Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Decadent Civilization

Sultan Knish offers an incisive critique:

The decadent civilization has a million laws which it applies selectively. Its universal laws, inherited from a vigorous civilization, are so mired in legalisms as to be meaningless. The laws do not mean what they say. Instead they must be interpreted by a specialized caste. Everyone is always in violation of some obscure laws. Life depends on a lawless dispensation from the law.

The crucial task of the law is interpretation that keeps everyone from constantly being punished. This task is accomplished by lawyers, lobbyists and the politicians who are constantly adding more laws to fix the interpretations in the old laws creating a complex mass of contradictory information.

This holds true in every other area of life . . .

People living in decadent civilization have a greater need for entertainment due to leisure time, extended adolescence and the breakup of the family. But their lack of meaningful work, family engagement and adult responsibilities leaves them increasingly less able to produce it. Instead they become children putting together pieces of stories that "Daddy" once told them while taking the credit.

Decadents confuse criticism and curation with creativity. They develop great sensitivity to everything from literary styles to foods. In a decadent society, everyone is a cultivated critic, but these critics value style over substance. Their criticism is a cultural signal rather than a mastery of technique. The decadent civilization is obsessed with taste as brand. It is sensitive to subtleties, but fails to see the large flaws in a work. Its creativity is microscopically innovative and macroscopically a failure. Its subtle refinements cannot compensate for the lack of vision.

In a decadent civilization, everyone can be a critic or a collector of something, even as no one actually produces anything new until there are more critics and collectors than creators.

The decadent civilization spends much of its time and effort in a battle against apathy. It is forever "raising awareness" about something or other. Its sophisticated messaging however creates apathy as quickly as it erases it. Its messaging becomes more short term and more hysterical. Everything is a crisis and every message is pitched at the highest possible level.

The outrage of today is quickly forgotten by the outrage of tomorrow. The organizers dream of sustaining awareness for real change only to dive into the next round of short-term messaging.

In a decadent civilization, everyone is always fighting a political battle, while the real changes are orchestrated by power groups behind the scenes and presented as fait accomplis to a bewildered public.  And most of what is debated is a distraction from what truly matters.

Barbaric and decadent civilizations are both so dishonest that they are incapable of seeing their own lies.

Read the rest here.  The entire article is a must read.

When asked about His return in the end of days, the Messiah responded in part in Matthew 24:

"And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold . . . But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."

Though the precise hour is unknown to us, Y'shua was careful to provide us with a context: the days of Noah.  How could we describe the days of Noah?  Decadent.

And the earth was corrupt before G-d's countenance, and so the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11).

The earth was shachet (corrupt) and filled with chamas (violence).  Shachet denotes "ruin" in the sense of "corruption," rather than "destruction."  Shachet impedes the progress of something that is meant to flourish, and transforms success into failure, thereby ruining a healthy, sound condition.  The basic meaning of shachet is "a pit."  But the person who digs such a pit does not do so for good - i.e. for preservation or storage; rather, his intention is to deliberately place an obstacle in someone's path, in order to prevent that someone from proceeding to his destination.  The intent is to bring others to ruin.

Shachet is related to shached (bribe).  The idea is that one who offers or gives a bribe digs a pit in the path of a judge who is on his way to deliver a just decision or verdict; a bribe serves to blind the eyes of the judge and stops him in his path, prevents him from reaching his objective, by placing a stumbling block before him.

Chamas, while often translated "violence," is not violence as we are used to understanding it.  Chamas is robbery (gezel) that cannot be recovered through legal means.  One who perpetrates chamas is not penalized by any human court; but if committed over and over again, chamas gradually leads to the ruin of one's fellowman:

Said R' Chanina: Chamas (violence) refers to what is worth a perutah; gezel (robbery), refers to what is of less value than a perutah (a perutah is the smallest coin).  And this is what the people of the age of the flood used to do: When a man brought out a basket full of lupines [for sale], one would come and seize less than a perutah's worth and then everyone would come and seize less than a perutah's worth, so that he had no redress at law . . . [Bereshit Rabbah 31:5]. 

Our Sages teach that if a vine sheds unripe grapes, it commits chamas against the fruit.  The chamas is not committed all at once; rather, the fruit's drawing of sustenance from the vine is slowly stopped, until the fruit drops off.  

The verse says: "And the earth was corrupt before the countenance of G-d, and so the earth was filled with wrongdoing."  First came moral corruption, sins about which society in general is not too concerned.  People seem to be of the notion that even if the young are rebellious and disrespectful and married and family life deteriorate, trade and commerce can still flourish and all of our business relations will still proceed honestly.  However, once the world is corrupt before G-d Himself, all the laws and institutions of a civilized society will be powerless to prevent society from going to utter ruin.

The world will never be filled with gezel, outright robbery and violence; society has penal codes and prison terms for such crimes.  But chamas - wrongdoing facilitated by cunning - destroys a society by a thousand cuts, as it were.  There is no protection or redress against chamas, so long as a man's conscience fails to admonish him before G-d.  Is it not moral corruption that deadens and eventually destroys the conscience, and thereby a society is destroyed as well?  

Chamas is also related to chometz, vinegar: Wine does not sour all at once, but gradually turns into vinegar.  Similarly, immorality undermines conscience, which admonishes the wicked with its rod.  Thus, society is ruined by chamas; because of chamas, society becomes chometz - and is therefore destined to sour and to decay.

Ezekiel 7:11  

Violence (chamas) has risen up into a rod of wickedness; none of them shall remain, none of their multitude, none of them; nor shall there be wailing for them.
Mr. Greenfield contends that the decadence can be reversed through a fundamental transformation and a "revolution of ideas."  I also believe it can be reversed and that a fundamental transformation is requisite.  The question that is begging to be asked, however, is what is the nature of the transformation?  

I truly believe (most especially at this late stage in the game) that anything short of a spiritual transformation, a putting off of the old man and a putting on of the new man, a complete return to the G-d Who made us, and an unapologetic commitment to His principles as revealed in His Word, will do nothing to slow this train down let alone reverse it.  

The transformation I have in mind and which answers to the problem raised my Mr. Greenfield and which encapsulates Mr. Greenfied's so-called "revolution of ideas," can be found here:

Romans 12:2  

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of G-d.

The Bible contains a narrative with a beginning and an end, which unfolds within history, the meaning of which G-d supplies.  "Biblical theology," writes G. Ernest Wright, "is first and foremost a theology of recital . . . [and] the realism of the Bible consists in its close attention to the facts of history and of tradition because these facts are the facts of God."  The Bible does not illustrate what we have already heard within ourselves, it is the discovery and revelation of what we cannot hear within ourselves.

The bottom line for much of the world we live in today, is that there is no such thing as objective truth.  In short, for the modern mind, there is no truth.  For the Biblical mind, the mind that has been renewed and transformed by the Truth, truth is objective and accepts G-d's pronouncements concerning the meaning and purpose of life as the only true measure in that respect.  

Today, we find ourselves living in a world where reality is so privatized and relativized that the truth is only understood in terms of what it means to each individual.  Therefore, I suppose my appeal for any hope of a reversal, or "revolution of ideas" would be an appeal to those who already profess a claim on a mind that has been renewed and transformed by the Truth.

G-d did not send us a politician, for the problems we face are not political, G-d did not send us an economist, for the problems we face are not financial, G-d did not send us a psychologist, for the problems we face are not psychological.  G-d sent us a Savior which was an answer to our greatest problem and which met our greatest need.  

The decadence that Mr. Greenfield speaks of has the capacity to engage us in ways that are relentless and intense.  The decadence in our modern world makes more demands on us than we can possibly respond to, which is how the deceptions are generated.  The decadence dazes and distracts us to the point where we are compelled to accept it as the true reality.  The question is not so much whether or not people believe, but what they believe.  People believe so little in G-d because they are enamored by and believe so much in what is decadent.  

But those of us who have had our minds renewed and transformed, we believe in G-d and His power to perpetuate the truth in our lives, the truth which sets a man free; we believe in His power to raise up and pull down entire civilizations; we believe in the final and complete collapse of all that is evil; we believe in His unmitigated and absolute control over the destiny of this world and all who inhabit it.

Revival is not what's needed.  Return is.  The habits, to which we have all grown accustomed in this modern world, need to be put to death and rooted out of our churches and synagogues.  Is that not where G-d promises judgment will begin?  It is not the plastering over of our old, decadent habits with the fresh, religious enthusiasm of a so-called "revival" that is needed.  Nothing less than a humble, broken, whole-hearted return to the Author and Perfector of our faith, a recovery of the truth, and a tenacious commitment to do as we have been commanded will suffice.

The irony is that those who tout themselves as the most relevant in this modern, decadent world are the most irrelevant to G-d's purposes, most especially as far as morality is concerned; but those of us who have had our minds and hearts renewed and transformed by the the Truth, and are thereby regarded as most irrelevant and marginalized by this decadent world, are the ones, who by virtue of our relevance to G-d, have the most to say to this world.

We are, in point of fact, the only ones who do.  Perhaps it's high time we find our voice, and speak up.     

1 comment:

  1. And just as ridiculous as Noah probably looked building his ark in the middle of the desert, so do we shine as lights set on a hill in this dark world...