Vilonia, AR. Charles McColl Portis’ funeral was February 25th at the Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas just thirty some-odd miles from my home. It was an intimate and understated affair, just as Portis might prefer. A close friend reminded us of Portis’ genuine humility; the simple American-flagged draped coffin appeared small compared to the man in repose. His friend’s thoughtful, tender words came after “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” the reading of Psalm 23, II Timothy 1:8-14, a homily, an Affirmation of Faith in Christ and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”
Of all the games we play with the Five Furies, our game with the fifth is perhaps the most dangerous. No one has ever discovered a way to merely set aside the moral law; what the rationalizer must do is make it appear that he is right. Rationalizations, then, are powered by the same moral law that they twist. With such mighty motors, defenses of evil pull away from us; we are compelled to defend not only the original guilty deed, but also others that it was no part of our intention to excuse. (Budziszewski, 154)
This, “most dangerous” fury is the one to which Ivan bowed lowest. Murder begins with hatred, yet we never intend it to go that far.
G.K. Chesterton stated that, “Men may keep a level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down (Chesterton, 116 ).
But shouldn’t conscience show us the way up? Budziszewski says, “This downward spiral may seem to reveal Continue reading
I must make an admission,…I never could understand how it’s possible to love one’s neighbors. In my opinion, it is precisely one’s neighbors that one cannot possibly love. Perhaps if they weren’t so nigh…(236).
Ivan’s confession above is true, he holds hatred in his heart for his closest neighbors, his father and brother Dmitri who are driven by their sensual lusts. But confessing the truth does not alleviate his conscience from God’s command that he must love his father and brother. His affection for Ivan is most likely another witness to him of how it ought to be.
Ivan tells Alyosha regarding Fyodor and Dmitri, “… viper will eat viper, and it would serve them right (141).” Here he slips and makes a judgment on the behavior of his family, but knows that to speak of it would be to disprove his own moral theory that “all is permitted.” Ivan is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, for he cannot sincerely live out his own beliefs. He “shifts,” as Father Zosima states, his “own laziness and powerlessness onto others,” and the end of Ivan will be to share “in Satan’s pride and murmuring against God (320).”
Furthermore, he hates Smerdyakov most when he follows his worldview best. Even Smerdyakov desires the companionship of the guilty, but Ivan’s will is to refuse this to him. It is not to be as Ivan wishes, for he too will feel the avenger – his own deep conscience.
The next fury, that of confession is misused in that we can’t help but desire to “tell” what we’ve done or what we think. If we have confessed our sins properly with a repentant heart, then we will not feel the need to repeat it to others for He is just to forgive us of those sins and our conscience is clear. But when we have not properly repented we retell our story a multitude of times in false humility and with some mendacity. Our goal is to seek the pity of our listeners perhaps and sometimes to manipulate them into confessing their sins as we are seeking guilty companions. This was the case of Katerina’s multitudinous confessions to Grushenka in front of Alexei.
When confession is done properly and for the right motives, it frees us. To have a clear deep conscience is compared to “paradise” in The Brothers Karamazov. Here is an excerpt from the forum by Susan in relating Ivan’s need for confession and reconciliation:
Ivan seems reminiscent of the mysterious visitor [to] Zossima. He [the visitor] had a terrible secret and he had to tell everyone his secret to escape his isolation and to find brotherly communion. He did so at great consequence but it freed him to be a father and husband. Even though he was not believed he found paradise, “Paradise is hidden in each one of us, it is concealed within me, too, right now, and if I wish, it will come for me in reality, tomorrow even, and for the rest of my life” (Dostoevsky 303). This is played out with Ivan as well. Ivan and the Mysterious visitor had “proof” of their crime, but no one believed them.
The third fury, that of atonement is the knowledge of a debt. Again, when we refuse to pay, it tends to exact higher and higher costs from us as we up the ante. This cycle is seen when Dmitri, thinking that he had murdered Grigory, piles on his transgressions in preparation to pay his debt with his own life. Atonement is abated in many through acts of self suffering, but this is faux atonement and will not suffice. In the end we punish ourselves more and those around us. We have an innate sense that we must pay the debt. Dostoevsky wrote in a letter to the publisher regarding Crime and Punishment that “legal punishment inflicted for a crime intimidates a criminal less than the lawmakers think, partly because he himself morally demands it.”
Reconciliation, Continue reading
Three Modes and Five Furies
Budziszewski explains the inner workings of conscience as having three distinct modes; cautionary, accusatory, and avenger. He states:
In the cautionary mode, it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates an inhibition against committing it. In the accusatory mode, it indicts us for wrong we have already done. The most obvious indictment is the feeling of remorse, but remorse is the least of the five Furies. No one always feels remorse for doing wrong; some people never do. Yet even when we fail to feel remorse, our knowledge of our guilt generates objective needs for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification (140).
When remorse is ignored and the furies are not satisfied, the conscience becomes the avenger, “which punishes the soul who does wrong but refuses to read the indictment…Conscience is therefore teacher, judge, or executioner, depending on the mode in which it is working: cautionary, accusatory, or avenging (140). ”
He further explains how the progression normally works in one who has violated conscience. First remorse will cause them to stop or flee from wrong-doing; then confession will drive them to admit their wrong; atonement will be made to pay for the wrong; reconciliation will desire that the bonds that were broken are restored (forgiveness); and finally, justification will call one back to right standing. If one “wills” to circumvent the process, then payment is not waived, on the contrary. it is demanded in “whatever coin comes nearest, driving the wrongdoer’s life yet further out of kilter,” because “we punish ourselves again and again, offering every sacrifice except the one demanded. We simulate restoration of broken intimacy, by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves. And we seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves (Budziszewski, 140).”
In The Brothers Karamazov we see this acted out by Continue reading
How the Brothers Karamazov Unleashes the Furies
He [Alyosha] was beginning to understand Ivan’s illness. The anguish of a proud determination. A deep conscience! God, in Whom he did not believe, and his truth were overcoming his heart, which still did not want to submit.”
“Oh! He [Ivan] has a deep, deep conscience.” Katerina Ivanovna
It was said by those who knew Ivan Karamazov well that he had a deep conscience. So what is this conscience and how is it different from what we normally call conscience? It is important to distinguish the difference between deep conscience, which is knowledge, and a more shallow or surface conscience, which is belief. The first is underived, as J. Budziszewski, author of What we Can’t Not Know describes it, and the second is derived from experience, teachers, parents, the church, religion, etc.
This surface conscience may be associated with a duty to do right, or an ethic as touched upon by Kierkegaard, or in Nietzsche’s admonition to go beyond good and evil. Both authors may have called upon the readers to find the deeper conscience which is not found in experience but in a “leap of faith,” or in the will. But “will to power” is successful only with surface conscience. The will arbitrates, negotiates, and wrangles the furies of conscience, it is powerless against what Budziszewski calls the avenger, “who punishes the soul who does wrong, but refuses to read the indictment (140).”
Deep conscience contains the moral laws that are written on the heart of every man as described in the Bible. They are not made by man, but are a priori, not derived from experience. Deep conscience is solid, it won’t be mocked and it can’t be circumvented. E. Michael Jones explains in Monsters from the Id, that even when we think that we “will” not speak of it [a wrong done], we precisely “will” speak of it because God demands it. Of Mary Shelley’s reluctance to write of the horrors of the French Revolution that she witnessed, Jones states that Shelley could not “not talk about it. The monster speaks the unspeakable for [her](Preface: x).” Thus was born Continue reading
Atlas shrugged – part ii
As one considers the philosophy of Ayn Rand’s objectivism (which one should) — a clear eye toward worldview must be engaged at all times. For while some of the greatest conservative thinkers in our day have been inspired by her work in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged — her overall philosophy, which stems from her first principle that there is no God — should and must be vigorously opposed (if not for the sake of truth – at least for the sake of humanity).
It’s not JUST the weight of the world that is his problem — it is that the ground beneath his feet is shifting.
Rand’s rail against collectivism juxtaposed with individualism is attractive to the tea party, libertarian, and Republican ideal. She has made many valid points for capitalism. Her narrative in Atlas Shrugged is engaging. However, I am concerned that her praise of capitalism is distorted and extreme to a dangerous degree if for no other reason than that it stands on a faulty foundation.
While it is true that socialism, communism (from which Rand came and to which she despised), Marxism and other collectivist sorts of “isms,” are based on false premises regarding the nature and character of man (and God); but so is Rand’s philosophy. The fact that she “borrows” from a Christian/biblical worldview Continue reading