Sunday 10 March 2024

Abraham gets only 60% for "obedience" with respect to sacrificing Isaac; because God Most values "un-obedience"

William Arkle distinguished a way above and out-from the traditional dilemma of obedience versus disobedience to God; by considering the question from the larger perspective of God's creative intention with respect to Men (discussed in the post following this). 

In an letter to Jon Flint* (that I have slightly edited below), William Arkle discusses the Bible episode in Genesis 22; when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Issac - and obeys this instruction; but God intervenes and stops this at the last moment. 

When Abraham "passed" his test over his son's killing, to my mind he only got 60% for obedience. 

If he had said to God "This is not like you, I won't do it", he would have got 100 for unobedience. 

Thus God could foresee problems with the Jewish people

Arkle explains that un-obedience to God arises-from the black and white of disobedience and obedience being in conflict. 

In other words; what God most wanted was not that Abraham would obey, or disobey, a specific instruction that he regarded as coming from God; but that Abraham would instead recognize that the real and proper question was at an altogether larger and more general scale.  

Neither dis-obedience nor obedience was required, but un-obedience. 

What arises from this conflict is unobedience, which is a condition beyond the relatively automatic stages of dis-obedience or obedience, and has become autonomous and calculated and chosen.

Both disobedience and obedience are sub-optimal. 

Arkle suggests that dis-obedience to God can become addictive, leading to a psychotic condition where the disobedient person becomes driven, and almost unable to choose - like a junky. 

I think Arkle partly means that disobedience is usually done for short-term and hedonic reasons, and that an hedonic (immediate-pleasure-seeking) attitude to life carries all the lethal consequences of heroin addiction: its hedonic effectiveness always diminishes; getting pleasure gets to be all-consuming; life, thought, motivation become focused around blindly serving the agent of pleasure. 

Disobedience to authority is therefore self-destructive, like the negativism of a young child who does the opposite of what he is old - something which would rapidly be lethal, unless loving parents were available to step-in. 

But on the other side; while obedience is necessary and good in children; for grown-ups too much obedience can also be harmful; as seen in Abraham obeying an order that (if he truly understood and knew God) he should have realized was incompatible with God's Goodness - hence could not truly have come-from God. 

Arkle comments that "oneness" teachings (so common in New Age spirituality) lead towards oneness becoming a form of "super-obedience", in which the individual is taught to regard himself as "a nothing" - incapable of discernment. 

In other words, with oneness, the individual disappears-into the divine so that "obedience" is utterly impersonal, unchosen, automatic - not so much obeying as annihilating all possibility of anything else, and becoming an unconscious cog in the divine-mechanism.

Thus obedience, taken to the ultimate, tends to an un-Christian (more Hindu or Buddhist) ideal of the goal of consciousness and free will (and being itself) being dissolved-into the immanence of the divine. 

To put it another way; obedience to God should not and cannot be the highest ideal without becoming unChristian or anti-Christian. 

Obedience is only valid within the larger and modifying context of knowing and loving God; and God's ultimate wish for us is that we should transcend obedience to become an un-obedient participant, and eventual collaborator, in God's creative work

*I have reviewed a selection from these letters.

Those Arkle moments... Something I do when threatened by incipient angst-despair

It is more than a decade since I engaged seriously with the work of William Arkle - at first on this blog and the archive blog previously linked, culminating in writing sleeve notes for a CD of his music and an introduction for a new edition of his first book

As usually happens with writers who have made a significant and lasting contribution to my philosophy of life; I have pretty much ceased to re-read entire works by Arkle - but have instead "assimilated" some of his special qualities into my memories; where I can get access to them, and benefit from them, by thinking. 

I have always - since I first heard of Arkle back in 1977 - had an inkling of this potential benefit, as if I sensed it there but just out of sight, around a corner. I needed to spend some time marinating in Arkle's writings (and, to a lesser extent, his pictures) before I "caught" this quality for myself. 

Among Arkle's particular, indeed unique, qualities that I value; is a positive and quietly confident attitude to reality. This has been something that has often lifted me from an oppressive mood of one sort or another - from existential angst about "the human condition", or fear about what might happen, or despair over the direction of the world; or small scale things like confusion over what I ought to be doing or ruminations over "wasting my time". 

Arkle's approach to life - which, according to those who knew him well, he seems personally to have exemplified to a considerable degree, is one that cuts-free-from and rises above such negative broodings, disappointments, and the sense of being trapped by external circumstance. 

Indeed, there are few others who are able to do this for me, and nobody else so strongly - perhaps because Arkle goes beyond the double-negation of palliating life; and sets the whole thing into an eternal adventure of what might be termed deification (or theosis, sanctification, divinization... but with a particular meaning). 

In other words, the idea that the primary purpose of God's creation was to enable each of us who wants this, incrementally to develop towards the same nature and level of God* - so as ultimately to become not only a participant in divine creation (which we already are) but a friend of God, and a co-creator

There aren't many other thinkers or theologies who can inspire me in this very practical and immediate way - and so I continue to value and refer to William Arkle. 

*Arkle's point is that although God is prior to all other Beings, because the primary creator within-whose creation we dwell - this is analogous to the relation of parents with growing children. When a child has fully grown-up, the ideal loving relationship between child and parents should have changed from the authority/ obedience-based relationship of early childhood, to one of harmonious "collaboration" between mature individual persons. That possibility is what Arkle envisages as God's goal in creation - not so much as an end-point, but as a step towards qualitatively greater and ever-expanding creative possibilities.