Lesson 70- Life, Death, Struggle and the Gospel
As I ended my last program I said that I would discuss how antitheses that present themselves in a form with which the Thesis can identify are more palatable to the Thesis and have a better chance of being accepted. Another way of putting this is that liberal causes- which are causes that wish to change the existing system- are more acceptable to the conservative forces- which are those that already are part of the status quo- when their arguments and positions are presented in a form that match what those conservative forces already believe. In other words, if a person wants to have other people listen to and accept his position, he must always consider who the audience is when making a presentation. Let me give you and example.
The Civil Rights movement started to gather steam in the 1950s when Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to move to the back of the bus and was arrested for breaking one of the Jim Crow Laws that were prevalent throughout Southern states. The Black Community protested in one of the most effective ways by boycotting the bus company. For one year they walked or drove each other to work until finally the bus company put pressure on the politicians to change the law before they went bankrupt. From this and other seed events grew the Civil Rights Movement whose leadership was assumed by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. King, a Baptist minister who, besides his Christians beliefs, had been influenced by the writings and non-violent methods of Mahatma Ghandi, based his opposition on the stated beliefs of the status quo as found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. From the Declaration he quoted the words that all Men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which were Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. And from the Constittution the words that no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law and that no state shall deny any person equal protection under the law. In doing so he was basing his challenge on beliefs that those in the Thesis or status quo claimed that they honored. This caused a dilemma in the minds of those fair-minded people in the status quo because they knew that he was right and that the Jim Crow Laws in the South and the public policies in many other states were in direct contradiction of these words.
I, for example, had been born in an Irish working-class neighborhood called the Devils Pocket where racism and religion mixed with no apparent contradiction. We were white and they were black and Graysferry Ave. was the dividing line between them and us and neither group tolerated the incursion of the other group into their neighborhood. However, I should point out that it wasnt only Blacks that were unwelcomed. There were kids from other neighborhood who, as foreigners, were also unwelcomed. But no one was more unwelcomed than Black people who were referred to as niggers.
We were simply obeying the blind Law of Identity that serves a very good purpose on the macro level but sometimes causes problems on the micro level. The Law, stated simply, says that every organism, group, or theory about reality must defend its identity against foreign elements or run the risk of losing its identity. We also could call this the Law of Conservation because its main purpose is to conserve what is and that is why the Thesis in the Hegelian Dialectic is essentially conservative in nature. This seems to be a Natural Law that expresses itself in many ways. For example, many herd animals, and even individual animals, will establish a territory which they will claim as their own and defend it against all invaders. Rats identify the members of their packs by smell and if you take one away from his pack and place him in another, they will rip him to pieces. In fact, if you take him away from his own group and place the smell of another pack on him, his own group will rip him to pieces. And if you put him in another group, after having placed the smell of that pack on him, they will accept him like a long lost friend. Adolescent boys, in the same manner, create gangs based on territory and mark out its boundaries with graffiti on walls that identify their group. And finally, as I have pointed out in a previous programs, our own body follows this Law of Identity through its immune system which will attack anything that is detected as being foreign to its own biological makeup.
Anyway, in the 1950s and 60s, I, as a history teacher, ran into a dilemma when Dr. King made his argument in terms of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which I had been teaching as sacred truths to my students. At the same time, as a Christian minister, Dr. King was challenging my Christian beliefs and the more he couched his argument in political and religious terms that were part of my own identity, the more convincing they became.
And thus, I, like many other fair-minded white people caught in the same dilemma began to support the Civil Rights Movement. I marched on Washington during the time of Resurrection City and I began to attend meeting with other like-minded people. Eventually, I volunteered to teach Black History to white people in Northeast Philadelphia.
However, as the movement began, other antitheses or groups in the Black Community arose with their own methods and agenda. What they had in common was that they were all opposing the racists policies of the status quo but they disagreed as to the methods to be used and the solution to be sought.
Thus to put this in terms of the Hegelian Dialectic, there was a Thesis, which represented all of the beliefs and policies of the people in the United States who were the status quo, that contained racists attitudes that, in their essences, were incompatible with other attitudes and Dr. King was pointed this out to the nation. At the same time, there was the NAACP which, like Dr. King, sought to use our court system to remedy the problem of racism. Both of these movements appealed to mainstream ideas in our culture.
However there were the Black Panthers, a group of militants, who, although they were protesting the same policies, called for violent opposition and the overthrow of the existing system. Then there were the Black Muslims who taught that White people were devils and they wanted segregation rather than integration. They called for a section of the United States to be given to them that would become the Black State of America. I could go on-and-on naming groups but I think that I have already made my case.
My point is that when an antithesis rises in the Hegelian Dialectic it very seldom is just one antithesis. There is often a group of antitheses which, although they are attacking or opposing the same thing, have different methods and agendas. The Thesis, through the Law of Identity, will initially resist all of them just on principle because they are foreign and threaten to change the status quo. In doing so, it is just doing its duty as the Conservative Principle to preserve what is and thus it will oppose and struggle with anything that is new and different. The Antithesis, which is the Liberal Principle, is just doing its duty to purify the Thesis by focusing on things within the Thesis which are either inconsistent with its identity or false beliefs about reality. Its job is to seek to become part of the Thesis by struggling for acceptance while the Thesis struggles for rejection. Thus, struggle is a natural and necessary part of every progressive movement. However, we have to distinguish between changes that are progressive and changes that are regressive because not all changes are necessarily for the better. In other words, we have to distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. Positive antitheses are constructive in nature because they love the Thesis and seek to improve it. Destructive antitheses are destructive in nature because they hate the Thesis and seek to destroy it. While making this point, I used to say to my students that you have no right to change anything or anyone unless you love it.
Thus, Dr. King, even though he was opposing the existing system, constantly declared that he loved this country and that he had a dream that one day it would live out the principles upon which it was based. His criticism was constructive and intended upon improving the country. The Black Panthers and Black Muslims, on the other hand, hated or disliked this country and wanted no part of the American Dream and either wanted to overthrow it or completely separate from it.
As the struggle between the Thesis or status quo and the Antitheses or opposing forces played out, a Synthesis began to form in which the country began to incorporate into its legal and public policies the demands of the opposition. Sometimes, it takes a shocking event like the assassination of Dr. King, but sooner or later, the Thesis is forced to consider the demands of the Antithesis if it, like the persistent woman in the Bible who refused to stop knocking on her neighbors door until she received the loaf of bread she needed for unexpected guests, continues to press the issue. However, it will not accept all of the demands because some of them are too incompatible with its identity. Therefore, it will accept those with which it can most identify. Thus, the Black Panthers and the Black Muslims were rejected because their demands either required the destruction of the existing Thesis or separation from it. On the other hand, Dr. King and the NAACP were incorporated into the existing system because they presented their case in terms which were compatible with it. Thus, today, Dr. King, who was viewed as an enemy of the Thesis in the 1950s and 60s is now considered a hero who has his own national holiday. And the NAACP is still functioning as an advocate of civil rights. They both are antitheses that have been synthesized into the thesis by becoming accepted parts of our culture.
In many ways, this whole process resembles the fertilization of the female ovum by the sperm. The female ovum, like the Thesis, is a foundational principle representing what is. It is large, being 1800 times larger than the male sperm, relatively inactive, and has a positive electrical charge. The sperm, like the Antithesis, is a progressive principle representing what could be. It is small, active, and has a negative charge. In human reproduction, there is a competition among million of antithetical sperms which are seeking to penetrate and impregnate the one egg. The story of our conception is one of competition, luck, and struggle.
It began when our fathers deposited over 150 million sperms, each one a potentially different human being, in the wombs of our mothers. Our first stroke of luck occurred when this happened at the time when our mothers, having ovulated an egg, were ready to be impregnated. If it had happened at any other time, we, and all the other potential human beings would never have existed. As soon as our fathers sperms entered the womb, they were attacked by the acidic conditions, which are necessary to reduce infection in the womb. To protect themselves, the sperms congealed into a protective ball. Those on the outside were killed by the acid. Those in the inside survived to begin the long journey to the waiting egg. Some of these sperms got sidetracked by trying to fertilize the normal cells in the wall of the uterus and thus lost any hope of moving from potential human life to actual human life. Those that didnt continued their journey towards the fallopian tubes where an important decision awaited them. Our mothers, having two ovaries, had two fallopian tubes and each month one ovary or the other produced an egg. Thus, one tube was barren and the other was fertile and the surviving sperm having reached a crossroads, had to decide which road to take. One road led to life and the other to death. Those that took the tube that led to the egg chose life and those that chose the tube that didnt chose death. However, the drama was not over because those that had taken the right path still had to compete with each other to reach the egg. The first one to reach it had to struggle to penetrate its wall and, once it had penetrated, the eggs wall hardens and became impenetrable to all other sperms.
This is how we all came into existence and it almost sounds like a Hollywood movie in which 100 wagons, headed for California during the 1850s, are reduced by one hazard after another until only one makes it. And who wrote the script? God did because what I have just described is a product of His mind.
Of course, many of us like Peter who was chastised by Jesus when he told the Lord that He didnt have to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, would like to rewrite the script so that all the sperms made it to the egg and all of the wagons made it to California. Jesus said that Peter was looking at things from a human point of view rather than from Gods and the same criticism applies to us.
We would like to remove all the obstacles and hazards. None of the wagons would get lost or break down. There would be no hostile Indians or dust storms or floods. There would be no rivers to cross, no mountains to climb, no snowstorms to delay them. The road would be a flat, smooth superhighway and the trip would be uneventful. And nobody would be interested in seeing the movie. We dont like the idea of losers and want everyone to be a winner. But, taken to its logical conclusion, every competitive sport should end in a tie.
This description of how we all came into existence also sounds like the Bible in which Jesus says, many are called but few are chosen and St. Paul advice to us to train our bodies like athletes so that we might run to win the race.
The message is that life is such a rare gift that those who received it have beaten odds greater than having won the Pennsylvania lottery every day of their life. Therefore, the greatest sin in the universe must be that, after having beaten those odds by winning the race over all those other potential human beings, you wasted this precious gift by living a passive rather than an active life.
I once asked a very religious Jewish teacher what the Old Testament meant to the Jews and his reply was to respect life because it was sacred. He was simply repeating a theme that permeates Jewish thought. In the Old Testament, God tells Moses to tell the people that He sets before them life and death, the blessing and the curse. Tell them to choose life! And in the Book of Proverbs it says that life is so precious that it would be better to be a live dog, symbolizing a lower form of life, than a dead lion, symbolizing a higher form of life. Jesus, in the New Testament continues this theme when he says, I have come that you might have life and have it fully! And throughout the centuries the Jewish toast has been La Hiem! which means To life!
Thus the central message of the Bible and of Jewish thought is Life! and everything that enhances it. We might say that the Jews and their God were Pro-life and that the devil, the archenemy of their God, was Pro-death. This takes on added significance when we observe that EVIL is LIVE spelled backwards and when you place a D in front of it, it becomes the DEVIL. And that is why the Church, which is the continuation of this Jewish theme says that there is a war going on between the culture of life and the culture of death. Considering that it is merely expressing its own Jewish roots, it should be inconceivable that any sincere Jew would be pro-abortion. Unfortunately, some are.
But what does it mean to be Pro-life or Pro-death? In previous programs I have mentioned that the philosophical definition for life is integration and for death it is disintegration. Thus I am a composition of billion upon billion of cells, each one with its own life, which have integrated into a cooperative organization so that they might result in a higher form of life. In other words, so that they might experience the fullness of life.
Do you understand what I have just said? Think about it! Each of the cells in our body has an independent life. Throughout our lives, they live, die, and are replaced by other cells. So long as they remain integrated with the other cells, they share in the life of the whole, which, during its life is growing and developing by integrating new skills and experiences into itself. In other words, this organization which we call our body was seeking to experience the fullness of life by integrating cells into functioning units.
Once these cells die, they disintegrate and are replaced by new cells. When the number that disintegrate start to grow in proportion to the number that are integrated, the body starts to break down and when a vital organ is destroyed or becomes dysfunctional, the body itself dies and begins to disintegrate. Thus life is integration and death is disintegration.
What does this all have to do with the Hegelian Dialectic, which is my main theme. Consider this. The Hegelian Dialectic is the model for integration in which the Antithesis integrates with the Thesis by becoming part of the Synthesis. Thus the Hegelian Dialectic is a model for how life grows and develops. In fact we could say that it is the Law of Development. Let me illustrate this by trying to draw a picture.
Imagine the triangle that I have been using to represent the Hegelian Dialectic. In the lower left corner lets place a capital T about one inch high to represent the Thesis. In the lower right hand corner lets place a capital A, also about one inch high, to represent the Antithesis. Now on the line between them let us place the words conflict and struggle to represent the nature of the relationship between them. The Thesis is struggling to maintain what is and the Antithesis is struggling to implement what could or should be. Now at the top of the triangle place a capital S, which is two inches tall, to represent the Synthesis in which the Antithesis integrates with the Thesis. The Synthesis now becomes the New Thesis and starts a new triangle. Have noticed something? The Synthesis, represented by the capital S is now larger than both the Thesis and the Antithesis and, each time this dialectical process takes place, the Synthesis grows and develops through a process of integration. In other words, it is developing towards a fuller expression of life. And life we said is integration.
Now consider that Jesus promised the fullness of life to those who would pick up their crosses and follow Him. In terms of the Hegelian Dialectic this means that those who face the challenges of the antitheses, or crosses, of life and are willing to follow the Truth, who is Jesus, will move towards the fullness of life and so long as they remain on this path, they will inherit eternal life. In other words, when the finite, which is us, is pursuing the Infinite, which is God, the finite must always assume the infinite position of linear development. The worst thing that it could do is to give up the quest for the Infinite by settling for a circular mode of existence. St. Thomas Aquinas expresses this when he says,
The road that stretches before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs. Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness: sure for all our blindness, secure for all our helplessness, strong for all our weakness, gaily in love for all the pressures on our heart. (In other words, we are to live by a faith that a loving God created the universe and wants to share all of its secrets with us.)
In the Darkness (of ignorance, doubt, and uncertainty) beyond the world, we can begin to know the world and ourselves, though we see through the eyes of Another, (who is God). We begin to understand that Man was not made to pace out his life behind the prison walls of nature but to walk in the arms of God on a road that nature could never build.
Life must be lived, even by those who cannot find the courage to face it. In the living of it, every mind must meet the problem of mystery, (which is our inability to know completely). To some men, this will be a joyous challenge, that so much can be known and truth not be exhausted; that so much is still to be known; that Truth is an ocean not to be contained in the pool of a human mind. To others, this is a humiliation hard to accept, for it shows the limits of our proud minds. In the living of life, every mind must face the unyielding rock of reality; of a Truth that does not bend to our whims or fancy; of the rule that measure the life and mind of Man.
In the living of life, every human heart must face the day to day decisions, or rather moment to moment choices of heaven or hell. Before every human heart that has ever beat out its life, the dare of goals as high as God Himself was tossed down to be accepted or to be fled from in terror.
God has said so little (through Scripture and Revelation) and yet what He has said has so much meaning for our living. To have said more would mean less of reverence by God for the splendor of His image in us.
In other words, God wants us to use our rational faculties to seek the truth. St.Thomas concludes:
Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards (or dangers) of the nobility of Man.
Thus life was meant to be a struggle in the pursuit of truth. One might ask why all human life begins with struggle and competition?. It appears that these are necessary in any progressive system. As Fredrick Douglas once said, Without struggle there is no progress! and, as an ad in a magazine once noted, The Russians turn out great athletes because they compete and poor shoes because they dont! And, as naturalist point out, the natural world survives and progresses through the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest.
And who, according to Christian beliefs, made these laws? It was the Logos of God or Gods Wisdom who, according to Christian beliefs, was Jesus. Seen from this perspective, His Passion and Death takes on a new and deeper meaning because, not only did they signify great pain but even more so a great struggle.
Seen from the point of view of the Hegelian Dialectic, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene was the Thesis and the vision of His Passion and Death were the Antithesis that He initially rejected and begged to be excused. However, knowing that He had to demonstrate for us the path of eternal life, He accepted His Fathers Will which is concerned with the macro level, and overcame His human fear of pain, humiliation, struggle, and death.
This raises the question as to whether it was merely the death of Jesus that saves us or the manner of His death. Had He been hung, or poisoned, or strangled would it have had the same meaning and impact? Or is the manner of His death intrinsic to its effect?
Described in simple terms, He was unjustly accused of attacking and trying to change the Thesis or existing system. In other words, He was an Antithesis to the world of His times. He was sentenced to death and forced to carrying a heavy burden up a steep hill. According to tradition, He struggled up the hill and fell three times. But each time, He got up. The third time, He accepted help from Simon the Cyrene. Then He was crucified as an enemy of the state and died. Then, when it looked as though He had been defeated, He rose again to a higher state of life and eventually, like Martin Luther King, His views became incorporated or synthesized into the very Roman Empire that He was accused of trying to overthrow. Then He advises us that if you want life and you want it fully, pick up your Cross and follow Me! In other words, face the antitheses of life and follow the Truth.
Seen from this point of view, His Passion, Death, and Resurrection is a living parable showing us the natural laws of development through a dialectical process. And it was this example that has fueled the linear, progressive view of Western society and is the basis for the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History.
It was because of His example that we produce plays like Man of La Mancha and write songs like The Impossible Dream. It is also the reason why Western society is always pushing the progressive envelope and calling upon the rest of the world to repent and reform of their violation of human rights and, at the same time, apologizing for our own violations. It is also why we are often the major supporter of some type of New World Order in which democracy and human rights will replace dictatorships and human degradation. In other words, we are a great antithsizer to the rest of the world because we continually demand and challenge them to set their people free so that they can become all that they are capable of being.
President Bush, who spoke often of a New World Order, initially involved us in the Iraqi War on the basis of intelligence that claimed that Saddam Hussain had developed weapons of mass destruction. When we failed to find these weapons, he quickly shifted the goal towards making Iraq a showcase for democracy in the center East. The opposition that he ran into from terrorist groups is indicative of how a society based on conservative principles will violently resist any attempt to change it. We, of course, cant understand why they wouldnt want democracy and all of the civil and human rights that it would bring.
This is a classic example of the two opposing views of reality. The older and most universal view is that life and history are a circle that keep on repeating existing patterns. The newer and least universal is that reality and history are a line that is developing from an Alpha to an Omega Point.
The first view rejects the idea of change and progress and like asexual reproduction is nondialectical. In Hegelian terms it is Thesis to Thesis. The second view welcomes the idea of change and progress and like sexual reproduction is dialectical. In Hegelian terms, life is a constant interaction between the Thesis and Antithesis resulting in a Synthesis.
However, as I will point out in a future program, the dialectic is not always progressive because not every change if for the better. The dialectic also is capable of being regressive and sometimes we as a nation have exported negative as well as positive consequences.
As I will show in future programs, the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian View of History is not the only linear view of life and history. It is not the only vision for a New World Order. In fact, Secular Humanism and Communism which is related to it have their own vision for a New World Order and it appears that they are presently working harder at implementing their vision than Christian are at implementing theirs. I suspect that the reason is that they are aware of the dialectical historical struggle and most Christians are not. Therefore, it is a one side struggle in which the antithetical challenges they pose for our Christian culture either go unchallenged or, because of their similarity to our Christian values, are accepting as being compatible.
Well, I see that my time is up and Ill have to save that for a future program. Heres Dom.