[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Matthew Jordan matthewjorda at gmail.com
Thu Apr 10 17:22:17 EDT 2014


Fascinating, Stella. I think there is still, rather strangely, a lot of
post-Imperial envy of the US among the British "Left" (of which, broadly, I
consider myself a member - I will keep things loose, since
misunderstandings about such terms can so readily arise: I am, by my own
lights, loyal to whoever is Labour leader).

I won't go on, for fear of boring others on the list; but do get in touch
anytime!!




On 10 April 2014 22:05, Stella Revard <srevard at siue.edu> wrote:

> Yes indeed, Matthew:  I sat in the front row in Oxford (in the Student
> Union, as I recall) in the fall of 1952 when Crossman was speaking, and was
> disappointed by his Satanic side.  I had a very high opinion of him, having
> (as an undergrad at the U of Tulsa) gone through THE GOD THAT FAILED and
> other things where he seemed brilliant and right.  But in 1952 he was
> attacking the US for its support of Syngman Rhee in Korea; I agreed
> strongly with him that Rhee was a very corrupt and dictatorial leader, and
> that the US was reprehensible for backing him and doing all it could in the
> ongoing elections in Korea to get Rhee elected (again, if one could regard
> him as ever having been elected before).  I listened while Crossman
> fulminated, and was not surprised when he kept focusing on me, sitting
> there in an American style suit and tie and with a buzz cut, and glaring as
> if I was personally repping for Rhee.  Then came question time.  I asked
> Crossman:  Suppose the election proceeds, and Rhee wins, and observers tell
> us the vote count was accurate.  What should be done then.  Crossman did
> not hesitate:  "Throw him out!" he said.  In other words, Crossman wanted
> to do what Brits have done so often and, when they held imperial power, so
> effectively:  govern the world from London.  In effect, Crossman envied the
> US its power, and he wanted to get us out and the Brits in again.  That is
> why I say I was disappointed by his Satanic side.  The odd thing is that
> Dwight Eisenhower would before long stop Eden and the Brits and their
> allies in their efforts to take control of the Suez and Egypt
> again--although the Brits and we together managed soon after to overthrow
> the Iranian leader and instal the Shah there....
>
>
>
> On 04/10/14, *Matthew Jordan * <matthewjorda at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> This prompts me to share one reflection on the academic mind: how liable
> it is to jump to the end point of any logic or chain of reasoning; and how
> little *judgement* is often exercised - indeed, it sometimes seems the
> garlands go to those who jump quickest and farthest, with least
> consideration. (I naturally exempt all those on this list from my
> stricture.)
>
> To quote a Prime Minister manque, Denis Healey, on Richard Crossman,
> darling of the "intellectual" Parliamentary Left in the 1950s: "It's easy
> to be brilliant if you're not concerned about being right."
>
> Best
>
> Matt
>
>
> On 9 April 2014 13:02, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu <
> 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 <
>> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> wrote: -----
>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu <
>> milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
>> From: "Bryson, Michael E"
>> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <
>> 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 literary character that equivocates, demonstrates a fondness
>> for the word "if," tells a half-truth (if not an outright lie) with his
>> first utterance in the poem in which he appears, and aids and abets the
>> ostensible villain of the piece at practically every crucial point from
>> Book 1 to the temptation scene of Book 9...to insist that such a literary
>> character must be read as just, that his actions must be understood as
>> "loving*, and to maintain that this is *the only legitimate way truly to
>> "understand" the poem in which that character appears*, wel!
>>
>>  l all of that simply boggles my mind. It always has. I think it always
>> will.
>>
>> Milton's "God" is not God, or a god, or anything at all other than the
>> words that create him, and the emotional and intellectual effects those
>> words create. Yes, we can and will understand those words, and those
>> effects, through theological, mythological, narratological, psychological,
>> and other contexts. But they remain outside the realm of deity (whatever
>> that may or may not be), forever, wonderfully, in the realm of human
>> imagination and art.
>>
>> And yet...and yet...and yet...and so it goes.
>>
>> Michael Bryson
>>
>>
>> ________________________________________
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <
>> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<
>> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of Gregory Machacek [
>> Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>]
>> Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:09 PM
>>
>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
>>
>> Well, I'm willing to rethink the word arbitrary.  All I'm trying to get
>> at is that God gives beings tests of obedience.  And 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.  God's therefore may be succeptible to the rationalizing you
>> give below (though my quibbles follow).  But the Son doesn't say, "I assent
>> to your reason."  He says, "you say you want grace; let's see how we can
>> make grace happen."  So let's take point 2.  You have God the Father in
>> effect saying "Oh, what I meant by death was not anything permanent and
>> irreversible, even though, I know, that's kinda the usual definition of
>> death."  The Son could shoot back a "Strange point and new this death that
>> really isn't death in any way that we've understood the term."  But he
>> doesn't.  He says "You say death is a mode of disobedience-punishment that
>> can be undone by mercy? Hey, you're God; you!
>>
>>   get to make that call."
>>
>> [Quibbles:  On 1) we're not dealing with degrees of punishment (though it
>> eventuates in that) but in the availability of mercy to the two orders of
>> being.  So if mercy is by definition not deserved, it could be extended to
>> the rebel angels also.  On 3) presumably each order of being had the level
>> of rationality sufficient to pass its test.  In fact God collapses the
>> distinction you're trying to draw when he flatly conflates both orders and
>> says explicitly that each was sufficient to have stood though free to fall.
>>  On 4b) I'm not sure all of the angels have equivalent reasoning powers.
>>  On Mt. Niphates, Satan creates a hypothetical where, if he'd been a lesser
>> angel, he might have gone along with a greater one.  That says to me that
>> he can conceive of himself (as this lesser angel) not having been the one
>> who was intellectually-enterprising enough to come up with the idea of
>> defying God (but being disobedient enough to go along with that smarter
>> guy).  On 4a) when he gave th!
>>
>>  e interdiction, he hadn't included an "unless you're deceived by a
>> higher order of being" exemption.  In fact, deceit is irrelevant to tests
>> of obedience; all you gotta do is obey; the second you make it a matter
>> where deceit could operate, i.e. a matter of reasoning, conclude you then
>> begin to fall.  If so, deceit can hardly serve as grounds for
>> differentiating the disobediences.  On 5) the Son does concoct possible
>> reason's for God's therefore; they come as a result of his obedience, not
>> its cause.]
>>
>> Anyway, my main point is to propose that perhaps the aspects of book 3 in
>> which many critics find troubling lines of theological reasoning are the
>> way they are because what Milton most needed the Son to be was a foil to
>> Adam and Eve's disobedience, i.e. needed him to be an example of obedience,
>> and so, maybe working from Philippians 2:8, he built a theological
>> superstructure in which Filial Obedience could be manifested.  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.
>>
>>
>>
>> Greg Machacek
>> Professor of English
>> Marist College
>>
>>
>> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <
>> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> wrote: -----
>> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu <
>> milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
>> From: "J. Michael Gillum"
>> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <
>> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>
>>
>> Date: 04/08/2014 11:19AM
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
>>
>> I disagree with Greg's and Neil's (and Fish's) emphasis on arbitrariness.
>> Milton's God is not the Calvinist God of pure will and power. Milton thinks
>> of God as rational and reasonable. and Milton in PL interprets God's words
>> and actions as reasonable insofar as the Genesis text allows. Yes, God in
>> PL singled out a tree for arbitrary prohibition. He did so for a reason.
>>  He had a reason to set up the test, and (because A&E had a frictionless
>> relation to their environment in Paradise) the arbitrariness of the
>> selection was essential to the test. We should not therefore conclude from
>> the arbitrariness of that prohibition that arbitrariness is basic to God's
>> nature and actions as represented in PL.
>>
>> God had a number of reasons to be more merciful to A&E than to the fallen
>> angels.
>>
>> 1. Mercy by definition is not deserved, but punishment may be deserved in
>> different degrees. The angels raised impious war in Heaven against the
>> throne and monarchy of God, while A&E violated an arbitrary prohibition.
>> The angels rebelled violently against a good order, while the humans did
>> something that would have been morally neutral except for the prohibition.
>> It seems reasonable to distinguish degrees of punishment. Adam and Eve are
>> still punished.
>>
>> 2. God told the angels before their revolt that rejecting the Son's
>> kingship would cause them to be punished with no hope of mercy. He made no
>> such statement to A&E.
>>
>> 3. The angels had a higher order of rationality which would have made
>> truth and right more obvious to them than to the humans.
>>
>> 4. Eve was deceived by a being of a higher order; Satan misled himself
>> and then his equals.
>>
>> 5. As the Son in Book 3 interprets the Father's decree of mercy (144-66),
>> he gives a whole list of reasons for it:
>>
>> ---The whole race of man would be lost [implicit contrast with the
>> majority of angels surviving].
>> ---The Father had loved mankind as his "youngest son."
>> ---Destroying mankind would give a victory to Satan.
>> ---That victory would raise questions about God's "goodness and thy
>> greatness both."
>>
>> God's decree of mercy is therefore reasonable and not arbitrary. He does
>> not include all this context in his decree, but--perhaps
>> arbitrarily--chooses to mention only the factor of external temptation.
>>
>> Michael
>>
>>
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