Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Create Thyself!

Cindy Mercer Photography

“Anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed,” declares Richard Rorty. Rorty, emeritus professor of comparative literature and philosophy at Stanford University, assures us that the authentic “self” seeks “consolation, at the moment of death, not in having transcended the animal condition but in being a particular sort of dying animal who, by describing himself in his own terms, had created himself.” Top that as an example of human hubris.

Perhaps Emily Dickinson has the best response:

Death is the common right
Of toads and men,--
Of earl and midge
The privilege.
Why swagger then?
The gnat's supremacy
Is large as thine.

One more response: When I was eleven years old my father took me to see the movie, “Patton.” We took the train to an ornate old theater in downtown Chicago. We rushed to settle into our seats and fixed our eyes expectantly on the plush, red velvet curtains that veiled a huge screen. As many of you know, the opening scene is "memorable." I have seen the film a number of times since then, but it is the final scene that sticks with me. General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) has just been relieved of command. Along with General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), he walks across a vast plain with a picturesque windmill slowly turning in the background. Bradley goes back to headquarters leaving Patton alone to reflect upon his life and career. These are his final words:

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes, his children, robed in white stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning that 'all glory is fleeting.'

“All glory is fleeting.” “Everything that is to come will be futility. Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. So, remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting, writes the author of Ecclesiastes (Eccles. 11:8-10).

Having tried to “create himself” through the acquisition of knowledge, wealth, physical pleasure, power, and possessions—in other words, sensuality and stuff—he concludes: “The conclusion when all has been heard, is, fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccles. 12:13).

Praise God that our consolation in death is His un-fleeting glory.


Anonymous said...

And yet, God has made man a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory--reflected glory, graced glory, but glory nonetheless. Very different than Rorty's self-made and self-righteous man.

Bradford Mercer said...

Yes, and as Jonathan Edwards aptly says, “The same disposition that inclines Him [God] to delight in His glory causes Him to delight in the exhibitions, expressions, and communications of it.”