Strangers in a Strange Land
May 11, 2017
‘Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; With divine recompense he comes to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened; Then the lame shall leap like a stag, and the mute tongue sing for joy. For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,and streams...'
Now the Bible fundamentalist must read this passage as speaking of literal endowment of sight, the power of sensual vision; and as the actual endowment of hearing to the deaf – and so on. And who knows, possibly that might happen at an appointed day?
But serious viewers of The Matrix movie; and serious readers of Plato’s Republic consider the movie’s context of human beings being ‘asleep’ and some being ‘awoken’ and the same consider the book’s Allegory of The Cave concerning persons therein seeing ‘shadows’ and mistaking them for ‘realities’; serious viewers of these things take these contexts as metaphors or parables, fables or myths.
Whatever these stories are classed as being by serious people, they are very rarely ever classed as being literal truth.
Few if any The Matrix viewers believe that somewhere is a vast vault filled with sleeping humans provided with virtual lives by a dominant malignant entity.
Few if any of Plato’s readers believe that somewhere there is a cave where this mistaken belief in shadows as being reality is actually happening to people.
It might even be ‘cool’ to pooh-pooh those naïve ones among us who might show they believe in a literal actuality?
The Jews themselves, to whose scripture Isaiah’s prophetic books belong (the citation at the head of this essay is from The Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Old Testament) the Jews prefer to ask: ‘What does this story tell us?’ rather than debate and contest whether it actually happened or will or could happen.
So where is our obstacle in reading Isaiah’s words as parable or as metaphor?
I’d suggest that a good deal of our difficulty lies with ourselves, and not with Isaiah or with The Bible.
Even Greek myth and Roman panoplies of gods are more often than not read today by us as fables; as instructional tales: Oedipus and Freud; Sisyphus and Camus; Chronos as Time; Mars as a symbol of war – and so on. But The Bible presents us difficulty for us to read it in this way?
I do believe I know what this difficulty is – and it won’t be pretty to relate it to you.
Romans had civilisation par excellence; as did the Hellenic and Hellenistic Greeks. They had, and retain what might be termed a certain panache; a certain street cred; some kudos maybe? The Romans were realists about power and its wielding; about human relations and their inherent treachery when money and power are at stake (have we not seen this echoed in our politics and government here in the UK in recent weeks?). The Greeks were discerning and creative; boldly explorative and daringly self-assured. Thermopylae, Marathon Plataea – Aristotle, Aeschylus, Pericles. These guys, Romans and Greeks, they were something else.
The Hebrews on the other hand were in Biblical times a small and politically unimportant race of people, whose art and science has never been celebrated; whose wars were messy and very much waged as a pawn or a small piece in the larger game; as a pathway nation wedged between mighty Egypt and opposite a grand Assyria or a Babylon; and later in New testament times as an irritating bout of indigestion for local and pretty downbeat Procurators. The Hebrews have nothing to show for themselves in our estimations of them as a Biblical or other ancient race.
They were by comparison with Greece and Rome, a set of primitives – I am now being Devil’s Advocate. They were maybe even backward? They look like they didn’t even know that the seas were part of a natural water cycle and instead they thought that (their) God just planted a heap of water into a low trough of sandy land. The Hebrews thought like children. They were not savvy. Not wised-up about how things really work in daily life.
Hence we see them writing – like Isaiah writes hereabove – in silly naïve terms which state unbelievable and infantile fanciful drivel which can and will never happen. Freudian wish-fulfilment. Nursery tales for the dim-witted. Outrageous escapism. Flannel and tosh. Definitely not hip or awesome.
The Old Testament guys are in our eyes and minds pretty close to our ideas on cave men and on Neolithic Neanderthals etc. Definitely not serious contenders in the stakes of the trendy life.
But what does this say of us? It says – to be kind – that the ancient Hebrew way of life and vision of things is very, very alien to what most of us alive today see life to be about and how it works. To be brutal – it says that we are outrageous and very, very ignorant snobs and presumptuous fools - I say this not lightly – I say it with all gravity and severity – if that means anything to you? But you should know that there was that motley-moralled man Oliver Cromwell who spoke so passionately to his friend on occasion: he spoke and said:
‘I beseech thee in the bowels of Christ; think that you may be mistaken!’
And this is what I ask of you. Instead of a quick glance and then a dismissive gloating bout of ridiculing laughter, when you look into a Bible; instead – look into yourself because there is where the fault lies and there is where the misapprehension is occurring. It is inside you that is wrong – not morally but in camera-angle and in set arrangement, and in lighting positionings, and the script you are using is when looked at more deeply seen to be gobbledygook – Shakespeare for dummies or Teach yourself to watch TV.
The whole apparatus you possess for discerning the value and import of the Bible is for the most part unused and buried under dross in you – and this represents a loss like the loss of an eye or of two eyes or the loss of an ear or of two ears, as if one were lame and unable to walk or were mute and unable to speak!
Familiar words? Yes, these are the words Isaiah is using to speak to you hereabove. Look above at what he says just one more time (please). You are his people, to whom he was speaking in these words. His people too had their pint pots and cigarettes and their favourite shows and mass sporting events.
They had their class systems and their power structures and struggles – just like you find you have in your lives. They too were caught up in their Matrix and in their Cave and the allegory and the fable applies to them to just like it applies to you today.
Like all truth, like good philosophy and good science and good psychology and like good religion too; the Bible is able to liberate the wings of the soul and to allow your thoughts to take to the streets – not in an away with the fairies hocus-pocus fashion – but to see and to hear – as if for the very first time – not only becoming aware of the sheer stupidity of most of our life and our behaviour – but also aware of the great freedom of possibility which is liberational for you from being among those ‘hordes of people going round in a ring’.
Again this liberation does not make you superior or a senior being. It is indeed a privilege invested upon you by the Holy Spirit of the Lord God; but as his Son has spoken: from whom much is given; much is expected. This freedom comes with duty to be done – in joy and not in thraldom – to spread the word and liberate the captives, make the blind see and the lame walk and the deaf and the mute to hear and speak – to liberate those whom you yourself were classed among before you opened the page of your will and let God in to speak with you.
Just as no-one is to be blamed for being endowed with little intellect; in the same way no-one is to be blamed for being born ‘into the Matrix’ or ‘within the back of the Cave’. The Absurdist dramatist Samuel Beckett was said to have commented; ‘We are all born mad’ – and in the sense I want to apply his words I think we are indeed all born mad.
That struggle of our lives is to ‘make ourselves’ and to do so by seeking out that wisdom which satisfactorily answers the eternal questions of existence for us; not in literal answers nor in done deals – but by offering hope, joy, freedom, faith, and purpose, and for the price of switching allegiances – like switching utilities providers – turning away from the fruitless nil-rewarding ‘things of the earth’ towards the solid and grounded and unshakeable sureties of things of the spirit.
Thus becoming persons who are working to be loving and beneficial, self-effacing and self-controlled, stepping aside from ones needs and from oneself for the sake of a far needier person one knows of – all of which is our privilege to take in joy and peace and obtain consolation from the doing.
‘Auguries of Innocence by WILLIAM BLAKE
To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons Shudders Hell thr' all its regions A dog starvd at his Masters Gate Predicts the ruin of the State A Horse misusd upon the Road Calls to Heaven for Human blood Each outcry of the hunted Hare _A fibre from the Brain does tear _A Skylark wounded in the wing A Cherubim does cease to sing The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight Does the Rising Sun affright Every Wolfs & Lions howl Raises from Hell a Human Soul The wild deer, wandring here & there Keeps the Human Soul from Care The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife And yet forgives the Butchers knife The Bat that flits at close of Eve Has left the Brain that wont Believe The Owl that calls upon the Night Speaks the Unbelievers fright He who shall hurt the little Wren Shall never be belovd by Men He who the Ox to wrath has movd Shall never be by Woman lovd The wanton Boy that kills the Fly Shall feel the Spiders enmity He who torments the Chafers Sprite Weaves a Bower in endless Night The Catterpiller on the Leaf Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly For the Last Judgment draweth nigh He who shall train the Horse to War Shall never pass the Polar Bar The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat Feed them & thou wilt grow fat The Gnat that sings his Summers Song Poison gets from Slanders tongue The poison of the Snake & Newt Is the sweat of Envys Foot The poison of the Honey Bee Is the Artists Jealousy The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags A Truth thats told with bad intent Beats all the Lies you can invent It is right it should be so Man was made for Joy & Woe And when this we rightly know Thro the World we safely go Joy & Woe are woven fine A Clothing for the soul divine Under every grief & pine Runs a joy with silken twine The Babe is more than swadling Bands Throughout all these Human Lands Tools were made & Born were hands Every Farmer Understands Every Tear from Every Eye Becomes a Babe in Eternity This is caught by Females bright And returnd to its own delight The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath Writes Revenge in realms of Death The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air Does to Rags the Heavens tear The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun Palsied strikes the Summers Sun The poor Mans Farthing is worth more Than all the Gold on Africs Shore One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands Or if protected from on high Does that whole Nation sell & buy He who mocks the Infants Faith Shall be mockd in Age & Death He who shall teach the Child to Doubt The rotting Grave shall neer get out He who respects the Infants faith Triumphs over Hell & Death The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons Are the Fruits of the Two seasons The Questioner who sits so sly Shall never know how to Reply He who replies to words of Doubt Doth put the Light of Knowledge out The Strongest Poison ever known Came from Caesars Laurel Crown Nought can Deform the Human Race Like to the Armours iron brace When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow A Riddle or the Crickets Cry Is to Doubt a fit Reply The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile Make Lame Philosophy to smile He who Doubts from what he sees Will neer Believe do what you Please If the Sun & Moon should Doubt Theyd immediately Go out To be in a Passion you Good may Do But no Good if a Passion is in you The Whore & Gambler by the State Licencd build that Nations Fate The Harlots cry from Street to Street Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet The Winners Shout the Losers Curse Dance before dead Englands Hearse Every Night & every Morn Some to Misery are Born Every Morn and every Night Some are Born to sweet delight Some are Born to sweet delight Some are Born to Endless Night We are led to Believe a Lie When we see not Thro the Eye Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light God Appears & God is Light To those poor Souls who dwell in Night But does a Human Form Display To those who Dwell in Realms of day
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