Thomas Campion: When to Her Lute Corinna Sings

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This little song by Thomas Campion (1567-1620) speaks of the beauty of Corinna’s voice as she sings. The poem works in two stanzas with a quick development of a seemingly simple idea. And yet this simple idea in its perfectly balanced symmetry of concept and structure is deceptive. 

When to her lute Corinna sings

Her voice revives the leaden strings, 

And doth in highest notes appear

As any challenged echo clear;

But when she doth of mourning speak

Ev’n with her signs the strings do break. 

And as her lute doth live or die,

Led by her passion, so must I:

For when of pleasure she doth sing,

My thoughts enjoy a sudden spring,

But if she doth of sorrow speak,

Ev’n from my heart the strings do break.

In the first stanza, the lute which accompanies her voice is made better and is commanded by the beauty of her song. The strings are “lead” until they are revived by her voice. The word “revived” is interesting, because it is to live again – not to live at all. But it seems the idea is that the lute is silent until Corinna starts to sing. 

Accompanied by her lute, Corinna sings “to her lute”.  The singer and the lute form a closed circle. The strings come to life (as presumably did last time only to die when she stopped singing last); and the strings become filled with sorrow, when her voice becomes filled with sorrow. 

This reminds of Orpheus, whose song could make rocks and trees dance. As Shakespeare’s short poem reads:

ORPHEUS 

Orpheus with his lute made trees

And the mountain tops that freeze

    Bow themselves when he did sing:

To his music plants and flowers

Ever sprung; as sun and showers

    There had made a lasting spring.

Every thing that heard him play,

Even the billows of the sea,

    Hung their heads and then lay by.

In sweet music is such art,

    Killing care and grief of heart

    Fall asleep, or hearing, die.

That remarkable power of song then works not merely upon the inanimate lute, but upon the poet.  The poet enters this closed circle: What happens between Corinna and the lute now brings him into its charm: 

And as her lute doth live or die,

Led by her passion, so must I:

The passions in Corinna’s voice bring along the poet. The lute which perhaps changes insensibly changes the sensible poet. The passions of her voice are so profound that he no longer has say over himself:

So must I. 

It is involuntary. 

The circle is then completely closed: the poet is subsumed back into the image of the lute. Note the progression here from “thoughts” (which belong to the man), to “strings” which belong to the lute:

For when of pleasure she doth sing,

My thoughts enjoy a sudden spring,

But if she doth of sorrow speak,

Ev’n from my heart the strings do break.

His very heart has become the lute. This ability to bring the conceit (the controlling thought) from lute to poet to lute is an aspect which raises Campion from the great mass of versifiers. 

There is then one final twist to the poem: the poem itself is an artifact. Corinna is gone. I have no idea who she is. Her voice was there in a moment and has disappeared forever. But this poem remains being as the echo of her voice

And doth in highest notes appear

As any challenged echo clear;

The reader who follows along with Campion can, by the work of imagination, enter into this circle of Corinna and her lute by means of the poem. Corinna’s voice does charm by means of this echo and we enter into this singular moment by means of the poem from 400 years ago. 

And in that the moment is no loner singular, but is transported across time and space. Such things may not “mean” anything to the great powers of countries and armies and economies and science. But there is a beauty here in art which should make the mighty blush. The politics of James (King of England) cannot affect now like Corinna’s song has by means of Campion’s poem.

One final note: I have always found it striking that the Bible routinely portrays heaven as filled with music.

The soprano Jennifer O’Loughlin:

Another thought on Taylor and Tennyson

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The great difference between the two poems lies in the way the poet perceives himself on coming to God. Taylor sees himself as wretched and weak; Tennyson, while giving some acknowledgement of sinfulness, comes as a “saint”.

Psalm 6 is also a poem of coming to God, which begins:

Psalm 6:1–3 (AV)

O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?

Charles Spurgeon, in The Treasury of David, writes:

Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak.” Though I deserve destruction, yet let thy mercy pity my frailty. This is the right way to plead with God if we would prevail. Urge not your goodness or your greatness, but plead your sin and your littleness. Cry, “I am weak,” therefore O Lord, give me strength and crush me not. Send not forth the fury of thy tempest against so weak a vessel. Temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Be tender and pitiful to a poor withering flower, and break it not from, its stem. Surely this is the plea that a sick man would urge to move the pity of his fellow if he were striving with him, “Deal gently with me, ‘for I am weak.’ ” A sense of sin had so spoiled the Psalmist’s pride, so taken away his vaunted strength, that he found himself weak to obey the law, weak through the sorrow that was in him, too weak, perhaps, to lay hold on the promise. “I am weak.” The original may be read, “I am one who droops,” or withered like a blighted plant. Ah! beloved, we know what this means, for we, too, have seen our glory stained, and our beauty like a faded flower.

And so, while not the only thing to say on the topic, Edward Taylor has come in the vein of the one who was weak.

A Comparison of Tennyson and Edward Taylor

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(This lovely picture is entitled “Alaska Moonlight” by JLS Photography.)

St. Agnes’ Eve by Tennyson forms an interesting counterpart to the Taylor’s Was There a Palace of Pure Gold (Meditation 24).  Both poems are driven by the desire to be with God.  

Both concern a present a present desire to be with God and the need to be fit for such a translation. But despite the similar concern the effect and content of both poems is remarkably different. 

The First Stanza:

Deep on the convent-roof the snows 

Are sparkling to the moon: 

My breath to heaven like vapour goes; 

May my soul follow soon! 

The shadows of the convent-towers 

Slant down the snowy sward, 

Still creeping with the creeping hours 

That lead me to my Lord: 

Make Thou my spirit pure and clear 

As are the frosty skies, 

Or this first snowdrop of the year 

That in my bosom lies. 

Summary: The poet is perhaps a nun of some sort “the convent-roof”; or at least a deeply religious person. One a cold night, while looking over the moonlight snow, the poet’s breath fogs and lifts toward heaven. That leads to a thought of the poet’s soul likewise ascending:

My breath to heaven like vapour goes; 

May my soul follow soon! 

In this desire to be with God, the present time consists of “shadow” and “creeping hours”.  Thus, the prayer that the poet’s spirit may ascend. Like Taylor the poet prays that the soul be purified, “Make thou my spirit pure and clear.” But unlike Taylor there is no meditation on one’s own sinfulness. In fact, the sense is different. The poet’s mediation is made a convent and the sense is a cold, chaste, unworldly desire. 

There are two other marked differences between the poets. Taylor rhythm and imagery are complex, contradictory, often jarring. But Tennyson writes great polish. 

The rhythm is meticulous held in check to draw attention precisely as the poet intends:

DEEP on the CONvent-ROOF the SNOWS 

Are SPARKling TO the MOON: 

My BREATH to HEAven like VAPour GOES; 

MAY my SOUL FOLlow SOON! 

The initial deep slows down the entire scene. The line break, the semicolon and the two accented syllables slow down the movement of the verse and throw the emphasis on the initial syllable of the prayer, “MAY”. 

The imagery is all of a picture: nothing which is not organic to the scene intrudes. A cold night, the snow, the moon, the freezing breath are all of the same event.  

Taylor by contrast would draw together images which have a certain conceptual link, even if in “nature” they would never be found together. Taylor would bring together any number of beautiful images, even if those images have no natural correspondence in the “real world.” I could image Taylor writing of moonlight and the glint of a fish’s scales and the sunshine and a white flower and a ruby, because they all flash light: eventhough sun and moon can never both shine at once.

Here is another similarity to Taylor. Tennyson’s prayer acknowledges an unfitness for heaven, robes are “soiled”, the candle is pale, earthy. Taylor would rail and bemoan his unfitness. Tennyson is more Platonic and less moral. Tennyson sees the physical body as an ontological impediment. Taylor seems the human trouble as more profound.  Both speak of new clothes, but Taylor is more desperate and disgusted. Tennyson sees the current trouble being merely the need for an invitation to ascend:

As these white robes are soil’d and dark, 

To yonder shining ground; 

As this pale taper’s earthly spark, 

To yonder argent round; 

So shows my soul before the Lamb, 

My spirit before Thee; 

So in mine earthly house I am, 

To that I hope to be. 

Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far, 

Thro’ all yon starlight keen, 

Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star, 

In raiment white and clean. 

When Tennyson comes to the doors of heaven, he will be cleared of “sin”; it will be a purging at that time and place,

For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits, 

To make me pure of sin. 

Taylor too sees the need for the work to be on God’s side: “Oh! That my heart was made thy golden box.” And both see that they will be admitted by God’s grace. But there is one point on which they profoundly differ:

He lifts me to the golden doors; 

The flashes come and go; 

All heaven bursts her starry floors, 

And strows her lights below, 

And deepens on and up! the gates 

Roll back, and far within 

For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits, 

To make me pure of sin. 

The sabbaths of Eternity, 

One sabbath deep and wide— 

A light upon the shining sea— 

The Bridegroom with his bride! 

In Tennyson’s poem, the one who is praying has no conflict in the passions. The desire to be God is perfect and consistent: just like the flow of the poem’s language. All of is a consistent piece. The poet desires to be God. The poet trusts that God will work and raise the poet up. 

Taylor too has faith in God’s work and a desire to be God. But in Taylor there is a profound sense of the conflict and inconsistency of religious desire.  

Tennyson’s prayer contains no conflicting emotion.  The covenant towers which reach up toward heaven cast moon-shadows upon the earth. Time on earth creeps. The breath and soul ascend to God by their own nature movement. 

Taylor objectively sees how much better it is to be with God. But then he sees the conflicting desires of his heart which also seeks the earth. Taylor confesses to a desire contrary to God. Taylor is in love with the earth. The breath ascends upward from the convent. But Taylor would also be thinking of the warm bed which waits within, and of the good meal waiting in the morning.

Tennyson’s poem is the prayer of a “saint” who experiences no contrary desire. It is far more beautiful than Taylor’s conflicted mess. Tennyson’s saint would never call herself, “More blockish than a block.” She is a saint, after all. 

But that I thinks makes Taylor’s poem more honest. Tennyson’s saint has achieved a sort of earthly perfection. While Taylor’s penitent is horrified at his conflicted hearts which desires those things which are at odds with his own happiness. As John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Tennyson’s saint admits to some lurking imperfect, but the poem does not express that terrified sense of sin which makes up Taylor’s meditations.

Edward Taylor, Was there a palace of pure gold.3

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Having fully set out the problem, Taylor prays for a resolution. If he is not adequate by nature, then he seeks to be made adequate by grace. That is, it is not a work of Taylor’s effort, but a work of God, “this worthy work of thine.”

The prayer is threefold: first that his heart be made a sacred vessel (thy golden box); second, filled with the correction disposition (love divine); third, offered up to God.

Oh! That my heart was made thy golden box

Full of affections and of love divine

Knit all in tassels, and the true-love knots,

To garnish o’re this worthy work of thine.

This box and all therein more rich than gold

In sacred flames I to thee offer would.

The image of gold is used for those things most proper to God.  In the previous stanza the poet notes that he had tied “knots” – had decorated the “earth’s toys” lovingly with flowers; but in this stanza, the God-given new heart would decorate the be a “golden box” impossibly knit together from tassels and flower (knots). 

The box would contain “affections” and “love divine”. 

The golden box so decorated would be more wonderful than a mere gold box. 

And last, the box would then be offered up as a sacrifice to God. He would spend this box “in sacred flames.”

The concept of sacrifice here may sound odd, because a fiery sacrifice would be the destruction of the golden box. While Taylor is perfectly willing to mix metaphors (a golden box made of flowers), the concept here is more likely the concept of a “living sacrifice”:

Romans 12:1 (AV) 

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 

If he so reworked and remade, then he will be fit for that heavenly pleasure he desires:

With thy rich tissue my poor soul array:

And lead me to thy Father’s House above.

Thy graces’ storehouse make my soul I pray.

Thy praise shall then wear tassels of my love.

If thou conduct me in thy Father’s Ways,

I’ll the golden trumpet of thy praise. 

The word “tissue” does not here mean an insubstantial paper. The older meaning was a cloth interwoven with gold or silver: the clothing of royalty. And so dress me like a prince and lead to the Father’s House. 

Father’s House comes the Lord’s words in the Upper Room:

John 14:1–2 (AV) 

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 

By the way, “mansion” does not mean separate enormous houses: the Greek here speaks of a place to live, a dwelling place. 

The prayer to be led, is a common prayer in the Psalms; which undoubtably was behind Taylor’s prayer in the poem. For instance:

Psalm 43:3 (AV) 

O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; 

let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 

He prays not merely to be led, but rather for the entire renovation of the soul to be a storehouse filled with grace. The idea of grace is free work of God in him: it is the good which God does and gives. 

Then finally being filled with God’s grace and no longer a “leaden mind”, a “blockhead”, he will burst forth in praise. In fact, the praise will be “tassels” a decoration of his love: thus bringing the image of a decorated heart again into view.

This time, if God will bring Taylor to that “Palace of Pure Gold” he will no longer be dumb but will now offer praise. 

Thomas Hardy On a Fine Morning

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How can one have comfort in an impersonal accidental universe? This was a great problem for Hardy. The world will simply calmly destroy us.

So he asks the question where can I find solace?

It can’t be from our actual experience:

Whence comes Solace?—Not from seeing
What is doing, suffering, being,
Not from noting Life’s conditions,
Nor from heeding Time’s monitions;
But in cleaving to the Dream,
And in gazing at the gleam
Whereby gray things golden seem.

There is just an accident a surprise which permits him to see grey appear to be gold. Even shadows are turning to sun.


Thus do I this heyday, holding
Shadows but as lights unfolding,
As no specious show this moment
With its irised embowment;
But as nothing other than
Part of a benignant plan;
Proof that earth was made for man.

That last line is the key: I am somehow meaningful. The earth is meant for human life.

This is the point where Hardy differs from Lewis. That surprise of joy led Hardy to have a moments accident – a dream. For Lewis the surprise of joy requires an explanation: it can’t be grounded in life experience which is suffering. Where then?

Misery requires no explanation of life is a bare cosmic accident: why should the ends meet? Darwin only requires existence not the good true or beautiful: those have no anchor in a world of chance. Beauty is purposeful, ordered.

Hardy can’t give a better explanation for his morning than “dream.”

Edward Taylor, Was there a palace of gold.2

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What could possibly motivate God to show grace? And if God were inclined in general to do good, why would he do good to such a one as the poet? This is a central mystery in Christianity as Paul write in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  

Christ does not die so that we will be loved. Rather, God loves us first. The cross is provided because God loves us – not so that God will love us. 

This leads to the paradox which Taylor considers: If God does me so much good, why do I return so little?  Love naturally begets love; but the love which Taylor shows to God is nothing compared to the love which God has shown him.

What aim’st at, Lord? That I should be so Cross.

My mind is leaden in thy golden shine.

Though all o’re Spirit, when this dirty dross 

Doth touch it with its smutting leaden line.

What shall an eagle t’catch a fly thus run?

Or Angel dive after a mote int’sun?

What is the intention of God, when Taylor is 

Lead; where God is gold

Dross, filth; where God is Spirit.

What motivation could there be? Why would an eagle waste its time to capture a fly; or an angel chase a speck of dust.

How then can Taylor remedy the trouble? He will take “vengeance” upon himself for his improper response to God’s love. 

And yet, all he can muster is a mismatch: I should have actual tears in my eyes for my wretchedness, but all I can offer is the idea: these words, this poem:

What folly’s this? I fain would take, I think,

Vengeance upon myself: But I confess,

I can’t. Mine eyes, Lord, shed no tears but ink.

My handy works, are words and wordiness.

Earth’s toys wear knots of my affections, nay,

Though from thy glorious self, they stole away.

The trouble is in Taylor’s affections. Affections are deeper word than an emotion; it is the emotion with the matching desire. To love or hate are both affections; but rather than a brief feeling, the affection deeper, more settled. 

Taylor knows that he should love. Then not loving well, he should have sorrow for his sinful lack of love. But he cannot even manage that sorrow. The trouble is his heart is set too fully upon “toys”. 

A “knot” is a bouquet of flowers. The image is the various “toys” being dressed with loving affection.

To understand Taylor, you must understand how Taylor thought:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any many love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

1 John 2:15-16. This does mean a hatred of human beings: there is a command to love human beings. This does not mean destruction of the world. The world is given as a stewardship: it belongs to God, but cared for by us. In John, the “word” means the system of being in rebellion against God. 

You must think of the world like the Witch’s House in Handsel and Gretel: it is made of candy, but it is a trap. Having fully set out the problem, Taylor must 

Edward Taylor, Was there a palace of gold.

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The poem begins with a fantastic, impossible scene of the throne of God. The subjective, if such a place actually existed, does not deny the existence of such a place, but rather underscores the desire:

The image only in generalities tracks any biblical scene. The references to gemstones here – and in Scripture – as well as impossibly beautiful, even absurd (a cushion of sunshine, what could that even as a concrete item?) hints to the reason why such things even exist as gemstones: They are concrete items to act as metaphors to the heavenly original. They give us an inkling as to the marvel. It is sort of a reverse Platonism. Rather than the earth being a copy of the heavenly; the earth is given as a metaphor for the heavenly.

Was there a palace of gold, all ston’d 

And pav’d with pearls, whose gates rich jaspers were

And throne a carbuncle whose king enthroned 

Sat on a cushion all of sunshine clear

Whose crown a bunch of sunbeams was: I should 

Prize such as in his favor shrine me would.

A carbuncle is a ruby. 

Thus, if there were such a place, I would give anything to be there. But how could I ever gain entrance? 

There are only two possibilities: To earn it or to receive as a gift. And Taylor, being a Christian, knows that salvation is of grace; not of personal merit:

Was there a palace of gold, all ston’d 

And pav’d with pearls, whose gates rich jaspers were

And throne a carbuncle whose king enthroned 

Sat on a cushion all of sunshine clear

Whose crown a bunch of sunbeams was: I should 

Prize such as in his favor shrine me would.

The Lord of perfect purity is the one who opens (opes) the entrance. Standing behind this scene is the concept of Psalm 24:

Psalm 24 (ESV) 

A Psalm of David. 

   The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, 

the world and those who dwell therein, 

   for he has founded it upon the seas 

and established it upon the rivers. 

   Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? 

And who shall stand in his holy place? 

   He who has clean hands and a pure heart, 

who does not lift up his soul to what is false 

and does not swear deceitfully. 

   He will receive blessing from the Lord

and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 

   Such is the generation of those who seek him,

who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

   Lift up your heads, O gates! 

And be lifted up, O ancient doors, 

that the King of glory may come in. 

   Who is this King of glory? 

The Lord, strong and mighty, 

the Lord, mighty in battle! 

   Lift up your heads, O gates! 

And lift them up, O ancient doors, 

that the King of glory may come in. 

10    Who is this King of glory? 

The Lord of hosts, 

he is the King of glory! Selah

Who may enter into this holy place? Only one who is perfect. Who is such a one? The King of Glory. And who is the King of Glory? Jesus Christ. The psalm is commonly taken as a reference to the Ascension of Christ into glory. 

The poet is thus being offered entrance into this impossible, heavenly scene. 

And important point of contrast which will be developed in this poem is the matter of words. Here note that the words of the king upon his throne are embellished with more radiance than sunshine. 

And so we come to the contrast which marks Taylor’s mediations: The Lord is all of glory, but I am not. 

This is a point which is under considered when academics discuss “Calvinists”. Election does not give rise to a thought of superiority but rather of confusion, How am I here? It is not merit, but impossibility. And the stark understanding of human nature is not a matter of despair, but rather of hope for remaking the world. 

Thy milk white hand, my glorious Lord, doth this:

It opes this gate and me conducts into 

This golden palace whose rich pavement is

Of precious pearls; and to this King also. 

Thus, thron’d and crown’d: whose words ‘bellish’d all

With brighter beams, than e’re the sun let fall.

There two marvelously awkward line breaks here. The first line “I” following a pause hurries on to the second line, like a tumble down the stairs. Also the break from the third to fourth line works perfectly: My affections fly On toys. The short half line of two syllables followed by a remaining line of 8, puts tremendous force upon the insufficient object of affection. I love toys! 

We so often love the good things God gives things, we love the gift more than the one who has given the gift. The poet would rather have the toys than the hand. 

And this is the great fault of human beings: our affections are curved back up on ourselves as Augustine notes. 

Rieff, Triumph of the Therapeutic, 2.3 (Culture)

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Rieff ends the chapter “The Impoverishment of Western Culture” with a movement from the individual aspects to the way which these individual attitudes playout across a culture:

“Every culture is an institutionalized system of moral demands, elaborating the conduct of personal relations, a cosset of compelling symbols.” ( 52)

The system which surrounds the individual consists of a cultural wide system of both (1) moral demands, which is expressed by means of “compelling symbols.” Freud provided a mechanism to understand and resist those symbols.

Moreover, Freud’s system made it impossible for anyone to again try and resurrect and impose the fading moral order:

No moral demand system could ever again compel at least the educated classes to that inner obedience which bound men to rules they themselves could not change except at the expense of spirit, far beyond the usefulness of such rules to the continuance of cultural achievement.

Freud believed he had put human beings – at least educated human beings – beyond the power of some system to impose upon human beings moral demands which they did not personally find necessary. 

Rieff saw material comforts “rising expectations” as sufficient to stave off the ascetic strain of morality.  We can simply use “analysis and art” as a substitute for religion.

We were now in a place where only a “yielding demand system” could possibly hold sway (53). 

We keep seeing ourselves at the end of history, where this will just be the conclusion.

Rieff’s conclusion that Freud had created a stable place of yielding seems to fail with a vengeance. The moral demands may have changed (one must believe that biological sex is a social construct, and so on) from prior morality. That may make it appear to be “liberating”. But we are seeing moral demands as strict as anything which has been witnessed in any religion. People are keeping lists. Public displays of piety are mandatory. 

It seems that Freud may have provided a tool to go after a morality of one sort of sexual limitation, but he did not free humanity from any sort of exclusively personal moral freedom. 

Discontentment and Persuasion

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Introduction: Discontentment

We’re not very much at home
In the world

Duino Elegies, Elegy One
Rilke
Rilke at the Chateau Muzot

When I was six or so, I gathered up the horde of coins collected as tribute from my parents. On the corner, just down the block from my home, was a toy. Along the back wall, to the left, tucked between this-and-that, Mr. Spector had positioned a bin of toys.

One toy in that bin mattered. A whistle: you could move a plunger in-and-out to hear a change in tone. I knew the chance to make such a silly sound would increase my happiness, alleviate my boredom, and lead me to a state of peace.

I traded my pocketful of metal for a package full of plastic wonder.

At home, safely in my room, I opened the package and put the whistle to use. In that moment, I learned painfully what is known to everyone who has lived upon this world for any length of time and with any degree of observation, that reality refuses to conform to expectation. What I want and I what I get rarely match.

I was not the first to come to this bitter realization.

It seems even the Divine are discontented with the planet. In a text which probably goes back 3500 years and was found inscribed upon burial chamber walls of various Pharaohs (Sethos I, and Ramesses II, III & VI) it is disclosed that the gods had it in for humanity.

Re, the Sun god, gathers the court of gods and reveals a terrible turn of events, “Mankind, which came into being from my eye [don’t ask], has devised plans against me.” [Beyerlin, 9]

What the created beings plot against the gods, or why the plot exists, is not disclosed. We are only left with the bare accusation of “devising plans.” The gods, easily upset, decide that eradication of humanity is the only solution to devising. Therefore, Hathor, the goddess of intoxication, is called for to kill human beings.

Re sends out minions to get some red ocher. The “slave girls” are given the task of making beer. Re mixes the red dye into the beer and pours the red beer at a designated location where Hathor decides to kill off the devisers.

Hathor goes to the place and gets herself drunk. Crushingly, stupidly drunk. She got so drunk that she could not even “perceive” mankind. And so we lived.

An Akkadian story tells us that the gods, having created human beings to do work which the gods didn’t want to do, became annoyed with the noisy human beings doing this and that and making so much noise that the gods decided it would be best to send a flood and drown the whole lot of rabble rousers.

And when human beings have thought themselves divine, the idea has been to formed to remove at least some of humanity as a way of making the world right. The lot of these monsters from Hitler to Pol Pot to Stalin to Mao have thought the solution for the world’s ills is killing “those kinds of people.” If you were dead, I would finally be happy.

Fortunately, world-conquest and the death of billions is beyond the hope or at least the ability of most people. You and I simply can’t eradicate everyone from the face of the planet so that we will be happy.

If we can’t kill everyone who gets in our way, we will need a different tool to make others conform to our expectations: this is called persuasion.

Persuasion comes in different degrees and with different purposes. There is one persuasion to get a slighter bigger tip from a customer, another persuasion to get people to stop smoking. And there is an extreme form of persuasion which treats certain thoughts and certain actions as a disease to be quarantined or cured.

It is especially crystalline and clear when the state or a mob (which is just the state without a good story about legitimacy) becomes involved, because the state and the mob have powers which approach the terror of the gods. The mob may burn your house and the state may confine your bones.

And this is all done to make the world just a little bit better, a little more comfy. After all, we’re trying to feel at home. And if building a better house for me requires burning down your house, pillaging your crops and driving your family into exile, it is worth the effort.

At least that is one of the stories that history tells again and again.

Some people must be removed, like weeds which have grown up in the wrong place. You can’t make a weed better. Some people must be cured, like a rose bush being pruned for winter and readied for spring.

I would like to go back to the quotation from Rilke at the top of this chapter, “We don’t feel very much at home in the world.” But Rilke’s line actually adds a little bit more to the statement:

We’re not very much at home

In the world we’ve expounded.

It is the world as we have interpreted it. It is not the world as it actually is. Who has any idea how to even find that place. It is the world as we have come to understand it: as our thoughts and desires and expectations have worked experience into a comprehensible shape.

That makes our attempts at persuasion ironic: We don’t merely feel out of place in the world. We feel out of place in the world as we have come to interpret it, read it, explain it, understand it.

The problem then – at least as Rilke has it – is not that the world is the wrong shape, it is that we are the wrong shape. And so we try to refashion the world into a shape which conforms to our error.

In the end we commit a fraud upon ourselves and thus live in a prison of discontentment.

Our discontentment then demands further alterations to the world. I become discontent with you. I persuade you to be different. You do become different. I get what I want; and the world is no better for it.

But that has never stopped mobs and states and jerks and petty tyrants and the rest of us from trying to not merely nudge but to remake the world so that it will fit into our pre-ordained design.

Epilouge

And last for a confession.

When I took the whistle from the package, I was quite careful to open only the corner and to slip the whistle free. When I became disappointed, I wanted my coins back. And so I carefully returned the whistle to the grocer.

I persuaded someone with a cash register to take the toy back. I didn’t feel any better – as you can tell from my dredging up this personal stuff for examination in a completely different century from the time it was originally performed.

My actions would be a petty theft by means of fraud. It is a form of persuasion, too.

It is also described by California Penal Code section 484a:

(a) Every person who shall feloniously steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another, or who shall fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to him or her, or who shall knowingly and designedly, by any false or fraudulent representation or pretense, defraud any other person of money, labor or real or personal property, or who causes or procures others to report falsely of his or her wealth or mercantile character and by thus imposing upon any person, obtains credit and thereby fraudulently gets or obtains possession of money, or property or obtains the labor or service of another, is guilty of theft.

The statute of limitations has long ago run, so I can’t be prosecuted. And being a minor, I supposedly lacked the capacity to commit a crime. So I have that much going for me.

Some opening observations on the new public religion

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I am fascinated by the overtly religious nature of the compliance which has been required with respect to certain social issues. Rather than look to the substance of any particular issue, consider the structure of the way in compliance is required and maintained.

There is a tool used in Biblical counseling to analyze the existence of a “system”. The tool as developed in teaching (I am not the originator of the observation here, although I have used it in class) is used as a number of S’s for ease of memory

Source of Authority
Sin
Salvation
Sanctification
Systems of Authority
Sparring

There must be some authority basis upon which to determine what is permitted and what is not.

There is some wrong in the world. The current variants define these in terms of some sort of “hate” or “oppression”.

There is some sort of salvation, something you must do be absolved of your sin.

Sanctification: there is some or process by which you maintain your status as a morally acceptable person.

If you fail on these points, you are then Shunned. This is cancel culture. We probably need to add “Shunning” as a sub issue of sanctification: the person is forcibly kept apart from the community under there is repentance/penance and return (but the current public religion seems to lack any possible repentance and return).

Systems of authority: there is some mechanism to propagate the system.

Finally there is sparring: defending the system from other competitive points of view. The apologetics need not be intellectually sophisticated, it need only be sufficiently pervasive as to permit the system to prevail.

I think it would be easy to make an application to various recent points of public concern and controversy.

What I have also noticed is explicitly religious conduct: There are oaths, prayers; instructions to ponder various texts, to make various public demonstrations of piety.

Today I read about an author who laid out a public sin – of which he was neither guilty nor capable of committing – which required submission to an authority, various “sacrifices” necessary to be absolved of the sin, a process of sanctification, and a requirement of shunning for those who refuse to repent. While the word “sacrifice” has a perfectly common meaning of effort, the word was striking in the midst of such language demanding overt moral protection.

The insistence of the writer would have made a medieval inquisitor blush for its lack of nuance or possibility of being mistaken.

A public religion is being developed which admits no competitor. It is morphing at the moment, so I don’t think it will necessarily maintain the same sins and sacrifices. Maybe it is just testing out variants.

There is also a fascinating technological aspect of this new religion.