Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Knowledge is Good"


I've said before that Protestantism took much of its form (and authority) from the culture; that it not only was shaped by the culture, but took its form from the culture. Now there is a study that shows it. Exhibit A:

Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church's central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.
Ah, you will say, but those are Catholics, not Protestants. But, I respond, they clearly might as well be. Growing up in a predominately Protestant culture, they have conformed their thinking to what the culture prescribes. And the culture prescribes the Reformed tradition teaching on the elements of the Eucharist.

I really like this formulation, from the NYT article on the study:

Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these findings:

¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.
First, I suppose we can divide clergy into those who are concerned about their congregants knowledge about their churches doctrines (not "faith," that's a different concept altogether), and those who simply don't care how ignorant their congregants are. Well, come to think of it, maybe we can; but pursuing that line would be churlish. However, I'd say most clergy wouldn't be appalled by those numbers; rather, they'd say "I told you so."

I don't know the history of religious education in other faiths, and my knowledge of it in Protestantism is rather sketchy, but anyone reading this who is also familiar with the term "Sunday school" probably presumes the church always had an active hand in teaching the doctrines of the church. No, actually.

"Sunday school" is a concept and institution that is just over 200 years old, which means it came along some 300 years after the Protestant Reformation. And it didn't begin as a church school to indoctrinate the children of the faithful. Such an idea would have been anathema. Protestant families considered religious instruction to be a family matter, and would have deeply resented any attempt to intrude on that duty by any institution, including the Church. Sunday school, in fact, was started by a Presbyterian pastor in Scotland, who was appalled that the poor children of his parish worked 6 days a week and received no education at all. On their one day off, he decided to teach them to read and write, and thus "Sunday school" was born. Only later did it become the Sunday morning baby-sitter and/or educational center of the Protestant churches.

Today, even Sunday school has withered away, under an onslaught of parents as teachers who themselves don't know basic church doctrines or religious tenets, and the pressure of a work week that spills over into ever day of the week. It may not be work to attend a child's soccer game, but somebody is working that game (the coaches, the referees, etc.), and athletic events of all stripes claim all the time not set aside from school activities. There is also just a general lack of interest in matters religious in the culture. At the turn of the 20th century, correspondence courses in koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, were a booming business. Who reads the New Testament at all, anymore, save for clergy and atheists? The churches I've been involved with have tried to catch the youth with "confirmation" classes, cramming into a year or (more commonly) less all the instruction they didn't receive in the years before. It's a bit like trying to give an uneducated 18 year old a college education; there's almost nothing there to build on, and the kids, predictably, aren't really interested in the doctrine of transubstantiation or the distinction between the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines on the elements of communion.

Of course, that assumes anyone ever really was. I question surveys like this, even as I point to them to confirm my worst suspicions. Does it really matter to anyone that we know today that Maimonides was Jewish? It's useful to scholars and to certain arguments and discussions, but as a matter of general knowledge? How important to one's faith is it to know who Martin Luther was, and what he did? Atheists trumpet such ignorance as proof of their superiority:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”*
Atheism is an affect of knowledge, I will agree with that. But it is not an affect of superior knowledge, better knowledge, or "truer" knowledge. I know who Maimonides was (and what he wrote), I know who Martin Luther was (and what he wrote, especially about the Jews and laborers; it's not pretty), and yet this knowledge does not make me superior to religious people I have known, some of them family members. Indeed, I think in their faith and lives, they were far superior to me. I can also say that about a former neighbor of mine, who was a committed atheist. In his life and actions, his charity and generosity and kindness, he was a far better Christian than I've ever been.

What does it matter if I know the tenets of Calvin's Institutes? Am I less a believer if i don't know Zwingli gave Protestant worship the "pastoral prayer"? The issue of the status of the eucharistic elements divided Lutheran and Reformed tradition churches for nearly 500 years. It was only resolved in the 19th century in Prussia by the forced "marriage" of the two churches into the Evangelical church (later the German Evangelical Church in America). The rift was formally healed between the two Protestant traditions just a few years ago. In either case, did anybody really notice? Did anybody, aside from clergy, really care?

These things have always mattered to clergy, but we can't forget that, especially prior to the Protestant Reformation (which rested on rising literacy rates in Europe), the clergy were the literate members of society. They kept the records and formulated the arguments. It was important because they said so, and because they passed on their ideas and arguments in writing to later generations. Was the layperson in the cathedral at Koln or in Calvin's Geneva really that concerned with what the elements were when taken in the worship service? Probably not. Certainly not the way the priests were.

There is certainly knowledge worth saving, worth preserving and passing on. For the people of the Book (Jews, Muslims, Christians), that knowledge starts with scripture. But the rest is tradition, and, as the German E&R church once prayed:

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.
Even the archaic English of that prayer, echoing the King James translation in words ("thy Church") and syntax is a tradition from which we have ultimately to be delivered. Certainly we can argue about the importance, even the validity, of the doctrine of transubstantiation, but more and more we are arguing among a shrinking circle, sounding more and more like the medieval scholastics caricatured by the Renaissance as arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. This is simply an argument that has no life for the congregants, and insists on a metaphysics, a usage, which has lost its spirit. If it is of no matter to those in the pews, perhaps it has become an institution which no longer gives life and power to this generation.

What does, then? Joel Osteen, among others, insists the words of the Bible mean God wants you to be rich and happy always. Fundamentalists and evangelicals insist the Bible means you must accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or suffer the torments of the damned for all eternity. I preach the gospel as a teaching of the Risen Lord who taught us and gave us the power to care for each other, to become more like my atheist neighbor, a person too few of us can become on our own. Which of us teaches the essential information of Christianity? And what does it matter, in those teachings, what the elements of the Eucharist mean? How is my message affected by my audiences knowledge of who Mother Teresa was? Or Maimonides? Or the leader of the Exodus from Egypt?

How does any of the knowledge tested in that study help in answering the question: "What good does it do a person to acquire the whole world and lose...oneself?" At some point, in this context, that becomes the question of the story of Faustus. After all, the Bible tells us that when God appeared to Elijah there was a whirlwind and an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in any one of them. Is God in the doctrines of the Church, or the knowledge of the believer?

The title for this post is taken from the inscription on the statue of the founder of Faber College in Animal House. (I couldn't find that image; I had to make do with the gimme cap). Knowledge certainly is good, but good for what? Good for whom? I've no wish to preach to a congregation ignorant of the most basic ideas of Christianity (I'm no missionary, although perhaps I should reconcile myself to being one, in my own backyard), but neither do I need them to be current on a 500 year old controversy that only ever mattered to the professional clergy and theologians. Knowledge is good, but we have to use it for something, we have to have a use for it in people's lives, or it isn't much good at all.




*actually, I suspect what you make is a confused child. Unless you subscribe to a fundamentalist view that the Bible is magical text which explains itself to each and every person who reads it, you need a community to interpret and explain the meaning of the stories in those books. For much the same reason we teach literature in school, and do it for at least 14 years; longer, if you major in the subject.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Deportees



Stephen Colbert before Congress today:

On a more serious note, when asked why he was advocating for migrant workers, Colbert responded: "I like talking about people who don't have any power and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don't have any rights as a result. But yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. [...] Migrant workers suffer and have no rights."
Matthew 25:31-46
25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

25:40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

25:44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Adding: the plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon was in 1948. There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Opposition is a force that gives us meaning

But it should not be confused with Christian doctrine:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Adding: CNN now reporting the pastor in Florida (I refuse to name him) has called off the Koran burning. Shortly we will know why, but still: good news.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Old Rocky Face, look forth!



You know, it's just easier to be against something:

Since the beginning of the Obama presidency liberals and progressives have demonstrated little political passion compared to those on the right. Once the election was over, once a black man was elected president, once the Democrats controlled Congress, liberals and progressives declared victory - and left the game.
And most of the push for Obama was to cleanse the Augean stables of what the Bush Administration left behind. When it turned out Obama wasn't Hercules, and that the task wouldn't be as simple as re-routing a river, everybody got bored and dissatisfied and then got mad and decided to get even. Which isn't to say everything Obama has done has been ideal or perfect, but if you expect politicians to always pander to your preferences and always to solve your preferred problems, then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

But getting back to being against something:

Surely, that could be seen in last summer's rage over health care, where in public forums across the country the right showed up in huge numbers -- irate, strident, and full of wrath. If you supported health-care they shouted you down, accused you of favoring socialized medicine (never mind that many of the accusers were on Medicare), said you were Marxists or communists -- or worse.

Their mantra was unrelenting, "We want our country back!" they yelled.
What they want, of course, is what Tom Tancredo wants: they want that "other" out of their White House. "Other" now being the preferred term for the evil that dare not speak its name. I prefer "other" be a term of art in the phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas, because "other" in this context is simply a euphemism for plain old American racism:

"I remember a little thing, like Ms. Obama saying she didn't want any Christian artifacts in the White House during Christmas time," Tancredo said. Another problem, Tancredo said, is "hosting Ramadan events there."

Tancredo's recitation of the urban myth about Michelle Obama disdaining Christmas is just one of several instance of Tancredo ascribing an otherness to the Obamas.
Let me pause to say it again, for emphasis: Tom Tancredo is not "ascribing an otherness to the Obamas." He's a racist: plain and simple. He's upset because a black family lives in the White House. End of discussion. Everything else he says about the Obamas only makes sense in that context. And racism stirs passions and ignites groups of people to action because it gives you something to be against. It also underscores that "they" lost, and now "they" want to do something about it, much as progressives and liberals felt for 8 years of the Bush Administration. And, of course, "they" learned their tactics from "us:"

In the 60s and 70s, having finally achieved their principal objectives, civil rights as the rule of law, the end of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon out of office and disgraced, liberals were spent, emotions drained, energy gone. There were no more rivers to cross or mountains to climb. Everest, K-2, and Annapurna were conquered. Liberalism was victorious. Those who believed in its cause, which they believed to be moral and just, turned to other pursuits.

A large political vacuum was created, but it didn't last. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority arose -- and American politics were forever changed.

What was Falwell's inspiration?

He said he watched William Sloane Coffin Jr., the Berrigan brothers, and other Christian clergy march against the war in Vietnam and decided if they could march against a war he could march for the rights of the unborn. Coffin, the Berrigans and others left the parade. Falwell and Robertson and Dobson took their place.
Civil rights, as I recall, wasn't so much achieved, as the air finally ran out of the balloon with Dr. King's death. It was pretty much left to society to catch up to the vision Dr. King (and many, many others) had espoused. The public struggle had been going on for almost 2 decades at that point; the energy needed to sustain it was finally over. Vietnam ended, too, and Nixon left office in disgrace before that: two "enemies" fallen. And where did Falwell get his inspiration? From the opposition to government and war led by the Beriggan Brothers and William Sloane Coffin and others. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Antipathy is all too human, and it is all to easily inspired. Take Sarah Palin, for example:

"It's just a peculiar thing, but she does, as I found out in May, she presses a button and what comes back is hate," he said. "The people who respond when she complains about something are just so filled with hate. I got some of the ugliest, most vile e-mails directed at me, my grandchildren, my children, my wife – just ugly, ugly stuff."

As for his interviews, most people he approached in Palin's hometown were willing to speak, but he said there was what he calls an "undercurrent of fear."

"People – I don't know if they're afraid of shadows or whether there's something real there – she's no longer in a position of governmental influence but there are people up there who are scared to death to talk because if Sarah ever found out they talked, oh, something terrible would happen to them," he said.
Not coincidentally, you get much the same thing from the Vanity Fair profile about her. Then again, her whole premise seems to be fear and animosity. "Mama Grizzlies." "Don't retreat, reload." And so on. When she isn't fanning the flames of animosity and opposition, she's looking for enemies to be outraged by. Need I say this kind of fear of strangers is as American as neighborliness and friendly welcomes?

It's almost cyclical, this sense of opposition and victory and disengagement and new opposition. Yeats would describe it as the gyres, interlocking cones along which history moved, back and forth. Hegel, in popular culture anyway, would call it thesis and antithesis and synthesis, which eventually gives rise to a new antithesis, sparking another round of opposition. Lost in the usual understanding of Hegel's theory is that the two sides remain in existence, only their power over events swings back and forth, like some mad pendulum. The names, ultimately, change, the uniforms may even be different: but the players remain essentially the same. If the best are full of doubt and the worst are full of passionate intensity, it seems more and more to depend on which side you are on, as to which are best and which are worst. The whole thing comes to seem completely pointless and mad.

I've seen the baseless accusation flung, more than once, that religion is simply a human attempt to defy death, or to explain suffering, or to overcome some problem of individual existence (we all die, but not all of us at once). It's a reductio ad absurdum based on the same ignorance it accuses religion generally of sustaining. One of the ignored lessons of Christianity, though, one of the lessons of the Hebrew Scriptures that endures without let throughout the New Testament, from the first word of Mark to the last word of the Revelation, is that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jesus, is a God intimately involved in history. We've distorted that intimacy, especially since the Romantic period, into individual intimacy: a God who is involved in the best possible outcome for each of our individual lives, a kind of child's imagining of what the world of adulthood is like, as foolish and unrealistic as the child who imagines what is beneath her skin is simply solid flesh, rather than the complex mass of nerve and bone and muscle, ligament, tendon, organs, and connective tissues of all description. A world that is so simple that God could order each individual's life to be perfect for that person is a world so narcissistic and narrow I wouldn't want to live in, couldn't imagine finding happiness in it. What Christianity is supposed to proclaim is a God involved in human history, and that is a complex and difficult proclamation indeed.

It is not, for starters, a proclamation that God is moving all events, whether we can know it or not, toward good, toward a purpose, toward a moment when all eyes will see and all hearts will open and finally humanity will have "evolved" to a point to be ready to accept the God who comes leveling mountains and raising valleys so no human eye can miss the sight. Again, to take that literally would mean the surface of the earth would have to be peeled off like an orange, and late out flat as if there were a planet-sized table top arranged for the occasion. It's a metaphor in Isaiah's text, not a prediction of apocalypse or, if you prefer, Ragnorok. To take literally that God is organizing every last event for good, is to imagine a God who is a monster for letting so much evil happen consequent upon good finally being produced. It is to argue for a God for whom the ends do justify the means, and that is a perverse doctrine indeed. The kerygma that God is involved in human history is a difficult and complex one, and it is not one to be dismissed as a "mystery," either. There is a reason "Israel" means "Struggles with God," and it is better that we understand that struggle is an inheritance from Christianity's Jewish ancestry, not a resolution brought about by the Pauline declaration of the nature of the Christ.

We have to move past, in other words, the idea that the only meaning in life is found in opposition, and the only purpose of struggle is to achieve a resolution. Because in that very limited sense the explanation of Hegel is right, and every synthesis (resolution) simply leads to a new antithesis. The players never leave the field, they simply change jerseys. If we are looking for a resolution, or even a meaning in opposition, we will be eternally frustrated. Part of the problem is that in the Jewish and Christian understanding, it is the nature of God to be "Other," and that otherness prompts struggle. But that struggle is relationship, the relationship of created to Creator. It is not the resolution that is meaningful, it is the struggle that is meaningful.

At this point a sound Niebuhrian doctrine would point out to me that I'm still wishing for the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging, when all I'm ever going to get is the Church of Meaning and Belonging, and I might as well accept the limitation. Between the Idea and the Reality Falls the Shadow, and all that. But then that's a perfect example of the struggle, isn't it? If I demand all or nothing, if I demand a resolution to this struggle or I won't engage it any longer, then I'm denying the central truth I'm trying to proclaim. So let me intrude this thought, instead. The analysis is of Genesis 22, the akedeh, the binding of Isaac by Abraham:

Many commentators focus on the way that Abraham's faith is tested when God asks him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Abraham gets to the very moment of killing his son before being stopped by an angel. The school of religious thought that celebrates blind faith hails Abraham for his willingness to put obedience to God ahead of filial love.

But there is another, very different lesson that we can draw from the juxtaposition of Genesis 22 with the reading from the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Genesis 21. The key verse is Genesis 22:2. It gets translated as God saying to Abraham: "Take your son, your only [yechidcha] son, the one that you love, Isaac, and go forth to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a sacrifice."

"Only son"? We know that Abraham had another son named Ishmael. He was born out of the union with his handmaiden, Hagar. It is only when Sarah gives birth to Isaac in her old age that Ishmael loses standing in the family. This happens when Sarah insists to Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael be banished from the household, all of which is recounted in Genesis 21. Abraham does not question God's command to sacrifice Isaac. Nor does he question Sarah's command to banish Hagar and Ishmael. What's to admire?

In Genesis 22:2 it is hard to accept that God thinks Abraham has only one son. In the previous chapter, God appears to a desperate Hagar, who expects to die in the wilderness with her son. God shows Hagar a well of water and she picks up her son from the ground and gives him drink. At that moment, God promises to make of Ishmael a great nation. Abraham is thus seen as the father of two great nations, the Jews, through Isaac, and the Arabs, through Ishmael.

Thus yechidcha, "your only son" in Genesis 22:2, must be God's description of Abraham's privileging Isaac over Ishmael. This reading is supported by the second part of the sentence, which specifies: "the son that you love."

Perhaps God is not testing Abraham's faith as much as he wants him to re-visit his behavior towards Ishmael. The same Abraham who pleaded to save the lives of sinners in Sodom and Gomorrah cast his first son into the wilderness at the behest of Sarah without a second thought. Now God wants Abraham to experience the near loss of the son he favored in the hope that he can stir compassion in him for the son he cast out.
The story is about, the rabbi says, the theology of scarcity, v. the theology of abundance:

It would be easy for us to make Sarah the villain here, as it is her jealousy that leads to Abraham's heartless act. But, in fact, we are all subject to the impulse that drives Sarah. We believe that love is a limited resource. If X enjoys love, favor or affection, then there is not enough for me. I thus need to either compete with X, cast aspersions on X's reputation by speaking ill of him or her, or eliminate him or her. We do this in our families, in our work places, in our congregations and in our politics.
Now, there is a touch of what I call "vulture theology" in the ending of Rabbi Schwartz commentary, although the insight is true:

We should not have to come to the verge of losing that which is most precious to us in order to see this truth.
As Joni Mitchell would say: "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." If I call it "vulture theology," it's because I've seen pastors use this kind of "you'll need the church when all else fails, you'll need us when you've lost everything and we're still here" approach to justify the church's existence (when all other justifications fail, of course), so the verge of losing everything as a theological revelation is a dangerous one. Not in this circumstance, however; not if we understand it correctly.

"Against" is all about scarcity. There is only so much goodwill to go around, so much love, so much money, so much of...well, whatever. What little there is must be hoarded, held onto, protected, encircled, surrounded, hidden, denied to others, kept for us. "Against" is easier. "For" is hard, because "for" sees abundance in the fact that we all have enough. "Against" says there are limited resources and we must save them for ourselves, for you and me, and when push comes to shove, I'm not so sure about you. We've been down this road once or twice before: on this blog, in human history:

The consistent thread through the Hebrew scriptures into the proclamation of the basileia tou theou is that humans must eschew and avoid political power, because power draws its source from the fear of scarcity. As Brueggemann reads the Biblical narrative, Pharoah represents the people who live in fear and anxiety and anger. Such people have no energy left over for the neighborhood. In the story of Joseph and Pharoah, the guy with the most power and authority and wealth, dreams of scarcity. Which is not surprising; Pharoah's oikos is governed by the fear of running out. It is what keeps him in control, keeps him in power and why the people allow him to rule. This anxiety about scarcity is what drives the Hebrews into slavery and so, in brief, Genesis moves into Exodus.

Now Pharoah is so afraid of scarcity, so filled with anxiety for what might be taken from him, he begins to kill the babies of the Hebrews (and here the parallel to Herod in the New Testament, where he is clearly Pharoah to all the Gospel writers, becomes clearer. This is where Matthew draws his parallel with the Massacre of the Innocents). This is Pharoah's anxiety at work. As my notes indicate from the lecture: "The system that generates anxiety cannot relate to steadfast love." Which all by itself explains much about the reaction to Tom Fox, and even to the desire to go to war in the Middle East, a desire Wesley Clark says originally led to a plan to invade 7 countries in that region. But the story of the Exodus is that "Anxiety generated by ideology and social systems is not a part of the human condition." It is, in other words, our creation, and our creation, unlike God's, is grossly imperfect.

Enter Moses, a person with nothing who dreamed of freedom and departure from the "anxiety producing system." And then there is the miracle in the desert, the gift of God's abundance in the manna which comes to break the influence of the anxiety system (it comes as the people are complaining that they were better off in Egypt than in the desert). Our anxiety, Brueggemann notes, is a product of our lack of trust (faith) in God. God's offer of abundance, he says, calls into question the anxiety created by social systems, by human structures and strictures; and yet God never gives us more than "this day our daily bread."
I know this has the particularity of Christianity, of Judaism, but how else would you have me speak? Any more universally, and it is merely vague and glittering generalities, pretty to look at but adding up to too much of nothing. Any more particular, and I am clanging cymbal, noise adding up to nothing. Besides, I like the idea of the guy with the greatest power and wealth tossing in his bed, haunted by nightmares of scarcity. It rings so true on such a universal level, it's practically an archetype. At least, it would be, if we valued wisdom as much as we value money and power.

But the two are contraries; you can't value one while valuing the other. It's an either/or, a dichotomy with no compromise. In times of deprivation, in times of slight want (compared to Third World poverty how much, really, are Americans suffering? I can't help ask the question, even as I know how unfair it is to compare and contrast sufferings, to establish a hierarchy of loss), when we should recognize that our fundamentals are not sound at all, are not enduring or reliable or concerned with our well-being, when we should turn away, not just "against," and we still can't do it. Imagine if we heard a voice asking us to make the sacrifice of Abraham. But that's why the story of the akedeh is so terrible; we know we could never do it; not because we lack the "blind faith" of Abraham (which faith was not blind at all, but that's another discussion), but because it would leave us nothing to be against. And that, finally, is what we refuse to let go of: without opposition, we are nothing.

Opposition is the force that gives us meaning. Or, at least, we think so.