Since Christmas is upon us and talk_politics has become a community not disinclined towards religious wank, I thought I might offering the following thoughts.
The cosmos is disordered. No group of people is better qualified to assent to this assertion that observers of human political action. We make war against each other on the flimsiest of pretenses. We enslave other human beings over whom we are able to wield power by the various methods at our disposal. We fail to effectively address even rather straightforward challenges of polity because our agendas are often something other than the summum bonum.
How might a divine being address such disorder? Some would suggest that such disorder is in and of itself incontrovertible evidence that there is no divine being—or at least that such a being is either unwilling or unable to perform that which is most completely good.
This, of course, entails a denial of both human free will and of the possibility that such will can have an effectual influence on the state of the cosmos. As someone who is presently experiencing his own existence—indeed, the very experience of formulating this post—as an act of free will, I will beg you to indulge me in passing over this objection for the sake of argument.
If we acknowledge the problem of a disordered cosmos and accept for the moment the existence of this rightly willed and fully capable divine being, what solutions might we propose? One might be to simply wipe everyone out and start all over. This is certainly how I approach many problems I encounter in my own life. I delete the Word file and start fresh. I trade in my old car and get a new one. Some even adopt this approach with careers and spouses.
But this does not seem to be the optimal course of action for our believed-in being. Indeed, such an act would signify that the error was not ours but His, Hers or Its—because it would evidence a failure in the very creation of this version of the cosmos. After all, if the solution is a second creation, then the failure would be in the first.
Another course of action would be to simply enforce goodness by fiat. This, however, poses two problems. First, by fully supplanting existing “conditions on the ground,” fiat would still entail something like a second creation—albeit without the outright destruction of the first. So our argument against one is also an argument against this. Second, and relatedly, it would not address the disorder of will which (if it exists) is both essential to the nature of humanity and the root cause of its present disorderedness.
Some might also suggest that this divine being ought to just miraculously take over all media worldwide for, say, 45 minutes, and leave no doubt as to His, Her or Its instructions regarding the reformation of our collective polity, culture and social institutions. I think our experience with ourselves, if we are to be honest about it, will allow us to dismiss this suggestion. We have come to resist the whole notion of universal ethical imperatives the moment they are suggested to us. And our inclination to argue about written mandates is apparently not at all contingent upon the clarity with which such a mandate is written. Whether that mandate is the second amendment or the fifth commandment, we will find or fabricate a basis upon which to quibble—most likely for that same reason as we resist the external imposition of any purportedly universal truth.
So what’s a deity to do? I would submit that the most plainly viable alternative to destroying us, reforming us or controlling us would be to enter us, to become us. By inhabiting humanity, the divine might effect in us a positively infectious influence upon our wills from within—individually and collectively—avoiding the type of external subversion or externally attempted (and therefore certainly vain) reform that we have already dismissed.
We see parallels to this method everywhere. Rather than tell our children what to think, for example, we try to model thinking for them and gift them with opportunities to exercise those models in practice. Our hope in doing so is that they would become right thinkers, as opposed to mere parroters of our thoughts. We see other examples in the propagation of genes, energy and ideas. Every message needs a medium, whether that medium is beam of light or a string of nucleotides. And so it seems that our divine being might make us the medium of His, her or Its message—making that message internal to us rather than signified outside of us—to bring our free wills into a curative right order.
So perhaps we can all celebrate Christmas in this spirit. Our commemoration of a proclaimed Incarnation is not the adulation of some flawed religious institution or a triumphal crusade for some narrow doctrinal imperative that fails the test of reason. Instead it is simply our seasonal affirmation that the divine has chosen the truest and best way to bring about the greatest good, that there is indeed hope, and that our collective destiny is in fact one of peace and goodwill—despite what we might presently see or think.