What’s Wrong with the World

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What Does It For You?

Back on May 9, Michael of the 2 Blowhards kindly linked to this site. I happened to notice that his post from the previous day was entitled "Chesterton's Orthodoxy", about his experience of reading that wonderful book. Mr. Blowhard is not a Christian, so the review seemed far more generous, and even insightful in places, than I would have expected. If he also got some things wrong, that's not my concern here. What interested me was his claim that he delves into Judeo-Christian stuff every so often, not out of a desire to be convinced of its truth, but out of sheer curiosity.

As he says:

Western monotheism has never worked for me in the most basic sense. Forget about ideas and beliefs, let's talk showbiz. I don't get it, emotionally or imaginatively...I not only don't get monotheism, I find it unappealing. It seems to me designed to lead to perfectly predictable dissatisfactions and unhappinesses...[he doesn't say what those are, but never mind]...Anyway, a fun book, even if it didn't answer my main question, which boils down to: "What do people really find appealing about Western-style monotheism? What emotional / imaginative thing does it serve?"
He says - as did Chesterton of Christianity - that his "own soul and imagination are stirred and satisfied by Buddhism, Hinduism, Vedanta, and yoga," for they seem to him "simply descriptions and explorations of how I've always found life to be."

How this could happen to a self-described inhabitant and devotee of Western Civ I have no idea, but prefer to take him at his word. I've been wondering, though, how readers of, and contributors to, this site (ours) might answer his question. I should say I don't really like the way it is framed, especially the connotations that attach to words like "emotional" and "appealing." I've known a lot of people who, when they base a decision on such grounds, end up getting rid of very important things, like a religion or a marriage or...Western Civ. And when he talks of "Western-style monotheism", we know what he's talking about even as we wonder if such a thing actually exists. The word "style" has that ephemeral feel to it, of a thing that goes in and out of fashion, of a matter of taste freely chosen from the buffet of alternatives, to which we took with gusto because it seemed congenial to our way of life. But if the religion was revealed rather than chosen, then it chose us, not the other way about. It made the West, and much in our manners and morals issued from it. (This is part of its appeal, as Mr. Blowhard admits.)

Further, I don't think most of you think of yourselves as "monotheists", even though you are, but as Christians, Jews or (I can hardly say it) Muslims. (Those are the only monotheisms I know of, and they weren't all available at the same time in history.) I doubt you go to church, or fall to your knees, or retire to the treehouse, or whatever it is you do, to glory in your 1st amendment freedom to express your monotheism. There must certainly be metaphysical monists out there who claim only that reason has led them to the conclusion that there is a God who made a really big universe, beyond which they will not go, thus avoiding the spiritual cascade that ends in worship. But for those of you who feel, in the parlance, "convicted" by your faith, I assume there must have come a point when God became more than a monad. I am not really interested in conversion stories, but more in what you realized as a result of it. Slightly rephrasing Mr. Blowhard's question: Can you articulate some essential thing about your faith, your belief, your (all right) monotheism, that grips you and maintains you in it from day to day? Something that is, perhaps, more than mere comfort?

Any who have the leisure to answer will be appreciated.

Comments (13)

I'm hesitant to answer this question in part because I think people should accept Christianity--and investigate it--because they love truth. _If_ there is a God who made us and has a plan for us, ought to be worshiped, must be asked to forgive our sins, and the like, then we'd jolly well better find that out. If Christianity is true, it's the supremely important truth, and people owe it to themselves and to the truth not to take the matter lightly. So it's not to be sought for what it does for us but to know Whom we are supposed to be worshiping, loving, and following.

And, of course, according to Christianity we face an eternity of the joy for which we were created if we follow Jesus Christ and an eternity of misery of one sort or another if we reject him. This, too, is not to be taken lightly. Here I recommend several of C. S. Lewis's books for giving one an honest and very real fear of hell without hype. _The Screwtape Letters_, _The Great Divorce_, and the space trilogy (particularly books 2 and 3) are all good for this purpose. He has no need to invoke fire and brimstone to make one rightly afraid of an eternity of separation from God.

There are both many things that Christianity gives and many things that it demands. On the one hand, it promises that we will see our loved ones again. On the other hand, it calls us to take up our crosses and follow Christ, which is hardly a pleasant prospect. I suppose that in some ways it would be more comfortable to believe that nothing at all happens after we die, as Hamlet reflected. On the other hand, it would be darned depressing to think that our children, our spouses, and all the beauty of this world is but for a moment, that it has no meaning outside of itself.

But if I had to pick one promise of Christianity that means the most to me and "keeps me going" in it, I think it would be the promise that I myself will one day be fixed. Here's how I look at it: One of the things that might be able to give life meaning even if the soul died forever at death would be the acts of kindness we do now, the love we give to others, the fights in a good cause, and so forth. We could say, "Well, I may be going to die forever some day, but at least _this_ thing was worth doing." But--I don't know about others--I know looking into my own heart that every single darned thing I do that is worth doing I do only partly well. When I love, I love but poorly. When I give, I (usually) give without full love for the recipient. When I fight, my motives are mixed, consisting partly of self-love, pride, and the sheer desire to win, rather than entirely of love for the truth and for goodness. Now, Christianity tells me that, if I follow Christ, one day all this struggle and underlying feeling of insufficiency, irony, and sometimes even anger and misery, at my own faults and shortcomings will be over, and will end not in a mere blank but rather in an eternity of *getting it right*, of loving with a perfected love and my whole heart, of loving only that which I ought to love, of having all the darkness and nastiness and unkindness and lack of forgiveness taken away and replaced with Goodness--with the love of God himself. Says St. John (I John 3:2-3), "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."

That's worth living for, and dying for.

Blowhard, the few times I've read him, tends towards being an aesthete.

As an engineer I might suggest to Blowhard something along the lines of the beauty and elegance and coherence of Mathematics, and how the Creation conforms to/reflects this Logic.

But as Lydia says, if you don't love truth, then you're just doing intellectual gymnastics asking questions.

Beautiful, Lydia.

Bill, I'll have to think about this some more.

Yes, Lydia, it was. As for others, I can wait. This isn't one of those questions that suffer a quick answer.

Gintas - "an aesthete." That's the impression I got as well.

As a believing but non-observant Jew,I am each day reminded of God's goodness when I realize that He has given me the ability to choose at every moment of the day how I will behave in any given situation. When I drive a car, type at a computor, read a book or experience any aspect of life which always was and always will be, I am in awe.

Thanks Richard. If I'm reading you right, it seems that at some point life struck you as a gift, not a given, resulting in gratitude.

Yes William. Exactly! Gratitude is the operative word. If there is no one or nothing to thank for anything, then one is living in a world of pure selfishness, a purely secular existence if you will.

I don't have the books here for quotations, but two scenes from _Lord of the Rings_ occurred to me immediately on reading this post.

The first is in Mordor, when Sam looks up at the seemingly all-encompassing darkness to see a single star shine out in stark beauty from far beyond it. He realizes that the light is greater than the darkness, that darkness can only overpower it for a time, and throws himself down beside Frodo to sleep peacefully.

The other is in Gondor, when Pippin looks at Gandalf's face as they look across the plain at the same darkness Sam was contemplating beginning to overtake the land. He sees at first worry and care, but when he looks more closely he sees beneath it joy -- "mirth enough to set whole kingdoms laughing."

Hope, beauty, and joy. These are what have been revealed to me in the story of our faith. And I don't see or experience them even much of the time -- but I know beyond all doubt that *these* are the all-encompassing gifts of a God who cannot be limited by sin or evil, even if He allows these latter to rule for a time.

I wonder sometimes -- if we hadn't (in U.S. evangelicalism anyway) destroyed the mystery of the faith, would so many people see it as dry-as-dust, uninteresting, merely constraining rules? It's a story, and the most breath-taking one ever told. And we don't know the tenth of it yet.

How can an aesthete like all that Chinese crap? He is fooling himself. It was only contact with the West that gave the East anything approaching real art. Oh they had craft, certainly, and high craft at that, but nothing more.

Why is it that when a Western culture meets a non-Western one, the non-Western one apes the Western one, even while shaking fists and holding on to a few token elements of their savagery? It is why I, as a hard-core anti-communist, support the Chi-coms in their suppression of Falun Gong, because as bad as Commieism is, it at least recognizes the reality of matter and space and time, which is a step ahead of all the crap that flourishes in the East.

Of course I am shortchanging Yoga, which, if practiced faithfully for twenty years, can allow the student to pick her nose with her big toe.

But that is just a brief rant on the East.

What is it about Monotheism?

1. The Big Bang. The universe starts out as a singularity. Not a collection of bangs: the Vishnu bang and the Siva bang and the bhang bang (not to mention the ding dang walla walla bing bang...ooooh eee!). If you take Hinduism as anything but a silly syncretion of local superstitions that were pounded into something sort of like a system by the Aryans, even it points to monotheism when you encounter anyone who has thought about the matter much within those cultures. It was the same for the Greco Roman nonsense. The real brains realized that it was a question of aspects of one god.

2. The Person of Christ. The Resurection seals the deal. Too many witnesses. Overcoming the level of Roman security would have taken supernatural assistance. Consuming fish. Etc.

I like to ask people who fancy themselves "witches" or wiccas or whatever nonsense they label themselves with, "tell me, how is the stuff that you claim about the Goddess and her horned consort revealed to the world? How do you get these ideas? Why do you consider these sources reliable? Have you been getting into the marihuana again?"

Ah, the inimitable Mr. Keilholtz makes an appearance. Hope to see more of you.

And thanks to you, too, Beth.

I've been out of town for a few days and just found these comments. I'll be saving them for future reference, in case I decide to post further on this subject. I also want to see if any others filter in.

What does it for me? Well, what does it is that Christianity is neither a monistic religion like those of the East, nor a metaphysical doctrine of the Primal Chaos, like those of pagan antiquity. In other words, in Christianity, there is no One or All, which somehow suffers a Rupture, from which there is a Going Forth into (the illusion of) particularity, which particularity, being illusory, will eventually be reabsorbed into the One - which may well suffer another Rupture during the eternal night of nothingness. Neither does Christianity possess a doctrine of the primal womb of chaos/generation, from which all things, gods and mortals, life and nonlife, have arisen.

What this all entails is that Christianity forecloses on the possibility of nihilism, and that utterly and absolutely. Meaning, whether spiritual, moral, theoretical, linguisitic - whatever - is guaranteed at some level by the truthfulness of Being, and by the reality of distinctions and analogies within being. A Christian, that is, never has a reason to state that good and evil are ultimately identical, to take an example of the metaphysical implications of monism.

"What this all entails is that Christianity forecloses on the possibility of nihilism..."

I like that. I think you're making a claim, as did Chesterton, for the absolute uniqueness of the Christian story, and that's a pretty good motivator.

Hello, Big Bang no bang what is this nonsense. The man yesterday, he is no more today. We live in this uncertain days. Whay bother, neverthless spending sooooooo much money which could save many many lives in this world. You beleive in Christ you get all the answers. It it non believers who has big bang testers has no beleif what ever they do and they want proof. They are no different than a terrorist setting bomb amongst innoscent people. Spending so uch money what one could prove? Is it going to help any one. No. ok there was big bang. Does any one care. These workless scientist they call themselves with out any active projects joing in this type money wasting projects. Any way they work or cheat others to get these funds. Kind of cheating money which could be used for hungry and shelterless people around the world. Common world get up. say something. stop this kind in future , if we are here to witness.

Before politicians had the switch to destroy. Now our great scientists are trying suside attacks.

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