Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Hubris of Humankind 11

Chapter 4 is entitled simply “The Unsaved.”  Mirroring Gray’s penchant for paradox, one might be tempted to re-title the chapter “Saved by being Unsaved.”  Once again he divides his chapter into subsections – this time 16 in all.  Gray also has the edifying habit of beginning each chapter with a relevant and incisive quotation.  The one he chooses I shall quote in full.  It is by Emil Cioran (1911-1995), the famous Romanian philosopher and essayist and I shall quote it here in full:

The certitude that there is no salvation is a form of salvation.  Starting from here one might organise our (sic) own life as well as construct a philosophy of history: the insoluble as solution, as the only way out.  (Quoted op.cit., 117)

Section 1: Saviours:

Indeed, I agree with Gray, religions have abounded with saviours and gurus who set themselves up as having the answer or the key to life, or at least to living.  The notion of “Messiah” was important in Judaism as it long believed that a saviour or liberator or “anointed one” of God would come to liberate them.  Christianity was a Jewish sect quite simply and that sect saw Jesus as being “the anointed” of God and their liberator or saviour.  It is hard to disagree with Gray that it was St Paul of Tarsus who was essentially the founder of the religion called Christianity, not Jesus of Nazareth.

Gray then sings his old refrain, and I must admit I personally like it that we are essentially “deluded animals” who think we are free and conscious beings. (See ibid., 120)  He argues that humankind finds his delusions of freedom and consciousness quite a weight to carry (my terms and interpretation here) and therefore seeks to be “saved” by various forms of religion: e.g., (i) the great religions themselves from Judaism and its offspring in Christianity and Islam to Hinduism and Buddhism and all the legions of other religious sects, (ii) all those political systems whether of the Right or the Left and then finally (iii) Science and all its various incarnations in various Humanisms.  Once again, in keeping with Gray’s thesis, we can call all of these masks at the masquerade of life.  All of these various forms of religion have sought to be humankind’s deliverer.

Section 2:  The Grand Inquisitor and Flying Fish:

Like Gray I have long loved the writings of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881) since 1976 when first introduced to his writing by Rev. Fr. Patrick Carmody,  M.A., M.Phil., a brilliant and inspiring philosopher who taught us at college.  I especially loved the book The Brothers Karamazov for its depth of analysis of both the human mind and of the human soul.  I was also long enthralled by Ivan Karamazov’s parable poem of The Grand Inquisitor in the same novel.  In that section of Dostoyevsky’s novel the Grand Inquisitor of Spain meets the returned Christ and argues with him that humankind have no need of the “freedom” or “salvation” he preached, rather, they could not bear the fact that they were free – freedom was too much an onus on their shoulders.  Therefore, the Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that they (The Holy Roman Catholic Church) had to amend his teachings so that they could give human beings what they really wanted, that is:

We have corrected Thy work and have founded it on miracle, mystery and authority.  And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that brought them such suffering was, at lat, lifted from their hearts.  (Quoted, ibid.,  122)

Gray commends D.H. Lawrence’s later interpretation of this scene from The Brothers Karamazov because the famous author of Sons and Lovers rightly said “mankind demands, and will always demand, miracle mystery and authority… and today, man gets his sense of the miraculous from science and machinery, radio, airplanes, vast ships … Dostoyevsky’s diagnosis of human nature is simple and unanswerable…” (D.H.Lawrence, quoted ibid.,  122-123). Gray, with Dostoyevsky and D.H. Lawrence, sings again the refrain that humankind has never sought freedom and never will because we simply cannot bear it.  Even tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe and all their ilk get into power and keep it for however long because they promise the masses relief from the tedium of everyday existence.

I also agree wholeheartedly with Gray that the so-called “Saviours” and “Gurus” and all those who purvey what they conceive to be the “truth” to the masses of humanity are really power-brokers.  Therefore, I will finish this post with the provoking words of our author himself:

Science can advance human knowledge, it cannot make humanity cherish the truth.  ,  Like the Christians of former times, scientists are caught up in the web of power; they struggle for survival and success; their view of the world is a patchwork of conventional beliefs.  Science cannot bring ‘miracle, mystery and authority’ to humankind, if only because – like those who served the Church in the past – its servants are all too human.  (Ibid., 125.)

Another one of man's best friends from the Animal Kingdom, taken June, 2008.

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