Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel According To Judas… & Others…

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.

If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.
--Thomas Szasz

I don't want the title of the post to be misleading, so to be clear this post is less about the finding of this early Christian writing than it is about perspective. The key word in the title of this post is "according." Apparently, the long lost gospel of Judas has been recovered. It dates back to early Christian times having been denounced by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon in 180 AD as heretical. In this gospel, (thought to have been written by a group of Gnostic Christians, though the precise author is unknown.

According to Judas he didn't betray Jesus—quite to the contrary, he was the closest disciple to Jesus and his handing Jesus over to be crucified and his subsequent vilification was the ultimate sacrifice and the proof of Judas' closeness to Jesus who vouchsafed secrets of the kingdom to Judas and selected him to bring about the fulfillment of Jesus' death and resurrection.

So, you see, Judas was a hero. According to the gospel of Judas anyway. Yes, helping someone achieve their aims by handing them over to be brutally tortured and killed is good, 'casue… well… that's what friends are for. It is, after all, more important that one's destiny be achieved and you can justify anything—and I mean anything if it helps attain divinely appointed ends.

It's funny how your perception of your actions changes depending upon whether you're the actor or acted upon. Another misunderstood master of virtue (according to him) is Tom DeLay; he has nothing to be sorry for and would do nothing—nothing at all differently. You see, according to DeLay, he's the hero. He was focused on a higher good: the benefits accruing to his party and the best ways to leverage that. Not surprisingly, he too found that any means in the service of that end was inherently noble. According to columnist John Podhoretz: "His words were very telling. "My constituents don't deserve this," he told Fox News yesterday. "They deserve a Republican . . . I'm more interested in growing the Republican majority than my own future."

Yep, another martyr to the cause that Tom DeLay, this in the cause of advancing one's party and if the means get a little grey along the way, well it's all to the good—martyred for the party.

Speaking of martyrs to the cause you can add Zacarias Moussaoui to the list. In his eyes, and I'm sure in the eyes of the other homicidal lunatics who attacked us on 9-11, they too were the good guys. They were heroes—you see, they were all serving that divinely mandated will. We're all just to stupid to understand what God really wants, but they have no such confusion. They all know precisely what God wants, and if you have to betray your best friend, or murder people, or torture some folks, or lie about leaks and policies and conduct your actions clandestinely, or use your office for payback or launder a little money or gerrymander districts or violate your ethics, well, that's all just part of the plan—that's how divine will works.

The common threads there are the insistence on one's own narrative being uniquely centered around one's own self and the perfectly justifiable nature of any course of action, no matter how abhorrent or abusive, because without you—you personally God's plans can't come to fruition. You're really that important—hell, you're a lynchpin—God is screwed without your help!

None of this is surprising. Nobody really believes what they are doing is evil, and especially not the true believer. Three years ago I asked 'what would it take' for partisans to disavow your party leaders. What would it take to disavow Clinton for his venality? What would it take to disavow Bush for his incompetence? What would it take to disavow radicalized Islamists to disavow Moussaoui and the 9-11 highjackers? What's your saturation point, the time at which you decide you've erred? Is there nothing that would make you say 'enough!'

The answer, I now understand, is no. The thing about fanatics and partisans is that their narrative is according to them, and the thing about their supporters is that the agenda is a higher law than any of the land, so virtually anything is justified, with the exception of admitting error. Because divine will and its manifestation can't be wrong, and therefore it's impossible to believe what you're doing is wrong or admit error. No evidence to the contrary can sway that mind because that higher good trumps all else.

Judas Iscariot, Tom DeLay and Zacarias Moussaoui makes strange bedfellows, to be sure, but it is after all a divine bed even if it occasionally resembles a funeral pyre.

My problem with those who obey their 'higher laws' is that it seems to so often necessarily trump actual laws that we live under—the thing that makes society possible. I thought back in 2003 that we would steadfastly prevail as a nation, but I also feared that we could defeat ourselves by becoming them, by justifying any means necessary regardless of the cost to ourselves, our character our principles or what we stand for. It is the enforcing of our own will upon another—the belief that because I believe this, you must too, coupled with the desire and ability to enforce that vision all the while confidently beaming in the knowledge that what you are doing is divine that has made us so resemble what we abhor.

But don't worry—you see: we're the heroes. It's true. It's in the gospel according to US. Hop on board—there's plenty of room on the pyre.

In a world of fragile self-justification, the truth made no one happy.
--Greg Bear

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