May 10th, 2011

Truth and Tradition (1)

Recently Paul Krugman wrote a NYT editorial called "the unwisdom of elites."  Though the article was about our economic problems. i could not get my mind away from the title itself  and how all elites are relatively foolish, substituting power for knowledge and thus misjudging not only their own capacities but the capacities of those they regard as the masses.

For a long time i wondered about the disconnect between myself and people who i thought were guiding me or traveling with me in a spiritual path.  Suddenly they will say something which they believe is authoritative, it almost always ends up being something that cannot be easily shared with the "masses."  Those who keep to the way, who are enlightened, are an elite, while the multitudes are foolish and mock truth or are unable to comprehend it.  When they begin to complain about the unenlightened ones they sound like people who have never heard of the Tao, or the eightfold path, or the sermon on the mount.  I have newly discovered a movement called Traditionalism which argues that the founders of the great religions (and maybe some of the little religions) were chosen by God to bring us an absolute truth which can be denied only at our peril.  No thought here of "killing the Buddha in the road."

I am now rereading the tale of "The Grand Inquisitor" from Fyodor Dosteyevski's The Brothers Karamazov.   Jesus, who is unnamed but we all know who he is, appears for a moment in early 16th century Seville during a mass burning of heretics.  He came as he had come to Galilee in the first century, healing and loving.  He is taken into custody on orders from the cardinal who visits his cell in the dead of night and delivers an eight page lecture/soliloquoy on the theme of the temptation in the wilderness.  Jesus offered freedom instead of bread, power, mystery and miracle, thus leaving one hell of a mess for Church authorities to clean up.  People can't use freedom, they can't stand it and they will create chaos in an effort fo find something to worship and make everyone else worship it also.  The thing that struck most powerfully on this reading was the cardinal's contempt for the average human being, his low opinion of our ability to think for ourselves or use freedom wisely.  Finally, Jesus, after listening attentively, kisses the old man on the lips and vanishes.

I give Dostoyevsky credit for creating this story, for he was a devout Christian and very much a "traditionalist."  The Grand Inquisitor's thoughts were his thoughts.  Yet we clearly have division here: Satan, the Grand Inquisitor, and Dostoyevsky on one side, Jesus and the common people on the other,  For Dostoyevsky also did not trust people to run their own lives.

We have learned in recent years that masters had no knowledge of their slaves while the enslaved person had very great insight into the being of his master and his master's class.  The powerful do not need knowledge, but the oppressed require knowledge to survive; and more than knowledge, wisdom is required for the survival of the weak.