Scenes from a double life
On an extremely rare Sunday morning free, I decided to revive the custom of my youth of walking to church for early morning Mass. At this point, at least in personal things, I am a creature of habit. In order to get through life, I find rituals assuring. Just as some have alleged with the Greeks and Romans, I do not believe in the validity of these civic and religious rituals: belief is an odd thing anyway, but I wrote about that topic years ago and I would rather not rehash it.
Even though the suburban church is only a short walk from my house, I was still fashionably late. I arrived during the sermon just as the priest started talking about hell. This was surprising as I can count on one hand the times I have heard a normal Catholic priest preach about hell. In the narthex of the church was a poster of the smiling seniors of the parish who will graduate high school in a couple of months: the bright and promising scions of the local affluent class. I had passed coming in the latest model trucks and sports cars, and the church itself, while my family doesn’t usually attend there, is at least to my aesthetic liking (i.e. quite old fashioned). In other words, these people have money, and I probably can be considered to have money too, just not as much.
But here was the priest, dressed in rose vestments for Laetare Sunday, going on about hell. He also moved into themes of rote prayer and corporal works of mercy, etc. Very traditional, probably in the style of old fashioned priests, though the rituals and other accouterments have noticeably changed.
Leaving the church, I realized that perhaps the church had to preach hell until very recently (and, as this priest shows, still does at times), in order to get people to behave just a little bit, because civilized life was just that awful. The priest was not asking his charges, as Jesus did in the Gospels, to renounce everything, take up the cross, and follow in the path of abnegation and suffering. No, in order to avoid hell, he was just preaching that people should be more attentive while praying the rosary, visit people in old folks’ homes, and invite estranged believers back to church. Seems like a small price to pay to avoid eternal damnation.
In my morning reflection yesterday, I spoke of liberation, but after I uploaded it, I realized that I had avoided where our concept of liberation truly comes from, and that is the church. The secular believer in the Enlightenment will protest that it goes back further into Greek and Roman law, and the reforms of the early modern period, etc. But all of that was passed down to us through nearly two thousand years of the Biblical and theological interpretation. Leftism is Christianity carried on by other means, secularism is the Church set on surer foundations, etc.
Thus, when one speaks of liberation and egalitarianism, one cannot but have recourse to Jesus and St. Paul, who spoke of the “freedom of the sons of God,” or there being neither slave nor free nor Jew nor Greek. Even in a time of slavery, the Church had to develop an ideological mechanism by which everyone is equal and free at some level. I was reading for an essay that will never get written on the Valladolid debate between Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda concerning the humanity and nature of indigenous peoples in the New World in the 16th century. Of course, all modern people are on the side of de las Casas, but Sepúlveda relied on Aristotle to indicate that the indigenous peoples were by nature inferior to their conquerors through their violation of natural law, and this meant they had to serve. Even then, no one was disputing (at least by then) that they couldn’t be baptized and thus go to Heaven when they died. Only that, in this life, their faculties were inferior to other humans and thus the capabilities weren’t there to live a fully human life. Thus, there was “equality” where it counted, namely, in the afterlife. A good and holy death following a life of servitude would be rewarded by egalitarian utopia in heaven. Indeed, a humble Indian servant’s life could be more meritorious, as the parable of Dives and Lazarus in the Gospel indicates.
What I am getting at is that the modern idea of liberation, total liberation, what have you, is a Christian concept in spite of itself. Per aspera ad astra, to the stars, or, to Heaven, to utopia, to freedom, etc., through that which is difficult: revolution, insurrection, techno-industrial collapse, etc. etc. Personal liberation can never be enough because it is a lie, at least if we give it more than an individualist content, draining it of juridical and philosophical implications. The only freedom can be that of attack and escape, full stop. It is the freedom of the wild animal, not of the Communion of Saints. And it will inevitably lead to re-capture or death. There is no happy ending here, and no point in hope. If one aspires to these latter things, one is falling into the trap again, perhaps more deeply this time. You dream of Jesus harrowing Hell once again (see above), this time the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has a different face: The End of All Domination, Anti-Technological Revolution, a Re-Wilded Future, etc. It’s all just another name for Paradise and the Beatific Vision, and it’s all a lie. Jesus isn’t going to pull you out of hell, he’s what put you there in the first place.
But as ITS has indicated, even in Hell you can fight. Even in Hell, that place in Christian theology where God’s light does not shine, the human animal remains untamed and indomitable. It’s not the freedom that one may necessarily want, but it’s the freedom that we have. Wield it wisely.
“If death comes we will keep destroying things in hell; disgusting world, I will laugh as I see you falling, in this eternal confrontation…”
-Eleventh Communique of the Individualists Tending Toward the Wild, 2016