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God Saw all that He had Made, and Behold, It was very Good

The line from Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” is quite a challenge to faith. How easy it is to believe will depend on circumstance; a victim of the Holocaust, someone dying from cancer, a brilliant man being made to teach nothing but English composition. It is tempting to quibble that it is not God saying it was very good – just the Biblical writer – but probably the proper response is “if You say so!”

Eric Voegelin writes that the role of philosophy is to save us from evil; to develop pairs of concepts that cast light on good and evil and that “philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man’s loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and to attune himself to it.”[1] Voegelin adopts the classical Greek cosmocentric fixation on being. A Logos permeates existence and we should align ourselves with that Logos. If, however, God is not a being, but beyond being, then to concentrate on being is to ignore God and transcendence, the very thing Voegelin opposes and attributes to modern Gnosticism. To simply love “being” seems to include loving all the horrors inherent in being.

It can seem like there is a heavenly Logos and an earthly Logos. Success on earth is often going to mean failure in heaven, and vice versa. The first shall be last and the last first. People have a strong awareness that things are not as they should be down here on earth. There may be a perfect equality between people as unique Persons, the heavenly, but attempting to create equality on earth is a reality-denying horror show.

For Berdyaev, philosophy begins with an intuition of God and transcendence. The main philosophical question then becomes how the spiritual and the earthly are related. Getting it wrong can have the most dire consequences. Progressive atheists have spiritual intuitions of sorts which, on the most charitable interpretation, involves trying to create heaven on earth. Less charitably, it is a power play and nothing more, in line with their Foucauldian progenitors.

Voegelin goes on to reject what might be called the world Logos in favor of transcendental criteria. He notes that we worship strength and success when we should value phronesis; those who act with the Last Judgment in mind. Statesmen like Themistocles or Pericles are praised for making a people great and powerful, Athens in this case, while those same people suffer a moral decline.

The Biblical claim that creation was good is one of two crucial but enigmatic articles of faith.  The others is that man is made in the image of God, which confers intrinsic value on people who do not seem to deserve it. We can offer ourselves a syllogism for the first that does not prove anything, but clarifies what we are to believe, namely that God is good, God is the Creator, therefore his creation is good. The purpose of creation is inscrutable, however, and its goodness seems questionable. Not for no reason has the world been described as a vale of tears.

It is important to distinguish between the world as created by God and what we humans have done with that world. To a degree, God handed us a supreme work of art, and we defaced it. We are co-creators with God. Metaphorically, He handed us Michelangelo’s Pietà, and we handed him back a pile of rocks.

Voegelin attributes to Gnosticism alienation from the world as a hostile place and a rebellion against the divine Ground of Being; a closure to divine Being. The Order of Being is seen as unjust and defective. “To take control of being,” Voegelin writes, “requires that the transcendent origin of being be obliterated.”[2] This taking control is the second part of a Gnostic point of view and it just makes things worse. Modernity is inundated with attempts to remake reality in this way.

Voegelin makes the interesting Aristotelian observation that the nature of a thing cannot be changed. To attempt to change man into superman is to murder man. In Christianity, “the world through out history will remain as it is and…man’s salvational fulfillment is brought about through grace in death.”[3] The world remains as it is given to us. It is not within man’s power to change its structure. Utopians suppress some element of reality in order to construct an image of man, or society, or history, to suit their desires. To face the world with no belief in heaven or an afterlife; with therefore no chance of salvational fulfillment is just too awful, and it drives some people to murderous violence, e.g., Nazis, communists, and progressives.

Berdyaev rejects the classical philosophical interest in Being and identifies the spiritual as beyond Being. Philosophy deals with all that science omits – consciousness, morality, value, purpose, meaning, emotion, love, and beauty. Everything truly significant in human life is invisible because interior. If one were to die, go to heaven, and meet Jesus, Jesus like you would have a spiritual body but what is significant about him would be on the inside; still invisible. The theosophists and Swedenborg describe heaven as some kind of geography lesson that leaves the spiritual untouched.

The Gnostic idea that the world is created by an evil God and the true God is elsewhere is an understandable reaction to the horror of much of earthly existence. God’s accurate description of what men and women can expect from life is entirely Biblical, “To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” And “cursed is the ground because of you…Both thorns and thistles will it yield you… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the ground.”

Berdyaev suggests that though human history has no meaning or significance in itself – there is no structure, no “progress” – history must have an extra-mundane meaning. History itself presupposes the existence of God. History only exists if freedom exists, otherwise it is merely a catalogue of events, and freedom only exists if the transcendent exists. This connects with Wittgenstein’s ideas that the meaning of the world lies outside the world. The world is the merely empirical and the empirical and measurable is meaningless in itself.

Unfortunately for us earth dwellers, human history has no intrinsic meaning. The popular progressive notion of being on the right side of history is laughable. The American Founding Fathers, for instance, did everything they could to limit the power of the federal government, and successive lawmakers and judges have done everything they can to increase the scope of centralized power with great success. But we can hope all this has some transcendental meaning to God.

The Gnostic is right that we are surrounded by a reality hostile to us. Our interior has a spiritual connection to truth, goodness, and beauty, and we use these things to critique the world. The fact that the biological world stays in existence by one creature eating another does seem satanic. Bears, apparently, are happy to rip into their prey without bothering to kill them first. Lionesses are known to begin with eating the testicles of some of their prey, buffalo and wildebeest, also while the prey are still alive. The proper Christian attitude to this is to hope for salvational fulfillment upon death. Also, while the world itself may be a fairly miserable place, all of us have a permanent link to God and infinity on the inside, and it is the inside of our fellow man with which we commune, when communion is achieved. We are not divorced from God even here.

It is truly remarkable that around half the country has not embraced nihilism. Those dominating political culture must surely be asking themselves, what more do we need to do? How can just about every possible access to American minds be filled with unrelenting propaganda, and intimidation, and yet resistance continues? I suppose the subjects of the USSR and the citizens of East Germany did not all simply fall in line. They remained aware of the difference between truth and lies. The fact that mob rule, violence, and fear continue to be necessary proves that a sizable number of people have not lost their minds. It would be interesting to compare the number of true believers in the USSR and East Germany versus the number in the US. It is tempting to believe there are more here, than in those times and locations. However, Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago writes that nearly all the political prisoners in the USSR in the 1930s imagined that the other prisoners really were enemies of the people and the state, and that their own case was an aberration and a mistake that would surely be fixed – suggesting a very successful indoctrination program.

 

Notes

[1] xiii, Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism.

[2] xv, Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism.

[3] xvii, Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism.

Richard CocksRichard Cocks

Richard Cocks

Richard Cocks is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and has been a faculty member of the Philosophy Department at SUNY Oswego since 2001. Dr. Cocks is an editor and regular contributor at the Orthosphere and has been published at The Brussels Journal, The Sydney Traditionalist Forum, People of Shambhala, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and the University Bookman.

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