Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Parables of Memory

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God"  (Hebrews 9:14)

Memory is the present act of reconstructing past realities.  Although past experiences may actually register in the synapses of our brains their reactivation and their composition with other registered experiences and with the constraints, impulses and thoughts we harbor is a present act.

The variables affecting the reconstruction of what we call a “memory” are limitless.  The impression made by any given event is not a single experience but a composite of atoms, like the pixels of a picture.  Each of these impression-pixels can itself be associated with some other memory, some other fear or desire, some other concept or judgement.

Let us suppose we have the recent memory of a man smiling. The contour of that smile can, on account of its actual similarity, remind us of another smile we experienced at some earlier time immediately before some traumatic event.  The way is now open to associate the disconnected traumatic event with the memory of the man smiling.

Mis-association is not the only pitfall of memory.  Our memories are also colored by our yearnings to make sense of things, to be validated or to be happy.  We all have had periods in our life which were not happy as we were living them.  And yet, years later, when looking back, we find ourselves saying with a nostalgic fondness, “those were happy years...”
The idea of memory as retrievable hard fact is the by-product of scientific rationalism.  It is correlative to the mantra of recreating an experimental fact as the touchstone of certainty.  

But this is mistaken.  The ancients did not look at memory in such an inflexible and concrete manner. They understood that memory is permeable (in terms of how things are filtered together) and flexible (in terms of how it is either condensed or stretched over time).

When they said something like “God was with us.”  they were saying something about their feeling now, about the past then.  They did not necessarily mean that “god”  as a present object was there.  

Memory is a parable.

We can have good and happy memories; bad and anguished ones. 

Sometimes a bit of both as in Passover.  We were in bondage; but god delivered us.  That is our memory; that is what we commemorate, our freedom now.    Just as we cannot see a light without being aware of the darkness outside the light, we are not remembering bondage but the light of our freedom of which bondage is only the shadow.

The psalms are full of bad memories, of negation, but they usually resolve into a remembered anticipation, an affirmation.

He was laid low but was stood up and shall come again.

Our memories can fill us with fondness and gratitude or they can fill us resentment and revanchism.  How we remember is not only a present act it is an act that defines us as we are now.

The charitable and forgiving person who acts in Christ’s name is living the memory of Christ’s sacrifice.

The ghoulish troop of long faced, weepers who are for ever never-forgetting what they call the unsurpassable horror of the holocaust, always demanding justice and obeisance before the idol of their victimhood,  are also living their memory.    

For the past week every single newspaper has been carrying some story about Auschwitz.  Any angle will do, so long as it recreates the “unspeakable.”  This, of course, is not possible.  Talking about the unspeakable is just a way of festering.

It would be pointless to recite all the titillating, treacly stories and macabre fetishism that has accompanied the memorialization of a complex of events 70 years ago.  Who has stomach, let him read.

But what is the parable being remembered here?   Is the memory a parable of freedom or of bondage?

Never forget!  Yes indeed, not forgetting is usually what memory does.

Man’s inhumanity to man!  We don’t need to remember in order not to forget this; opening our eyes would be sufficient

Never again!  But this is a canard.  Has the memory of past evils ever deferred evils to come?  Remembering the unspeakable horrors of World War I helped us to avoid World War II?   Should we be remembering the 440th anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? 

One of the more ridiculous things ever to dribble from an academic is the notion (swallowed and regurgitated without thought) that “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”   Far more cogent to say that how we remember the past is a construct for our future.

Our memories can heal or they can fester and when they fester they only serve to revive that which festers.

The pictures of human suffering under Nazi genocide are truly wretched and awful. But they are not unique.  The mass starvation of the Ukrainian peasants, the slaughters of Armenians, the prisoner of war camps in the American Civil War, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the list of human atrocities is endless and the pictures of human suffering wretched and pathetic.  But of what use is the picture of past suffering arising in our minds or presented to our eyes as a "memory."

If I hold up a picture of my bruised and battered face either to the person who assaulted me or to anyone else I can only be proclaiming my victimization. There is no other purpose to an act which says: look at what was done to me

But for every victim there is a perpetrator; and so the act also becomes an implicit and inescapable accusation leveled not only at the perpetrator but at any one else who did not help or who or is indifferent.  

In this case, memory is simply a parable of guilt and any other rationales for monstrating the picture are tissues of hypocrisy over passive aggression.   The mawkish and maudlin commemorations of “Auschwitz” which litter the pages of the press are a festering fetish which perpetuates guilt and justification without any true redemption. 

But the cheap and cynical game has theological implications which one would do well to consider. What is being foisted in an anti-religion, an inversion, which seeks to supplant the message of eternal  resurrection for all with perpetual remorse for the benefit of a few.

Let us begin with the fact that the human soul abhors despair. All things but stones strive after life, and this includes striving after the life to come.   

Psalm 88 is the perfect song of despair.

Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.

Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,

like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,

But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?

Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

Psalm 88 cannot be read without us silently crying out for anastasis, “to be stood up again”. 

Thus Psalm 44,

You have rejected us and disgraced us
 and have not gone out with our armies.

You have made us like sheep for slaughter
and have scattered us among the nations.

Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

 Rise up; come to our help!
 Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!

But we cannot appeal to a stead-past love without remembrance of things to come, Thus Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me ...

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;

For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

But if He rules  our Deliverance is

Psalm 22 was the prayer spoken by Christ from the Cross and it points to the real difference between true Christians and holocaust remembrancers.

The premise of the memory of the Crucifixion was that a wholly innocent and just man was through equal and perfect injustice done to death and fed to dogs.

Now, one might not believe that Jesus was Christ, and the purpose of this article is not to convince anyone that he was.  We are talking about how we talk about things and what that says about how we think and are.

The Christian memory of the Crucifixion is not only that  Jesus was a wholly just man, he was so just and so pure as to be one with God himself.   Thus, what is told in the story of the Crucifixion is a terrible paradox:  god is so deaf, so mute, so  indifferent, he despised rejected even himself.  And if God rejects himself what possible hope can there be for us?  Everything under the sun and including the sun is utterly hopeless and pointless and dead.

But although the Crucifixion narrative  brings us to that point Psalm 22 does not end there.  It stands us up again with the affirmation that the afflicted shall eat again because God rules... not did or will but now. 

As proof of this affirmation the story offers the memory of Christ’s Anastasis — his being raised up again into life. 

Well that’s a pretty story!  Indeed it is; but here is why it ought to be remembered by believers and forgetters alike.

Let us put aside the scientific question of whether all 9.2 stone of Jesus ascended into the upper stratosphere.  Let us also put aside theories of celestial accounting.  These are peripheral ways of speaking and we are concerned with parables.

No one who reads the Passion can fail to see that it echoes the Passover.  The resurrection is  the story of a new deliverance -- a point underscored in the Apostles Creed by the memory that "He descended into hell; The third day he rose again (anastasis) from the dead; He ascended into Heaven."    

What there is in the “deliverance story,” at the most prosaic level, is a mindfulness that each and all of us have the capacity to transcend — to go beyond — the deaths of memory into the remembrance of life.

This is what St. Paul was saying in his letter to the Hebrews.   St. Paul is primarily known for his insistence that "works of the law"  -- what we today would call "religiosity" -- is a dead end.  But in the quoted portion of his Letter to the Hebrews he was clearly signifying that work of the law which had become The Passover.

At the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, Passover had become a money making cult... the Passover Business. 

There was nothing bad in the memory of deliverance from bondage but that memory of old had been turned into a new bondage ruled over by a caste of priests and bureaucrats and money changers imposing all sorts of burdensome and guilt-based obligations on ordinary, struggling families.

In commemoration of Passover one had to come to Jerusalem; one had to sacrifice at least a dove; and then only  sacrificially pure doves which, (for your shopping convenience), were offered for sale at the Temple, which could only be purchased with ritually pure Temple Money which, (for your traveling convenience), could be exchanged for Roman coins at the Temple...  

It was this Passover Scam that infuriated Jesus. He went on a rampage of vandalism and got himself nailed. 

Now, I personally think that there is a higher spiritual significance to what St. Paul was talking about in his letter to the Hebrews.  But even at the simplest and most secular psychological level, Christ was saying: you don’t have to remember this way.

To which St. Paul added that if you do it is deadly and not living; it is to turn the memory of being freed from bondage into a new bondage.  It festers in the past.

The thing about things that fester is that, in addition to being obsessed and consumed by something that is rotting and without life, there usually is somebody who makes out like a bandit.  In the case of the Passover Scam it was the priesthood and their gaggle of hangers on.  In the case of the “holocaust” it is the State of Israel, which exploits the dead to its own advantage.    It does so by manipulating basic human needs.

As stated, the human soul abhors despair.  So when it comes to the genocide of Jews, the soul asks, where is the anastasis for “those who went down to the pit” at Auschwitz?  For Zionists, the answer is that the raising up from the pit is the State of Israel itself.  

All the  blather in the press — the need to never forget, to recall man’s inhumanity to man — are false conclusions.  Like a song or symphony that ends on a non-resolved note,  the non-resolution of these blabbered reasons for remembering leaves our mind thirsting for the real but unspoken justification which lurks in the wings: Israel.  None of the press stories actually state the Q.E.D. of ergo Israel.  It is done underhandedly and works because all men desire and will fill in a happy ending. 

In and of itself this happy ending is a reasonable hypothesis. As a plain geopolitical decision, an identifiable group which has had its ass severely kicked is warranted in packing its bags and removing to a safer place.   The cheat of the business is not that Nazi genocide did not  provide an arguable reason for the anastasis of a reborn physical Israel. It is rather that “resurrection of Israel” is bought through exacting perpetual guilt and submissive acceptance of Israel’s kingship in the land as well as other  useful political and economic demands.

It is unnecessary to go into all the gambits in which the card is played.   Suffices to note that the self-appointed guardians of this memory,  at Yad Vashem, have decreed that certain non-Jews may be certified as "righteous Gentiles"  if, upon review, it is determined that they undertook certain acts to save Jews with the sole intent and for the sole purpose of saving Jew.

It seems to have escaped notice that the category of a "righteous Gentile" by necessary implication gives rise to the counter-category of an unrighteous one and, since only a select few are deemed worthy enough to be called "righteous," the rest of us are not. 

This unilateral process of selection is an echo of the same differentiating game played by the temple priesthood and Pharisses of yore who, on the basis of various works and criteria, allowed that certain Gentiles (generally referred to as the "unrighteous") were clean enough to be allowed into the company of Jews, into synagogue and the outer court-yard of the Temple it self.  This differentiation imposed on others was as much a vexatious burden as the various strictures imposed by the priesthood on the Jews themselves and the early Christian Movement rejected both. 

Every scam has its sucker and what is being foisted here by way of ostensible "commemoration" is a lot of guilt, remorse and accepted self-negation paving the way for ongoing acquiescence to the Jewish State. 

It is a business which ultra orthodox Jews themselves reject because they consider it blasphemous to write over the name of the Lord with that of Israel.  They would argue that the vindication spoken of Psalm 22 comes from performing Israel’s vows before those who fear Him; that is, from adhering to the Torah.  No less and no more.    They would point out that when the Israelites demanded of Samuel that he give them a “king to rule over us so that we may like unto other nations” they were turning away from the true hope of the covenant.

To this the Zionists answer that the new vow is the State of Israel which offers living works on the corpse of a fully burnt sacrifice.   And it is true certainly true that in 1948, Zionist Jews reclaimed a new life for themselves on land inhabited by others.  Problematic as their territorial claims might be their efforts, as such, to stand themselves up again cannot be gainsaid.  

The orthodox rejection of Israel notwithstanding Auschwitz and the Zionist affirmation of Israel because of Auschwitz  stand in equipoise.  But this equipoise — these alternatives — are not the only choice.  In fact, to a certain extent they present a false dichotomy inasmuch as each, in its own way, perpetuates what might be called the "obligations of self-differentiation."  In contrast, heart of Christianity is that the gift of redemption is free and for all and which "rains on the just and the unjust alike."

What is occurring with the present commemorations -- and what the press unwittingly perpetuates -- is a substitution of Israel for the Lamb of God.  But these two memories — the Zionist and the Christian — are not exchangeable alternatives.

Let us return to pictures. Jesus hanging on the Cross is the very paradigmatic picture of the battered victim. If I were to hold up that picture and say: see what you did to me! I would be engaging in pure passive aggressive guilt peddling, as we have already discussed.  I simply could not be doing anything else.  There is no other point.

But here’s the funny thing about Jesus’ bruised and battered picture: you could say: no, that is me  hanging on the Cross!  And some passerby hearing us both claiming to be the victim in the picture could say: no, you are both wrong it is I who hangs on the Cross.  Before you know it everyone is claiming to be Jesus hanging on the Cross.  It is in this way that the memory of the Crucifixion becomes a parable for all of humanity’s suffering throughout all time.

It is not just that “God” is the “All of Us.”  It is that the all of us together — can't equally be victims and perpetrators without canceling out our debts.  The bottom line becomes that, by being the symbol of all of us, the Son of Man is both all of us and none of us and so “carries away the sins of the world.”

Now this may just be a psychological trick — the mechanics of how transference and scapegoating work.  But in playing the trick, it is important that we choose the right goat — a goat who is neither one nor another, neither one of the “righteous” nor of the “unrighteous” but any and all.

It is in this way that the memory of the Crucifixion is not causative but transformative. Being a sacrifice of one and all, for one and all, it simply blasts away all constraints of justice, fairness, wrong and recompense, in a burst of blinding light.

It is of course absurd to say that God created sin, only to require repayment from himself and thereby undo the effect of sin.  But that kind of logical ridicule misses the point. 

The heart of Christianity is not celestial accounting but rather to remember despair in a way that constitutes hope once and for all.  The logical absurdity of Christianity is a composition of memory that associates and subsumes evil in an all-embracing resurrected good. Forget the past and remember the future. 

In contrast the Auschwitz Passover is not about liberation but about perpetual bondage imposed not only on all the nations and gentiles called “unrighteous”  but, ultimately, in terms of festering obsessions, on Israel itself. 

When liberation is turned into a business, whether the Passover Business, the Indulgences Business, the Televangical Business or the Auschwitz Business, it is perverted and anastasis is laid low.

I say, let the dead bury the dead.

©Woodchipgazette, 2015

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