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“Isaiah’s Job,” by Albert Jay Nock

Sculpture by Claus Sluter of Old Testament prophet Isaiah, at base of Well of Moses. (Photo by Carlo Bavagnoli//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Detail of sculpture by Claus Sluter of Old Testament prophet Isaiah, at base of Well of Moses. (Photo by Carlo Bavagnoli//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I am not a libertarian— far from it. Still, I believe that the featured essay, “Isaiah’s Job,” by the renowned twentieth-century libertarian Albert Jay Nock, contains much wisdom, no matter what you think of his philosophy on the whole. While Nock uses the story of Isaiah to make a more analogical point about the unreflective, anti-philosophic temper of modern American society, his conceit serves equally well in a religious frame—after all, it’s Isaiah we’re talking about, so such a frame is hardly a Procrustean bed. Indeed, his essay is a fit and proper heuristic aid for reflecting upon the temper of the denizens of the New Israel, the Church of God, particularly that aspect under which we might contemplate her as a unique human society. Of course, the ecclesia militans is much more than a human society. But she is exactly that, too.

Nock’s words here remind me of something Josef Pieper writes in Leisure: The Basis of Culture (which book was stumped earlier at the Cellar Door here). Pieper writes:

[W]e need not only direct our attention to the extreme instances of crisis that show themselves today: I mean simply the everyday working world, where we must go about our business, where very concrete goals are advanced and realized: goals that must be sighted with an eye fixed on the things nearest and closest at hand. Now it is not our purpose here to condemn this world, from the standpoint of some “holiday-world” of philosophy. No words need be wasted on saying that this work-a-day world is very much with us, that in it the foundations of our physical existence are secured, without which nobody can philosophize at all.

Nevertheless, let us also recall, that among the voices which fill the workplace and the markets (“How do you get this or that item of daily existence?” “Where do you get that?” etc.) — in the midst of all these voices suddenly one calls out above the rest: “Why is there anything at all, and not nothing?” — asking that age-old question, which Heidegger called the basic question of all metaphysics.

Must we explicitly state how unfathomable this philosopher’s question is, in comparison with that everyday world of needs and purposefulness? If such a question as this were asked, without introduction or interpretation, in the company of those people of efficiency and success, wouldn’t the questioner be considered rather…mad?

Yes, rather. The questioner and those like him—men who, like Isaiah, demand that we give attention to questions of ultimate import at awkward and “inopportune” moments—are “idealists”, we say, and we mean it pejoratively. They’re not “practical”, etc. They do not “accept the world as it is.”

But just how is the world, really? What is the “world”, and what do we mean by “really”? (What is the meaning of “is”? It’s a good question—just wasn’t the right one for Bill Clinton to ask when he did.) Doesn’t the adverb “really” presume knowledge of the “real”? And is there no connection between the “ideal” and the “real”?

In our postmodern torpor, we have forgotten even how to entertain or contemplate—let alone answer—such questions. In our ignorance, we feel superior. We dismiss, mock, and murder the “idealists.”

Part of the reason for this is that we are genuinely stupid. We haven’t learnt. We have instead grown myopic staring at high-definition images which flicker on the scrollable haptic-display-walls of our caves. “The world” presents itself at our fingertips. Why would we want to leave?

So enamored of the means we possess in mounting superabundance—our techne and all the hills of beans which we can count with it—we have lost consciousness of ends. We do not know what anything is for.

Since we eschew studying the arts of reason and know nothing of philosophy, we think that “ideal” means “perfect” rather than “pertaining to ideas.” We then can only deride “idealism”, rather than distinguishing between good and bad ideas, and thus good and bad idealisms, wise and foolish idealists. We imagine that an “idealist” is someone who attempts fanciful and rote repristination of this or that Golden Age. However, this is a most profound misunderstanding. “[T]he return which the idealists propose is not a voyage backward through time but a return to center,” writes Weaver, “which must be conceived metaphysically or theologically.” Idealists…

…are seeking the one which endures and not the many which change and pass, and this search can be only described as looking for the truth. They are making the ancient affirmation that there is a center of things, and they point out that every feature of modern disintegration is a flight from this toward periphery. It is expressible, also, as a movement from unity to individualism. In proportion as man approaches the outer rim, he becomes lost in details, and the more he is preoccupied with details, the less he can understand them. A recovery of certain viewpoints associated with the past would be a recovery of understanding as such, and this, unless we admit ourselves to be helpless in the movement of a deterministic march, is possible at any time. In brief, one does not require a particular standpoint to comprehend the timeless.

This and this alone is the vital work of the “idealist.” Yet the idealist—Pieper’s “questioner”—must keep out a weather eye: “Let us remember all the while,” Weaver cautions, “that the very notion of eternal verities is repugnant to the modern temper.”

Repugnant, yes. Also embittering and enraging.

Isaiah was a deemed a madman and for his troubles was sawn in half. Socrates was found guilty of corrupting of the youth and was forced to take the hemlock. Our Lord Jesus Christ was decried as a raving wine-bibber and, ultimately, crucified as a blasphemer. The apostles, His lunatic proxies, followed in His train. So it has ever been, and so it will ever be this side of Dies Irae. Any who cry “Return!” “Repent!” “Restore!” and “Remember!” must be regarded by the mass of men as foolhardy “idealists.”


Isaiah’s Job

Albert Jay Nock

prophet-isaiah

I

One evening last autumn, I sat long hours with a European acquaintance while he expounded a political-economic doctrine which seemed sound as a nut and in which I could find no defect. At the end, he said with great earnestness: “I have a mission to the masses. I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the population. What do you think?”

An embarrassing question in any case, and doubly so under the circumstances, because my acquaintance is a very learned man, one of the three or four really first-class minds that Europe produced in his generation; and naturally I, as one of the unlearned, was inclined to regard his lightest word with reverence amounting to awe. Still, I reflected, even the greatest mind can not possibly know everything, and I was pretty sure he had not had my opportunities for observing the masses of mankind, and that therefore I probably knew them better than he did. So I mustered courage to say that he had no such mission and would do well to get the idea out of his head at once; he would find that the masses would not care two pins for his doctrine, and still less for himself, since in such circumstances the popular favourite is generally some Barabbas. I even went so far as to say (he is a Jew) that his idea seemed to show that he was not very well up on his own native literature. He smiled at my jest, and asked what I meant by it; and I referred him to the story of the prophet Isaiah.

It occurred to me then that this story is much worth recalling just now when so many wise men and soothsayers appear to be burdened with a message to the masses. Dr. Townsend has a message, Father Coughlin has one, Mr. Upton Sinclair, Mr. Lippmann, Mr. Chase and the planned economy brethren, Mr. Tugwell and the New Dealers, Mr. Smith and Liberty Leaguers – the list is endless. I can not remember a time when so many energumens were so variously proclaiming the Word to the multitude and telling them what they must do to be saved. This being so, it occurred to me, as I say, that the story of Isaiah might have something in it to steady and compose the human spirit until this tyranny of windiness is overpast. I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech, since it has to be pieced out from various sources; and inasmuch as respectable scholars have thought fit to put out a whole new version of the Bible in the American vernacular, I shall take shelter behind them, if need be, against the charge of dealing irreverently with the Sacred Scriptures.

The prophet’s career began at the end of King Uzziah’s reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however – like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington – where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are.” He said, “Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

II

Apparently, then, if the Lord’s word is good for anything – I do not offer any opinion about that, – the only element in Judean society that was particularly worth bothering about was the Remnant. Isaiah seems finally to have got it through his head that this was the case; that nothing was to be expected from the masses, but that if anything substantial were ever to be done in Judea, the Remnant would have to do it. This is a very striking and suggestive idea; but before going on to explore it, we need to be quite clear about our terms. What do we mean by the masses, and what by the Remnant?

As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, labouring people, proletarians, and it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.

The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass-man – be he high or be he lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper – gets off very badly. He appears as not only weak-minded and weak-willed, but as by consequence knavish, arrogant, grasping, dissipated, unprincipled, unscrupulous. The mass-woman also gets off badly, as sharing all the mass-man’s untoward qualities, and contributing a few of her own in the way of vanity and laziness, extravagance and foible. The list of luxury-products that she patronized is interesting; it calls to mind the women’s page of a Sunday newspaper in 1928, or the display set forth in one of our professedly “smart” periodicals. In another place, Isaiah even recalls the affectations that we used to know by the name “flapper gait” and the “debutante slouch.” It may be fair to discount Isaiah’s vivacity a little for prophetic fervour; after all, since his real job was not to convert the masses but to brace and reassure the Remnant, he probably felt that he might lay it on indiscriminately and as thick as he liked – in fact, that he was expected to do so. But even so, the Judean mass-man must have been a most objectionable individual, and the mass-woman utterly odious.

If the modern spirit, whatever that may be, is disinclined towards taking the Lord’s word at its face value (as I hear is the case), we may observe that Isaiah’s testimony to the character of the masses has strong collateral support from respectable Gentile authority. Plato lived into the administration of Eubulus, when Athens was at the peak of its jazz-and-paper era, and he speaks of the Athenian masses with all Isaiah’s fervency, even comparing them to a herd of ravenous wild beasts. Curiously, too, he applies Isaiah’s own word remnant to the worthier portion of Athenian society; “there is but a very small remnant,” he says, of those who possess a saving force of intellect and force of character – too small, preciously as to Judea, to be of any avail against the ignorant and vicious preponderance of the masses.

But Isaiah was a preacher and Plato a philosopher; and we tend to regard preachers and philosophers rather as passive observers of the drama of life than as active participants. Hence in a matter of this kind their judgment might be suspected of being a little uncompromising, a little acrid, or as the French say, saugrenu. We may therefore bring forward another witness who was preeminently a man of affairs, and whose judgment can not lie under this suspicion. Marcus Aurelius was ruler of the greatest of empires, and in that capacity he not only had the Roman mass-man under observation, but he had him on his hands twenty-four hours a day for eighteen years. What he did not know about him was not worth knowing and what he thought of him is abundantly attested on almost every page of the little book of jottings which he scribbled offhand from day to day, and which he meant for no eye but his own ever to see.

This view of the masses is the one that we find prevailing at large among the ancient authorities whose writings have come down to us. In the eighteenth century, however, certain European philosophers spread the notion that the mass-man, in his natural state, is not at all the kind of person that earlier authorities made him out to be, but on the contrary, that he is a worthy object of interest. His untowardness is the effect of environment, an effect for which “society” is somehow responsible. If only his environment permitted him to live according to his lights, he would undoubtedly show himself to be quite a fellow; and the best way to secure a more favourable environment for him would be to let him arrange it for himself. The French Revolution acted powerfully as a springboard for this idea, projecting its influence in all directions throughout Europe.

On this side of the ocean a whole new continent stood ready for a large-scale experiment with this theory. It afforded every conceivable resource whereby the masses might develop a civilization made in their own likeness and after their own image. There was no force of tradition to disturb them in their preponderance, or to check them in a thoroughgoing disparagement of the Remnant. Immense natural wealth, unquestioned predominance, virtual isolation, freedom from external interference and the fear of it, and, finally, a century and a half of time – such are the advantages which the mass-man has had in bringing forth a civilization which should set the earlier preachers and philosophers at naught in their belief that nothing substantial can be expected from the masses, but only from the Remnant.

His success is unimpressive. On the evidence so far presented one must say, I think, that the mass-man’s conception of what life has to offer, and his choice of what to ask from life, seem now to be pretty well what they were in the times of Isaiah and Plato; and so too seem the catastrophic social conflicts and convulsions in which his views of life and his demands on life involve him. I do not wish to dwell on this, however, but merely to observe that the monstrously inflated importance of the masses has apparently put all thought of a possible mission to the Remnant out of the modern prophet’s head. This is obviously quite as it should be, provided that the earlier preachers and philosophers were actually wrong, and that all final hope of the human race is actually centred in the masses. If, on the other hand, it should turn out that the Lord and Isaiah and Plato and Marcus Aurelius were right in their estimate of the relative social value of the masses and the Remnant, the case is somewhat different. Moreover, since with everything in their favour the masses have so far given such an extremely discouraging account of themselves, it would seem that the question at issue between these two bodies of opinion might most profitably be reopened.

III

But without following up this suggestion, I wish only, as I said, to remark the fact that as things now stand Isaiah’s job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest. This attitude towards the masses is so exclusive, so devout, that one is reminded of the troglodytic monster described by Plato, and the assiduous crowd at the entrance to its cave, trying obsequiously to placate it and win its favour, trying to interpret its inarticulate noises, trying to find out what it wants, and eagerly offering it all sorts of things that they think might strike its fancy.

The main trouble with all this is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one’s doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favour, and answerable only to his august Boss.

If a prophet were not too particular about making money out of his mission or getting a dubious sort of notoriety out of it, the foregoing considerations would lead one to say that serving the Remnant looks like a good job. An assignment that you can really put your back into, and do your best without thinking about results, is a real job; whereas serving the masses is at best only half a job, considering the inexorable conditions that the masses impose upon their servants. They ask you to give them what they want, they insist upon it, and will take nothing else; and following their whims, their irrational changes of fancy, their hot and cold fits, is a tedious business, to say nothing of the fact that what they want at any time makes very little call on one’s resources of prophesy. The Remnant, on the other hand, want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about. The prophet of the American masses must aim consciously at the lowest common denominator of intellect, taste and character among 120,000,000 people; and this is a distressing task. The prophet of the Remnant, on the contrary, is in the enviable position of Papa Haydn in the household of Prince Esterhazy. All Haydn had to do was keep forking out the very best music he knew how to produce, knowing it would be understood and appreciated by those for whom he produced it, and caring not a button what anyone else thought of it; and that makes a good job.

In a sense, nevertheless, as I have said, it is not a rewarding job. If you can tough the fancy of the masses, and have the sagacity to keep always one jump ahead of their vagaries and vacillations, you can get good returns in money from serving the masses, and good returns also in a mouth-to-ear type of notoriety:

Digito monstrari et dicier, Hic est!

We all know innumerable politicians, journalists, dramatists, novelists and the like, who have done extremely well by themselves in these ways. Taking care of the Remnant, on the contrary, holds little promise of any such rewards. A prophet of the Remnant will not grow purse-proud on the financial returns from his work, nor is it likely that he will get any great renown out of it. Isaiah’s case was exceptional to this second rule, and there are others, but not many.

It may be thought, then, that while taking care of the Remnant is no doubt a good job, it is not an especially interesting job because it is as a rule so poorly paid. I have my doubts about this. There are other compensations to be got out of a job besides money and notoriety, and some of them seem substantial enough to be attractive. Many jobs which do not pay well are yet profoundly interesting, as, for instance, the job of research student in the sciences is said to be; and the job of looking after the Remnant seems to me, as I have surveyed it for many years from my seat in the grandstand, to be as interesting as any that can be found in the world.

IV

What chiefly makes it so, I think, is that in any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those – dead sure, as our phrase is – but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness; and this, I should say, is just the condition calculated most effectively to pique the interest of any prophet who is properly gifted with the imagination, insight and intellectual curiosity necessary to a successful pursuit of his trade.

The fascination and the despair of the historian, as he looks back upon Isaiah’s Jewry, upon Plato’s Athens, or upon Rome of the Antonines, is the hope of discovering and laying bare the “substratum of right-thinking and well-doing” which he knows must have existed somewhere in those societies because no kind of collective life can possibly go on without it. He finds tantalizing intimations of it here and there in many places, as in the Greek Anthology, in the scrapbook of Aulus Gellius, in the poems of Ausonius, and in the brief and touching tribute, Bene merenti, bestowed upon the unknown occupants of Roman tombs. But these are vague and fragmentary; they lead him nowhere in his search for some kind of measure on this substratum, but merely testify to what he already knew a priori – that the substratum did somewhere exist. Where it was, how substantial it was, what its power of self-assertion and resistance was – of all this they tell him nothing.

Similarly, when the historian of two thousand years hence, or two hundred years, looks over the available testimony to the quality of our civilization and tries to get any kind of clear, competent evidence concerning the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing which he knows must have been here, he will have a devil of a time finding it. When he has assembled all he can and has made even a minimum allowance for speciousness, vagueness, and confusion of motive, he will sadly acknowledge that his net result is simply nothing. A Remnant were here, building a substratum like coral insects; so much he knows, but he will find nothing to put him on the track of who and where and how many they were and what their work was like.

Concerning all this, too, the prophet of the present knows precisely as much and as little as the historian of the future; and that, I repeat, is what makes his job seem to me so profoundly interesting. One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet’s attempt – the only attempt of the kind on the record, I believe – to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job. He said that he was running away, not because he was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to; “and as for your figures on the Remnant,” He said, “I don’t mind telling you that there are seven thousand of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are.”

At that time, probably the population of Israel could not run to much more than a million or so; and a Remnant of seven thousand out of a million is a highly encouraging percentage for any prophet. With seven thousand of the boys on his side, there was no great reason for Elijah to feel lonesome; and incidentally, that would be something for the modern prophet of the Remnant to think of when he has a touch of the blues. But the main point is that if Elijah the Prophet could not make a closer guess on the number of the Remnant than he made when he missed it by seven thousand, anyone else who tackled the problem would only waste his time.

The other certainty which the prophet of the Remnant may always have is that the Remnant will find him. He may rely on that with absolute assurance. They will find him without his doing anything about it; in fact, if he tries to do anything about it, he is pretty sure to put them off. He does not need to advertise for them nor resort to any schemes of publicity to get their attention. If he is a preacher or a public speaker, for example, he may be quite indifferent to going on show at receptions, getting his picture printed in the newspapers, or furnishing autobiographical material for publication on the side of “human interest.” If a writer, he need not make a point of attending any pink teas, autographing books at wholesale, nor entering into any specious freemasonry with reviewers. All this and much more of the same order lies in the regular and necessary routine laid down for the prophet of the masses; it is, and must be, part of the great general technique of getting the mass-man’s ear – or as our vigorous and excellent publicist, Mr. H. L. Mencken, puts it, the technique of boob-bumping. The prophet of the Remnant is not bound to this technique. He may be quite sure that the Remnant will make their own way to him without any adventitious aids; and not only so, but if they find him employing any such aids, as I said, it is ten to one that they will smell a rat in them and will sheer off.

The certainty that the Remnant will find him, however, leaves the prophet as much in the dark as ever, as helpless as ever in the matter of putting any estimate of any kind upon the Remnant; for, as appears in the case of Elijah, he remains ignorant of who they are that have found him or where they are or how many. They did not write in and tell him about it, after the manner of those who admire the vedettes of Hollywood, nor yet do they seek him out and attach themselves to his person. They are not that kind. They take his message much as drivers take the directions on a roadside signboard – that is, with very little thought about the signboard, beyond being gratefully glad that it happened to be there, but with every thought about the directions.

This impersonal attitude of the Remnant wonderfully enhances the interest of the imaginative prophet’s job. Once in a while, just about often enough to keep his intellectual curiosity in good working order, he will quite accidentally come upon some distinct reflection of his own message in an unsuspected quarter. This enables him to entertain himself in his leisure moments with agreeable speculations about the course his message may have taken in reaching that particular quarter, and about what came of it after it got there. Most interesting of all are those instances, if one could only run them down (but one may always speculate about them), where the recipient himself no longer knows where nor when nor from whom he got the message – or even where, as sometimes happens, he has forgotten that he got it anywhere and imagines that it is all a self-sprung idea of his own.

Such instances as these are probably not infrequent, for, without presuming to enroll ourselves among the Remnant, we can all no doubt remember having found ourselves suddenly under the influence of an idea, the source of which we cannot possibly identify. “It came to us afterward,” as we say; that is, we are aware of it only after it has shot up full-grown in our minds, leaving us quite ignorant of how and when and by what agency it was planted there and left to germinate. It seems highly probable that the prophet’s message often takes some such course with the Remnant.

If, for example, you are a writer or a speaker or a preacher, you put forth an idea which lodges in the Unbewußtsein of a casual member of the Remnant and sticks fast there. For some time it is inert; then it begins to fret and fester until presently it invades the man’s conscious mind and, as one might say, corrupts it. Meanwhile, he has quite forgotten how he came by the idea in the first instance, and even perhaps thinks he has invented it; and in those circumstances, the most interesting thing of all is that you never know what the pressure of that idea will make him do.

For these reasons it appears to me that Isaiah’s job is not only good but also extremely interesting; and especially so at the present time when nobody is doing it. If I were young and had the notion of embarking in the prophetical line, I would certainly take up this branch of the business; and therefore I have no hesitation about recommending it as a career for anyone in that position. It offers an open field, with no competition; our civilization so completely neglects and disallows the Remnant that anyone going in with an eye single to their service might pretty well count on getting all the trade there is.

Even assuming that there is some social salvage to be screened out of the masses, even assuming that the testimony of history to their social value is a little too sweeping, that it depresses hopelessness a little too far, one must yet perceive, I think, that the masses have prophets enough and to spare. Even admitting that in the teeth of history that hope of the human race may not be quite exclusively centred in the Remnant, one must perceive that they have social value enough to entitle them to some measure of prophetic encouragement and consolation, and that our civilization allows them none whatever. Every prophetic voice is addressed to the masses, and to them alone; the voice of the pulpit, the voice of education, the voice of politics, of literature, drama, journalism – all these are directed towards the masses exclusively, and they marshal the masses in the way that they are going.

One might suggest, therefore, that aspiring prophetical talent may well turn to another field. Sat patriae Priamoque datum – whatever obligation of the kind may be due the masses is already monstrously overpaid. So long as the masses are taking up the tabernacle of Moloch and Chiun, their images, and following the star of their god Buncombe, they will have no lack of prophets to point the way that leadeth to the More Abundant Life; and hence a few of those who feel the prophetic afflatus might do better to apply themselves to serving the Remnant. It is a good job, an interesting job, much more interesting than serving the masses; and moreover it is the only job in our whole civilization, as far as I know, that offers a virgin field.

This essay first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1936.

A Dinitarian Higher Things Conference?

the-trinity.jpg!Large
“The Trinity,” Jusepe de Ribera; 1635; Naples, Italy

Besides all this and before all, keep I pray you the good deposit, by which I live and work, and which I desire to have as the companion of my departure; with which I endure all that is so distressful, and despise all delights; the confession of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost… No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.

~ St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations, Oration 40, Section 41


I imagine that the foregoing selection from the fortieth of St. Gregory Nazianzen’s Theological Orations resonates rather strongly with Lutherans, at least with the sort of Lutherans who aren’t “triggered” by references to the Church Fathers (God bless the patriarchy). Indeed, at their best Lutherans are obsessively, sometimes almost comically, trinitarian. Among those who have been taught to know and love the catholic faith from the Small Catechism, an equilateral triangle is apt to bring to mind the Holy Trinity rather than any geometric theorem.

While none of its parts is in the least bit dispensable, nonetheless it’s fair to say that the heart of the Small Catechism is the Apostles’ Creed. From ancient times this baptismal creed has been used by the Church as an epitome of the Christian faith, to be recited, prayed, and commended to oneself and one’s children (be they natural or spiritual) as a touchstone of orthodoxy, which means, ultimately, “right worship.” Lex orandi, lex credendi.

The creed and the attendant explanations of its three articles teach not just the doctrine of God, but the doctrine of God “for you”, as Lutherans are wont to say—not just the “immanent Trinity”, but the “economic Trinity” to put it in the somewhat wonky terms of classical theism. In other words, it does not so much present God the Holy Trinity in His infinite, unknowable, and unapproachable majesty as commend to our piety the three Divine Persons, known through their gracious and condescending work of creation, redemption, and sanctification. The Catechism profoundly teaches—howbeit somewhat subtly—the true meaning of what it is to live and move and have one’s being in God (Acts 17:28).

Being so trinitarian, there’s a certain ordinate sequential cue that all Lutherans naturally pick up on. “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and […]”; “Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and […]”; “Holy Father, Holy Son, […], Three we name Thee.” You don’t have to be Gregory of Nazianzus, or Martin Luther, or really a theological heavyweight in any way, to just sort of know that when the sequence of the Divine Name begins, it shouldn’t stop until all three persons have been given their due. That’s not just logic—it’s Theo-logic. After all, it is the Name, singular, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which we invoke, into which we have been baptized, which we praise, &c., the Name signifying the One True God whom Christians alone confess and worship (cf. Nicene Creed; Large Catechism II, 66).

Remember, the Holy Spirit is “The Lord”— full stop. There are few places in which an Oxford comma is more audibly needed than before “and giver of life” in the weekly confession of the Nicene Creed during Divine Service. We’re not saying that the Holy Spirit is the Lord of Life and the Giver of Life at that point in the Creed, as true as it may be to say so. No, we’re saying that the Holy Spirit is YHWH, and as such He is the Giver of Life coequally with the Father and the Son.

Right. So, given that the Holy Spirit is YHWH, given that “in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another”, given that “the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things…the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped” (cf. Athanasian Creed)— given all this, one wonders why Higher Things, when advertising one of its upcoming catechetical conferences, would start up the sequence of the Divine Name only to let it drop with nary a mention of God the Holy Spirit:

Let’s parse this:

God not only made you, but He also instituted husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, etc. This is not an accident. That’s the First Article of the Creed, Creation and its orders— the Person and Work of the Father. Check.

“There’s even more!” it says. Here’s what’s more: many-hyphened-verbing Jesus redemptionates you, or some suchlike. This is also not an accident. So far so good, even if the grammar is needlessly convoluted— no doubt so that we can get the tiresomely harped-upon point that JESUS DOES VERBS FOR YOU EXTRA NOS!!! Anyway, that’s the Second Article, Redemption— the Person and Work of the Son. Check.

The End.

Wait— what? We’re two thirds of the way there, living on a prayer. That had the makings of a nice Creed-structured announcement! Weren’t we talking about all the things that God does that aren’t accidents? If we’re going to mention the Father and the Son, creation and redemption, why aren’t we going to mention the Holy Spirit and sanctification? Is sanctification an accident? (Uh-oh. Not this again…)

Frankly, if the organizer of this particular conference, the Higher Things web editor, or whoever, was running up against a word-limit for the advert, they should have redacted a swath of the convoluted hyphenated verbity-verbiage so as to at least give the Paraclete an honorable mention. It would have been a good trade-off.


Needless to say, I’m not truly worried that the folks who run Higher Things are Pneumatomachians. However, it really would behoove them all to be more intentional in confessing the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, lest they give the appearance of having common cause with that other group of Luther-ites who infamously neglected the Third Article. Pardon the length of the following excerpt from Martin Luther, but I think the whole of it merits careful consideration:

That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ…. They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men—we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches. Christ did not earn only gratia, “grace,” for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin…. [O]ur Antinomians fail to see that they are preaching Christ without and against the Holy Spirit because they propose to let the people continue in their old ways and still pronounce them saved. And yet logic, too, implies that a Christian should either have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ. (Martin Luther, On The Councils And The Church; AE 41:114-116)

This is, or should be, uncomfortably specific. As in, it is highly specific, totally apropos, and should make Higher Things uncomfortable, and not just for the small snafu in the foregoing recent advert. If Higher Things doesn’t want to get murdered by an ill association with antinomianism and Gospel reductionism, they should do their mostest not to give any reason for such an association to come readily to mind.

Let me rephrase: Higher Things needs to stop giving a bunch of reasons for such an association to come readily to mind, because right now a very ready association between Higher Things and antinomianism has indeed been solidifying in the minds of many who, at least at one point, were ardent supporters of the organization.

There are several rather indicting data points I have in mind, all along the same line: the astounding lack of discernment displayed by Higher Things principals—Rev. Mark Buetow chief among them—in allowing erstwhile LCMS clergyman Greg Eilers’s piece on his gender dysphoria to be published in the Summer 2015 Higher Things magazine (see Eilers’s very revealing take on the matter here); the weak and self-serving retraction, in which no real wrongdoing was admitted (and which totally gave the lie to the Lutheran doctrine of original sin); the self-absorbed, prurient, and downright disturbing blogs of Rev. Donavon Riley (Jesus wants you to “beat the shit” out of Him with your sins; were your kids wondering if Pastor Riley had sex and watched porn with his teenage girlfriend?); the participation of the same in the “ministry” of a sexual predator (see this “Afterword”), snapping selfies with profane women who pretend to be pastors, &c., &c. I could go on, but there’s no reason to be gratuitous, unless you’re Rev. Riley.

None of these things inspires confidence. Higher Things needs to realize that when parents like me read their adverts— such as the one above which has so rustled my jimmies— many of us are reading it skeptically and in a rather dim light. And before you even start, that is our best construction. The principals of Higher Things are asking us to trust them to assist us with forming our children in the faith. I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty high bar when it comes to entrusting my children’s souls to people. Many of us aren’t into being fooled twice and are just not going to chance it with Higher Things anymore. (Indeed, all conscientious Lutheran parents might do well to rethink the merits of big hooplah “youth-events” in general— see this fine piece by Rev. Philip Hoppe for a good explanation of some of the reasons why. The Walther League they ain’t.)

Still, the decision to be grumpier, more parochial, and more hide-in-the-woodsy than the median is a prudential, not a moral one (at least for the present moment). There’s some Christian freedom in these matters. I long ago gave up hoping everyone would agree with me and my little platoon vis-á-vis all liturgical and existential adiaphora. So I’ll close with this: as an old service buddy of mine was fond of saying, always with a grave and sober look, “Trust is gained over time and lost in an instant.” It’s possible for Higher Things to gain some trust back, but first they need to admit that they’ve lost it. Big time. They need to own their failure and actually repent, which— if I may be somewhat topically tendentious— would entail not only expressing sorrow for their errors but also forsaking their errors and doing otherwise (like when Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Misc., laudably confessed to having espoused an erroneous doctrine of the Law). It may be that some of Higher Things’ directors need to recuse themselves. It may be that the RSO-status of Higher Things needs to suspended pending a synodical examination and reapplication. I would not be the first to suggest that such measures might be in order. The real gravamen of all this, though, is that trust, real trust, and not “brand” or “status”, must be pains-takingly reestablished by Higher Things— that is to say, re-earned.

With that caveat made, though, we might put it thusly:

If Higher Things wants to regain status as a salutary confessional alternative to the annual LCMS Laser-Guided SMP Show, they might make a small and earnest beginning by leaving a little room for the Holy Spirit— in their adverts, yes, but much more so in the content of what they put out.

[UPDATE 8/9/16: I wrote a followup post here: “Episode 2: Higher Things—TOYOTA”]

Thoughts on the Occasion of Bethany Church, Baltimore, Leaving the LCMS

On Pentecost (ironically), the voters assembly of Bethany Lutheran Church in Violetville, a western neighborhood of Baltimore, moved to disband as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, sell their building to their pastor, and re-constitute as a “non-denominational” church. (How this all will play out legally remains to be seen— let’s just say that the schismatics may be unpleasantly surprised.) Here’s Bethany’s website. You get the picture.

Meet Elias Abite Kao, erstwhile pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, and now schismatic cult-leader of Bethany Whatever Something:

kao

It all makes you wonder…

How could a man who has been thoroughly instructed in the teaching of the Book of Concord and formed by the best liturgical, pastoral, and practical theological training available in the fellowship of worldwide confessional Lutheranism make such an absurd and, finally, heretical, move?

The premise of the question is flawed, of course. The plain truth is that Mr. Kao was not thoroughly instructed in the teaching of the Book of Concord and formed by the best liturgical, pastoral, and practical theological training available in the fellowship of worldwide confessional Lutheranism. Not by a long shot. Do we really think that he was?

While we’re posing incredulous questions, here are a few more.

Can we just admit that Mr. Kao was, in all likelihood, never really a Lutheran in the first place and shouldn’t have been allowed to matriculate through the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology?

While we’re on the subject, why does the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology even exist? What good can come from cordoning off ethnic immigrant candidates for the ministry into a sub-par fast-track to ordination?

Answer: not much good, but plenty of things that would make hearts sing among the colloquized Seminex-grads who draw salaries in the echelons of the Southeastern District bureaucracy. It should come as no surprise that they, of all people, are big fans of all manner of “alternate routes” to certification.

Kao and those like him don’t just slip through the LCMS filter. The LCMS doesn’t have a filter. Or, rather, there are bureaucratic pipelines into the LCMS clergy-roster which are left deliberately unfiltered, so that guys like Mr. Kao can get in. This is the same as having no filter at all. It’s not rocket science. It’s not home pool care. It’s just Missouri-Synod church politics.

Wait a second…what do you mean ‘guys like Mr. Kao’? Is that some kind of racist comment? Are you… a racist???

I don’t know, chief. Denying racism never works, so I won’t try. In any case, I’m glad you’ve been triggered, and to answer your question, by “guys like Kao”, I don’t mean “Ethiopians” (I know some fine confessional Ethiopian Lutherans); I simply mean “non-Lutherans.” We might narrow that a bit, though, to “non-Lutheran immigrants of non-European ethnic extraction who are used as pawns by white liberal boomers in positions of ecclesiastical supervisory authority so that the latter can treat the districts under their purview like petri-dishes in which to perform decades-long crapulous socio-theological experiments which ruin churches.” There— that’s a bit more apropos to our discussion.

Let me project the meta-monologue for you:

“Hey, you! Yes, you with the darker flesh-tones and the Bible. Would you like to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod? What’s a Lutheran, you ask? Oh, never you mind that— Lutherans are just like you! We just love Jesus! Anyway, we’d love for you to be a pastor in our church, because we have loads of white guilt, and we’re sort of embarrassed by… well… absolutely everything about our Lutheran heritage. Having token brown people will make us feel better about ourselves! Anyway, we’ve got this program that you can go through that will more or less ensure that you retain all of your cherished heretical beliefs, if you have any. Hopefully you do— they will add to our diversity!”

…and then, after the required minimum processing, the SED takes said hapless individual— who may or may not know that he’s complicit in an effort to subvert the LCMS; after all, he doesn’t know the first thing about the LCMS other than what he’s been told by his white liberal handlers— and sends him to a middle-class white suburban Lutheran parish that has slowly been growing more confessional and liturgical but has recently lost its pastor. They’ve just gotten the savor of genuine Lutheranism in their mouths, and they think they’d kind of like to keep going with that, they just need some guidance from a pastor who loves Lutheranism as much as the last one. But… well… the District has other plans. “‘Behold, I am doing a new thing,’ says the Lord,” says the District.

“GASP! That is so racist. I can’t believe you’re saying this!”

No, it’s not racist. If you think that the color of a man’s skin matters more than the content of his confession, you’re the racist. Go ahead and clutch your white guilt pearls; nobody is going to steal them from you. I certainly will not.

The fact that the foregoing is not the modus operandi for absolutely all colloquy applications or alternate-route certifications in the LCMS is beyond irrelevant. It is the modus operandi for plenty of them. And this M.O. is a betrayal of the Lutheran confession. It is an insult to the millions of non-Europeans the world over who confess the Lutheran faith with unalloyed sincerity. It is at last a not-so-subtle Marxist nudge from white liberal vision wonks in the SED that ethnic-minority Lutherans are dabbling in “false consciousness” if they profess to love that “cold Germanic ritual that teaches God at a distance.” (<< Bill Woolsey, the idiot LCMS pastor who leads FiveTwo, described the Lutheran liturgy in these terms.)

You see (the white liberal LCMS vision goes), if these poor colored folk knew what was truly them, they’d get with something a little more blended, a little more “diverse”, a little more…oh, I dunno…tribal. Something less stodgy and white. “Here,” says the awkward white liberal synodocrat dressed in a mumu spun from his weird boomer neuroses and some Paul Tillich quotes, “let me pry that Lutheran Hymnal out of your old black hands. I’m going to help you worship like the ethnic arch-stereotypes in my head are all worshiping. Grab your maraca!”

It is absurd, it is deceitful, and it is really, truly racist, for it regards race as some trump-card in the “diversity for diversity’s sake” game. And you had better bet your sweet foot that this is the bread and butter of the Southeastern District.

If you think that any of the foregoing is a misrepresentation of business as usual in the SED, just visit the next district convention, or any one of the circuit meetings in the northern region of the district (where the erstwhile Bethany Lutheran Church is located). You’ll have a great time listening to well-paid district hatchet-men advocating with gusto for “lay ministry” (by men and women), recommending the closure and sale of local (confessional) churches, foisting “Afro-centric” “worship materials” onto congregations in which no one at all is requesting them, and generally inciting all manner of unionism and Schwarmerisch heresy.

 

“Oh. But these are outliers. This must be just the SED! Alternate route-certification isn’t abused in this way anywhere else.”

I don’t know if any LCMS Lutheran not currently under the influence of quaaludes/the smoldering hash of Ablaze! would actually raise the above imagined objection. But if there are some reading this who doubt, all I will say is…no. It’s not just the SED. It’s all over the Synod. Mostly in urban areas where white liberal boomers tend to congregate. Yes, that is an assertion, not an argument. Do your own homework; it’s not hard, and there are all sorts of people who can help you with the answers, i.e., attest that what I have said here is true. Or just open your ever-loving eyes.

In fine, Bethany Church’s exit from the LCMS shouldn’t be a surprise. Along with Berea Lutheran Church— which is still in the LCMS, and whose services are presided over by a woman and visiting Pentecostal ministers— Bethany had for some time functioned as a beacon and friendly port for syncretist Pentecostal-LINOs, over and against the objections of the members who are faithfully Lutheran, who have now been outnumbered, out-glossolaliated, and outvoted.

The irony of this whole thing is that the SED execs are probably sad to see Bethany leave, if only because, in their minds, there’s absolutely no reason why they couldn’t have stayed. Sure, Mr. Kao was regularly preaching at a Pentecostal church in Washington D.C. and telling his members that Baptism was meaningless and inefficacious. Sure, he was obviously not a Lutheran and should never have been certified, called, or ordained in the first place…but…but…but…

But what? None of this is an accident. Considered corporately, the Southeast District of the LCMS openly despises anything having to do with the Lutheran tradition. As Steadfast Lutherans reported last November, the SED president exuberantly (“frantically” is more like it) launched a new lay-deacon program as soon as the synodical task-force charged with examining the lay deacon program released a report which recommended its curtailment.

To say that the departure of Bethany Church from the LCMS “raises questions” about the adequacy of “Alternate Route Certifications” of the sort which allowed this fellow, Mr. Kao, to receive ordination in the Missouri Synod in the first place would be a gross understatement. It doesn’t actually raise any questions. It simply shines a light once again on the fact that the Missouri Synod is not united, and that there is no realistic hope of it becoming united once again out of its current fractured state. We are riven and shot through with schism, but time and again, the major fault lines are papered over by theologians of glory— on the synodical right and left— who idolize institutional unity and undermine unity in life-giving doctrine.

Absent a Deus ex machina event at the Synodical convention this July, the least bad option, however fanciful it might be, would be for the convention to authorize the President of Synod to fire the district presidents who not only allow but encourage unionism and dissension viz. our Confessions and the Constitution & Bylaws. Full stop. The second least bad option is for the liberals to, once again, walk out. There is a place for them, if not quite a church in the proper sense of that term: it’s called the ELCA. They should be encouraged to follow in Matthew Becker’s train down the broad path of apostate Lutheranism, and we should let them go, say a prayer for their repentance, yes, and then turn back around and focus on rebuilding our house.

Thank God I’m Not Like Those Victorians

a92bd1c4e870a53318a269ec950efbbbWhat follows is an insightful quote from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, where a few neo-Victorians from the future discuss the morality of our age. We enter the conversation in medias res…

“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism.You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others-after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?”

Finkle-McGraw paused, knowing that he had the full attention of his audience, and began to withdraw a calabash pipe and various related supplies and implements from his pockets. As he continued, he charged the calabash with a blend of leather-brown tobacco so redolent that it made Hackworth’s mouth water. He was tempted to spoon some of it into his mouth.

“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour-you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

“You wouldn’t believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi.”

Both Hackworth and Major Napier were dumbfounded. “Your Grace!” Napier exclaimed. “I was naturally aware that their moral stance was radically different from ours- but I am astonished to be informed that they actually condemned the first Victorians.”

“Of course they did,” Finkle-McGraw said.

“Because the first Victorians were hypocrites,” Hackworth said, getting it.

Finkle-McGraw beamed upon Hackworth like a master upon his favored pupil. “As you can see, Major Napier, my estimate of Mr. Hackworth’s mental acuity was not ill-founded.”

“While I would never have supposed otherwise, Your Grace,” Major Napier said, “it is nonetheless gratifying to have seen a demonstration.” Napier raised his glass in Hackworth’s direction.

“Because they were hypocrites,” Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, “the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none.

“So they were morally superior to the Victorians-” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. “-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all.”
There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

[emphasis added]

The belief that hypocrisy is the only true vice is so ubiquitous that it often passes in the church as good law preaching. It is impossible for fallen man to keep the law, so any man who tries to keep the law is a hypocrite, and men need to repent of their hypocrisy. Therefore the problem with the opinio legis is no longer idolatry, but hypocrisy. This resonates with people because it is the cultural norm. Nobody minds being called a sinner. A sinner who admits he is a sinner is not a hypocrite and thus is free of the lone cardinal vice. He will keep or break whatever morality is necessary to not be a hypocrite. Those who only preach against hypocrisy prop themselves up by having no morals at all.

 

 

What is Law?

In our post-Edenic epoch, two things seem certain regarding Law: we have a hard time defining it, and a harder time following it. Auden does a great job of capturing this seemingly futile business of Law in one of his poems, which I’ve copied below. The final, italicized stanza, inspired by Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Augustine’s Confessions, is my own.

Law Like Love
By W. C. H. Auden

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
Tomorrow, yesterday, today.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers shrilly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

******************************

Law, said the Master from the hill,
Was given to break your broken will,
To beckon towards a unity
That now is only found in Me.
So that your darkness yet may shine,
I here unite your will to Mine.
He there assumed my handicap,
And spread his arms to bridge the gap.

बन्दर-लोग

 

640px-john_charles_dollman_-_mowgli_made_leader_of_the_bandar_log
Mowgli made leader of the Bandar Log by John Charles Dollman, 1903

I have been reading Kipling’s The Jungle Book for entertainment and moral enrichment, and came across this passage about a familiar type of people:

 

Mowgli looked at Bagheera to see if the Panther was angry too, and Bagheera’s eyes were as hard as jade stones.

“Thou hast been with the Monkey People–the gray apes–the people without a law–the eaters of everything. That is great shame.”

“When Baloo hurt my head,” said Mowgli (he was still on his back), “I went away, and the gray apes came down from the trees and had pity on me. No one else cared.” He snuffled a little.

Note, Baloo hurt Mowgli’s head because he was not learning his lessons.

“The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted. “The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun! And then, man-cub?”

“And then, and then, they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they–they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood brother except that I had no tail, and should be their leader some day.”

“They have no leader,” said Bagheera. “They lie. They have always lied.”

“They were very kind and bade me come again. Why have I never been taken among the Monkey People? They stand on their feet as I do. They do not hit me with their hard paws. They play all day. Let me get up! Bad Baloo, let me up! I will play with them again.”

“Listen, man-cub,” said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast thou ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?”

“No,” said Mowgli in a whisper, for the forest was very still now Baloo had finished.

“The Jungle-People put them out of their mouths and out of their minds. They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”

A good lesson, I think.