Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Cosmos and Anthropos

In my previous post I suggested that the Moses narratives are grounded in an attempt to convey through cosmological myth the experiences provoked by Moses' person and operations. In order to do this, these narratives have to subvert such myth. The king, typically the exemplar of cosmic order, becomes the source of cosmic chaos as he subjugates the Israelites and resists YHWH's efforts to restore justice through Moses' work. Moses the murderer, a figure who should be seen as the profound bearer of injustice and disorder, becomes the agent of cosmic restoration to a just order. And in this subversion something remarkable happens: the foundations of a break with the very cosmological myth in which the Moses narratives are grounded.

One of the recurring problems in the social sciences is how to simultaneously account for how society and culture maintain integrity over generations and yet are constantly changing. How is American society and culture, for instance, recognizably American society and culture at any given point in American history, yet American society and culture at any two given points in American history might be radically different? In order to account for such a phenomenon, one must have some notion of a dialectic. There must be opposed principles at work within the given society or culture, the recurrent interplay of which constitutes continuity while generating change. In the Lonergan tradition, when it comes to culture it has been argued that one might generalize these principles as cosmology and anthropology: the difference between society understood as something grounded in the natural order and society understood as something grounded in human experience. What happened in the exodus, I would argue, was a significant break-through for the anthropological principle, with the human experience of suffering and need for freedom achieving ascendance over Pharaonic social cosmology.

This anthropological principle will recur throughout the Israelite and Jewish tradition. It is what we hear in the prophets, when they call out the wealthy for exploiting the poor, when Micah declares that YHWH seeks mercy and justice and humility, not sacrifices. It is what we hear in Jesus, when he says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, in Paul when he says that without love we are nothing. It is what we hear when the Pharisee Hillel says that the essence of Torah is that one should not do to others what is hateful to oneself. And while this anthropological principle surely did not originate with Moses (no doubt it had its origins in values held by the transhumant groups from which the Israelites originated; indeed, the very decision to opt for transhumance likely represents in part an anthropologically-driven desire to be free of control by what Voegelin describes as "cosmological empires"), certainly it was never the same after him.

No comments:

Post a Comment