Babylonian Captivity of the Word
James L. Sauer
In any case, I never really took my own flights of adolescent philosophy seriously; it all struck me as a kind of inside Joke. It is fun to talk nonsense. It was only after encountering academic life that I realized that some people actually took their nonsense for deep truth. Some people actually get paid for it.
One particularly empty literary passage that struck my puckish fancy I photocopied and stuck to my postered wall. It was Lucky's speech from Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot: a title which everyone recognizes, but which only a few have suffered to read. This is what Lucky said:
Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattman of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labors left unfinished...1
And Lucky goes on. And on.
I suppose there are literary scholars who have deciphered Beckett's meaning. I was never good at puzzles. I'm too impatient. But I get the gist. The old order of God, reason, meaning, academics, natural order, it's all nonsense. Everything is nonsense. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. Which is, after all, not a very new thought. Unfortunately, the suicidal prophets of Existentialism never came to the wizened conclusion of the Solomonic Preacher.
Existentialism is rather passé now. Nobody but a few leftover bohemian types and a few professors still get into that sort of thing. It all seems rather pointless to stick your head in an oven; there's no exit there. Certainly no profit. You won't get tenure that way. But what gave us existentialism; the negation of knowledge; the suicide of the intellect; the denial of the absolute; the irrational leap toward hopeless meaning; the turning away from God; all this and more is still with us. Intellectual wilderness wandering is only taking different forms: on the one side, an even more fervent search for a deified Reason — Dianetics, Scientism, Secular Humanism, Communism — yes, the folks who brought you the Gulag are still around—, and dollar hungry Objectivism. On the other side, we see an embracing of the Dionysian: sex, drugs, occultism, and New Age Religion. Perhaps the Last Romantic was inspired in his apocalyptic vision—"things fall apart, the center cannot hold." We seem on the verge of a Satanic Millennium.
For, after all, we are in a Post Christian world. Western civilization was redeemed from intellectual Paganism. Greece was baptized. Spiritual Cancan was conquered. Israel was settled. Christianity re-chained autonomous Reason to its God; and thereby created Western civilization. All the epistemological sources — logic, intuition, experience, tradition — became servants of the one great Revelation. The Divine, after all, had entered history; truth had become a little human pop. Everything now mattered; because matter had been taken into the Everything. The Word had been made flesh and dwelt among us. All this, as a culture, we have turned our backs upon; and have left our posts at the Western wall.
For against this Logos, this Holy Principate, Modernism, like a Babylonian Monarch, wages unceasing war. And the wicked pry their way through the breach.
The invasion of such irrationalism is touted in intellectual circles. In a recent dull collection of literary criticism on Holy Writ, Frank McConnell brings together a tribe of wise men from the West. They have come to Bethlehem so that they might deconstruct the Babe who was born. W. J. Urbrock describes The Bible and the Narrative Tradition,2 a jumbled menagerie of learned hokum, as "a significant contribution to the growing number of literary studies of the Bible...Not for beginners, this important book deserves inclusion in upper-undergraduate, graduate, and comprehensive general collections on Bible..."3 Did we read the same book? Or is it that we have different definitions of language and meaning? Darkness is now their light; evil their good; nonsense their meaning.
McConnell sets the tone for this collection in his introduction: "A11 of our writers in this volume confront, in their various ways, the uncomfortable contemporary conviction—exported mainly from France—that the ´meaning' of literature may be simply the infinite reassertion of the structures of consciousness itself, that ´meaning' itself may indeed be the central myth or self-delusion of our culture."4 They claim to confront the cancer of deconstruction; but they are helpless to refute it, and are in fact, its chief priests. For the central disunity of their relativistic worldview forms the basis for their criticism.
The collapse of the Logos principle is nowhere more evident than in their gnostic literary critical theology. Perhaps just two quotes from this text will illustrate the foolishness of Vanity Fair University:
First, Professor Harold Bloom writes of his subjectivist power over literature in his painful essay "From J to K, or The Uncanniness of the Yahwist." "My attempt at transcending scholarship is simply a literary critic's final reliance upon her or his own sense of a text, or what I have called the necessity of misreading. No-critic, whatever her or his moldiness or skepticism, can evade a Nietzschean will to power over a text, because interpretation is nothing else."5 Misreading is now the ultimate virtue; raping a text the mark of a Superman.
>Professor Hans Frei, another example of reason opposed to reason, utters thoughts that defy understanding. He is obviously writing commentary on the published works of Puncher and Wattman: ´´If the literal sense means that the story of Jesus is above all about a specific fictional or historical person by that name, and therefore about his identification through narrative descriptions which gain force by being ascribed to him and no one else as the subject of those dispositions, words, actions, and sufferings, then the hermeneutic position we have described entails a view of him as ascriptive subject chiefly in the form of consciousness, that is, of his selfhood as ´understanding. 'Like anyone else, Jesus is not in the first place the agent of his actions nor the enacted project(s) that constitute(s) him, nor the person to whom the actions of others happen; he is, rather, the verbal expressor of a certain preconceptual consciousness which he then, in a logically derivative or secondary sense, exhibits in action. For instance, that Jesus was crucified is not a decisive part of his personal story, only that he was so consistent in his ´mode-of-being-in-the-world' as to take the risk willingly."6 Given the existence, quaquaquaqua, with white beard. Don't look to the current literary critical crowd for intellectual guidance; they have dissected their eyes in order to understand sight.
This same celebration of the emptiness has invaded our government. We have long recognized our politicians as guardians of the obscure; prevaricators extraordinary. Politics is the natural opponent of Reason and the Transcendent. As the ever acidic H. L. Menckon points out: "A politician normally prospers under democracy, not in proportion as his principles are sound and his honour incorruptible, but in proportion as he excels in the manipulation of sonorous phrases, and the invention of imaginary perils and imaginary defenses against them. Our politics thus degenerates into a mere pursuit of hobgoblins; the...voter, a coward as well as an ass, is forever taking fright at a new one and electing some mountebank to lay it."7 Like all cynicism, there is some truth here. Our leaders talk of "new ideas" because they don't want to face old problems. They boldly solve our difficulties by denying their existence; they speak of fiscal responsibility as they bankrupt the Treasury; our law system is preserved by denying a legal genius a place on the court; and peace is preserved by disarming ourselves before the most militant ideological evil the world has ever known.
One remembers one candidate for President, in that Antedeluvian age before the coming of this era of High Tech Democracy, who once said of some trifle: "I did not say that I did not say it; I said that I didn't say that I said it. I want to make that perfectly clear.'' That's the kind of prophetic clarity we now engender in our leaders. We now have candidates who, I honestly believe, don't know the difference between a "relationship" and adultery, or who consider the violation of the low a "wrong decision," or who label as "mistakes" their sins. It's a new and improved Mea Culpa, give or take a little. But time will tell, for reasons unknown, read them their Divine Miranda rights, and move on.
Perhaps the greatest contemporary example of semantic destruction lies in abortion. One of the nasty results, as Chesterton put it, of "calling a green leaf grey," is that we no longer see things as they are. Without light we see no color; we see no life. We have lost our humanity; and so we deny that humanity to others. How apropos that the nation which destroys language should, as the Titans did the gods, next devour their young. Providence is not without irony.
In her popular work Who Broke the Baby? Jean Staker Garton catalogs the euphemistic way in which we have made room in our cultural inn for bashing our babies in their internal mangers. "Reproductive rights," "freedom of choice," "termination of pregnancy:´´—this is the language of rationalized sin. The bottom line is always a murdered baby.
Perhaps there are still a few conservatives or whiggish libertarians who are fuzzy on this issue. But no Christian believer, and no consistent natural low conservative, can consistently hold to a pro-abortion ideology. From the Christian view, abortion is murder; and it is a negation of Biblical revelation, apostolic tradition, and Ecclesiastical teaching. All branches of historical and moral orthodoxy are unanimous in their condemnation of it: the Biblical Protestants, the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox Churches.
But the poison of linguistic Modernism takes its toll on the religious as well. The Sideline Protestant churches, Pro-abortion bastions all, still seem to speak for God; though, in fact, they long ago repudiated the Maker's moral low; and have become—as the Book of Revelation labels such — synagogues of Satan. Organizations like the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights and Catholics for Choice; want to create the impression that you can have your sin and religion too.
In 1987 the Evangelical Roundtable sponsored a discussion of the "sanctity of human life" at Eastern College which showed how even the Profile Evangelicals can be co-opted by these wolfish manipulators. One outrageous example of semanticide was performed by Abigail Rian Evans, a senior staff Associate at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Ms. Evans clothed her pro-choice position in prolife language:
"An abortion should be undertaken with ´fear and trembling, 'as it is a serious violation of a moral imperative and is done only in the context of forgiveness and grace. The immorality of abortion is preceded by the evil circumstances that have led to its necessity. As a society we must deal with the problems which produce the environment where children are unwanted."8 This is dialectical theology; far from Christ's plea to let your yes by yes and your no be no. The message of Ms. Evans is studied ambiguity.
Notice the operative words and phrases. Abortion "should be undertaken...done.. world's imperfection forces us...necessary, or tragic choices...led to its necessity...children are unwanted." You would think by these words we were talking about some fixed natural low reality which allowed for no moral choice at all. Sin has become a nonexistent category. Around these deterministic words she rings a collection of compassionate Christian rhetoric: "fear and trembling...serious violation of a moral imperative...context of forgiveness and grace...choices that are regrettable...immorality of abortion...evil circomstances."
Now these two sets of language; one operative and the other connotative, form the dialectical basis by which many so-called Evangelicals, and so-called Catholics justify an act, which by their own epistemological structures, can only be considered a heinous crime. From the one side of their mouth comes the bottom line: we are going to skew the little suckers on a pole and rip them from the womb. On the other side, we are going to make the -´ appropriate sounds of moralistic piety while we commit murder. Quaquaquaqua. Woe to you who call evil good.
The Return of the Word
There are consequences to embracing nonsense. Suicide goes up. Our women become sterile. Venereal disease kills us off. Demographic genocide takes place. The military become effete. We lose the will to live. Finally, the borders are breached. Barbarians enter the sanctuary. Judgment comes in history. We are enslaved and our children are sent into captivity.
Oh, be serious—we are rebuked—such apocalyptic happenings are from ancient history. We are America; the Constitution will live forever. Yet the invasion has already occurred; in theology and literature, in government, in popular culture of utilitarian hedonism. Our minds have become silly putty.
In C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength we have a prophetic image of a world without the Word; Scientism has joined with occultism, and organized itself in pure academic, bureaucratic form for the betterment of Man in an organization known as N.l.C.E. Near the end of the book, Lewis shows the consequences of their inhuman mechanism and demonic spiritualism. Their progressive experiments result in a mental degeneration. The evolutionists begin to squawk like animals. Quaquaquaqua. There can be no more fitting image to a society which has rejected the Logos than Babel. Our critical deconstruction, relativism, artistic nihilism, government word-inflation, poetry of self-expression, revisionist theology; are all signs that the liberal humanist society has run its course. All that is left is bilge.
Yet there is hope. There is a cycle to history; a sine curve to the aims of Providence. After death comes resurrection. After judgment there is restoration. Our culture may be in captivity; but there is always a remnant. The Spirit of Revival stands poised to shake the world.
And even now, perhaps, one can discern rough straggling caravans wending their way toward Jerusalem to build again the walls that have crumbled; and to worship again on the Mountain where Abraham offered Isaac; and where our Maker offered us a Son.
1 Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot. (New York: Grove Press, 1954), p. 28.
2 McConnell, Frank, The Bible and the Narrative Tradition. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1986.
3 Urbrock, W. J. "The Bible and the Narrative Tradition, a review," Choice, (November 1986)