Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reflections: Greeting the Season

These are trying times. The Spirit of Christmas seems swamped; not only by the unseemly, sometimes violent, consumer frenzy that annually bemerdes the season, but this year also by the tedious broadcast bickering of partisan politics; by the grisly news constantly trickling in from the Never-Ending-War; and by the uncertainties of a national economy, the assets of which are being pillaged and plundered domestically by those plutocratic few soaring near the clouds in their steel and glass bunkers, or alternately, sold abroad like boatloads of shackled slaves. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Therefore, by way of an antidote, and in the spirit of my previous post, I invite you to join me briefly on the short line leading to the wisdom of the philosopher Spinoza, whose words below will indicated by italics:

Unable to find an objective good in the usual surroundings of social life, Spinoza finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good, having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly to the exclusion of all else.

Spinoza undertook his project having found that the ordinary surroundings of life which are esteemed by men (as their actions testify) to be the highest good, may be classed under three heads—Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed that it has little power to reflect on any different good.

Here, Spinoza had pressed his finger against the pulse of the problem: we habitually take as “good” things which are not good-in-themselves, but only objects of desire which, once obtained, leave us always wanting bigger-and-better-of-the-same. And men praise us and stoke our pride to the extent that we vigorously pursue this empty life until we wear ourselves down to stumps and nubs against the abrasive futility of it all.

All the objects pursued by the multitude, Spinoza observed, not only bring no remedy that tends to preserve our being, but even act as hindrances, causing the death not seldom of those who possess them, and always of those who are possessed by them. In these things resides the decadence of our culture; the destruction of the human spirit.

These toxins, Spinoza concluded, arise from the love of what is perishable… But love toward a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength…[for} while my mind was employed with these thoughts it turned away from its former objects of desire, and seriously considered the search for a new principle…

But, Fear not…search no further…for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

May God’s grace be with you in this joyous season, and throughout the new year to come.