Authority and the Voice of God

The book of Genesis is filled with stories of the first order of importance. Every one of them is meant to be contemplated for at least a full lifetime. Everything in existence is expressed if not explained in these 50 chapters – and not in easily understandable ways.

Two stories have dominated my attention for some time now: the story of the temptation of Eve and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.

In the Abraham story, the father of many peoples is instructed by God as follows:

Take now your son, your only Isaac, whom you love,
And go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering
Upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.

If anybody wants to reject the God of the Old Covenant, this is the story to gloam on to. Here it is. Take it. Throw away this God and never have to deal with Him again. He gives you that option right here. You can even claim the ethical high ground.

All my life I have wondered about this story, though I am sure there are commentaries that explain away all the difficulties it contains.

I don’t read that sort of commentary any more.

How did Abraham know it was the voice of God? He couldn’t draw on ethics. This command is contrary to everything Abraham had learned about good and evil up to this point.

He couldn’t draw on experience – not even the mystical sort. God had promised Abraham that this child Isaac would be the seed through whom Abraham would realize the fulness of the covenant.

He couldn’t draw on any sort of Cartesian rationalism. I’m not sure it would have had anything at all to say about the matter, unless it would be to draw back to ethics and say, “This is wrong.”

He certainly couldn’t draw on the advice of others. Are we to believe that Sarah would have been confident that Abraham was sound of mind? What would Hagar and Ishmael have said? Who could have advised him?

Nor were the pop philosophers any use to him, those who insist that all you need is love. He was about to do something that could not be done, to sing something that could not be sung, to do something without learning how to play the game.

Abraham was alone before God and he possessed no faculty by which he could understand or justify what God required of him.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

And then there’s Eve.

Here’s another easy out from believing in the God of the Bible. She who was called Woman, not yet Eve, because she was taken out of man, was naked and unashamed. How utterly unlike us.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

How very like us.

What, I wonder, did Satan have to say to Abraham as he was travailing to the region of Moriah?

“Did God say…?”

“He wouldn’t say something like that…”

What attracts my attention as I read is the rather simplistic thought that God and Satan communicate differently. Even when He asks questions, as in the words of our Lord to the Pharisees or the dialogues with the prophet Elijah, God always speaks with Authority.

It is natural and fitting that He would do so, for all Authority is His and nobody else has Authority that is not delegated from Him.

On the other hand, Satan has no Authority at all, for God has given him none. He cannot, therefore, speak with Authority. So far as I can tell, that leaves him with two options: he can seduce or he can threaten. On the one hand, he can draw on intimidation and tyranny. On the other, he can draw on seduction and sympathy.

For this reason, he labors continually to form minds that are either sentimental or cynical.

The sentimental mind is easily seduced and is therefore a play-thing for a demon.

The cynical mind trusts nobody and is willing to acknowledge no authority as legitimate. It is a great Satanic achievement.

When people stop believing that Authority comes from God, they go through a period of liberation because they are freed from those who, like them, are cynics – who use the doctrine of Divine Authority for their own power-plays.

The temptation to do so is irresistable, so history is the story of cynics rising and falling to replace each other.

But the man who believes that Authority is a Divine Property delegated to man is properly bound to submit to the Divine Authority. Such a person serves as the only foundation for a just and free society and such a society can endure only so long as the wisdom of such a person nourishes it.

When God spoke to Abraham, He spoke with Authority – an Authority inherent in the Person speaking. When Abraham heard his voice, He did not need to speculate about it. He knew. 

When God spoke the sermon on the mount, we read that

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had Authority.

This isn’t as hard to understand as it might seem. A father who speaks to his child has Authority delegated directly from the God of heaven, an Authority that carries a natural honor and dignity that every child in the history of the human race has sensed.

Lose sight of this as a father and you become disoriented and uncertain in your duties to and relationship with your children.

When a father compromises Authority by sloth or aggression, he breaks the very hierarchy of reality and brings disorder into his soul, through his soul into his home, and through his home into the soul of his child.

The well-being of the soul of the child and the order of civilized society is rooted in the relationship of honor between father and son, which in turn is manifested in the relationship of Father and Son.

Our souls know Authority when they encounter it and they rejoice in it.

But when the father or the mother or teacher or pastor or ruler either shirks the delegated Authority or seeks more than is fitting, our souls fall into anxiety.

We fail in our Authority when we use threats and seductions instead of simply speaking with authority.

We also fail in our Authority when we assume an authority that is not legitimate.

In our godless age, we are convinced behaviorists. We don’t believe in the great mystery of the will, only in appetites. So we stimulate behavior in our students through rewards and punishments and figure that’s all we have to offer.

This is, of all psychological doctrines, perhaps the most Satanic, for it forces us to imitate the Great Manipulator in the way we govern the souls of our children.

If you are a father, simply act on your Authority. Speak from within your Authority.

If your child rebels, then of course you should punish your child. If he obeys, then perhaps you should reward him.

But the great reward that every child seeks is a well ordered world that orders his soul to match it.

In other words, what your child wants of you is that you be a Father.

Then you can be like the God who spoke to Adam and Eve and Abraham with Authority and His voice was known, and not like the serpent who seduces through flattery and anxiety.

If you are a mother, beware of sentimentalism. Your duty is to raise a man or a lady with a soul of steel and a heart of flesh.

If you are a teacher, do not fear your students. They are created to honor you. They want to. Speak with Authority and they will hear your voice as deep calls to deep. If they do not, and some won’t and many will close their ears when they do, then enforce your delegated Authority. But do not reduce your students to mere appetites and fears.

They have a will, though it is underfed and neglected. It cannot be controlled, for it is free. But it can be awakened and beckoned.

Will you beckon with the Authority of God or the vanity of the Enemy?

Let me try to simplify:

  • Humans have appetites and wills.
  • The appetites respond to stimuli.
  • The will responds to Authority.
  • Our age believes in neither the Will nor Authority.
  • Christians believe in the Will and Authority.
  • Teachers and parents and others who have delegated Authority tend to distrust Authority and to fall back on management of the appetites through stimuli, such as threats and seductions.
  • When we do so, we are abandoning our faith in that act.
  • We don’t have the right to so treat children, for it is manipulative and driven by personal convenience and the lust for power (be it never so petty).
  • If Authority is not delegated to us, we must not atempt to enforce it.
  • If it is delegated to us, then our fundamental duty is to act on and fulfill it.
  • When we act on delegated Authority, we must trust it and the God who gave it.
  • The first clue that we do not trust it and Him is when we fall into behavioral manipulation of our children, charges, or students.
Advertisements

Nature and Convention: being part II of the essay that follows it below because it (that which is below) was written first

In Genesis 1 God created the heavens and the earth (we aren’t told how) and then He said, “Let there be light.” When He did so, it seems safe to assume He used some language to say it. That is to say, He used language to bring reality into existence.

In Genesis 3, Satan used language to persuade Eve to do evil. In so doing, he severed the link between language and reality. For the first time, nature and use were put in conflict.

I cannot remember who it was, but some medieval philosopher objected to teaching grammar on the ground that it enables a child to parse God, and who was the first to put God in the plural? Grammar, in other words, enables a person to mislead and corrupt others. The solution to these dilemmas always seems to be ignorance among the anxious.

In fact, I suspect that a case can be made for the overthrow of grammar having begun in the Middle Ages. When Occam (William of Ockham) won the day with his proto-nominalism the foundations for all ordered and civilized thought, community, and society were shaken. Occam denied that anything had an essence, particularly grammar. Grammar had no natural existence, but was merely a name that we attached to the conventional way we structure communication. Grammar is only a name, merely a convention.

It isn’t hard to go from Occam to the Enlightenment, especially the empirical branch that was obsessed with particulars and rejected universals as so much metaphysical claptrap. Since nature doesn’t exist in the Enlightenment scheme (it’s just a name for our conventional perspectives), it is an obstacle to our free development as human beings. Nature must be overcome.

Thus, I would argue, in the Enlightenment we see the radical separation of nature and convention and, both consequently and subsequently, the rejection of nature.

Convention severed from nature always leads to tyranny. This follows as surely as pain with age for the simple reason that when a leader convinces his people (teacher to student, politician to people, general to army) that there is no code of behavior that transcends their utility, no principle that orders their conventions, what he’s really done is prepare them for his behavior, which will be free from any code to restrict it or principle that orders it.

Only nature and nature’s law can restrain the tyrant.

Following hard on the misappropriation of convention as it occurred during the early and late Enlightenment (early: Louis XIV, Henry VIII; late: the English and French aristocracies) came the rise of radical relativism, which is conventions without any link to nature. The Enlightenment is the story of endless confusion about the place of nature. Thus, when the radical relativists of the French Revolution arrived, they sang of a return to nature. But nature, having been eliminated, was transformed into little more than a beast. It was powerless against convention and seemed to breathe its last on the guillotines of the revolution.

Then came the unhappy marriage of the radical materialists and the radical relativists. Both rejected nature for convention with a vengeance. Here we speak of the Marxists and the feminists, both of whom rejected human nature. Denying essences, they came to believe that masculinity is a convention for oppression and the femininity was a convention for – what? Survival under the oppressor perhaps. Neither were natural, in any case. Both needed to be overcome.

Grammar has walked the same path as sexuality over the centuries. Both have come unglued in the last 50 years.

One practical consequence is that both have come to be regarded as unimportant. If grammar is mere convention, and if convention is oppressive, why should we attend to grammar. It’s spirit has been released – it is deflated. Grammar lies on the classroom floor like a wasted balloon after a party, lying beside the prophylactics.

Since grammar is not important it is not carefully taught.

Since grammar is not carefully taught, we are in the early to middle stages of the obliteration of literary skills like reading and writing and we have lost the capacity to engage with a complex sentence. That would require too much personal commitment, and that would require acceptance of conventions, and that would imply that I am not utterly free.

Unless of course freedom has something to do with nature.

Authority and memorizing

Modern thought resides in the realm of fantasy, perhaps nowhere moreso than on the question of authority. The Middle Ages are mocked for their constant appeal to authority, an appeal that Francis Bacon is supposed to have freed the human race from with his Novum Organon, an appeal to use the nascent scientific method of induction as the only source of truth.

But on what basis do we mock the Medieval thinkers for their submission to authority?

Somebody told us!

Authority to the modern mind seems to be a negative idea. We seem to think it is necessarily evil. But it is not. To the Medieval mind, authority was rooted in knowledge. To be an authority was to know what you are talking about.

It is the same to the modern mind, with this difference. We are so individualistic, so disconnected from reality, so controlled by manipulators, so eager to create ourselves, that we have created a vocabulary and set of practices that thinks and acts as though we can function without authority. We’ve driven the whole concept of authority into our subconscious.

Living in this condition leads us through all manner of emotional contortions. Many people will embrace an idea as long as the people in front of them don’t know where they got it. That’s easy to do now, because we spend so much time learning from people we don’t know that the impersonal nature of knowledge and authority seem normal to us. But intellectually and spiritually, we enter a state of confusion. We take on ourselves the existential burden of creating ourselves and the Cartesian burden of finding truth within ourselves, independently.

So we remain forever adolescent, constantly showing off our knowledge and abilities, perpetually terrified that people will discover the truth.  We are emotionally bound.

And the solution is so simple. We simply need to admit that we know almost nothing apart from what authorities have discovered and told us. This is true in math, grammar, science, history, philosophy, the arts, and religion. But our distrust for authority is so intense that we pretend to not need any.

If we wish to remain moral and spiritual dwarves and loners, I suppose we don’t need any authority. But if we are going to grow, we need to learn from those who know so very, very much more than we do. This is common sense. It is necessary. The fact that authorities abuse their authorities cannot alter that fact. As the French Revolution illustrated, when you reject authority all you do is assert your own tyranny.

I am arguing for more clear-headedness on this matter.

Those who reject authority other than their own (Dewey, Keating, etc.) want us to pull the pages out of our text books and start over with a barbaric yowp.  Now we have a culture letting out one long, extended yowp.

Those who accept authority other than their own recognize the need to submit to authority and the need for what the authority above them have to say. So rather than have their students practice primal scream therapy, they have them memorize the Bible, and Homer, and Virgil, and Dante, and Shakespeare.

Students taught in that atmosphere of authority are give the resources they will need when they have to fight their own battles in the unjust world in which we live. They will not be abandoned to yowps and guns and roses.