The Counsel of Perfection and Moral Creativity

Man is a tragic being because he belongs to two realms – the heavenly and the earthly. The difference corresponds to the Biblical injunction “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and the things that are God’s to God.”[1]

Much of the moral vision in the Gospels is a counsel of perfection and applies to the heavenly. Heavenly ethics have an aspirational and inspiring aspect and can only be followed partially and in some instances. For instance, “if someone slaps you on one cheek, don’t stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don’t try to keep back your shirt.”[2] The impulse to slap someone back when they have slapped you is almost overwhelming. When not in the heat of the moment, it can seem like a simple thing. In reality not acting on this impulse is rare and extremely difficult. If it were not, earthly existence would be relatively paradisaical. The urge is ego driven. Recently, I had to let someone have the last word in a dispute about the merits of a particular writer who I regard as morally obnoxious. Rajani Kanth writes:

“How would world religions be different if women were their inspirations, and not men? 1Indeed, would ‘religion’, as we know it, even exist? Would a woman Buddha have forsaken family and loved ones to seek an arid, abstract ‘enlightenment’ abroad? Would a Jane Christ let herself suffer crucifixion, or might she have intelligently compromised with the ‘enemy’? Would ‘enemies’ even exist in their discourse? Would women have built the Bomb, and used it? Would they have fought two global wars, not to mention a quadrillion smaller ones? Would they have practiced genocide? In sum, could it be that a woman’s world, if she were permitted to wish it into existence, would be somewhat different than ours?”

This is such one-sided cant (English spelling perhaps of Kanth?) of feminist triumphalism I could barely keep my fingers from the keyboard. Kanth goes on to describe the entire history of humanity as women trying to restrain the violent impulses of men who are reduced entirely to the one percentile greater level of aggression that men as a group are prone to.

“I have long felt that the solution to the ills of humankind rests with women: there is no societal ill, from war to despotism, that is not Male-inspired, directed, and enshrined. Domination has been a male preserve for millennia. Women have largely looked the other way, leaving such madness to men, whilst they built the life convivial in the shadows, in the domain of domesticity. Now, it is time that they stepped out and said NO. They are on the move, and I think they will succeed. All men have to do is step aside, so to speak. The only partial exception to the rule I enunciate above is the many tribal

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Lysistrata by Aristophanes – a sex strike to prevent war

societies that have successfully ‘imprisoned’ the predatory drives of men within the healing matrix of kinship (this does not eliminate the drives but places restraints on them). And we cannot hope to do much better than that.”

The gynocratic fantasy is accompanied by a claim of Indian cultural and spiritual supremacy.

“For all their astonishing achievements in science and technology, Anglo-Norman cultures fail abysmally in one significant area–of connecting the dots. They can break things down ad infinitum, with great ingenuity, into their constituent parts: but are at something of a loss, at putting the pieces back together. Now that might well serve as a metaphor for what they have done to this planet, and why.

“Eastern traditions, and tribal ideologies, in general, remain their permanent, polar opposite: for being always, perhaps ineluctably, holistic in their visions.”

The ideological nature of Kanth’s writing is clear in its embrace of partial truths. Yes, married men well-integrated into communities are less violent than 14 to 27 year old males with no wives or girlfriends. Yes, modern Anglo culture tends to be atomistic. But, no, women are not morally superior beings whose striding forth would save the world, and Eastern monism has no room for individual existence, and hence no space for love which only exists between concrete individuals.

One interesting concession is: “When I suggested women will now assert themselves, it will not be the likes of Hillary Clinton or the Queens of England: i.e., to rule like men–but to fundamentally feminize societal goals, in toto, by dismantling/defusing male institutions and approaches by simply approaching them as women.” Except Kanth regards the dismantling of social institutions as a good thing. The total feminization of most educational institutions, schools and universities, and the feminine inspired “diversity and inclusion” drives of college administrations show to what pathologies women are capable. All the women professors I know, which might or might not be representative, hate most aspects of college administration which simply oozes caring and compassion with complete disregard for standards and basic honesty.

Similarly unappealing postings have included Carlos Castaneda, a certified fraud, and quotations from A Course in Miracles. There is definitely a certain projection going on on my part since twenty-five years ago I could be found dipping into similar things. So part of my discomfort is that in reading her posts, it feels as though I am trapped in a time warp, forced to stay forever as an adolescent version of myself. And, in writing this, I am venting my spleen anyway! And yet, not entirely, since I did not respond to her claim that I was missing the tremendous richness of Kanth. I wanted to say, “Yes, I do find him a bit rich.” Or, “I Kanth wait to hear more. Not!”

As the reader might be able to tell, putting a cork in it on my part took a lot of self-restraint and was the right thing to do. However, if a country is militarily attacked, the equivalent of a nation turning the other cheek is not what a country should do. And, if muggers knew that all they had to do was request a person’s articles of clothing, smartphone, and wallet and the victim would gladly hand them over without a second thought, this would not be remotely ideal.

The motherly impulse to accept all foreigners into a country who wish to come is not morally correct either. Foreigners wish to emigrate to first world countries to benefit from the superior economic conditions there, but typically wish to retain their own cultural heritage which they can frequently do to a degree if there are sufficient numbers of them to maintain a semblance of the culture of origin. Unfortunately, in the process, the immigrants simply reproduce the atrocious economic conditions that they were seeking to escape, or social pathologies, if their numbers become large. In countries like Austria, Germany, and Sweden, immigrants have caused severe hardships on their hosts with women frequently bearing the brunt of the problems. And most third world countries have appalling levels of widespread lying and corruption that make economic transactions nearly unworkable. For someone to build a house, he must get a loan from the bank, hire a contractor, the contractor gets supplies on credit from a hardware store, and perhaps an architect is engaged as well. The bank trusts that the home owner will repay his mortgage. The homeowner trusts that the bank will make good on its promise of extending a loan. The contractor trusts that he will be paid, and the homeowner trusts that the contractor will indeed do his job and in a moderately timely fashion, etc. Contracts may be signed, but if everyone has to sue each other, the whole system will fall to pieces and nothing will get done. How it is that a culture develops a habit of honesty and thus trustworthiness is a bit of a mystery. The maintenance of this habit and/or moral virtue is supremely important and must not be compromised. Of course, I am only claiming relative honesty and trustworthiness. Corruption is everywhere, but not to the same degree.

Someone once argued that a real Christian would accept every hard luck refugee application or perhaps even those just seeking a higher standard of living and that Jesus would not ask about the religious and cultural baggage that a person was bringing with him. Perhaps this someone is right. But heavenly perfection is not to be found in the domain of the earthly, and heavenly perfection misapplied is not good at all, and that is tragic.

René Girard spent his life trying to help bring the scapegoat mechanism into consciousness, and he interpreted Christianity as being largely about remedying this inherent sinful tendency to which all humans are prone. He wondered if society could survive the removal of scapegoating. Most probably it could not. The alternative to coming together in shared hatred of victims is to come together in love. It often seems that this last is wishful thinking and is a counsel of perfection. However, since we are living in an era of scapegoating on a truly staggering level, exacerbated by the internet, and online anonymity, reducing scapegoating from the Stygian depths it has now reached would be nothing but beneficial.

Berdyaev writes that the social realm relies on lies and illusions. Das Man represents pressure to  conform to group think and the average man adheres to the social lies to which he is subjected. Independence of thought is rare, and cowardice and fear common. My philosophy classes can be a little haven of relative truth, but I cannot tell my business ethics students to ignore all injunctions to political correctness because this would terminate their careers immediately before they began. Perhaps they can remain aware of the corruption and try to mitigate it. Almost none of them actually believe the lies by which they are surrounded and they are more than willing to tell me this in person, but they also admit that their fear of reputational ruin and expulsion from school stops them from saying anything in class on these topics.

The Idiot, by Dostoevsky, is a story of a Christ-like figure. Prince Myshkin unintentionally3 sows discord and conflict, and the whole thing ends badly. In fact, the novel remains without a proper ending. Dostoevsky was incapable of reaching an adequate resolution. Maybe it is because Christ-like perfection is incompatible with the fallen world and it inevitably ends in a lynching and premature death, or similar catastrophe.

Because of man’s dual nature, and the fact that he needs to fit into some kind of communal existence, it is our fate to look longingly at moral perfection and heavenly ethics, without being able to put them entirely into practice.

For Berdyaev, this is not the end of the story. He identifies three stages in revelation. The revelation of law, Old Testament, the revelation of salvation and redemption, New Testament, and then man’s revelation to God. This last revelation has to do with the creativity which man has inherited from the Holy Spirit, from the Gottheit, and the Ungrund. This is the mystery of Freedom. What have we decided in response to Freedom granted us?

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Reconciling heavenly and earthly morality involves creative responses to human, earthly predicaments. It is common that two good things are in conflict; for instance, honesty and protecting the innocent, keeping a promise and keeping a job, loyalty and honesty, politeness and truth. In moral life, rules are provisional only and it is frequently impossible to adhere to multiple rules all at the same time in particular circumstances. Being overly rigid will simply produce a worse moral situation, as will being too lax. Aristotle was right that moral theories that attempt to provide rules for all situations are impossible because all action takes place in particular circumstances with particular people and abstractions, and generalizations will gloss over and miss the details, and it is the details that determine the right action.

Moral creativity is divine; it is a spiritual response to a spiritual question. What, oh man, do you choose to be? What will be your nature? The spiritual, the interior man, is the realm of Freedom and breaks through into the objective, social realm. The idea of natural law, and unchangeable human nature applies the rules of the realm of objectification – to treat human beings as natural objects subject to sociomorphic rules of the game, to imagine that God is like a Lord of the realm of Caesar issuing commandments, rather than a call to imaginative, creative responses from someone who shares in the divine nature. We can transfigure the fallen world of objectification through the spiritual and partially redeem it. All Freedom and all creativity represents a break in the temporal world of objectification. By definition, there is no rule-book for creativity and our imagination often fails us and we do what we should not do.

So long as man inhabits two worlds, his existence will be tragic and painful. But, his response to incompatible truths, the truth of heaven, and the truth of earth; or, the realm of spirit and the realm of object, does involve the creativity endowed within those made in the image of God.

[1] Matthew 21:22.

[2] Luke 2:29.

11 thoughts on “The Counsel of Perfection and Moral Creativity

  1. Pingback: The Counsel of Perfection and Moral Creativity | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 11/17/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  3. I recommend Robert Graves’ novel Seven Days in New Crete (1949), a dystopian fantasy in which a man from the Twentieth Century finds himself catapulted to the gynocratic future society of “New Crete.” The women of New Crete have abjured Christianity because of its oppressive male God and have revived an ancient cult — that of the Cretan Mother Goddess — which proves to be sacrificial. As if anybody couldn’t guess…

  4. An Instance of Gynocracy

    From the editor’s Foreword to an English translation (1986) of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful: “In the course of translating Gadamer’s essays, an attempt has been made to reduce the use of words with a linguistic bias toward the male sex. On many occasions, however, this could only have been accomplished by complicating or rewriting Gadamer’s sentences. In such instances, male nouns and pronouns have reluctantly been maintained.”

    We’ll let them live… for now…

  5. I’d never before heard of Kanth, but have a strong aversion to modern Indian holy men. Like you, I passed through a phase of infatuation with the Wisdom of the East, Carlos Castenada, and the like, but eventually realized this literature was just rationalizing my egotistic drives with mumbo jumbo. In my experience, people who were deeply into these philosophies were intensely selfish, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that they especially appealed to me in my most selfish phase of life.

    If Jesus and his disciples were alive today, I think Judas would have been the one complaining that they were not spending enough time helping refugees. Jesus demanded spiritual transformation, not social reform and open access to a higher standard of living.

    I take his impossible ethical demands as a rebuke to the Pharisees who thought they could pass the test of life by their own effort. They are not actually commands to do this or that, but rather reminders of the humbling truth that men are incapable of doing this or that. It’s as if a strong man who had become insufferably vain over his ability to clean jerk five hundred pounds were told he must clean jerk a battleship to be considered a truly strong man.

  6. It sounds like sex per se isn’t the issue. Eastern men are okay. Aboriginal men are okay. The real gripe seems to be only with the men of Western Civilization with our rationality, science, and hierarchy. Interesting that Kanth knew people would be more open to her case if she framed it as a denigration of men in general.

    • Kanth is a guy and I have the impression he really does think all men are evil. We are all violent without women around. While there is some truth to that, the idea that women are inherently good does not hold up to closer inspection. It is not women’s goodness ameliorating men’s violent tendencies. I’m sympathetic to the people who identify this kind of thing as yet another way to try to ingratiate yourself with women.

      • I used to not understand how women could be bothered by men trying to ingratiate themselves to them, but this guy is pretty annoying.

        Imagine if women were always flattering me when they really just wanted to sleep with me. Never mind. I think I could live with that.

        I do sense that he thinks the West is particularly masculine-evil. Perhaps he’s just being careful not to get tripped up by accidentally including a member of a victim class in his condemnation. Everything must be intersectional now. For example, the natural answer to “Who oppresses women according to feminism?” would be “men”, right? And the natural answer to “Who oppresses blacks according to the civil rights movement?” is “whites”. Then some Democratic strategist drew a Venn diagram and realize this had to be changed. The answer to both questions is “white men”. Hence intersectionality was born, named I would imagine after the intersection region in that first Venn diagram of evil.

        Today, of course, the single oppressor is straight white men (and, by the way, Muslims, Jews, and Spanish-descended Latin Americans aren’t white).

      • If it were not possible to scapegoat all white men as a group the world would look unrecognizably different and many people would be out of a job.

  7. How to make a bajillion dollars stroking the egos of postmodern busybodies:
    1) Deny Original Sin.
    2) Determine what the target population considers the root of all societal evil. To maximize sanctimony, make it something the target population can’t do or be.
    3) Reinvent Original Sin.
    4) Define the person, place, or pattern identified in step 2 as the original sin.
    5) Propose solutions that make the target population the heroes of the crisis.

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