Sunday, February 4, 2007

Why!?! pt. 2

Why!?! pt. II

It's so interesting to me how we all are constantly chasing after things. Chasing after what we think we need. What we think will make us happy. But how often is it that we ever stop to think about what it is we are chasing? How often is it that you really sit and chew on whether or not what you are chasing really is of value? Is it really worthwhile?

We all are chasing something:

Money, Relationships, Friends, Fame, Popularity, our Careers, Acceptance, Sports, Knowledge…..but for what?

I read recently in Bertrand Russell's The History of Western Philosophy about the great power struggle that took place from the end of the fifth century to the middle of the eleventh century during which the Roman World went through some very interesting changes. The great conflict between duty to God and duty to the State, the ultimate struggle for power between Church and king.

The ecclesiastical reign of the Pope extended over Italy, France, Spain, Great Brittan, Ireland, Germany, and Poland. At first, outside Italy and Southern France, his control over bishops and abbots was very slight, but from the time of Gregory VII (late eleventh century) it became real and effective. From that time on, the clergy, throughout Western Europe, formed a single organization directed from Rome, seeking power intelligently and relentlessly, and usually victorious, until after the year 1300, in their conflict with secular rulers.

The Secular power, on the contrary, was in the hands of kings and barons of Teutonic descent, who endeavored to preserve what they could of the institutions they had brought out of the forests of Germany. And why should they, with their armies of proud knights, submit to the orders of bookish men, vowed to celibacy and destitute of armed force? All the armed force was on the side of the kings, and yet the Church was victorious. The Church won because rulers and people alike profoundly believed that the church possessed the power of the keys. The Church could decide whether a king should spend eternity in heaven or in hell; the Church could absolve subjects from the duty of allegiance, and so stimulate rebellion. And thus as the Medieval Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance and then eventually the Reformation and Romantic period; it was in many ways the Church that survived and wound up wielding the power and outliving the monarchs.

Now I bring this up not to condone or praise the fact that the Catholic Church held the power, much of it was out of greed and terrible wacky theology (indulgences, popes determining salvation etc), but rather to simply make a point. And do remember I read this in a book by renowned philosophical atheist Bertrand Russell.

My point being is that all that ultimately matters in this life is salvation. Eternity is the great mystery that at the end of the day holds the most weight, is of the most importance, and thus is of the greatest significance.

Think about a power struggle between kings and priests. The kings have money, armies, power, fame, women, and castles. The kings not only have ALL of the power but they also have all the spoils of women and wine that their appetites could possibly stomach.

So my question is why were they at the mercy of silly priests?? BECAUSE none of that mattered! None of it lasted. What good were armies, crowns, women, and wine if you were stuck spending an eternity condemned. The church triumphed at the end of the middle ages because, despite being a brutish and greedy organization with twisted man made theology, because Salvation and Eternity are all that in the end really matter. All the priest had was their silly rules and useless religions, but they possessed ETERNITY!

Think about Hamlet:

No, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with
               modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it: as
               thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried,
               Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
               earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
               was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
               Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
               Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
               O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
               Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!
               But soft! but soft! 

Hamlet is fascinated by the equalizing effect of death and decomposition: great men and beggars both end as dust. In this scene, he imagines dust from the decomposed corpse of Julius Caesar being used to patch a wall and likewise the dust of Alexander the Great used as clay to plug a beer-barrel. Earlier, in Act IV, he noted:

"A man may fish with the worm that have eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm," a metaphor by which he illustrates "how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar"

Think about it. We all chase things. We all ask How. We ask how do we get what it is we are chasing. But do we ever ask Why? Do we ever ask why we chase those things and if in the end they even matter?

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