Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On usurping the Creator's knowledge of his creatures


I woke up this morning wanting to make a good Lent. I wanted to get my ashes early, hoping this year to eschew wondering what people who saw me smudged would think to themselves (untidy... holier-than-thou...) but rather meditate on the ancient formula:
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.
But I scotched my chances of getting to early Mass because I was drawn by my compulsion to get on the Internet and satisfy my urges -- any good e-mail? what are people saying about Obama's speech? what snarkiness have I missed since yesterday?

So I hied myself off to my new "sun room" to clear my mind. I love my sun room! It is the most beautiful room in my new house. Although I've been here since May, I only discovered the sun room last month. It had been masking itself as a foyer. Now that it has taken off its mask, I spend hours there, reading and praying and basking in the sun that comes through the beautiful beviled windows.

Now I'm back online again, but this time to produce, not consume. I found this tidbit in Simon Tugwell's book Prayer: Living With God. He is talking about Adam and Eve in the garden:
[The] knowledge which is, at least for the moment, not conceded to man, is divine knowledge. The tempter entices Eve with this very thing: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

And for once he is telling the truth, as God bears out after they have sinned: "Behold the man has become like one of us."

Now this divine knowledge which man usurps is clearly not just information. It is rather one aspect of God's own very being: as St. Thomas teaches us, God's understanding is his own substance, that is to say, he is his own knowledge. His knowledge is creative knowledge, like that of a creative artist.

God knows his creatures in the same kind of way as Charles Dickens knows Mr. Pickwick. It is precisely because Dickens knows him so intimately that Mr. Pickwick comes alive.


So when man helps himself unbidden to the tree of knowledge, it is creative knowledge he seeks to appropriate, he sets himself up as a king or creator in his own right, trying to be God unto himself.


We can see that this is so in our everyday experience.
To say, "Oh yes, I know HIM!" is usually a way of dismissing someone; he is packed up and labelled and stowed away, denied, so far as I am concerned, any further right to change or to grow. [emphasis mine - Rae]

Such "knowledge" is not the humble recognition of somebody else existing in his own right; it is an arrogant and tyrannical "knowledge," dictating to others what they are to be.

I find this a brilliant insight. I have always been repulsed by my own and other people's attempts to clinically analyze other people. It's always struck me as wrong. But I've had it argued that this is something salutary -- it's a way of making sense out of our own reactions to other people. And as long as we aren't slandering the other person -- as long as we are only telling truths about them -- then "it's all good and proper!"

But to trace this back to the original usurping of divine knowledge -- wow!

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