My mind has been wandering today as I work on an index for apect programming. Taking breaks to refresh the well, I find myself contemplating God and man. The Thanksgiving holiday for someone who works at maintaining a semblance of cultural and historic memory will do that to you. Thinking of our blessings, I ask myself the question, how then should I live? What is right and proper for me to do? I can look to my faith and the scriptures for guidelines. But what of my breathren on the other side of the aisle? They could cite John Steward Mill, who in arguing for a Utilitarian ethic said that the highest normative principal was
Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
I guess it would be fair to say that most people these days espouse similar views, though they are not expressed with such clarity. Everyone is seeking happiness. The street demand, “Don’t diss me” find’s its root in the same ethic. However, there is a fundamental problem inherent in advocating this ethic and it is in the definitions. Since happiness is the key to Mill’s focus on objectives, and appears to be the goal driving much of our modern secular culture (not to mention much of the popular Christian culture to boot) a proper question would seem to be whose happiness and when.
That brings me to God and man. There is a old maxim, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” The premise being that the true nature of things often takes time to bear its fruit. What may appear to promote happiness at the moment may in the end not do so and it is only over the expanse of time, when all events work themselves to their fruition, that true happiness, or the lack there of, can be adjudicated. It is also why hindsight seems so visionary.
Mill’s argument was made in the climate, the air if you will, of Western Christian civilization, itself premised on the foundational thought that God both cares for us and holds us accountable. As a result, there is both responsibility and purpose to everything that happens. That idea is formalized in Paul’s argument in Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
The principle is that God, who both knows all and can do all, both knows and works everything out in loving concern for those whom he has called his own. Without that undergirding and supportive assumption, on what basis can any decision about the unforeseeable future be trusted? They can’t. Apart from God they are just best guesses and those guesses are usually based on history, on historical precedents and understandings extrapolated using current input. But in this current age when we attempt to approach history for understanding, there is a serious problem. History is now held hostage to radical deconstructionism, to a radical loss of meaning, or at best a limited and transitory personal meaning. As a result, decisions lose their clarity as well as their ability to engender trust.
So, for a society that has abandoned God and is now racked by the loss of essential historical meaning, what is left? For some, answering that email for a larger endowment of physical sexuality. For others, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. In other words, nothing beyond some small modicum of pleasure before we expire, well at least as much as we can afford.
What are we to do when happiness has become nothing more than the pursuit of momentary and transitory hedonism, while to the cultural elite, bent on pursuing their ephemeral pleasures, God has become the former concern of small minds, where does Mill’s premise, which from my vantage point undergirds much of the current social debate in the United States, as well as the nature of the modern American experience itself, leave us? So how then should we live?
To my mind, not very well, when in essense you are up the creek without a paddle, as is the state of a society that has lost its history, along with its cultural memory, which is necessary to give it broader meaning. When Thanksgiving itself is wrested from its historical truth and cultural underpinnings, to be presented as a politically correct lie, you are left with amusement and platitude, even among many Christians for whom an increasing number see God as just the purveyor of more acceptable pleasures. For whom does the bell toll, Hemingway asked? It appears it tolls for us.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Just a few overstuffed, post-Thanksgiving ramblings from beyond the rim…