[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Wed Apr 9 17:03:27 EDT 2014


Many thanks, Carol.


On Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 1:57 PM, cbartonphd1 <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net> wrote:

> Harold,  thank you for that elucidating post!  Oddly enough,  there is a
> concept in government contracting (called, I kid you not, "the Christian
> Doctrine"--because it was named after litigation brought by a man whose
> surname was "Christian") that mirrors the concept that we do it because
> it's right, whether the contract (in this context, "the law") expressly
> provides for it or not. In other words, in cases in which the contracting
> officer has neglected to include a clause important to the well-being of
> the taxpayers,  the clause is assumed to be included anyway by operation of
> law.
>
> Ironically, what you've said is echoed by Satan right before the Fall
> (9.701): "not just, not God." That should be another red flag to Eve, but
> it isn't: why would a just God forbid something beneficial? By the same
> token, why would a just God require anything that was unjust or unfair or
> harmful (even in the sense of unnecessarily restricting our freedom to
> choose?).
>
> Forgive the rambling--I wrote a long message because (distracted by other
> things) I could not write a short one--but your post is definitely a
> "keeper"!
>
> Best to all,
>
> Carol
> Sent from my Samsung Galaxy S(R)III
>
>
> -------- Original message --------
> From: Harold Skulsky
> Date:04/09/2014 12:54 PM (GMT-05:00)
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator
>
> "You've heard of the golden rule?  He who makes the gold makes the rules."
> (My wife thinks that's a horrible message to send to kids and she's
> probably right).  Milton's version was "He who makes, makes the rules."
>
>
>
> If one of the deepest truths you feel about yourself is that you were not
> self-begot, self-raised, then it is reasonable to think that you would be
> served by putting your actions in accord with the will of your Creator; he
> might reasonably be thought to know better what is good for you than you
> could possibly ever know yourself (even more, perhaps infinitely more, than
> the parent that Carol often invokes as an analog).
>
> If the rules we we're talking about are the rules of moral right and
> wrong, Milton surely doesn't believe that "God makes the rules." On the
> contrary, in our poet's consistent judgment, "God hath taught us to love
> and to extol his laws, not only as they are his, but as they are just and
> good to every wise and sober understanding. God hath created a
> righteousness in right itself, against which he cannot do" (emphasis mine)*.
> *In other words, moral principles (like "one should never be cruel" or
> "one should always choose the option that does the most good or, in the
> absence of good options, the least harm") are in Milton's view really the
> declarative sentences they seem to be (and therefore capable of being true
> or false)--and not merely imperative sentences in disguise (and therefore
> incapable of being true or false). The moral fact underwriting every
> command of a just God is the righteousness in right itself, an objective
> fact that God can't undo on pain of absurdity. In short, truthfulness and
> kindness are not right because God commands them, God commands them because
> they are right.
>
> A celebrated metaphysician and moral philosopher on the Roman side,
> Francisco Suarez, draws the same distinction: God's judgment that a given
> act is "intrinsically" the right thing to do is independent of, and prior
> to, his precept or command that we should do it. That's what it *is* for
> rightness and other moral properties to be "intrinsic" to the things that
> have them; in Suarez as in Milton, truthfulness and kindness are not right
> because God commands them, God commands them because they are right.
>
> Scholastics in the Conceptualist tradition believe, on the contrary, that
> properties in general, and rightness and goodness in particular, are not
> facts about what a thing or act *is* but facts about how God wills us to *conceive
> *of it and *behave* toward it. But even some Conceptualists, notably
> Gregory of Rimini, deviate from the party line when it comes to moral
> principles. So Suarez is able to add Gregory's august name to the
> authorities who follow what he characterizes as the consensus of
> theologians (*communis sententia theologorum*). Milton has probably come
> across the dictum Suarez borrows from Gregory: even if (*per  absurdum*)
> God had  neglected to command us to do the right, or (more absurdly)
> hadn't existed, our rational knowledge of the right would have had
> precisely the force of that otherwise missing command.
>
> The conceptualist position survives in our day under the names of
> "metaethical subjectivism" or "nihilism" or "expressivism" or
> "noncognitivism." It has been popular because a great many clever writers
> have tried to make it work, because of the natural human urge to find ways
> of playing tennis with the net down, and just possibly because it is
> unworkable.
>
> Needless to say, an infinite mind can know what's good for us infinitely
> better than we can. But it doesn't follow, and Milton clearly doesn't
> believe, that in most matters that are of near concern to us, we can never
> know what's good for us well enough to toddle a crucial step or two without
> leading strings.
>
>
> On Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 8:02 AM, Gregory Machacek <
> Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:
>
>> One quibble with Bryson (Michaels to the left of me, Michaels to the
>> right . . .) and one substantive disagreement.
>>
>> The quibble:  not "unquestioning obedience" (To ask or seek I blame thee
>> not); just obedience, and then your questioning.  I actually think A&E
>> might eventually have arrived at the rationale for God's arbitrarily
>> designating one fruit forbidden that we armchair Edenites easily supply.
>>  And if they'd got there by reasoning under obedience, it would only have
>> strengthened their obedience.
>>
>> The substantive disagreement (my "and yet"):  not obedience to a "really
>> really big and impressive, divine even" being; obedience to a *Creator*.
>>  Can the clay say to the potter. . . My dad had a saying when we kids
>> thought we could argue about how something in the household was run:
>>  "You've heard of the golden rule?  He who makes the gold makes the rules."
>> (My wife thinks that's a horrible message to send to kids and she's
>> probably right).  Milton's version was "He who makes, makes the rules."
>>
>> If one of the deepest truths you feel about yourself is that you were not
>> self-begot, self-raised, then it is reasonable to think that you would be
>> served by putting your actions in accord with the will of your Creator; he
>> might reasonably be thought to know better what is good for you than you
>> could possibly ever know yourself (even more, perhaps infinitely more, than
>> the parent that Carol often invokes as an analog).  Adam does just this bit
>> of reasoning before there is any prohibition.
>>
>> It's true that it's hard for us moderns to share Adam's turn of mind:
>>  un-self-begotten-ness to eager-obedience-to-my-Creator's-will-for-me.
>>  That is in large measure because our our image of that Creator now takes
>> the form of the-fine-tuning-of-25-dimensionless-physical-constants, and
>> what those tell us about how we ought to live our lives is not clear, in
>> fact could only be discerned (if there's anything there to discern)
>> precisely *by* unhampered reasoning.
>>
>> One of the fascinating things about that freethinking Milton that Bryson
>> so admires is how emphatically, in his late poems, he limits the exercise
>> of the mind.   (Solicit not thy thoughts, He who receives light from above
>> no other doctrine needs).  When the list's conversation made it's jump to
>> the Tree of Life, the discussion I was having with Salwa broke off just
>> where I thought I thought it was getting interesting.  She and I had both
>> granted that God wants you to shut down profitless lines of reasoning, but
>> I was in favor of the mind clamping shut as quickly as one sees that a line
>> of reasoning is profitless, whereas she was arguing for a full imaginative
>> exploration of possibilities before the shutdown.  We were just differing
>> on the issue of timing.  And I wanted to ask what Milton thinks about how
>> one recognizes fume as fume, how deep one can go down a line of exploration
>> before recognizing one should turn back.
>>
>>
>> Greg Machacek
>> Professor of English
>> Marist College
>>
>>
>> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> From: "Bryson, Michael E"
>> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>> Date: 04/09/2014 02:22AM
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
>>
>> Michael Gillum wrote: "Milton thinks of God as rational and reasonable."
>> Does he? Perhaps. But even assuming this to be true, does it necessarily
>> follow that he presents his literary character "the Father" in this way? I
>> think the latter a much more crucial question than the former.
>>
>> In response, Greg Machacek wrote: "Rather than being a freestanding
>> theological disquisition subject to the expectations we might have of such
>> (internal coherence, fidelity to one or another tradition of theological
>> reasoning), it's theology-in-service-of-a-story-element."
>>
>> Yes. And it takes place in *a story* in which (at least as many seem to
>> read it) "the way one passes these tests of obedience is not to look for
>> reasons and then do the commanded thing because one deems it reasonable but
>> just to obey because God said so," a story that (apparently) valorizes
>> unquestioning obedience, a story written by the same man who wrote this:
>>
>> "A man may be a heretick in the truth; and if he beleeve things only
>> because his Pastor sayes so, or the Assembly so determins, without knowing
>> other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds,
>> becomes his heresie." Oh wait. If a literary character called "the Father"
>> tells you, then that's different. You're not "a heretick in the truth"
>> then, because the fallacy of believing something based on authority,
>> "without knowing other reason," stops being a fallacy if the authority is
>> really really big and impressive, divine even.
>>
>> And this:
>>
>> "What need they torture their heads with that which others have tak'n so
>> strictly, and so unalterably into their own pourveying. These are the
>> fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our knowledge will bring forth
>> among the people. How goodly, and how to be wisht were such an obedient
>> unanimity as this, what a fine conformity would it starch us all into?" Oh
>> wait. Again, if a literary character called "the Father" tells you, then
>> that's different.
>>
>> And this:
>>
>> "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to
>> conscience, above all liberties." Unless a literary character called "the
>> Father" says otherwise. Then, no knowledge for you!
>>
>> Yes, I know. Prelapsarian, Postlapsarian, Fall, Original Sin (a concept
>> Milton seems to have a rather tenuous relation to, given his assertion "The
>> end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by
>> regaining to know God aright;" perhaps just a *bit* of knowledge other than
>> "because I said so" might have helped poor A&E). But that is not what the
>> original myth gives him--he has to work with raw material that insists that
>> knowledge is prohibited to the first humans by God, the very same story
>> pattern we see in other NME mythologies. It is, in every other example of
>> the myth that the Genesis writer (of the so-called J strand) is reworking,
>> "suspicious, reasonless," just as Milton has his Satan observe. The
>> Biblical account is of a piece with numerous other stories that narrate the
>> distance that grew between humankind and their gods (variously imagined),
>> though the Bible account differs from some others by making that rift
>> partly the fault of humanity (in a va!
>>
>>  riation on what Biblical scholars refer to as the Deuteronomic Theory of
>> History). But the Biblical narrative does not let the often irascible
>> Yahweh off lightly either--often, it is quite the reverse--and I am
>> perpetually flummoxed by readings of Milton's great poem that practically
>> insist that the Father must be understood as always perfectly just, and
>> honest, and simply chock full of moral rectitude. Yahweh--one of the
>> greatest literary characters in all of the world's literature--is certainly
>> no such thing, and a great number of the people who have lived and died in
>> this world thinking/believing him more than a literary character have
>> experienced him as light *and* shadow, after the fashion of Isaiah 45:7.
>> How is it that a *mere* literary character like the Father in PL, a
>> collection of words on a series of pages, a character no one has ever
>> prayed to, believed in, loved, or suffered from as one might with an
>> "actual" deity has reached such a status in the eyes of so ma!
>>
>>  ny professional literary critics that he *must* be read as jus!
>>  tified, that what would appear arbitrary in the words and actions of any
>> other character from English literature (I cannot help but hear echoes of
>> Lear's "better thou hadst not been born, than not to have pleased me
>> better" in a number of the Father's statements) are devotedly, assiduously,
>> painstakingly explicated as examples of love, and justice, and mercy
>> combined?
>>
>> To struggle with, defend, accuse, and even justify (in the sense of
>> accusation *and* acquittal) a God in which one believes (rather in the
>> sense that Elie Wiesel narrates in his play "The Trial of God," which he
>> has always maintained was based on actual events he witnessed at
>> Auschwitz)--*that* I understand. I have been through it, most profoundly
>> and painfully (though in nothing like the way Wiesel narrates). But to
>> insist that a l
>>
>
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