Monday, 29 October 2007

Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil

The other night, I fell asleep watching The Antichrist on the History Channel.

I caught only a few minutes of it but I may tape it tonight at 1am. If only because it seems everywhere we turn, we are being subtly and not so subtly reminded of the events and mediums of the day which suggest the end is near. Al Gore et al have been awarded a Nobel Prize for bringing his Inconvenient Truth to the forefront of the world's consciousness. CNN is featuring a Planet in Peril series. Fundamentalist churches seem to be conveying more urgent signage.What's a gal to do except to camp out in the last minute indulgences line-up now and show them my Get Out of Hell Free card and hope for the best?

I'm not one for biblical prophecy although I did have a mini-flashlight moment/paradigm shift last night when I heard the narrator define biblical prophecy not in terms of foreseeing the future so much as explaining and reconciling the present. In the case of the apocalyptic visions we read of in the Book of Daniel, this context makes huge sense, given that these writings were inspired during a very tumultuous time in history circa the reign and ruin of Antiochus and the final decades preceding the Maccabee Revolt.

I do believe in the duality of good and evil ~ although I would prequalify that good is entirely a priori and evil is an a posteriori construct ~ but I don't believe it is as black and white as End Time apocalyptists would have it seem. I see the big picture in Hegelian dialectic fashion: thesis-antithesis-synthesis. None of us knows how this synthesis plays out but I'm not inclined to believe that the penultimate moments to salvation entail a Holy Land battlefield complete with horses and beasts and the like. My theodicy is more subjective and introspective. I think we need look no further than our own interior castle to find the mythos or should I say pathos of a lurking antichrist who blocks the doorway to the throneroom of one's God. This fearsome archetype is alive in every evil thought and deed we create, undertake and/or passively permit. He/she/it is personified is every fear and every doubt that clouds divine Love, subjective Truth and real Beauty.

That is not to say I have not known evil. My deck was stacked in advance with as many bad cards as good. I have experienced tremendous pain, loss, abandonment, hurt and betrayal, just as I have been blessed with love and goodness from many great teachers who have come to me in the form of friends, family and foe. And I know without doubt that I would not have the same outlook towards evil had I survived the Holocaust, or were I to be living in modern day Darfur, or any other godforesaken place on this planet - pick one, there are many.

Evil can also be expressed in terms of the absence of God. The most haunting and arguably, exegetically challenging words in the entire Bible are those uttered in the last cry of Jesus: "My God, My God, Why have Your Foresaken Me?" Psalm 22

Christian apologists make a compelling case for God's absence in this penultimate moment of Jesus' humanity, although arguably, this very so-called absence might call into question some Christological debate concerning His fully man, fully divine status (hypostatic union). And so we return to this notion of evil expressed as the absence of God. Does the absence of God in such moments preserve God's omni-goodness or alternatively, is God actually hanging from the gallows along with the suffering, as Eli Wiesel so infamously stated in his Holocaust memoir, Night?

Jürgen Moltmann, a German Protestant theologian, thinks so. Now granted, his theology is greatly informed by his personal experiences as a German POW during WWII. Yet he articulates a creative theodicy such that God and suffering cannot work in contradiction, but rather in concert. Because God is love, "God's being is in suffering and suffering in God's being itself" (Crucified God, p. 72).

If you have read Life of Pi, have studied Jewish Kabbalism or perchance read my March blog post about Tsimtsum, you may have some understanding of this fascinating little theological motif. Whether I read the scripture literally or metaphorically, I see a fit here between Tsimtsum and Jesus' godforesaken moment on the cross. Farfetched I know, but we are talking about a supposedly metaphysical phenomena, if the resurrection of Christ is to be believed, and we are talking about theology - which is home to some of the most creative thought ever.

God, in that moment, withdraws into Self, creating a vacuum or void such that the Rabbi from Nazareth, is left bereft and alone. This act of creation makes room for Christ. Make of that what you will according to whatever trinitiarian, unitarian or arian faith you ascribe to.

I mentioned Moltmann and funny enough, Moltmann boldly commits to paper what I only dared think audaciously. I'm reading a book called The Doctrine of God by a systematic theologian from Helsinki whose name is utterly unpronounceable, and what do ya know, Moltmann stole my very thought 22 years ago. Talk about a timeslip moment: Emerson was right. "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

Here's what Moltmann has to say about tsimtusm relative to his cosmology and perhaps more importantly, his Christological vision: "the infinte God must have made room for this finitude beforehand 'in himself.'" As the author puts it, "God withdraws into himself in order to go out of himself. In order to indwell in us all. Luke 17: 20-21... - hence the "kingdom of God is within you."

Not surprisingly, Moltmann has been labelled a trinitarian panentheist which is as much of a mouthful as all this good, bad, ugly God-talk. Understanding the crucifixion of Christ then as an act of panentheistic theocide (God and mankind, conjoined on the cross in suffering) is not too many theological steps removed from this tsimtsum process of contraction/expansion/re-creation. Moltmann, in essence, suggests God has metaphorically thrown the baby out with the bathwater (think Abraham and Isaac big-picture ethics for a moment here) in salvific sacrifice for the sins of humankind, in co-dependent suffering and as a "praxis of hope." Once and for all time. Amen.

But, it's not quite so amen, because even still, evil triumphs, forcing us to reconcile God's omniscience, goodness and greatness in the heart of it all in this eschatological age.

There's simply no avoiding it. Everywhere we turn, someone new is prophecized to be the Antichrist. Napoleon, Hitler, Hussein, Bin Laden, and even Al Gore have been named as such in the eyes of some staunch fundamentalists. In fact, google "Barack Obama antichrist or "Al Gore antichrist" and you'll see numerous sites dedicated to warning us of their starring role in the upcoming Apocalypse. To be fair, GWB is in the running, too.

Evil is the energy that binds, knots and fashions our collective fears into a noose. And as long as there is evil and/or religions that juxtapose the dychotomies of good and evil (all bow to Zarathustra), Antichrist types will abound. Those loose threads called fears will always be with us, as well. 'Til kingdom come, they will prevail, methinks. We're hardwired for fight, flight and that spine-tingling and tremendum (terrifying) feeling called fear. But with every fear, comes choice. As Dorothy Thompson quipped, "Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around, turn on the light."

And that's my lightbulb moment on this dimly lit day.



Anonymous said...

Al Gore et al received the Pulitzer ... or the Nobel?

Anonymous said...

You've offered a feast for thought in this posting, Holy.

I was able to watch the entire program you mentioned about the antichrist and hope you'll get to see what you missed; it was most impressive.

Having taken a couple classes in comparative religions in college, and not being a practitioner of any of them at the moment, it seems to me that human beings ascribe a lot of responsibility for the evil in the world to someone/something else. We have no problem, on the other hand, with taking all the credit for the good which occasionally happens...

Perhaps our collective history might've been a little less bloody if we could all have simply looked out for each other during the hardest of times instead of waging wars and devising clever ways of killing each other.

Intellectually, I realise that the human experience is complicated, it's unlikely that we will ever see peace in our own times, and man will always look out for number 1 first.

My hope is that as the world spirals into a vortex of madness and violence, there will be enough good souls amongst us to remind us of what is possible.

Hopefully our children will be able to do better in their day than we have done in ours...

Peace to you, too.


Holy said...

h sofia: Oops - meant to say Nobel - I had Pulitzer on the brain.

Marge: All I know is that if and when there is some kind of Black Friday one-day madness sale for the dispensing of get into heaven cards, I'm lining up behind you and I'll just mutter, "I'm with her." Just nod and pretend like you know me. :)

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