Friday, September 30, 2022

Dies Irae

 I'm not quite sure why (I'm never quite sure why, to be honest.  My thought processes usually perplex me.), but this passage makes me think of Schrodinger's cat:

I will point out that Brueggemann does what I have never heard an ideologue of materialist-atheist-scientism do, admit that the focus of his thinking is a product of human imagination and, so, is subject to all of the conditions and vicissitudes, including being wrong, that our imagination of things outside of us, and all that is unseen within us, is exactly that, our trying to cope with our experience.  Of course science is no less a product of the same human imagination subjected to a different set of filters in order to gain a possible enhancement of accuracy on the basis of a collective narrowing of focus and testing the rather pedestrian results about what it has narrowly focused on.  

Part of the effort of quantum mechanics, at least when Schrodinger and his peers were "inventing" it, was the effort to undermine science as objective truth apart from either human imagination or human consciousness. This was not an assault on science; it was an effort to explain what quantum mechanics revealed about the nature of reality, and that nature was the product of our perceptions.

Perception plays an unappreciated role in epistemology.  The thought-experiment of the cat in the box is an example.  The hypothetical cat is in the conjectured box because now it is hidden from our perception; most importantly, from our sight.  "Seeing is believing," and that's the very point of Schrodinger's metaphor.  We can't see the cat, so we can't know the cat's state:  alive or dead (the only two that matter to the metaphor).  And we don't know until we open the box and observe.  Just as we only know quantum states when we observe them; but that doesn't mean the moment of observation is the moment of revelation and the perception of absolute truth.  It could be altered in the next observation.  If I understand correctly (and I may not), this is the argument in quantum physics for observation changing the observed.  I think of it as a poll which shows a certain result, while another poll, either contemporaneous or only days later, yields a different result.  Is the poll reflecting changing attitudes?  Or, more likely, different respondents?  And does the act of polling change the nature of the responses?  Walt Kelly called polling "the buckshot use of the curved question."  The question affects the answer.  Polls try to eliminate that problem; but do they?  How do we know, except through observation?  And if the poll results change everytime the questions are asked, what establishes the "objective baseline"?

Just so quantum mechanics can't establish a "baseline," because what is observed by quantum mechanics is never observed either absolutely nor in the absence of the observer.

Now, that's resting a lot of weight on a subject I don't truly understand, so my argument is subject to severe critique before I've even made it.  But like Schrodinger's cat, my argument is actually just metaphorical, a way of opening the concept of human understanding being a product of human imagination

...and, so, is subject to all of the conditions and vicissitudes, including being wrong, that our imagination of things outside of us, and all that is unseen within us, is exactly that, our trying to cope with our experience.  

Let's back up a minute and start where the argument in that quote started:

 Q. Could you comment a little bit more  about something you talked about earlier, about God changing God's mind?  Especially in response to how the People requested (?) God to change God's mind. Would you comment more on that?

- Well, what that teaches is that we have impact on our futures, what we decide matters.  God in the Old Testament never subscribed to the idea that God is immutable, unchanging and all that, so God is a character in the transaction and how we act causes God to position God's-self differently. That's how they imagined God. And so, if this is the Lord of the Covenant, this God is going to give blessings to People who obey Torah and not for those who don't. You know, that's the reasoning. 

If you look in Jeremiah 18,  I mentioned this I think another time, but there's a very clear case of it. Verse 18:7 "I will pluck up and tear down and destroy, but if that nation turns from its evil I will change my mind."  But then, negatively, I will plant and build but if they do evil, then I will change my mind.  So this is a God who is engaged in the Covenental conflicts.  And, you know, in some ways that's kind of how we conduct some of our most important relationships. And so on. 

Want to come back on that?

- I think what I [honestly meant] it scares me that my actions could change God's actions. 

-  Yeah, but you see the alternative to that is to say "My actions are irrelevant."  It doesn't matter what I do, what the hell. So this tradition takes human conduct very seriously.   

If you’re reading this, you, too, take human conduct very seriously. You care about the news, about politics, about what other people are doing and the consequences of those actions. Or you just care about what people think. Putting those thoughts in print is action, too. But, do you consider that your actions could change God’s actions?  Probably, if at all, only in the sense of the vengeful and angry "God of the Old Testament."  Which is a terrible charicature of the Hebrew Scriptures, because the "wrath of God" supposedly described there is actually the anguish of God because the Hebrews won't follow the wisdom God set out for them, starting with Abraham and continuing through Moses and restated, again, by the Prophets.  The dies irae (not the sequence sung in a Latin mass, but the "day of wrath") is not poured out by God upon Israel for their sins; it is the consequences of Israel's faithlessness and failure to hold up their end of the covenant.  Even then, throughout the prophets, there are scenes of God calling Israel to trial, making God's case for God's faithfulness to the covenant, and the breach of same by Israel.  And still God's purpose is to call Israel back to the covenant, not to punish them and beat them until morale improves.  That's the all too human way, and any parent of a child will tell you it doesn't work.  In fact, in the midst of the fall of Jerusalem and the Exile to Babylon God promises a new covenant with Israel.  God promises to start over, and offer Israel hope.  God always leaves Israel to its choices; but those choices change the way God responds and keeps, at least on God's end, the covenant.

And human conduct matters right down to the least action shown to the least person:

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."

It is worth nothing that this lesson about the least among us, and how we should care for them (offering them a coat; give them some food; visit them in jail.  How small are these things?) is not at all at odds with the Hebrew scriptures.  What is described here is simply hospitality, of the kind Abraham showed at Mambre when three strangers came by, and he offered them a feast, in return for which, God promises Abraham a child, and Sarah laughed.  The "sheep" here offer no more than Abraham did; far less, in fact.  And yet they showed care for God, just as Abraham did.  I suppose we could narrowly focus this within the confines of "common sense" and justify limiting our charity to the "deserving poor," or not giving food (or money for food) to homeless people on the streets because they might spend it on liquor or trade the food for drugs or something (you never know, do you, with those people?), and don't prisoners deserve to be in jail, aren't they there because they need to be punished, and besides people without clothing can go to a charity or GET A JOB! and, you know,  God helps those who help themselves, isn't that in the Bible somewhere?  (No, it isn't.)

And pretty soon it's so much easier to be a goat than a sheep.  I sometimes wonder if the goat as a symbol for Satan didn't start right there....

But don't we want to "gain a possible enhancement of accuracy on the basis of a collective narrowing of focus and testing the rather pedestrian results about what it has narrowly focused on"?  Sure we do!  What could be wrong with that?

The perfectly decent person who follows a certain chain of reasoning, ever so slightly and subtly incorrect, becomes a perfect monster at the end of the chain.

--Wallace Shawn 

1 comment:

  1. If people are going to quote me I'm going to have to take more time editing my writing. Wish I'd been online to read this Saturday while I was writing my post for Sunday.