[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Matthew Jordan matthewjorda at gmail.com
Thu Apr 10 18:04:20 EDT 2014


Ah, yes; of course!! Thanks!

Same applies to Carter, naturally.




On 10 April 2014 23:02, Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM
<cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>wrote:

>  I think that was Carter--not Stella, Matthew. (Stella in a buzz-cut???
> Unthinkable!! What would Jose say???)
>
>  *From:* Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com>
> *Sent:* Thursday, April 10, 2014 5:22 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator
>
>  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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