young lady is thinking about aborting it.
Now the liberals always want to use government to tame the excesses of unbridled capitalism on behalf of those who have been savaged.
That’s a word Karl Marx used: ‘savaged.’ It’s a frightening word.
Damn, Karl Marx is a frightening word. Two words.
The conservatives, in the opinion of any song and dance man, always want to deflate government to non-taxing, non-regulatory, non-entitlement granting levels.
While conservatives have been successful in defusing any challenge from government, liberals have had only an after the fact, hapless success in a recuperation from capitalism’s excesses. I think `savagery’ is not a good 21st century word. We don’t have `savages’ any more and nobody `savages’ anybody. Unless of course the BBC reports it. I like `predatory’ also and it might be a better word cause while no one calls himself a savage quite a few enjoy being predators, which is a sort of high ranking type A person.
The globalization of capitalism beyond the modern sovereign state to what some fellars call Empire has focused more attention on the inadequacies of leftist approaches while generating a certain cosmic inevitability to an unstoppable, unbeatable capitalism.
Wow! I think this means it’s hard to stop or even criticize what’s gone global. It’s all good.
The Evangelical goodness of `what is’ sets up nicely with the clear successes of globalized capitalism and the conservative ideology defending and fostering it.
What is is always all good and it’s pretty clear that capitalism supplies us with what is. When there’s no `fallen world’ talk, there’s not much critique.
The genius of evangelism lies in its separating itself from institutionalized religion, including the deeply rooted in Western tradition of the Catholic church, while touting a deeper spirituality than any organized church possesses. And by attaching itself to the notion that `grace is everywhere’ it could notch that grace to the triumphant successes of the world market.
If grace were not with Whirlmart how could it be the biggest retailer in the world? If grace was not with capitalism, how could it have succeeded in the `cold war’ with communism?
Only those who looked to religion and its institutions to broker their way through this fallen world and onto paradise could believe that secular `winning’ and grace could be divided.
I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.”
He drifted once again into some more song, guitar and harp, all of which was enthusiastically greeted by those around me.
I was woken up and realized The Bob had stopped playing. It was all over, sermon and noise, and when asked the anticipated question I responded in a post-nap daze that I wasn’t yet sure whether or not I had made Jesus my personal saviour. I was then told that if I thought that was the question I needed to attend this evening’s talk. That would settle the matter. I agreed, not at all sure what matter had to be settled. Zombie-like I returned to the field house that evening where we were all addressed by a young bald headed Asian gentleman wearing a monk’s robe, who began with these words:
“I’m going to enjoy today even if I have a flat tire on the way home. I’m going to enjoy each day even if it rains out my ball game. I’m going to be happy in life even if I don’t get that promotion that I was hoping for.”
“These are the words of The Reverend Joel Osteen who is the evangelical minister of the Lakewood Church in Houston,” the Monk began, most humbly, ” a former basketball stadium renovated at a cost of $95 million dollars with some thirty thousand members and a $55 million dollar a year revenue. His book, Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, has been number one on the NY Times bestseller list.
Why is this man, a man such as you and I, so venerable? Is it because he shows us the Way to improve our lives every day? And what is that Way? Is it The Way for all men? Listen to these words of Chuang Tzu:
`Master Tung-kuo asked Chuang Tzu, `This thing called the Way – where does it exist?’
Chuang Tzu said, `There’s no place it doesn’t exist.’
‘Come,’ said Master Tung-kuo, ‘you must be more specific!’
`It is in the ant.’
`As low as that?’
`It is in the grass.’
`But that’s lower still!’
`It is in the tiles and shards.’
`How can it be so low?’
`It is in the piss and dung.’ (sec. 22 Chuang Tzu)
“I think that if this is true then there is no need for a stadium of $95 million dollars.
But also I will tell you that Minister Osteen’s way is of joyful nature because he believes that `grace is everywhere.’ Chuang Tzu tells us that the Way is nowhere that it does not exist. The Way is everywhere. Grace is everywhere. What can we make of this? I am a curious man and I am curious to understand this.
The Minister Osteen can follow his heart and it is not in his heart to condemn people. But if The Christ found grace in the human heart what need then to redeem it?
I see then that The Christ did not find grace in the human heart and therefore it is not to be relied on but rather chastened. There’s a burden of sin in a fallen world that cannot of itself save itself.
For some then what The Christ’s way to salvation means and how it is to be achieved cannot be realized through the fallen world or by what one feels in one’s heart. Here in this fallen world the Way is not everywhere; Grace is not everywhere.
Piss and dung in the world and in the human heart are not Grace and are not the Way. Is Chuang Tzu wrong then? Is the Minister Osteen wrong then?
But who is to tell us who is wrong and who is right? Chuang Tzu says:
`Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right, it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. If so were really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument. Forget the years; forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!’ (quoted in Chuang Tzu Basic Writings. Columbia UP, 1964)
I am a Taoist and it is not my burden to settle an argument among Christians nor is it my place to advise you to do what your culture can make no sense of.
But you Christians rule the world I live in and you now have attached yourself to a spiritual thought that condones your extravagant materialism. You eat up all of this planet and now honor yourselves that such acts are the Way. This I will stand opposed to, though I may break.”
Dear reader, I was spellbound, fascinated by the quiet nobility of this monk’s words and now as he stood before us silent, ready to accept whatever abuse we would throw at him – and we did not for everyone around me was transfixed in the gaze of this young man – I felt my own despair, like an invisible hand on my shoulder, lift.
“The Way,” the monk continued, “is not self-designed. It has no will nor does it adapt to anyone’s will. It is not personal. It is not a relationship with Divine Authority. Your worldly success is not impervious to the Way nor is it the Way itself or a sign of the Way.
Minister Osteen leaves you to fashion your own personal relationship with The Christ. Neither Bible authority or any ecclesiastical authority are needed. You are the Way. You contain the universe within you. Everything outside you, holy or unholy, is dismissed and Minister Osteen makes no issue of this dismissal.
I know this is a way which makes personal and private the Christian God/Man relationship, and it goes beyond the prophet Luther, for here a spiritual relationship can be self-designed, like a career, a stock portfolio, an addition to the home, a network of friends on a website, a wardrobe, a look, a politics.
This is talk which excludes everyone but You and God.
What about other people, those neighbors The Christ wants you to love as deeply as you love yourself?
Here’s an Action Point of Minister Osteen: “I will (on purpose) find somebody that I can be good to today.” 193. However, if the people you find aren’t ready to bend a knee to your goodness “just run your own race.” 235 Remember, “God has not called you to be unhappy simply to keep somebody else happy.” 245 If helping other people cuts into your own personal happiness you need to say “I love you, but I’m not going to allow you to keep dumping your problems on me and making my life miserable. I’m not going to let you keep draining all my time and energy. You have to take responsibility and learn to keep yourself happy.” 245
I think if The Christ had said these words there is no Christian belief now.
The Christ took all mankind’s sins into himself and died. Everyone dumped their woes on him and he did not refuse them. I say this as a Taoist and I ask your pardon.
I find much fascination in the talk of Minister Osteen because his church is the largest in the U.S. and his book Keep Yourself Happy the number one bestseller. It’s popular talk. I am fascinated because this talk fascinates the most powerful country in the world.
Minister Osteen leaves you free to choose your own brand of God relationship and thus your own salvation. Christians say the Way is a path to personal salvation. Now Minister Osteen is re-writing personal salvation to be only what you will it to be.
It is a smiley face emoticon because once you choose to have that relationship it can only be good because, once again, `grace is everywhere.’ This is all very appealing to the Western mind, especially Americans, who have launched yet another nostrum of self-design, The Secret, to great success. `Happiness does not depend on your circumstances…It’s a choice that you make.’
I once again ask your pardon for boldly quoting an author of your own Western culture:
`Very few,’ said the poet, `live by choice. Every man is placed in his present condition by causes which acted without his foresight and with which he did not always willingly cooperate; and therefore you will rarely meet one who does not think the lot of his neighbor better than his own.’ Johnson, Rasselas, 73
The Way is not a choice. The Way exists without choice. I apologize for this, for the opaqueness of this. But Minister Osteen’s words are welcomed in the Western world which cannot go beyond the personal and the choosing that confirms the personal.
Minister Osteen gives you the opportunity to project your own wish to be good, to be holy, to be spiritual, to be loved by God, to be Christ like, to be saved and so on – to project all of this out into the cosmos and thus attract all the positive energy out there toward the realization of your wish.
It’s the just wish it and then claim it talk of the American TV therapist, Dr. Phil. The positive side.
If you have allowed the causes which have acted without your choosing to make a poor man of you, without employment, without money for a doctor, without a mind to understand the complexities of modern life, if some tragic sadness, if you have been falsely accused and convicted and are now imprisoned, if you are ill because the illness resides in your genes, some darkness that fills your soul and you cannot see beyond … if this affects your happiness, you need to make better choices.
Now Minister Osteen makes it darker for you for if you have self-designed your earthly life to ruin, you have also done so for eternity. If not only the world but eternity is yours to will and choose then every rich man is by Minister Osteen’s words doubly blessed and every poor man doubly cursed.
When the Way is no more than a man’s will, there is no Way. `The Great Way is not named.’ Chuan Tzu, 39. I say if men name it, it is not the Great Way. If men choose it, it is not the Great Way.
This is also a moment in which everyone in the most powerful country in the world is advised to avoid `the negative’ for the sake of one’s well being.
What is more negative than `fire and brimstone’? No one will burn in Hell if they choose not to.
What is more negative than images of genocide and starvation in Africa? No one will be a victim of genocide if they choose not to.
No one will starve if they choose not to. If you look at the people of China and India, only look into the faces of those globalized capitalism has blessed. Do not look into the faces of the suffering.
If The Christ gave no privileged place to the rich and powerful, we do now. Just respond to their cold calls.
Minister Osteen’s Jesus is not the First Socialist calling upon you to work for the good of others and renounce worldly goods. His Jesus wants you to be a Winner and to feel good about it. `He created you to live abundantly.’ 95 Americans who are 4% of the world’s population and consume 40% of its resources do this – live abundantly.
You can wish everything and take everything.
This is not the Tao.
The means to wealth still permits everything but getting caught but the end now has a spiritual dimension. Salvation and eating up the whole world are not the same thing. You now can not only will and the world will reward you but you can choose to see `grace everywhere’ and reward yourself with salvation.
This talk is most harmful.
I apologize for saying this in this way.
It is not so easy to put the whole world aside and live only in your own personal choosing. What do you say then of those lives broken on the world’s wheel?
I do not think the sick, the poor, the handicapped, the depressed, the grieving, the war torn, the victims, the exploited….all these and more have failed to choose to Win, to be happy, to be smiley faced.
What happens when a man believes this smiley face talk is no more than an incentive to moral and spiritual monstrosity, political and economic obliviousness, and social and cultural solipsism. What does a man do who thinks here the Way is corrupted?
He speaks here.
Before one can feel the need to empathize with others, one must be free of the belief that if God is great and good, so are you.
`Who told you that something was wrong with you?’ Minister Osteen asks.
I think it will not be the other people who told you, those people who you are with as long as they don’t make you unhappy, those people who see criticism as a negative thing affecting your happiness.
I have read Minister Osteen’s chapter called “Develop a Tender Conscience.”
This is a chapter that throws Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tsu, Chuang Tzu — all of Western and Eastern talk on moral knowing into the dung heap.
No one in that tradition knew that conscience comes into play when `you do something that is not beneficial or something that will get you into trouble.’ 309
Every global market investor, including the global financial industry that has created the present American economic melt down, has had their conscience pricked not by their greed but by having backed loans that didn’t prove beneficial.
Hedge fund managers who have garnered obscene amounts of profit for already obscenely wealthy people have engaged in what has benefited themselves and their investors. They will not get into trouble for their work. No conscience review needed.
I think if no one had seen the tape on the door of the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building, Nixon and Co. would not have gotten into trouble and there would, according to the Minister Osteen, be no need for a moral review of conscience.
This talk here in the West and now reaching into the Middle East and East is very low and very infectious.
Here the Way is infected with the priorities of profit. In this evangelical talk the blind way of profit joins with the blindness of personal choice as the Way. Because the standard of what is happiness and what is holy is fixed in these ways I have described, I am for silence.”
Need I say, dear Reader, that when this monk left the podium, left us all in a profound silence, I felt a hunger to hear more, and so, after a restless night, the next morning I sat in the same seat with even greater eagerness and attentiveness than the day before. The monk did not fail to appear.
“Minister Marianne Williamson,” he began, “is another hugely popular American evangelist who, like Minister Osteen, is more `lifestyle coach’ than `fire and brimstone’ preacher, is not as certain as Minister Osteen that `grace is everywhere’ or if she thinks it is, she’s certain it’s not one with the world:
“We will not find true light in this world, for the thought forms that prevail here are guilt-ridden and fear-based. We will only find light in God, who gives it to us that we might extend it to every living thing. Every moment of every day, becoming more illumined, we become the illuminators. Eventually darkness shall be no more.”Marianne Williamson, Everyday Grace. 68
Here grace is in us and we project it onto a dark world. We are potential “Illuminators” of the world, not sin burdened and corrupted souls, and are free to choose that role.
She, like Minister Osteen, has made a real connection in a post-9/11 America, a country `guilt-ridden’ perhaps for its `slaughter there and go shopping here’ attitude, a country certainly `fear-based’ not only because of another 9/11 style attack by terrorists but because fear has worked as well as racism, bigotry, sexism and greed in party politics.
Minister Osteen incredibly `doesn’t go down that road’ after 9/11 and its devastation of Security Mom and Nuclear Family security. `Grace is everywhere’ and no one is led to wonder if it’s where bin Laden is or where Saddam was or where Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Pearle are.
Minister Williamson is not so disingenuous for she allows the world its darkness but insists we can each individually illuminate it. Once again talk of a self-designing of the website which is ourselves, this time to include our victory over `darkness.’
Both ministers do not go down the road of `evil,’ recognizing I think that President Mr. Bush’s `Axis of Evil’ owns and has sapped that signifier of all meaning.
In her chapter “Needing Work” in Everyday Grace published in 2002, Minister Williamson concludes with this advice: “You have not been fired; you have been liberated.” 120
That this has been the solacing mantra of the outsourcing resulting from a rapacious global market gives Minister Williamson no pause. It’s hard to see that what causes so much hardship and misery to so many and brings yet more obscene profit to so few can every be deemed `liberating’ to the many.
Yet the Minister Williamson of her 1997 book, The Healing of America, has her eye on the ball not on salvational solace:
“The slash-and-burn mentality that permeates much of corporate America today, and the governments greater commitment of serve the market rather than protect people from its excesses, are at the heart of America’s pain.” 137
Minister Williamson gave up her critical talk and took up the `feel good’ talk of Osteen, the talk that was the only talk that could be heard.
Her talk has submitted to what Hardt and Negri in defining the workings of Empire refer to as “the circulating society of the spectacle. . . ” a society whose management of communication has submitted entirely and globally to the regime of Empire, a regime which suppresses “all alternative paths.” 347 It is in the face of this global suppression that I privilege one of Williamson’s nostrums above all her talk: `Sacred silence rights the universe.’ 69. Denial is resistance, sacred or not.
This evangelical talk is not enabling Westerners to imagine a different way of being in the world.
Its aim seems to be no more than to detour attention from where the blows are coming from to accepting those blows as `liberating.’
Westerners think their evangelicalism takes them to the highest ground possible, the road to personal salvation but it is a road built by the Empire.
In a culture driven by personal choice, personal will, personal responsibility, personal winning, personally designed salvation fits. Here worldly desires consume the spiritual and the yin and yang goes awry and is no more than a yin and yang of profit and loss.
I end with Chuang Tzu and humbly beg your pardon for where my curiousity and fascination have taken me.
` When the yin and yang go awry, then heaven and earth see astounding sights. Then we hear the crash and roll of thunder, and fire comes in the midst of rain and burns up the great pagoda tree. Delight and sorrow are there to trap man on either side so that he has no escape. Fearful and trembling, he can reach no completion. His mind is as though trussed and suspended between heaven and earth, bewildered and lost in delusion. Profit and loss rub against each other and light the countless fires that burn up the inner harmony of the mass of men. The moon cannot put out the fire, so that in time all is consumed and the Way comes to an end.’ 132
My mind indeed was suspended between bewilderment and delusion but I was not at all prepared to leave off my belief that a Celestial Entity can only speak to us through our own human reason and that any talk of relaying or interpreting Celestial talk was no more than chicanery. Therefore, it was not my practice to heed evangelicals, whether they be the hell and brimstone variety or the happy face variety.
In short, my dear Reader, I would have dismissed Evangelical talk a great deal sooner than both The Bob and The Monk. I need no emissary but my own reason to apprehend a Celestial Entity.
I did not agree with The Bob that history was no more than a catalogue of the despicable, although surely there were many blighted souls. It seems to me that the reckoning of who is particularly good and who is particularly bad might be best left to Celestial Judgment or the criminal courts but would certainly be a topic pursued with more heat than light in one’s favorite pub. My tendency is to believe that as the human race has survived and gone a great distance beyond the cave that the better angels of our nature have thus far subdued our darker side. But I do concede that whether the Bad have led us to a ruined present or whether the Good have led us to the best of all possible worlds is also a beloved topic of the pub. My inclination is to believe that one’s personality disposition settles the matter here. I call my dear Reader’s attention to that passage in Heine’s Harz journey diary where he meets a chap who finds the green of Nature perfect because green is good for the eyes to which Heine responds that God created cattle because men find beef soup fortifying and the ass was created as a point of comparison and therefore a fortifier of men’s spirits.
I also found The Bob’s representation of Jesus as a socialist tiresome though I understand the need to turn the Celestial toward our own beliefs. Do we not all parse our best traits and extend them to celestial dimensions and therefore make of the celestial our own glorified selves? The strange gods mentioned in the second Commandment are no more or less than our very selves. In his own belief scheme The Bob clearly needed a socialist Jesus if he was going to tar the Evangelicals with the greed of capitalism. I myself have never found that one man’s greed can effectively tyrannize a nation while all of history’s “cut the pie equally” advocates have tyrannized whole nations quite effectively, to their eternal damnation. There is, of course, a greed for power that tyrannizes nicely but I am not as certain as The Bob is that it inevitably results from a very eager pursuit of profit.
I am bewildered by the Monk’s talk of a mystical way that rational discourse can not reveal. As I listened, I was moved but it is difficult for me to believe that the meaning of all things is inexpressible, that paradox is what the world puts before us, and that impenetrable obfuscation waits for us at the end of the road of human understanding. I suggest that if the unreachable Way the Monk speaks of comes to a dire end as he warns, its inscrutable distance from human reason may be a cause. Perhaps Aunt Beast would find the Way intelligible but that makes little difference to me as I find Aunt Beast equally inscrutable.
Unfortunately, my travels thus far into strange, inhospitable, perverse and irrational realms of talk, such as talk of the Way, had so assailed my reason that uncertainty now shadowed my mind.
I have my whole life refused to believe that the further talk removed itself from the observable realities of our existence the more recuperative it would be. My way is to travel toward new sights and new talk in the hope of enriching my own understanding, although I am mindful of Montaigne’s warning that we can not venture too far from our native notions of truth and reason and so inevitably judge whatever differences we encounter as irrational and false. If I believed this was the case, I would spare myself the vicissitudes of travel and remain in my own bed.
I spent yet another night in this strange dark wood community and then guided by a map, I made my way out the next morning, intent on traveling to more real and rational domains of talk.
Joseph Natoli is a retired college professor and author of numerous books on culture and politics. Learn more about him at www.josephnatoli.com.
All published chapters archived: Travels of a New Gulliver