Paradise Lost (2) – An Epic Poem – written by John Milton

 

We saw in Part 1 that the poets Robert Burns and William Blake, each in his own right a giant of English/Scottish literature, found that their sympathies in the poem Paradise Lost lay with the Adversary Satan and not with the hero Christ or with His Almighty Father.

And isn’t this natural? For we humans love to side with the underdog; the guy who has the spirit to challenge the bigger guy, even at impossible odds? And this time around the bigger guy is The Biggest Guy; God who is all-powerful and in charge of everything with not a thing excluded. Satan although on a hiding to nothing yet draws our sympathies; indeed because perhaps of the ‘unfairness’ of the contest between him and God. Were we gambling men and women we would not place money on Satan to win however; our heads remain hard enough here to rule, and to overrule, our sentiments of empathic allegience to Satan.

This divorce between sympathies and reasoned action as illustrated by the gambling example is a marvellous analogue for our busines dealings in general. The great Dr Samuel Johnson said; ‘Nobody but a fool writes for anything except money’ (I am that fool). Likewise the way we do business, no matter whose responsibility it might or might not be reagrding why we do business in such a way, adheres absolutely and strictly to Dr Johnson’s dictum. No-one but a fool does business for anything except money’.

Yet business as we do it is that way of organisation which men and women have established in order that they are able to supply one another with the essentials for life; and in our times with a whole lot more, and much of it unneccessary, clutter and gadtry clothing smells etc, etc. Depending on one’s view of history one reading this might agree with me that the way we do busines could have turned outotherwise than how we do it now. Any person who feels that this is not the case; that business as we now do it is done inevitably in its means performance by us; that person is in fact and act denying the possibility of the truth of the gospels and of the Protagonist in those gospels. Something to be considered before we go on to Paradise Lost more particularly.

So in this respect the underdog Satan is the Richard Kimble of the movie The Fugitive or else the Jack Ryan of of the movie Clear and Present Danger; he is the guy we allroot for and hope will come through and somehow against the might of everything set against him will win the day, as does Harrison Ford in these ‘one man versus The Establishment; against The Man,’ in these movies

There are two things to be noted here about our empathic outlooks upon Satan as we read through Paradise Lost. Firstly we are discounting totally that truth that within the context of the poem Paradise Lost, and also in the context of Biblical narrative; this guy Satan we are rooting for, for him to come from behind with a haymaker to the jaw of the Almighty; he is that same guy to whom we owe our live’s frustrations, our dilemmas, our pain and suffering,our troubles, and our uneases of conscience; we owe to him further all our natural disasters, and our own mortalities to boot. This mark you holds for us as readers and possibly as believers within a Biblical and also in a Miltonic context.

Secondly we are impressed, bedazzled, enchanted by listening to Satan’s Big Talk and we are happily being carried away on his bandwagon of hype and posturing and with his conspicuous bravura display; so that we are responding to him like those sophists who appear as persona in Plato’s Republic and who there are challenging Socrates by placing all their weights of authority and learning behind their cynical thesis that ‘might is right’. This thesis means in practice and when unpacked that those person(s) in authority in any place at any time own always a total monopoly on right action within the ambit of their spheres of influence. Such a thesis has been called within my lifetime by the name of RealPolitik.

By listening so sympathetically to and by giving or support to Satan because of the effects on our admirations of his mighty words, we are in fact, in the words of Plato, condoning and allowing ‘the weaker argument to defeat the stronger’. And this conviction of the necessity not for truth but for rhetoric which convinces regardles of the truth or of falsehood; again such a belief was a major thesis of those same sophists who supported and advocated against the philosophy of Socrates and Plato in Ancient Athens the reality of RealPolitik. Thus it appears that those politics we are experiencing and which we these days are terming th epolitics of a ‘post-truth society’ are no new phenomena, but yet instead possibly a symptom of a society, like Ancient Athens was during the times when Plato wrote, and like to whereabouts I believe our societies are at and are heading further into now, socially past-their-best, in-decline and suffering disintegration because of this very credo that ‘appearance is everything’ and another that ‘presentation is all’.

I discuss the historical genesis in our times of these two credos which we like to subscribe to; in regard to the buisiness world and in regard also to many other areas of our lives; and I write also about the observations my colleagues and I have made which present what seems to me to be suficient and necessary evidence concerning what was and is that flow of events and ideas which has brought about such a social decline.

In our hooking up with Satan as our buddy in Paradise Lost we are employing those sympathies and judgements which we have learned without thinking and in the main from our ubiquitous thriller stories, be they books, movies, or dramas, things learned from delicious romps las represented by the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie franchise; a frnachise which, like many, most, others, in its ethos cleverly skirts the boundaries between realism and fantasy most adroitly,moving from one realm here now , into the othernow there, and without apparent change bearing upon the viewer; and all the while the presenttation is all appearance and adulates the ‘loveable rogue’ anti-hero as protagonist; he whom we are all called upon to follow and to adore. Barbosa, Will Turner; Jack Sparrow.

As I have said in Part 1 of this series on Paradist Lost, Satan’s talk is Big, and it is fighting talk, but his actions which follow-on do not match his bravura style with words; he opts instead inhis follow-through action against God to use subterfuge and wiles, so as to injure God by injuring mankind, who is a bystander, an innocent, a third party not directly involved in the War in Heaven. Mankind has become Satan’s prime target because mankind represents a weak spot; a chink in God’s distributions of a general benevolence.

Mankind has been endowed by God with that precious faculty of freewill; and sthis means that men and women are open to make choices and to apply decision-making; and are so endowed oftentimes to their costs; but again necessarily so gifted with this freewill by God so as to allow that:

He had of Me
All he could have; I made him just and right,
S
ufficient to have stood, though free to fall”

Freewill is that necessity for mankind which allows us choice and decision; and without which responsibility and judgement, discretion and all the moral virtues and vices are not available to we people. Without freewill we would be beyond praise or blame; unable to do anything of any account; and able only to go through the motions and follow-along -with events automatically and mechanically wherever leads us the weather or storm events, accidents, and contingent inevitable occurences. Without us enjoying the gift of freewill there would be no way we might influence or else stamp any definitive imprint of ourselves on events and on the world by means of any movement we might make or sensory intake we might absorb. All we are would be ‘clockwork’.

Thus choice and decision is a mighty gift from God to us; and like the nuclear power capacity and the chemical and pharmaceutical facilities and other boons; it is also a bane. Indeed the playright an dpoet Christopher Marlowe put into the mouth of his protagonist in his drama The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus;

There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so’

And thi sis indeed a truth since it is nby way of our thoughts we weigh up and make our decisions on which we take action; either to provide elctrical power for the eastern seaboard or else to blow to obliteration the enemy forces; both or either by way of the same nuclear power and knowledge and its means

Mankind is chosen out by Satan for his planned act of vengeance upon God because of a low and vicious sense of jealousy of mankind nourished by an inside Satan, grawing at his vitals; and also for the reason that mankind yet retains God’s favour and Satan of course has forefeited his own claims to such favour . So Satan is motivated by evil spites, by craven jealousy and by a bitter pang for vengeance, to an extent that he fully realises that in targetting mankind he is as we British say ; ‘cutting off his nose to spite his face’ . That is to say, Satan accepts that even in this deceit and lowness of his which he intends towards God via the ruin of mankind, will eventually be defeated and that he will be made to pay and to suffer wretchedly for it and for having conceived the plan; and yet nonetheless he decides so to act and by doing so accepts he is stoking yet more coals upon his already burning head.

At least since The Enlightement in Eurpoe which began in th elater 217th early 18th century in Fance and a decade or two later in Britiain, we have tended to see God in Paradise Lost as being a ‘goody-two-shoes’ and obversely Satan we tend to see as being laudable, admirable, longsuffering and noble in character; and yet are we not seeing these things and characters in fact in topsy-turvey and askew manner?

Not only do we see things from such a vantage point because we are living in an age wherein a general and pervasive winding down of a phenomenon which in Milton’s own times was still in place; and known thoroughly to him and to his contempraries as Christendom. In fact it appears we are pretty far advanced on such a lomg and winding road of withdrawal from Christendom; but on top of this we are, and in part as a result of this increasing loss of Christendom, also in a milieu which remorselessly has elided and so confounded its once more clear sense of reality with falsity, mingling fact with fiction, so as for the differences between the two judgements in our eyes to have become for us close to indistinguishable.

The best way of explicating to you how this loss of bearings, of true compass following truth and shunning falsity, which we have suffered; so that now our discernment of what is reality and what is not is in doubt; is perhaps to aproach the problem by using as a lens, examining our actions through it, and setting them against it, those consequential upshots and their extended repercussions arisng out of our present day behaviours?

What I have to say in the first place however concerns the concepts of principle, bearings, discernment and integrity; concepts all which sound in our ears today as being somewhat quaint and faded antiquities, and hauled out on the page here by me now from times gone since. These dusty concepts far from them being nebulous and academic, aged and musty, are truly some of the most useful and practical concepts for any and every person to employ in her/his dealings with others, in business, and across life absolutelty; because an impartial application of them to our day to day life, and to our society, across the board, will offer us as humans, living beside and with one another, our best chances of establishing and continuing-in living peacefuly, in harmony, concord, and fulfillment; for our own lives and among the nations. This statement of mine is a very large one – enormous indeed. Yet indeed it is merely a form of words which puts in fairly lukewarm terms some of the crucial part of of the great Biblical message which we have lost sight of and hearing of and instead we have opted for playthings and their theme park lives as a disastrous unfeasible, and heading for the buffers alternative.

It is one of God’s earnest messages to us in The Bible that we should study to maintain upright living, as He delineates this as a great boon in his word in the scriptures. It is then the upright life in God’s terms, and one which when we lead it wil bear for us all the beautiful and joyous fruits of God’ s blessing upon us. And this is not an appeal to you asking you to commit to magic or superstition; God’s terms fo rthe upright life are terms inherent in the workings of the world, and apply across all nature and in all human society, so much so that inevitably – as Shakespeare’s Polonius has it – it is as certain as night follows day – that general good conduct in God’s terms in and across any group of persons remains the only practical and efficacious way of establishing and thereafter maintaining harmony and equity, peace and understanding within any group.

Likewise any society’s, any person’s attitudes towards nature in any and all its manifestations; as plants and animals; as ores and landscape; as weather and space exploration; etc.etc.; are what establish how such a society or person views the planet, and how they treat the planet, and the things of and on and in the planet,; so that when these attitudes of the society or person strive to follow the crucial scriptural and Biblical admonitions of God; then is the planet treated by that person or society respectfully, and so prudently, and by a use conservation and preservation, of due care and of moderated restraint etc. It’s not magic; it’s not rocket science; although as a practice it remains very, very, hard for us to get right, be it appear ever so simple to put down on paper.

A little further on in this article I shall attempt to lay out as clearly as I am capable of doing, some examples which aim to illusrtrate some of these principles for upright living as recommedned by God in the Bible, and to work them through stage by stage so as to help you actually see them at work in nature and for you to discern independently to your own satisfaction whether you beliebe that they carry clear benefits and effcacy whenever we as human beings follow their precepts.

Having made this point on this continuing and progressive loss of wisdom, of Biblical knowledge and principles, and having written of the quintessential importance and primacy of this knowldedge and wisdom being recognised, recovered and then nurtured in our behaviours; I now wish to attempt to lay out for you what I believe are those items of lifestyle which we have been substituting for and are increasing substituting for, this lost divine and practical wisdom for our lives.

Now is a time when Milton, his God and his Satan, come to the very front of stage.

Now just as hype is a form of meddling with basic truth and a polishing up the bare facts supporting it; so that a greater sheen and an astute meddling done succesfully so as to have hyped an item; it follows that those persons who most inconsiderately ingest such a hyped pitch, on say a product , and who ingest it whole andunexamined; those persons are the persons most misled; misled widest from the plainer and less embellished truth. Hype, or as it is called in its full name, hyperbole, might be said to be a kind of injection of lies into statements and pitches which otherwise are mostly always nearer truth. By truth I mean here a simple commensuration between the state and context of any physical or virtual object when set against for comparison those statements and pitches used to describe the object’s state and context.

Now in the world of product and services advertising our governments have in place public bodies which police items which use hype in our lives, iwith an aim to allow us to to buy commercial products and services which are reasonbly able to prerformto the standards their marketing claims for them. There are also football or basketball or baseball matches and commentary on games, or talk or writings on a player’s prowess, or on a coaches, or manager,’s; or even on a stadium or on a crowd watching; and in these regards hype for us is absorbed by us because found to be being employed almost everywhere inour lives inthis day and age. Fo rour times there are livings and fortunes to be be made or lost in the astute handling of hype.

Movies, the armed forces, weaponry, drugtaking, violent agrression and beligerence, subterfuges such as ‘stings’ and ‘shakedowns’, even drive-by- shootings; all are eminently marketable to us consumers via the employment of and application by the marketing boys (and girls) in the backroom, onto such ‘goodies’ their appropriate angles of hype, so as to present these commodities as being desirablity, and so that for us ever and always this constant hype is constantly being presented as a weaker argument aimed defeating the stronger, and so we as customers, viewers, auditors, get hooked and fall into line.

Recall here the analogue described above here and which concerns a wager any person with sense would not place on Milton’s Satan beating Milton’s God in any second round comeback; even though these very same persons would openly and honestly proclaim and declare a fealty and allegiance in ‘abstract principle’ to Milton’s Satan and because Milton’s Satan is the guy with whom they most gladly empathise.

The commercial advertising industry and its advertisements and campaigns with all their associated hype, and flash bang wallop, might profitably be seen by people as being the great commercial attempt, ruse, bluff, deception, con, answer and antidorte which commercial interests have set in place and put to work constantly and everywhere in our world; with a prime and overriding purpose for it to overcome in us that very canniness of awarenes which tells us intuitively, instictively, that to wager on Satan to win is a sure no-no.

Thus advertising and its industry are all about appearances, all about presentation; about laying it on thickly so as to be changing the goalposts one thought one had set up in one’s opnions; and so by means such as obfuscation; irrelevance; pretty girls; legacy music tracks; bright colours; animistic bustle and energy; blinding with science; fantasy whims; heartwarming narrative; airbag assurances; hiding the small print; speaking the small print so fast and so monotonously listeners blank it; offering information selectively; omitting untoward aspects; promising deals which are often no deals; promoting bargains sales; getting a celberity to vouch for their offers; and so on, and so on – the list is very, very long.

All’s fair in love and war – and in business!

Take now the embellishments on truth and conduct in a movie franchise such as Pirates of the Caribbean in the chatacters of Jack Sparrow, Capn Barbosa, Will Turner and so on, the movies’ lead roles. Indeed these embelishments carry as their net effects an advocating of, and by their contrived successes, an endorsing of in their storylines that roguish and outrageous conduct and cunning in which these characters’ revel. Now at this point as an objector you might say, yes, yes, but its just all good fun; it’s just a romp; just lighthearted entertainement; no harm done.

Yes, all good fun. Extrapolate this good fun across the ambit of the arrayed spectrum of popular movies, Hollywood-type movies, which are by far most movies, and by even further the most-watched movies; extrapolate across the board that ethos which characterises Pirates of the Caribbean and lo!, nearly all our movies presently being shown and made adhere to that ethos Escapism, yes; but when everything has become escapism we have escaped permantently from a more noble and beateuous and dutiful reality. We have substituted an ethos for an ethos; a new world order.

And this ubiquity is not present only across pop Hollywood-type movies; it is in advertising commercially; in sports; in all those items in our lives which I listed earlier above, and yet more; in war; in armed forces and in weaponry; in cartoons which just would not have been comprehended , comprehensible, 40 years ago (The Simpsons; South Park).

My claim then is that we love Satan in Paradise Lost; we read Dante’s Inferno; we buy Guinesss because its good for us; and none but few of us read to the finish Paradise Lost or Joyce or Proust or Spenser, because as a society we have moved away from the values and the discretions which these neglected classics uphold and represent and in themselves actually are. Likewise with The Bible.

Our world indeed has transpired into that fabled Land of Lost Content. Our lives attempt to be all presentation, all appearance, all a bigging up as either the greastsest thing since sliced bread or else as the worst disaster since Troy burnt fallen. How many shows have come at you from an angle saying that the topic of the show is one which has been the vital and primary item in the making our lives as they are today? Metallurigists; ancient historians; materials scientists; cosmologists (a post-modern form of alchemy); horse trainers; geologists; artists; art critics; architects and their buildings – (I heard this line yesterday in a TV show about archtitecture in Iceland – For a time architects forgot how to build buildings – how stupid is that?!). The list goes on endlessly, everyone on a show is wanting their 15 minutes of fame and glory not just for themselves but for whom they are – their pet subjects.

Another way of putting it is that everyone in our day who wants to be anybody – whatever that might mean – so many celebs the hairs on my head have run out – feels they must find that special and idiosyncratic angle of their own from which to come at their sofa TV audiences. Such a demand on idiosyncrasy leads to a superabundance of bad faith on bad television.

Post-modernism was perhaps an ultimate fruit of that Enlightment I wrote about in Part 1. The Enlightenement was that movement which kickstarted a systematic and self-conscious intentional wearing away of established values; established values which by a very long way were, and have never been, much heeded to the degree in which it is most desireable they ought to be; they are those ultimately Biblical values which adhered only so long as their Advocate and Contender adhered in minds in His rightful proper place.

The leadings thinkers of The Enlightement took His miracles and birth and resurrection and ascenscion, and a host of other substantive parts of the gospels, and were the first to seriously put these into doubt, and thereafter over time they have become ridiculed and derided, and thus lost to history as dross. At the same time that Majesty and Beauty and Fineness of Purpose which in almost every moment of His life for which we have records He is recorded nobly and valliantly as standing for, and to the point of death proclaiming and to recommending them to the people; this pure metal was likewise has gradualy been eroded and is now sadly by too many ridiculed and derided.

Among these deriders and ridiculers are those who consider themselves to be intellectuals, and who are largely believers in their own pride and self-esteem; for it was and it remains these kind of intellectuals; a class of person who rates ‘rationality’ (himself as a mind) and sees religion as being ‘irrationality’; who are those who are in the van leading a Forlorn Hope of liberation from benighted creeds. This, if it triumphs, will indeed be our fundamental undoing as Homo-sapiens.

Loss of wisdom, loss of Biblical and heritable truth, loss of the credo of the law of the primacy of love in truth, mercy with justice, hope with faith, and service with humility; all such loss has had as its effect to cut us loose and set us adrift on a sea of heedlessnes, without a compass and without a need felt for a compass; indeed the very compass we need generally is thought mistakenly to have fallen into disrepair, as a casuality of that Enlightenment, and a consequent Post-modern ‘liberational’ outlook has superseded it and ‘freed’ us from its tried and tested bearings.

Just as there was no post-occupation plan made for a bombed Iraq, infrastructure destroyed, we likewise have destroyed gladly our heritage and thought; and so have ‘bombed’ ourselves back to a stone age of understanding and of ethical civilsation, with a gung-ho worthy of the ending of Dr Strangelove. We have not, nor have we created anything able to be put in the place of The Lord Jesus, and this is because there is nothing other than The Lord Jesus which is able to support the weight and the obligations demanded by that place. These days we have daily on the increase a happy-go-lucky nihilism spreading across a globe like an ebola or a zika virus; wherein a vast dissonnance exists between those actions which we like and we take and we approve, and their ensuing avoidable, meretricious, and destructive consequences.

Old and dry saws and instances of an older time are presently scoffed at. ‘Pride comes before a fall’; ‘The wicked will be caught in their own toils’; ‘To the pure all things are pure’; ‘Turn the other cheek’; ‘He who would be the greatest among you must be the servant of all’; ‘Watch and pray’. Old wives’ tales all; dark age prattle; benighted superstitions.

In so far as such sayings are not regarded, and are considered redundant and defunct; in so far as any person believes s/he is able to navigate life without their aid and likewise also to avoid those inevitable evil consequences which such an avoidance is sure to give rise to; so far is s/he much mistaken about the nature of life. No person of any sensitivity for others, will wish upon others evil consequences, and I do not either. I do not, will not, rant and rave when I hear that my neighbour has won some thousands on the lottery; I do not rub my hands with glee when an accident happens to a person I find uncongenial to myself; I do not, I will not, seek revenge; nor do I withhold forgiveness and nurse grudges. I do my best, although not enough, to do things well.

And here it gets awkward – how does one explain so as to convice another that it is the case – as night follows day – and – in the natural order of things – that there is a Way, ‘a post-Iraq war’ plan embeded within the nature of things, which advocates that a person at the very least attempt their very best to honour that right conduct given graciously to us as and in our ancient wisdom; as laid out in scripure for the sakes of every one of us. Such a ‘post Iraq war’ plan is to be found at large even in The Old Testament, say in the psalms – which do not use hype, they rate the life of the spirit at a true value – they tell us that this life of the spirit is what their writers ‘meditated on day and night’ and that these writers had found in this meditation comfort and solace, instruction and wisdom from what they term ‘God’s law’.

How does one convince a person whose springs of action anticipate the acceptability of vengefulness and allow of a course for ill-will to be had from those who hold views unsympatheitc with theirs; and usually they anticipate these evils towards themselves simply because they themselves consider such attitudes to be appropriate, and so suitable to be their own life strategies and ethos? This consideration gives rise to the question of whereabouts and how a renewal of spirit, of good faith, might be established within such persons, who hold perspectives which are so antagonistic and irreconcilable to the law of the primacy of love. The problem is not as daunting to answer as it seems – at least in my own opinion.

The word of God is said to be ‘a two-edged sword’, able to cut to the heart and so reveal to oneself one’s iniquities – this is a biblical saying, and I believe as the gospels have it in various places that, ‘this is a true saying and one to be believed’. The answer then is – as the bible says – O, taste and see’.

If what I have written in this Part 2 of the series of articles on Paradise Lost has reached you in any small way or else maybe has raised some issues for you which you might feel you need to resolve; don’t ask me to help; pick up a Bible instead – it is all there. ‘Things which are impossible to men are possible to God’ and ‘With God all things are possible’.

 

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