Saturday, May 25, 2013

The End of Time: Immenentizing the Eschaton

The Hazards of Thinking You’re Scary Smart
© 2013 by Tom King

The Council of Nicaea - 4th Century Intellectuals
The more people are drawn or pressured into the Christian orbit, the greater will be the number among them who do not have the spiritual stamina for the heroic adventure of the soul that is Christianity; and the likeliness of a fall from faith will increase when civilizational progress of education, literacy, and intellectual debate will bring the full seriousness of Christianity to the understanding of ever more individuals. - Eric Voegelin

Voegelin wrote this as part of a larger piece on why smart men fall from faith and come to believe they can “immentize the eschaton”, a fancy way of saying make heaven come sooner by their own efforts.  In the quote above, Voegelin posits that some are drawn into the Christian orbit and some are pressured for one reason or another and that the more that join up with the Christian cause, the more of them will fail because they aren’t tough enough to be Christians.

I obviously disagree with Mr. Voegelin somewhat or else I wouldn’t have spent this morning writing this whole long essay on the subject.  I believe the only real point for anyone entering the "Christian orbit" is to find God because we have come to believe that He is likely to be found at the center of the Christian orbit.  If one enters Christianity for any other reason, he is likely merely looking for himself which is, in essence, an attempt to make himself God.  He (or she) will inevitably fail if that is his purpose.

The fall of so many "intellectual" Christians can be, almost inevitably, traced back to that Lucifer moment when they began to toy with the idea that perhaps they might have achieved their current greatness in and of themselves and if so, perhaps they might tell God a thing or two about how things should be done.  On a lesser scale (sin-wise) they might merely seek to "explain" God a little more clearly - just for the sake of the huddled masses you understand.  After all, God does rather talk above the heads of the sheep most of the time doesn’t He?

All the really great heresies have come from an effort to "clarify" God's character for the unwashed.  The idea of an ever-burning hell, for instance, helps keep the troops in line from fear. I mean if you can't bring people into the church with love, scaring them half to death is just as effective is it not?  To make the Hell threat work you have to posit an immortal soul that cannot die under torture.  No matter that that very idea was Satan's first lie to Eve in the Garden. No matter that Jesus pointed out that you should not fear those who can destroy the body, but rather God who can destroy the soul.  Sadly, even Christians, who ought to know better, often resort to fear-tactics to "motivate" people to be saved. Some of the last days scenarios evangelists used to throw up on the screens at camp meeting when I was a kid used to scare the socks off the saints. These tactics probably created more agnostics than they did Christians, but intellectuals have always doubted the efficacy of love as a primal motivator for getting fannies in the pews.

The great change of the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday was made in order to give the Pagans a more attractive worship day that was simpler for them to understand.  After all, why would the fledgling political church want to upset things by altering the rhythm of the pagan Roman week and after all, the Sabbath was far to "Jewish" for those anti-Semitic times. Changing the Sabbath to Sunday, a move for which the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges there is no Scriptural authority not only demonstrated the power of the intellectual church by altering one of the fundamental Ten Commandments, but also served as a smart political move in that it distanced the Christian church from the Jews – an intellectual two-fer.

The innate immortality of the soul idea came about because every other religion believed that the soul was pretty much immortal and no one, especially intellectuals, likes being the odd religion on the block. It took intellectuals, convinced they were helping God out, to tease out the idea of an inherent immortal soul from a source book that seemed intent on debunking that whole idea.

Of course, intellectuals want to immanentize the eschaton.  If heaven can be established on Earth pretty soon, the power and position of these chosen smart people might be preserved.  Perhaps they fear being marginalized in heaven, what with the competition for pride of place with imminent people like Elijah, Moses, David, Joshua, Peter, Paul and the like.

The Jewish intellectuals of Jesus' day deceived themselves that they were, because of their superior grasp of the nuances of the Torah, qualified to speak for God in condemning the troublesome young rabbi. It is always dangerous to assume that because of your own brilliance that you are qualified to "tweak the message" in order to help the rabble find their way to God. But that is the great temptation.
You get from that, the appalling spectacle of the not-so-bright-but-unaware-of-their-limitations intellectuals who flat make up stuff in order to make God's case for Him - rather like some self-appointed version of God's public relations agency. The effort is usually ham-handed and embarrassingly easy to spot.

Unfortunately, some actually brilliant souls do something rather similar, if more polished.  They generally speak to a narrower group of similarly intellectually gifted people, using esoteric language to keep out the riff-raff, but they are making no less an effort to explain God's behavior for the sake of their (almost) peers.  That is incredibly dangerous ground. That ground has been trod before by a very gifted angel who felt he should have been included in the planning stages of the whole free-choice experiment and disaster that this Earth became. He was so persuasive that a third of the angels fell from heaven with him, deceived by his dazzling line of reasoning.

The rise of the progressive socialists mirrors that same deception in the political world.  The old nobility had been discredited and lost much of its power an position with the rise of the United States. To restore the privileges of the privileged class, they had to make the case that only the privileged class was smart enough to bring about heaven on Earth.  Out of that rose the twin horrors of communism and eugenics. Notice too that both the spiritual and intellectual Pharisee uses the same Luciferian technique of preceding an argument with a false premise.

Lucifer told Eve that if she ate the fruit, she would become like God knowing good and evil. He preceded that lie with another, more important lie couched as a premise. “You shall not surely die.” He wanted her to focus her attention on whether she would gain power like God by eating the fruit, so that she might, without thought, accept the even more pernicious lie that she was inherently and by nature immortal.  Should she accept this false premise, then she was Lucifer could argue, already in essence, godlike, whether she ate the fruit or not. Also, if Eve accepts the premise of her own immortality, then it follows, that God lied to her and therefore cannot be fully trusted.  The devil only needs small openings like that to work his best deceptions.

The progressive socialists also start with a lie.  They promise that Heaven on Earth is achievable by the efforts of a special class of smart men if we have the right kind of government.  Like Lucifer, they offer a premise that is also a lie – that heaven can be achieved on Earth.  Not content with one premise, they also offer a second – that a special class of smart men can, in fact, successfully manage something as complex as an entire social system, an entire economy and human nature itself if you give them sufficient power.  The premise is repeated again and again as though it were fact and, as Lenin promised, the false premise eventually becomes accepted as fact.

On occasion I like to remind myself of my true place in the universe.  I go find a nice open hill late at night and far from the city lights.  I lie down in the grass on my back and close my eyes.  I grip the grass with my hands and imagine that I am not lying down but that my back is against the side of the planet as if it were a wall behind me.  Then I open my eyes and look “down”.  It is breath-taking. For a second you really do feel you are hanging on the side of the Earth looking out into infinite space. I’ve seen people experience vertigo doing this exercise. For just a moment you realize what a vast universe it is and how small your place in it really is.

After that, if you can return to immenentizing the eschaton, you’re probably hopelessly full of yourself.

Tom King
Puyallup, WA – 5/25/2013