Archive for November, 2009

The Sleep of the Dead

Last night with the aid of modern medicine I slept the sleep of the dead. Fans of 18th century Romantic poet and artist William Blake might recognize the allusion to his description of the petrified human existence Blake believed held mankind captive. Blake referred to the machinelike existence that came out of the Age of Reason as the sleep of death. Blake famously said “Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.”

As with many reactionary movements, Blake’s rejection of the exaltation of science and reason over imagination and faith went too far. Science is not the tree of death. Science ultimately leads us back to God and the ordered nature of God’s creation. What Blake was suggesting – and I think he was correct in that assessment – is that awareness of higher or different levels of reality is often frozen out by Enlightenment thinking. That exaltation of reason over imagination and deep awareness has led to a spirituality based primarily on knowledge of God as revealed through the Scripture. The result is that many of us exist as the walking dead.

The antidote to this type of existence is learning to live with a deep awareness of God in every moment and every event in life. That kind of awareness has to be cultivated in order to be propagated in our lives. How are you cultivating awareness in your life?

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Lamenting Rousseau

Plato. Aristotle. Augustine. Aquinas. Kant. Hegel. Heidegger. Lyotard. Nietzsche. Descartes. Derrida. Each of these philosophers have profoundly influenced Western thinking for centuries. Arguably, none influenced the 20th century more than Rousseau. He is credited with inspiring the likes of Marx, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler and even Mao.

What made Rousseau’s worldview inspire so many revolutions? His belief in the original essence and condition of man he called the “state of nature.” Rousseau believed that in the state of nature, all that exists are disconnected individuals who are motivated only by a desire for survival. All social relationships are contrived and therefore not real. It follows then that since society and societal connections are contrary to our nature, society is therefore oppressive. All social constructs such as marriage, family, church and workplace keep man from realizing our ultimate reality. Hence the famous line from The Social Contract, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau’s answer was to turn to the state to destroy social ties so that individuals could be free.

Rousseau was right on one account – humankind is in chains. We are bound not because social connections are contrary to our nature but because we were created by God to be connected. Part of God’s definition of humanness includes Imago Dei – we are created in the image of God. The Triune God exists in perfect relationship. We were created to live God-connected, People-connected and Creation-connected relationships. We are in chains because sin is first and foremost a fracturing of relationships. Deep down inside humankind wants to be free – we want to be fully human again.