Tuesday, November 21, 2006
A purposeless world, thank goodness!
"The death on the slaughter bench of history, the death which society exacts from individuals is not mere nature -- it is also Reason (with a capital R)." Herbert Marcuse, "The Ideology of Death," in The Meaning of Death, Herman Fiefel, ed., New York, 1959, 64-76, at 75.
Book one of Augustine's City of God counters arguments by pagans that Christianity was to blame for a recent sack of Rome. In the course of his counterarguments, Augustine also explains why Christians suffered during Rome's fall: apparently Christian worship and pagan worship provided equal protection from suffering, which is to say, none at all. Some rich Christians suffered torture, Augustine explains, to teach them to leave behind their love of worldly wealth. Even if tortured Christians had no wealth to reveal to their tormentors, "these too...had perhaps some craving for wealth, and were not willingly poor with a holy resignation; and to such it had to be made plain, that not the actual possession alone, but also the desire of wealth, deserved such excruciating pains" (I.10). Similarly, Christian women suffered rape perhaps to humble their pride in their virtue: "they lost their chastity, but...gained humility" (I.28). Even if victims can discover no hidden sin in themselves that would explain their suffering as pedagogical punishment, they still might take comfort that eventually all will be explained: "For some most flagrant and wicked desires are allowed free play at present by the secret judgment of God, and are reserved to the public and final judgment" (I.28).
I decided a few days ago to read through City of God--seems an essential task for a medievalist, yes?--but I'm already frozen in my progress by disgust, at Augustine's effort to discover the hidden meaning of human suffering, by his certainly that he can at least promise the eventual revelation of meaning for any suffering that currently refuses to give up an explanation. I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist church with the idea, among others, that our faith gave us hope against a world otherwise devoid of purpose: to which I say, thank goodness, that's the world I live in, a world, full of outrage and disappointment, and happiness and pleasure too, freed from the burden of justification.
I realized I'm not very grouchy after all. Also, I can't think of any particularly good reason for me to be pseudonymous--which is not to say other people don't have good reasons--so I decided to go under my own name. Hello again.
Posted by Karl Steel at 11:57 AM