Lesson 87- Suffering vs Struggle
Well, did you think about the question that I asked at the end of my last program? Is the goal of human existence a trouble-free life? The way that most of us talk seems to indicate that it is. But we may be making the same mistake that Peter made when he contradicted Jesus after He had said that He must go to Jerusalem and go through His Passion and Death.
Jesus said that Peter was looking at this from a human point of view rather than from God’s. How are we to take this? Does God like suffering? The answer probably is “Yes!” and “No!” It appears that in order to understand this we have to understand the role that pleasure and pain play in the nature of things. You might remember that in an earlier program I spoke about the philosophy of hedonism which says that “whatever gives me pleasure is good” and “whatever gives me pain is bad.” This is animal logic and is probably related to the right lobe of the brain that is more connected to our non-verbal, alogical animal nature. It appears that if you want an animal, which lacks a logical left lobe, to perform a rational act you must motivate it through blind passions, drives, and instincts that pushed it from behind rather than through knowledge that pulls it from the front. That is why passion and passive come from the same root because they both imply that the active being is being pushed to do something rather than actively choosing.
To the extent that we share in these passions, drives, and instincts, we know how it feels when an internal drive starts to push us towards some external action. It is obvious that the human race was driven to eat and have sexual relations long before it had any understanding of nutrition and reproduction. And even today, we moderns who understand the real purpose of both, eat for taste and have sex for pleasure. A philosophical way of putting is this is that in both animals and most human beings it is secondary purposes rather than primary ones which are the driving force behind our actions.
When the Bible speaks of the “world” or the “flesh”, it is referring to the natural world and these passion, drives, and instincts that motivate it. And that is exactly what is wrong with both of them. They are driven from behind by unconscious rather than conscious motives. In John I, it says that “the light (of Logos or Wisdom) shone in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it.” And, in another sections of the Bible it says that “the flesh can not please God.” Why not? Because God, as a Super Rational Being, wants and expects that a creature made in His own “image and likeness” will act out of knowledge rather than feelings.
Perhaps the answer was best given at the time when my wife and I were first involved in the Catholic Charismatic Movement and were getting ready to attend a evening meeting where we were going to be prayed over for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When I arrived home after work, I saw my wife sitting on the steps with an open book on her lap and tears running down her face. When I asked her what was wrong she said that she had been worried all week because that night we were suppose to go through this special experience and she never had felt so spiritually dry in her life. She had absolutely no feelings about what was about to happen. And then she opened up this book and the words “feeling don’t count” almost leapt off the page. Did you hear that “feelings don’t count!” Why don’t they? Because feelings have no moral merit or significance. They are automatic, spontaneous, and are just as capable of leading one down the wrong path as the right path. In a sense they are amoral because they aren’t concerned with the objective question of right or wrong. Instead they are concerned with subjective feelings of pleasure and pain. Thus, the problem of evil occurs when our feelings lead us to perform behavior which attempts to avoid pain or to gain pleasure in the short term but, in the long term, has unfortunate logical consequences for us individually or as a society.
Take for example, a German shepherd dog who has been trained either to lead a blind man across the street or to be an attack dog. In either case, there is no moral significance to what he does because in both cases he has been trained through a process of reward or punishment and never reflected on the moral quality of either act.. Or consider this. I am a “touchy-feely” grandfather who just loves to hug and kiss my grandchildren, or for that matter, any sweet and loveable little child. Whenever I see a cute little child, I feel impelled to show my affection by hugging or kissing it and it gives me great satisfaction to do so. Yet, there are other children who are not so cute. Children who have been abused or neglected and are deformed or dirty, smelly, and often have mean dispositions. I am repelled by them and find it difficult to shower them with the hugs and kisses that I willing give to the pampered children. Yet, it is these neglected, unappealing children who most need to receive some sign of affection, not the pampered children who have many admirers. Yet, in both these cases, there is no moral significance to my feelings because I didn’t consciously generate either one of them. They rose up spontaneously. What matters from a moral point of view is what I choose to do, not how I feel. Am I able to ignore my feelings and make the choice to give signs of affection to the child that most needs it?
This is what Jesus was referring to when he called upon people to love their enemies and to do good to those who harm them. There is no credit, He said, in helping your friends or those who help you because even the pagans do that. The real test of love is when we act in a positive way towards those that we don’t like. Try, for example, loving those who beat you, spit upon you, crown you with thorns, place a heavy beam on your shoulder, drive you up a hill, and nail you to a cross. Then you’ll know the moral standards that God has for love.
One of our greatest misconceptions is that love is a deep positive feeling when it isn’t. As feeling creatures we are inclined to confuse “like” with love. “Like” is a positive feeling which not only motivates us but even impels us to act positively towards another person. The problem with it is that it is an emotional roller coaster that when it is “hot” it is “hot” but when it is not, it is not. Because it is based on feelings, it goes up and down with them because it depends on the energy provided by the feeling to act. Therefore, it is unpredictable and unreliable.
Love, on the other hand, has an intellectual component that is lacking in “like.” Brother Elyfus Lewis, at LaSalle University, used to say, “Gentlemen, love is not a feeling. Love is an appreciation for the object loved independent of how it makes you feel.” At the time, we thought he was crazy because everybody knows that love is a feeling. But, as I have matured, I have come to realize the wisdom of his definition.
As rational beings, we are called by God, to go beyond feelings, because “feeling don’t count.” They were designed for arational beings, like animals, who are incapable of understanding rational purposes or goals. Therefore, they must be led to rational behavior through a system of reward and punishment, pleasure and pain. The problem, of course, is that pleasure and pain must be immediate and therefore they are inadequate guides because, depending on immediate gratification, they are ineffective in leading us to long-term goals which often involve a long, drawn out struggle and delayed gratification.
Thus, when Jesus says that “Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God”, He is telling us that human life goes deeper than mere animals. Animals can and do “live by bread alone” because they are physical beings without a spiritual component. They are trapped or imprisoned in Gehenna, the world of “empty thought” referred to in the Old Testament. Human beings, on the other hand, have a spiritual dimension that has it own dietary requirements. In a previous program, I mentioned that the ancient Hebrew believed that there were two dimensions to every human being: the flesh and the spirit. The flesh ate natural bread in order to survive but the spirit ate Wisdom.
Once we understand this, many of the sayings and references of Jesus and the Bible take on greater significance. For example, whenever God speaks, he speaks Wisdom and thus His Word and His Wisdom refer to the same thing. So when John I says “In the beginning was the Word and Word was with God and the Word was God… and the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us…, he is saying that in the beginning was God’s Wisdom and God’s Wisdom became flesh and dwelt amongst us in the form of Jesus Christ. And when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of life, he who comes to me shall not hunger; he who believes in me shall not thirst” or “Unless you eat My Body and drink My blood, you shall not have life within you…” He is merely reflecting the ancient Hebrew belief that only a fool would spend his life feeding the flesh that was destined to die and disintegrate while starving his spirit that was destined to live forever.
And how does one acquire Wisdom? In Proverbs 8, Wisdom Itself says that it comes from experience. In other words, it is in the day to day decision making in which people face the challenges that life throws at them that they acquire Wisdom from the consequences that life reflects back to them and, as these consequences are recorded, they become part of the total acquired Wisdom of the human race. However, take away the consequences and you eliminate a major path to Wisdom. Take away personal responsibility for decision making and you eliminate another. Eliminate the roads to Wisdom and you eliminate the only way out of Gehenna, the place of “empty thought” and mental darkness that is the hell of the Old Testament. In other words, we, like animals, are born “in the flesh” and, if we are not “born again” into the spirit, we will remain on the animal level of existence. Should we die in this state, our spirit, having failed to develop, is destined to live for eternity in the only world that it ever knew: the “world of the flesh” where, according to Jesus, there will be “the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is a subjective world in which the person is imprisoned within himself and thus it is rightly called a world of “selfishness” in which each person is devoted exclusively to the satisfaction of his/her own needs, drives, and passions. It is ruled by a type of love that the Greeks referred to as Eros that was the opposite of the type of love they called Agape.
Agape Love is the type of love that is God and that St. Paul describes as “patient and kind; is not envious; is not proud but gentle and meek and never seeks its own way. It rejoices when the Truth prevails; it believes and endures all things; it hopes and bears every wrong and it will never fail you.” Obviously, it is the quality of this love that makes heaven, heaven.
On the other hand, Erotic Love is “impatient and unkind; it is envious and proud, harsh, demanding and always seeking it own way. It hates the Truth and rejoices when, through lies, it is able to get its own way. It is cynical and full of doubt and will put up with nothing. When things don’t go its way, it despairs and seeks revenge on those who thwart its will. And, when the going gets tough, it will desert you.” Obviously, it is the quality of this love that makes hell, hell. It is no wonder that there is the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” because this is what goes on in the natural world all the time. Watch a troop of baboons or hyenas in the wild and you’ll get a sense of what hell might be like. It is a place where “might makes right” and the strong dominate the weak and there is constant fighting over food, mates, rank or territory.
To the extent that we humans fail to emerge from that natural world, we mimic these qualities of hell in our own lives. Pick up a paper or watch the news any day or, even better, get confined to a prison where the guards have lost control and you will see the hellish nature of unredeemed human beings in action. In other words, too often we act like animals rather than rational beings and when we do we are demonstrating that we, or part of us, is still part of the unredeemed natural world.
Two example of this type of world come to my mind. I once saw a report on two people who had raised a chimpanzee from birth and, when he became larger and less manageable, they placed him in an animal shelter with other chimps. They visited him as parents would visit a child who was away at camp. On one of their visits, someone had failed to properly lock the cages holding two or three other chimps. They got out and attack the man and his wife. Before they could be brought under control they had chewed off the man face and one of his feet.
Then I came across an article on the Internet in which a former atheist turned minister told of the “after death” experience that turned his life around. Like many near death experiences, he told of leaving his body and watching the medical team working on his unresponsive corpse. Then, he heard voices calling him and, as he moved towards them, he saw a group of people beckoning him to follow them. However, as he approached them, they suddenly attacked and were trying to devour him. Terrified, he remembered a prayer that he had been taught in childhood and he began to move away from them and toward another person, whom he identified as Jesus. When he finally revived from his “near death” experience, he reversed his atheistic beliefs and became a minister of the Gospel.
So what does all this indicate? It indicates that all of us start as part of the natural world and are subject to its rules and consequences. However, since, because we are made in the image and likeness of our Creator we have the potential for rational thought, we are capable of moving beyond the natural to the supernatural level. It is a journey that continues through most of our life and, where we are on the path, doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we are on the path. In God’s mercy, our intention to follow the path is enough to place us on it because He knows that it will take time to replace the natural man with the supernatural one. Thus, Jesus refers to the experience as “being born again” and, just like natural child birth, it is only the beginning of a maturation process that will continue throughout the rest of our lives and, for all we know, may continue throughout eternity.
And how do we indicate our intention to enter this path to salvation and eternal life? Well, according to the Church, for most of us it begins at Baptism where our godparents, standing in place of us, promise to assume the responsibility for making sure that we become aware of the Gospel and its promise of salvation. Thus, the Church teaches, that, in order to enjoy the promises of salvation, every child should be baptized shortly after birth and if the child should die, the parents are assured that they have taken the initial step to move it from the natural to the supernatural plane. However, although this is enough to put us on the path, it is not enough to take us down it if we continue to live. Somewhere in our adult life, we have to take the responsibility for our own spiritual development and progress by making a personal commitment to Jesus and the Gospel. If we don’t then we are like people whose parents made the initial down payment on a valuable item but then we failed to follow up with the additional payments. It could have been our but it never will.
So, how do we avoid this ? How do we continue on down the path to salvation? Jesus, has already told us. The way to be set free from Gehenna, the Kingdom of Darkness or “empty thought” is to follow the Truth. But this is not an easy as it sounds because it will set us at odds with our friends, relatives and associates. That is why Jesus said, “Unless you are willing to reject your mother, father, sister, brothers etc… you are not able to follow me, the Truth.”
The natural man puts personal connections before Truth and Justice. If you doubt me, try turning one of your children or a close relative into the police even when you know they are guilty. Or try being a policeman who “blows the whistle” on the corrupt practices of his fellow officers. Watch the movie “Serpico” to see what happened to him when he did.
Following the Truth always involves a great struggle as the Hegelian Dialectic indicated. There is always a conflict between “what is” and “what ought to be” and, like birth, it involves leaving a known situation which has a certain amount of safety and security, to move on to an unknown situation which may contain unknown threats and dangers. Thus Hegel said that the law of life is struggle as we move from a Thesis through an Antithesis to a Synthesis.
Hegel’s philosophy, as I previously pointed out, was very closely related to the Christian Gospel because it, like the Passion and Death of Jesus, said that “if you want life and you wanted it fully” then you had to face the antitheses or challenges that life presented to you and use them as instruments to grow to the next level of truth and competency. In other words, as Jesus said, “If you want life and you want it fully, pick up your crosses and follow me, the Truth.”
So to the initial questions that I posed at the beginning of this talk, “ Is the goal of human existence a trouble-free life” and “Does God like suffering?” the answer seems to be “No!” to both of them. The goal of human existence is not to have a trouble-free life because “troubles” are just another name for “antitheses” and “antitheses” are just another name for “crosses”. And God does not like suffering for suffering’s sake but rather sees it as a necessary component to the “struggle” that is necessary to reach the “fullness of life.” And that is why the Church teaches that when suffering comes, as it does in most lives, we should give it some redemptive value by offering it up out of love for someone else. It may not change the suffering but it does place it in a different context.
However, if “suffering” itself was what Jesus’ passion and death was all about then the method of His death didn’t matter so long as it involved suffering. Thus, we could imagine a number of different scenarios such as strangulation, beheading, poisoning, flogging etc… but none of them would have given the same message as, “if you want life and want it fully, pick up your cross and follow Me.” Jesus’ crucifixion and passion is a cosmic drama designed to reveal the basic law of life. Life is an ever upward struggle in which each death or ending is followed by a rising to a higher level.
It’s a message designed to change one’s point of view from a circular, existential one to a linear, developmental one and, it is the basis for the Western World’s Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History. It is the source of all science and progress and the reason why, at every high school and college graduation, we deliver speeches telling the graduates that the future is in their hands and we are depending on them to ‘carry the torch” to the next level of human progress.
And that brings us back to what is wrong with Brave New World where Mustapha Mond, one of the World Controllers, has just said to the students, "Fortunate boys!" No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy, to preserve you, so far as possible, from having emotions at."
Mustapha Mond continues:
"Consider your own lives, "said Mustpha Mond. "Has any of you ever had any difficult problem?"....
"I once had to wait nearly four weeks before a girl I wanted would let me have her," a young student said...
"And you felt a strong emotion as a result?"...
"Horrible." said the student.
"Horrible! Exactly," said the Controller.”
In Brave New World, the primary purpose of reproduction in sex has been taken over by the state and the only thing left for the people is the secondary purpose of pleasure. Therefore, most of the females have been sterilized at birth to become “freemartins” whose sole purpose is the sexual gratification of any male who asks to “sleep” with them. Sexual relations were arranged in a very businesslike manner in which the desiring male simply made an appointment on her sexual calendar.
The World Controller now turns to explain how Brave New World came about:
“Our ancestors were so stupid and shortsighted that when the first reformers came along and offered to deliver them from those horrible emotions, they wouldn't have anything to do with them. Take the Hatcheries. Would the government look at it? No! There was something called Christianity. Women were forced to have their own children. Sleep-teaching was actually forbidden in England. The records survive. Speeches about liberty of the individual. Liberty to be inefficient and miserable. Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole. They resisted the Caste System. Every time it was suggested, it was rejected. There was something called democracy. As though men were more than physico-chemically equal."
"Then came the Nine years' War, the great Economic Collapse. There was a choice between world control and destruction (Note: Will Durant, the historian, said "When freedom destroyed order the need for order will destroy freedom.") Government's an affair of sitting, not hitting. You rule with the brains and buttock, never with the fists. For example, there was a law requiring consumption (buying goods and services). Every loyal citizen was required to buy as much as he could. There was conscientious objection on a large scale. They did anything not to consume. There was a movement back to Nature. Back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can't consume much if you sit still and read.
"Eight hundred Simple Lifers (People wanting to go back to nature) were mowed down by machine guns. Then came the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with poison gas. In the end," Said Mustapha Mond," the Controllers Realized that force was no good. The slower but surer method of artificial birth, Pavlovian conditioning, and sleep-teaching were introduced.
Then the blowing up of historical monuments and the suppression of all books published before A.F. 150(After Ford). There were book like the Bible and Shakespeare. You've never heard of them of course. Such are the advantages of a really scientific education. Then came the introduction of Our Ford's first T-Model which was chosen as the opening date of the new era. There was a thing, as I've said before called Christianity. It was the ethics and philosophy of under-consumption (e.g. Mother Theresa of Calcutta). It was necessary when there was under-production; but in the age of machines, it was positively a crime against society. All crosses had their tops cut off and became "T's". There was also a thing called God. We have the World State now, and Ford's Day celebrations, and Community Sings, and Solidarity Services. There was a thing called a soul and a thing called immortality. But still the people used to take morphine, cocaine, and heroin.
"Two thousand pharmacists were paid by the government in A.F. 178 to find a perfect drug. Six years later it was being produced commercially. All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of the defects. Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache."
It only remained to conquer old age. Today at sixty our powers and tastes are what they were at seventeen. Old men in the bad old days used to retire, take to religion; spend their time reading, thinking, thinking. (Note: the word amusement means “without though and Gehenna, the Old Testament’s word for hell means “empty thought”) Now- such is progress - that the old work; the old men have sex; the old men have no time. No rest from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think. And if by some chance they should find time to think and worry (face an antithesis?), there is always "soma pills" (happiness pills)- "a gram is better than a damn!” he said, repeating the sleep-teaching slogan that had been programmed into their heads with over two thousand repetitions. “A gram for a weekend, two grams for a longer trip.”
"Go away, little girl!" shouted the Director angrily. "Go away, little boy! Can't you see His Fordship is busy? Go and do your erotic (sexual) play somewhere else."
"Suffer the little children to come unto me." said Mustpha Mond, the Controller. (This is a takeoff on a scene in the New Testament of the Bible where Jesus' Apostles are shooing children away and he reprimands them with the same words.)
As I said, Huxley meant Brave New World to be an international Anti-Christ society that had discovered how to enslave not only the body but also the soul through the method of “soft slavery.” What makes it so sinister is that, on the surface, it appears to be pro-life because it does everything that it can to take care of its members. However, in reality, it is pro-death because it destroys the very life force of its members by destroying their initiative to grow and develop.
The way out of Gehenna or “empty thought”, which is our original state at birth, is through the dialectical process of Thesis-Antithesis and Synthesis. It as Hegel said it was: human history and each human life is trying to reach God or Ultimate Truth through a process of integration where the errors in our perception are gradually weed-out as reality and rational thought create challenges to our misperceptions. In other words, the Logos of Reality, who is the” Jesus without” and the Logos in the left lobe of our brains, who is the “Jesus within” is leading us out of mental darkness into the Kingdom of Light and Understanding. In other words, the “Truth is setting us free.”
When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1930’s, the technology to do the things he described was not available. However, today science and technology can either do, or are on the threshold of doing, nearly everything described in the book. For example, "in vitro" fertilization is commonplace; human embryos have been grown in petri dishes for as much as 14 days; the development of an artificial womb increases as a possibility; some scientists claim to have clone human beings and Communist China, which has refused to agree to an international prohibition of human cloning, has already announced its intention to move forward in this direction; genetic engineering is a growing industry and these businesses are already talking about creating babies to the parent's specifications; Pavlovian conditioning has been used in Russia in an attempt to create babies that don't cry and modern psychological knowledge has been used extensively in TV and advertising to manipulate the minds and attitudes of children to cause them to buy certain products. In countries like Sweden, the government is assuming more and more responsibility for the care, training, and rearing of the children and many complain that it is undermining the family as the major social institution for paradigm formation.
In short, Brave New World is just around the corner unless we wake up.
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!