Lamentations

I broke from my tradition and read the Wikipedia article for Lamentations (Hebrew: “How”) before writing down my thoughts. The reason is that I recall somewhere the phrase “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” and I wondered if that meant lamentations shared the same author as Jeremiah. The scholarly consensus seems to be “no,” and I (with no knowledge in Hebrew, and paying attention in an amateurish way to the genre and writing style) agree.

It’s clear that either the author of Lamentations read The Book of Jeremiah, or knew of him, or (alternatively) the author of Jeremiah read Lamentations. They use much of the same symbolism. They also have the same focal point: the sack of Jerusalem and desecration of the Temple by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. But the tone is completely different. Jeremiah begins as a legal satire, anyone who has seen Intolerable Cruelty (starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones) or other parodies of divorce immediately gets that what follows in Jeremiah is a romantic comedy. And the feuds, betrayals, and anger of that comedy does not detract from it, but gives meaning to it.

Lamentations is not a rom-com. It’s a rape.

The adversary has spread his hand
Over all her pleasant things
For she has seen the nations
enter her sanctuary
Those whom You commanded
Not to enter Your assembly
Lamentations 1:10

The prayer is not to silence. The prayer is to a LORD who has switched sides

He has done violence to His tabernacle
As if it were a garden
He has destroyed His place of assembly
The LORD has caused
The appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion
In His burning indignation He
has spurned the king and the priest.
Lamentations 2:6

There’s no reunion here. The LORD’s attack is not just general, but specific. Not just to the nation, not just to others, but the author himself

He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones…
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago
Lamentations 3:4,6

There is no happy ending. There is no reminder a king still lives, or a priest is far off. Just destruction. Silence

Why do You forget us forever,
And forsake us for so long a time?

Turn us back to You, or LORD, and we will be restored;
Renew our days as of old

Unless You have utterly rejected us
And are very angry with us!
Lamentations 5:20-22

In another post, The Good Bull, I wrote that the central dilemma of Christianity was whether God the Father was inhuman, or merely unhuman. We can rationalize history as a comedy, or a love story.  But what of those who die who are tortured, who lose hope?

We see echos, themes, that may one day pay off.

Centuries too late the author of Lamentations.

Echoes such as this

Let him give his check to the one who strikes him
And be full of reproach
For the Lord will not cast off forever
Though He causes grief
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitudes of His mercies
Lamentations 3:30-31

to that.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Matthew 5:38-42

This.

The precious sons of Zion
Valuable as fine gold
How they are regarded as clay pots
The work of the hands of the potter!
Lamentations 4:2

To that.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Romans 9:19-21

This.

Because of the sins of her prophets
And the iniquities of her priests
Who shed in her midst
The blood of the just
Lamentations 4:12

To that.

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
Matthew 27:22-23

This.

See, OR LORD, and consider!
To Whom have You done this?
Should the women eat their offspring,
the children they have cuddled?
Should the priest and the prophet be slain
In the sanctuary of the Lord?
Lamentations 2:20

To that.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Matthew 26:26-29


In Lamentations we see the work of God the Father, the Unseen God, the unspeakable furnace that created the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the foolish kings, the false prophets, and the lying priests.

Review of “The Abolition of Man,” by C.S. Lewis

I recently read The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. Thematically it is a cross between That Hideous Strength (1945), which I read more than a decade ago, and Mere Christianity (1952), which I read earlier this year. It’s also the closest C.S. Lewis comes to a “natural” philosophy, and at times intentionally recycles language of the non-theist Chinese philosophies.

cs-lewis-the-abolition-of-man

The Abolition of Man begins with a review of an book on English grammar and literature. At first I groaned, and worried I stumbled across some British English “inside baseball” professional dispute from half a century ago. But quickly Lewis begins an attack that Robert Pirsig would continue decades later in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974): objects have Qualities that give them Arete/Rta/virtue/righteousness (note the Indo-European element “Rt” in all four words).

zenmotorcycle

We all believe this of at least some objects, though to one person the object in question may be material (this holy relic), while to another an object may be disembodied (the value of equality). Words such as “just” (it’s just a piece of wood), or “only” (it’s only the skew of income in a society) are pejoratives without substance. When those pejoratives are used the speaker is making a value judgement on which ideas are Right and which are not.

Lewis argues that behind such judgments are one of two philosophies: the “Tao” (called in Mere Christianity, natural law) or the Conquest of Nature. The natural law comer from evaluation the moral sense as exactly that, a sense, of a physical property of the world just as real as sight, or sound, or smell. In the same way that light is not “just” electromagnetic radiation, but rather is made of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation on our cortical nerves, the moral sense is not “only” our conscience, but is detected through our conscience. (This is similar to the description of the Objective Room in That Hideous Strength.)

Against this natural sense — truly against it, in the manner that tectonic plates are against each other — is the Conquest of Nature. Such an alternative foundation of morality seeks to liberate “Man” from nature, by controlling and constraining the moral sense. Lewis explicitly cites Nietzche as an example of such a philosophy, but an even better example would be B.F. Skinners’ Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), which (with its focus on education and motivation) must have seen like a satantic prophecy come true.

skinner-beyond-freedom-and-dignity

Lewis refers to those able to control the deconstruct and reconstruct the moral sense in this way as Motivators. Such Motivators may appear to be highly skilled technician, the originators of the Hygiene movement in Mere Christianity (1952). But the end result is the same: a generation free from the past generations and their natural law, but ruling the future with its ability to create its own law.

cs-lewis-that-hideous-strength

It is this breakthrough — this ability to arbitrarily control the moral sense — that Lewis refers to as the “Abolition of Man.” Whatever the earliest abolitionists may believe, and whatever their motives, those that come after them are not “men” at all for they have no access to the Natural Law that all earlier humans shared. The Motivators, the abolitionists, would have freed men from the Natural Law in that future “men” would never know it. But, because it is by natural forces any such new arbitrary moral sense is installed, such an Abolition would also reduce homo sapiens to slaves of nature.

The conquest of Nature would, itself, be the surrender to Nature.

I listened to The Abolition of Man on unabridged audible.