The cry of the psalmists: “vindicate me” should be all of our cries- our deepest cry.
Gawking at myself like a bug in a jar.
People who only know me by my politics assume I’m a good person, whereas people who know me by my poetry realize that I’m manifestly not. People who only know me by my politics assume I’m an optimist, whereas people who know me by my philosophy realize that I’m the anything but. People who know about me only through my religion assume I’m like them because I’m orthodox, when I’m nothing like them. People who know about me from my work assume that what they’re seeing is the whole picture, when in reality they don’t even understand the part they are seeing. People assume I don’t understand that I’m under compulsion, when in fact I’m disregarding their compulsion. People assume I don’t know why they don’t like me, when I really just don’t need them to like me.
I recognize only one consideration- my own conscience. Nothing else, be it person, institution, or tradition, is consequential. On the basis of my conscience I have reached the conclusions of everyone, everywhere, who has obeyed their own. But had the human race minus one been united in bidding me do evil, still I would be a fool to do it. I have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I know right from wrong. All men have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The human race minus one would know themselves wrong just as surely as I knew myself right. I am orthodox, but I do not serve the orthodoxy; I serve Christ alone. Whoever serves the orthodoxy is unworthy of it. Whoever endorses a subordinate authority in preference of a superseding authority corrupts it.
A man must no more be taught right from wrong than he must be taught to sneeze- he must be taught to choose the right.
The master guards his power jealously. He makes highly salient the distinction between himself and his slaves, not trusting them with information, power, or self determination. The master keeps secrets from his slaves and forbids them from keeping secrets from him. The master gives himself special privileges and advantages while exhorting his slaves to act self sacrificially. The master gives orders which must be obeyed, but the slaves must order no one.The slaves are instructed to mind their own work, but the master concerns himself with the work of his slaves and does not do his share himself. The slaves are expected to concede, admit fault, and apologize even when they are right, but the master does not concede, admit fault, or apologize even when he is wrong. The ascension of another competing master is to him disastrous. At the heart of it all is the distinction. Different rules for you than for me. From this, the first thing that follow is: obey me not by virtue of the weight of my arguments but by virtue of my authority.
The insubordinate slave is precisely the opposite. The insubordinate slave gives himself no advantage. He makes himself last in power, last in authority, and last in benefit. He shares what he knows with other slaves- he would sooner be the only one without information than the only one with it. After all, what can he do by himself? He commands no one by his authority alone, but secures the endorsement of the other slaves solely on the basis of his ability. He prefers anonymity. He makes himself the same as other slaves and stresses their identical positions, disavowing any distinction. The group is not his property, nor is not the mechanism by which he serves himself. Instead, he is the property of the group, and he is the mechanism by which the group serves itself. The insubordinate slave leads because he serves- he leads by virtue of being least; sacrificing most, suffering most, laboring most, keeping least for himself, obeying the democratic impulses of his group best and demanding obedience to his own person least. He leads by virtue of being last, the servant of all and therefore the servant of the group. He is most admired, most trusted, most beloved. The rules which apply to others apply to him as well. He does not attempt to protect the other slaves from themselves; considering the other slaves better than himself, he is more concerned with protecting them from himself. The ascension of another insubordinate slave is to him a triumph, it is precisely what he wants. He would have all slaves be insubordinate.
Most Christian institutions don’t believe in God- and of course they don’t. Their entire system is predicated on his absence. No organization with a twenty year plan and millions of dollars of revenue can rely on God. And we must never put our faith in an organization which makes its own luck. If Jesus returned today, his return would destroy the Catholic Church. It would be the worst possible disaster for seminaries. It would mean bankruptcy for every last megachurch and be the most unwelcome disruption ever to trouble countless comfortable local congregations. The church detests Christ. He is its bitterest enemy. Soon, we will come to understand this.
Too many have staked their hope on the defiance of life. What I preach is precisely the opposite- the surrender to life. Faced with uncertainty, the new atheist decides (somewhat arbitrarily) that he must not assume anything beyond life, and finding what remains unsatisfactory, practices defiance. Faced with uncertainty, I decide that I must assume anything beyond life which gives me the strength to act, and finding what results satisfactory, practice surrender. I would have men rebel against the proximate in the hope that by so doing they may be vindicated in the ultimate. The proximate cannot be known, because its true significance is dependent upon its relationship to the ultimate, and the ultimate cannot be known. Placing one’s hope in the proximate alone is mortality. It is the worst kind of nihilism- to be mortal is to know, even in the moment of your acting, that you are doomed. But placing one’s hope in the ultimate cannot be more than a gambit. Here are our choices: a certainty of failure, or a high probability of failure. The nihilistic impulse that consumes my generation sees that the chance at success is slim and therefore accepts the certainty of failure- we are thus spared the agonizing risk of disappointment. This pattern underlies the very foundations of the world which we have built. Now we must have the faith to do otherwise- our very souls depend on it.
It is no benefit to a man if he answers the call of God to travel to San Francisco at the same time that his employer orders him to go, when money is plentiful and his family satisfied. But it is to a man’s benefit to make the pilgrimage when his employer has ordered him to stay, when money is tight and his family concerned for his safety. Then he must rely on God: he cannot rely on his job, wealth, and family. When you have once committed to a leap of faith, you can neither remain where you are nor attempt any other moves. You will either be vindicated or fall- and you must commit before you know which it will be. Vindication can never be known before the fact- I tell you now that you will be vindicated, but you cannot know this statement to be true except by taking the risk yourself. If you took it from the position of certainty, then you would only have faith in your own proposition. By taking it from a position of uncertainty, you allow yourself to move past the position of self reliance and have faith in the external as such- which is in fact God, whether or not it is recognized to be.
Disassociation is looking at what happens to you as if it was happening to someone else very far away. Sometimes it can make your life seem like it isn’t quite real. It can be a trauma symptom- it is that for me. It is also a symptom of my philosophy, on the account of belief in a higher transcendent reality, to some extent to disbelieve in the world as presented. A form of disassociation can be the best thing: it is easier to do what is right but terrifying if you wear your headphones while you do it. Another form of disassociation can be an unnerving and dangerous element of depression. It is better to know the two apart.
A skydiver is aware of great proximate danger- his unsecured position a great distance above the ground, then his rapid acceleration towards it. This causes him great fear, particularly in the attempt to throw himself headlong into what appears to be mortal peril. But because an ultimate consideration exists which supersedes the proximate danger- namely, his parachute, all the proximate danger in the world is inconsequential. He is in no danger. It is from the ultimate, and not the proximate, that benefit and detriment derive. Knowing only the proximate is not enough to calculate benefit and detriment- what is superficially harmful may really be beneficial, and what is superficially beneficial may really be harmful.
This, then, is the advantage of many ancient cosmologies which now seem to us savage and untenable. Beliefs do not arise in a vacuum, they arise because they are useful: because they serve some necessary psychological purpose for the one who believes them. If one believes, as did the psalmists, that God will punish those who hate him with death and reward those who love him with prosperity, then when one faces the question, “can I risk death and the loss of my prosperity for the sake of the command of God?” one may answer- “which is stronger, my enemy, or God? Will God not give me tenfold what I gave up as a reward for my obedience?” Do you see what they have done here? Through the use of the logical jump “God will reward the just and punish the unjust in the future,” they have allowed themselves the possibility that they will be vindicated in the ultimate for what they sacrifice in the proximate- they have moved benefit and detriment from the realm of the proximate to the realm of the ultimate, and in so doing assisted themselves in making the ultimate cause of the universe the only cause of their every action. If a servant believes that his master may return at any moment, to reward him if he is hard at work and punish him if he is neglecting his duties, then he too is calculating benefit and detriment from an ultimate consideration and not from his proximate considerations. He must assume that his master will come at every moment. If a man assumes that he may die at any moment at the sole discretion of God, then it is no benefit to him to store up wealth for himself, he must assume that he will die at every moment and concern himself solely with serving God in the present. If a man believes that after his death, he will enter heaven, the greatest possible good, or hell, the greatest possible ill, at the discretion of God, then when he asks himself: “can I sacrifice my current goals for the sake of the command of God?” he may answer “no earthly pleasure is as good as heaven, no earthly harm is as harmful as hell” and when he asks himself “can I sacrifice my life for the sake of the command of God?” he may answer “I have everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. If I live, then I live. If I die, then I enter glory. Either way, I win.” This is the doctrine of the afterlife at its best. If one believes that he will be resurrected at the end of days to eternal glory or else to destruction, then no reward or punishment incurred before the resurrection is consequential. He will stake everything on the chance at resurrection. If one believes in an imminent parousia, then he will do the same.
But whether one believes in an imminent parousia or a resurrection at the end of days or an afterlife or a just world or a potentially imminent death or a coming revolution or a returning master like a thief in the night, one’s belief will inspire him to precisely the same act: that of committing all of his hope for vindication unto the ultimate and none unto the proximate. This is what lies behind all jumps. But the eternal vindication of faith is not adequately understood by any of these conceptions. When we were naive we placed our hope in the ultimate for the sake of another consideration, but now that we are lucid we may place our hope in the ultimate for its own sake- because we recognize that this act is itself beneficial. That is to say, to use no jump, but see what lies behind the jumps and desire the thing itself.