In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:1-5
The perfect word. The perfect creation. The perfect artist. The perfect life. Perfection! That’s right, the gods have challenged me to a competition. And, I’ve humbly accepted their challenge. Indeed, I consider it a matter of some worth, as confused as my own insignificant life may be. Yet, wouldn’t you figure; it just had to be a deity that would mount such challenge in the first place. And to me, of all people; as if my opinion mattered one whit, which, as we know, it does not. In any event, the gods have chosen me, an unregenerate disbeliever, to enjoin a competition that they have been engaged in amongst themselves for millennia now. In all likelihood, it was probably the sensed indwelling of deity that gave birth to similar competitions at the very origins of kingship. Our challenge today remains the same, this age-old question about perfection. What is it? Is the quest for perfection the answer to our problems and our prayers, or is it simply a confused tilting at windmills? Worse, could it perhaps be the very floor beneath our current dire predicament?
Of course, those kings of old – sanctioned by, or perhaps incarnations of deity – were perceived as perfect themselves without any confusion on the part of their subjects. At least, that is the image these divine sovereigns sought to project. We can trace such self-conceptions back to the earliest civilizations in Asia and the ancient Near East, the old Egyptian kingdom among them. Just ask the current would-be-king of Egypt, Mohammed Mursi. He surely fancies himself an incarnation of the Sun God, Ra, or perhaps, Ptah, the creator god of that Old Kingdom hierarchy. Oh, of course, how ignorant of me: I should have realized. Mursi must rather see himself as an instantiation of the prophet Mohammed, the divine messenger of Allah. Accordingly, no one should have the right to question Mursi’s decisions, because as divinely ordained, they are perfect in every respect, thus absolutely binding upon all Egyptians. Oh, the majesty! Oh, the horror!
A cautionary note to the American hegemon regarding Egypt and other covert CIA operations in MENA: be careful what battles you wage, you may just get more than you bargained for. It seems as though our ‘Arab Spring’ has turned into a nightmarish Islamic Winter. The Moslem Brotherhood has assumed control of Egypt, and its newly sanctified ruler is taking matters into his own divinely-sanctioned hands. The budding theocrat has decreed that his decisions are not reviewable by any human tribunal, judicial or otherwise. Well, I guess you can imagine how this situation disturbed not merely the Egyptian judges; the Egyptian people as well have again taken to the streets, now without the clandestine support of the American regime.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, how could I forget! Given, this assumed divine right of the king, perfection must have been evident in the very structure of his kingdom as well as the trajectory of his reign. In enforcing his divine will and reaffirming the perfect world-order he sought to maintain, the king was occasionally required to prove his god mightier than the god of the opposing team… err, I mean, an opposing king. In this respect, the king firmly believed that deity resided within his person exclusively; and his subjects believed likewise. In fact, similar presumptions still dwell within our own leaders, their warriors (remember those US soldiers in Afghanistan using “Jesus rifles”), and their wars – holy or otherwise – waged kingdom against kingdom, state against state, nation against nation, believer against infidel, the chosen ones against the barbarians, the perfect race against the imperfectable, the perfect democracy against the commies, or the perfectly righteous against immoral terrorists. In other words, some intuition of divine inherence, sacred calling, or moral rectitude lay at the foundation of each of these defenses of “perfection.” Just bear witness to the 450 Palestinian children injured, and fifty killed, in Gaza this week by a treacherous and sanctimonious Israeli leadership desperate to assert its “divinely-promised” right to a homeland.
Of course, this co-inherence of concepts has a rather long and storied history in the curriculum of the West. As the challenge itself suggests, divinity and perfection seem to go hand in hand in our culture; being perfect, in some respects synonymous with realizing the godliness dwelling within me – becoming god-like. That is, after all, what at-one-ment was all about, reversing the effects of the Fall. In fact, the entire trajectory of the Western curriculum can be understood in one respect as a footnote in the pursuit of perfection and perfectability, justified by a firm belief in the personal possession or indwelling of a divinely-inspired truth. Even the Medieval theological proofs for the existence of a Christian god lay in their perception of a perfect cosmos, or a universe that acts according to precision clockwork. And, whether it is the de facto Judeo-Christian worldview that underlies our drive to global hegemony, or the Islamic terrorist’s conception of a divine struggle or Jihad; both represent a sacred pursuit of perfection as dictated by their respective sacred texts, grounded in the unfailing truth accessible only to the faithful.
So when someone tells me to find the ‘deity within me’ or pursue a path of ‘personal perfection,’ I just cannot help but shudder, and then cringe. Various iterations of these concepts have driven Western civilization and its curriculum since the beginning, some six thousand years ago. Like the alchemists of old – seeking to transform base metals into gold – the project is fraught with misconceptions and inconsistency. First and foremost, the longing for perfection is an illusion – propagated to control the unwashed masses pursuing something that nowhere exists – it is the same fairytale that has led us to the precipice we are rapidly approaching. And I am not here referring to the recently invented “fiscal cliff” alone. That itself is another fairytale, a papier-mâché construction created by sleight of hand charlatans – businessmen and politicians – foisted upon us by a media circus in order to justify the continuing abuse of the citizenry, and the financial shenanigans of our elitist class. Let us bear witness to Lloyd Blankfein’s summary of the CEO Council recommendations to POTUS, proposing that Washington cut spending on the poor and the elderly, while their companies enrich, nay, engorge, themselves on excessive profits, tax loopholes, and public funds which they have looted from the public treasury. And remember, Lloyd told us only recently that he is a messenger of divinity, having found the deity within himself, he is only “doing God’s work” for the people. So much for the pursuit of perfection.
The call to encourage that longing for personal perfection, and find the “deity within you” – these are very subjective, if not delusional suggestions that can only lead to a cacophony of individualized, even solipsistic responses. They are the same encouragements that inspire the jihadist, the crusader, patriotic warrior, the zealot, the over-achieving entrepreneur, the captain of industry, or the lone and lunatic rifleman.
In the modern world, this quest for “perfection of the self” always implies proselytizing for some form of fantastic and wishful thinking – whether through the pulpit, personal charisma, or the marketing appeal of the propaganda from Madison Avenue. In other words, our gods are no longer just old men in the sky propping up our earthly kingdoms; they are now our businessmen, our scientists and our technologists, promising to deliver a perfected life… a future free from illness, from manual labor, and from death. These are remnants of a missionary teleology painting a world that is perfect and glorious beyond conception – where all of the dirtiness of embodied existence, together with the inconveniences of nature have been cleaned-up and sanitized away. As one of our commenters suggested earlier this week in discussing Andy Warhol’s art, perhaps we long to become like machines. In any event, it is the promise of a future if not of this world then certainly in the kingdom to come at the right hand of one of our gods. Amen.