Only God Can Patronise
The Unhappy Man: Guiding Axiom #2
Only God can patronise
The following is the second guiding axiom for this newsletter, The Unhappy Man. It’s one of many that I hope to share in the upcoming weeks. As I’m writing these, it’s dawned on me that these aren’t a mere helm solely for writing, but rather, I seem to be setting up a framework for all of my creative life itself. So thank you for letting me be self-indulgent in this manner.
I feel a deep love for Jesus Christ; if there’s anyone that dares to call himself God incarnate, it ought to be Christ. But he also exasperates me by saying things like,
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
I can only imagine the overweening gall and hubris one has to make such supercilious proclamations. If anyone else made such demands of me, I’d tell them to go take a hike! And that’s me being polite to keep this newsletter decent. Most contemporary theologians tend to assuage Christianity and present a tepid, mellowed-down version of it for a more emasculated audience. But Jesus meant what he explicitly stated, and there’s no getting around it with hermeneutical trickery. In that sense, I’m a Christian, not for its reasonableness. But instead for its sheer radicalism and scandalous unreasonableness. Perhaps it’s the audacity for Jesus to casually patronise the masses that truly makes him God incarnate—I doubt even the most egomaniacal narcissist thinks of themselves as humanity’s saviour.
I am not anyone’s saviour (thank God for that! The burden of such a responsibility would be too unbearable). I’m happy to leave that with Christ. Therefore I will not patronise and talk down to anyone—presumably, only the son of God can do that. So I won’t mollycoddle the reader with superfluous caveats and footnotes: if what I write isn’t clear, then it’s either my fault for being an inept writer, and I need to improve my craft, or you need to educate yourself and learn to wrestle with a given piece to extract its meaning. I suspect that the former will be the case most of the time. Besides, reading should not be treated as a leisurely activity one engages in to pass one’s time!
My point’s that the commitment toward lucidity lies within both parties. If we repudiate this responsibility with our inability to “struggle” with a piece of creation anymore, artistic, philosophical or otherwise, we’re forever trapped in the banality of modern life. Perhaps it’s similar to what David Foster Wallace observed about popular entertainment, which has capitulated to our lust for immediacy and constant sensuousness. Crassly put, for us post-industrial modernists, art has no qualitative value over yet another commercial action flick, fast food or pornography—is this the postmodern curse? So modern art has to be “dumbed down” to attract the masses. Nothing is more patronising and insulting to the human spirit than this; it’s not egalitarianism but a peculiar form of aristocratic bigotry. For Wallace, the arts—especially literature—can bring unspeakable depth and meaning to our lives. But it requires toil; it should never be treated as a distraction but rather as something that accentuates and reveals all of life itself. And this is what should be taught in schools! For instance, I thought eminent artists and philosophers intentionally obfuscated their work for pretentiousness and elitism. While there certainly are cases where this is true (vanity takes many forms), the more I’ve laboured at reading and immersing myself in art and philosophy, I’ve concluded that it’s mostly my ignorance and complacency; it rarely was the piece of work but my indolent unwillingness to persevere through.
In that spirit, I will not treat any of my readers as lost sheep in need of a good sagacious shepherd. Besides, apart from the reasons mentioned above, it’s also because I must admit, in all candour, I’m starting this newsletter primarily for a selfish reason: it’s a forum for me, above everyone else, to seek truth; if such a thing exists and is even knowable to us. Then you may ask why I share my writings publicly? Partially it’s for criticism and feedback so that I can update my perspectives; a contrived form of collective cognition and decision-making, so to speak (it may be pomp and vanity, too). But predominantly because I profoundly resonate with an adage apocryphally attributed to Carl R. Rogers, “What is most personal is most universal.” I think the essence of this sentiment echoes that unforgettable line from Schindler’s List (taken from the Talmud), “He Who Saves One Life Saves the World Entire.” Of course, I’m not—at least consciously—in the world-saving business, but it rings true that the individual struggle is the human struggle; the individual questions are instantiations of the seeking human heart; for one to suffer is for many to suffer and to love another is to love humanity in entire. Perhaps, God had no other option than to create us in his own image, as that’s what being human ontologically means? We’re a locus of divine paradoxes, or as Dostoevsky wrote, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” If we weren’t created in his image, then we wouldn’t be human beings but some other thing. Such claims can never be proven intellectually but only be made realised to one through life alone.
You may never entirely comprehend what it feels like when I say I’m in pain or agony, nor can you ever take my place and feel it for me, but you still know what I mean when I say I’m hurting. While we undoubtedly have our subjective individual experience that can never be generalised and represented as a mere categorical abstraction that, to my great annoyance, modern psychology tends to do, we also have a trans-subjective common human experience. And writing, with the exception of music, I find is the most beautiful way of tapping into our shared realm.