Wednesday, April 26, 2006

original deconstruction 3

Three? Yes. Don't you remember one and two? The theme of this provocative series (called "fiendishly clever" by Important Magazine and "millinerd at his table-turning best" by Reputable Source Weekly) is that deconstruction is not new. It began when Omnipotence went and got crucified circa 30AD, and it continues as inflated humanity humbles itself before that ego-shattering (and ego-transforming) truth. In other words, it's not that the late 20th century brand of French academic deconstruction is threatening, but that it's not nearly threatening enough. Postmodernists deconstruct ideas. Christians deconstruct themselves.

For my third example of original deconstruction, pardon me if I raise some eyebrows by turning to eastern spirituality... that is, the eastern Christian monastic spirituality of John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent (the preeminent spiritual classic of Eastern Orthodoxy). For a selection from this monastic boot-camp, click here. If you'd like to play it safe however, stick with Foucault.

Writes Climacus regarding pride:
"I once caught this mad imposter as it was rising in my heart, bearing on its shoulders its mother, vainglory. Roping them with the noose of obedience and thrashing them with the whip of humility, I demanded how they got access to me. At last, when flogged, they said: 'We have neither beginning nor birth, for we are progenitors and parents of all the passions. Contrition of heart that is born of obedience is our real enemy; we cannot bear to be subject to anyone; that is why we fell from Heaven, though we had authority there.

In brief, we are the parents of all that opposes humility; for everything which furthers humility, opposes us. We hold sway everywhere, save in Heaven, so where will you run from our presence? We often accompany dishonours, and obedience, and freedom from anger, and lack of resentment, and service [i.e. the activities of successful Christians]. Our offspring are the falls of spiritual men: anger, calumny, spite, irritability, shouting, blasphemy, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, disputation, self-will and disobedience.

There is only one thing in which we have no power to meddle; and we shall tell you this, for we cannot bear your blows: If you keep up a sincere condemnation of yourself before the Lord, you can count us as weak as a cobweb. For pride's saddlehorse, as you see, is vainglory, on which I am mounted.' But holy humility and self-accusation laugh at both the horse and its rider, happily singing the song of victory: Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously is He glorified: horse and rider hath He hurled into the sea (Exodus 15:1) and into the abyss of humility" (23:37).
No doubt this text would be anathematized by many pomo-theorists for its use of the forbidden word "obedience." And no doubt Climacus would have responded that a refusal to countenance obedience should itself be deconstructed to reveal the underlying power-play of pride and self-indulgence that such a phobia can ingeniously conceal. Certainly legitimate ecclesial structures can and have been abused, but a refusal to submit (gasp!) to them might also be due to a prior, and perhap unconscious obedience to a different (and much harsher) master.

And notwithstanding the fortune cookie and/or Yoda associations it may call to mind, this bit on humility is a keeper:
"The natural property of a lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this" (25:48).
Though admittedly more appropriate to Lent than Eastertide, Climacus' Ladder rewards the significant effort it requires to read... Let alone actually climb.