Updated: Aug 29, 2020
"There is no such thing as pessimistic art. Art affirms. Job affirms."
- Nietzsche, The Will to Power
I think what bothers me the most about how the Book of Job is read is how it is used to promote an ideology that glorifies and deifies stagnation and the status quo. In fact, I would argue this is an increasing theme of religious movements in modern day. It’s not just in traditional churches, with the tacit implication in their theology that the way things are, or the way things were decades or centuries ago, are the way God wants them to be – an implication that culminates in an obsession with the end of the world. It also happens in hip, new, often Orientalized “spiritual” movements. For instance, modern mindfulness practices (based on Vipassana Buddhist meditations) have gotten very popular in white-collar work cultures. There are an abundance of apps and books dedicated to how modern mindfulness can alleviate stress and maintain focus. The famous historian, Yuvah Noah Harari, told a podcast that he meditates around 2 hours a day to maintain concentration in his studies. Most mindfulness advocates insist on being above ideology and that their method is a simple tool for making people more aware of the positive in their life by simply focusing on their breath. What’s hidden is how their portrayal of inner peace is often self-centered to the point of ignoring larger institutions at play.
It gives managers the perfect outlet to say, or imply, “if you’re stressed, it’s not because the company overworks you, but because you don’t practice mindfulness enough.” Ronald Purser, author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, argued “[m]indfulness training has wide appeal because it has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo, and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals” (Loy). By insisting that peace and happiness are entirely within your hands regardless of outside circumstance (a position even the Buddha didn't take), you are prevented from asking larger and bigger questions about oppressive circumstances. You can, furthermore, become blind you to your own privileges or cause you to trivialize them.
I think part of what draws young people to this idea is that it reignites the same positivity or feel-good junk that Americans have been fed since at least the 1980s. The kind that believes in you, that guarantees bountiful success for all deserving people and says, “the meaning of life is be a good worker and look for your own self-actualization. Failing that, to content yourself to indulge inoffensive, consumerist hedonism.” By shifting the focus from success in business to internal peace, mindfulness practices keep the docile optimism alive, I think unwittingly.
That is, it serves as an alternative on the surface level alone. The cracks in neoliberalism were always apparent, but with the 2008 financial crisis, the false promises were laid bare. Another hollow promise for a better future if we just keep at it (or just stay out of the way) is no longer going to cut it. Defeatism that says there is not alternative to neoliberalism is the true name of the game that they don’t tell you about. The truth is there is no alternative available no matter how bad things get. There never was – the oceans will rise with the debts. The heroic triumph of the individual is to be like Job and suffer the crucifixion by focusing on your breath while quietly managing your own insufficiencies. Though it’s never stated, the greatest good therefore comes from compliance.
Of course, some argue that modern secular mindfulness (espoused by people like Sam Harris) is an appropriated mindfulness deprived of its rich ethical background in its Buddhist foundations. They are absolutely correct in this assessment, but it nonetheless illustrates an overarching movement in modern religion in which religion is used to justify and spiritualize the status quo.
I am not proposing that we return our religious understanding to its strict, traditionalist roots. I am rather asking to remove it from its complacence to connect it once again to its liberating and revolutionary roots. Let’s not forget how essential religious institutions were to the abolitionist movement and the Civil Rights movement in America. For its part, far from being a religion of passivity, it was Buddhism which is said to have transformed Ashoka the Great from a mass conqueror and slaughterer to an administrator of peace.
Part of this complacence is hidden the sort of rivalry happening between the “traditional” camp of modern Christianity - the kind that insists on the immortality of values that are about decades (though they will insist centuries) old - and the “modern” camp of Christianity which looks to take these “traditional” types into the modern world kicking and screaming. Obviously, I’m speaking broadly (as though I were informed enough to speak of it in any other way).
As with most passionate rivalries, like between Democrats and Republicans or Modern Corporate Capitalism and Soviet-style Communism, there’s far more on which these camps agree than disagree.
For instance, both of their insistence on cleanliness, just in their own way. The traditional Christian leaders have been at the forefront of bemoaning “violence in movies and sex on t.v.,” and the modern Christian is still doing PR work over that whole mess where God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his own son.
My question to both camps is: Why? It is religion’s unabashed familiarity with the wretched and the obscene, its ability to seamlessly and chemically tie the grotesque with the holy, the deplorable with the divine, the repulsive with the sacred, just as Christianity ties despair to salvation (signified through the Crucifix), that largely makes religion so effective. This knot is something for which the righteous atheist, despite her less blemished record than the believer as I argued in the last post, has yet to compete or compensate. Probably my favorite line from Jung is, “the reason modern man doesn’t see God is because he won’t look low enough.” There’s powerful reason that the Gothic horror genre begins at the Gothic cathedral in the modern imagination. That the House of God is the House of Horrors.
Take Christian films for example, typically low-budget stories about people going through a difficult time in their life who either convert to Christianity accordingly or who are maintained through struggles by their explicit faith. I’m sure fans of these movies find them compelling, but people who do not share their worldview find their portrayals unconvincing (and their regularly demeaning portrayals of nonbelievers insulting). Christians miss out on so much by not realizing that the most powerful Christian movie of all time is the 1973 horror-masterpiece, The Exorcist. Fittingly released on December 26, the day after Christmas
No, seriously. Carl Jung said it was not in glory but “in filth it will be uncovered.” “It” being a transcendent view of the world. The story of The Exorcist is the story of a priest, Father Damien Karras, who, living in a hyper-secular world in the face of the death of his mother and the tragic life she lived as a Greek immigrant in America, has lost his faith in God. It is in confronting the greatest and most repulsive evil that he can even imagine that he rediscovers that faith. Not by professing belief “with his lips,” but by embodying Christ by making the ultimate sacrifice for a stranger. Christian does not mean believer in Christ, but like Christ.
This theme, while very present in the movie, is made more explicit in the book. Father Merrin, who’s more of a gentle, wise sage in the book rather than the strict authoritarian in the movie, confesses to Father Karras that he has secretly suffered from the sin of pride his entire life. A superiority complex with his peers and what he perceived to be the ignorant masses. He explains that, after praying about it, he discovered that, rather than powerlessly forcing himself to think otherwise, he should simply act in the upmost humility and a humble worldview would follow. Similarly, Karras does not profess faith, but acts it out to achieve great good in the face of great evil.
What a profound yet simple religious idea. And yet conservative Christians somehow hate this film! To be fair, the Catholic Church gave it a stamp of approval. Also to be fair, the film is a little outdated for some. It’s a pretty 50/50 hit nowadays on whether someone will find it scary or funny, though I’m still terrified by it myself. But no, I think the problem is not the graphics but, again, the cultural obsession with cleanliness. Making the idea of religion as unmessy as possible. Which seems weird to me coming from a religion founded on a human sacrifice and deicide.
The question for most readers, I assume, is: why does this even matter? Isn’t religion a private matter and isn’t it well documented that people very easily navigate contradictions in their personal beliefs and public obligations?
That’s a fair question, but one, I think, rooted in the dismissive attitude of the Enlightenment era passed down to modern day. Yet despite the rise of secularism, which was supposed to free us from the stagnating traditions of religion, possibly the most persistent problem we see in modern society is the problem of stagnation. Avant-garde art is dead and music which used to define each era in a unique way has stopped innovating. Our political theories have not been able to keep up with new developments in technology and culture, and our technology serves to enforce and reinforce the status quo accordingly. Naturally, not many people notice this phenomenon happening in religion since, like I said before, religion is usually assumed a stagnate force. Either as a relic from a superstitious past or a preservation of ma’s and pa’s traditions for good or ill. But I would argue its relationship with its time and place has always been more complicated.
Most people know about Martin Luther’s Reformation where he founded the Protestant movement. During the Diet of Worms, he was held for trial for writing against a religious authority that called itself Universal and therefore final. When asked to recant his writing he refused, saying, “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason…I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honorable to act against conscience.” This radical independence of thought. A radical independence that was rare even among the protestant founders that came after Luther. It is not king nor institution, even one claiming the authority of God, but my relationship with my conscience and faith, founded on rigorous inquiry, that will determine my actions and values. It’s a stretch to notice but not a surprise to learn that the majority of the early Existentialists, Carl Jung, and the three most impactful philosophers of the 19th century, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche, all came from richly Lutheran backgrounds.
But Christianity was a source of reform and revolution long, long before the Reformation. The late Sheldon Wolin, in Politics & Vision, talks about how political theory and action had died out from the common citizen shortly after the death of Aristotle in the rise of Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. Wolin says:
"The troubled centuries that followed the establishment of imperial monarchy at Rome found the tradition of Western political thought at its most impoverished. There had been failure all along the line: failure to face the implications of concentrated power, failure to indicate ways and means for recapturing a sense of participating membership, and failure to preserve the distinctive integrity of political knowledge" (Wolin, 86).
The citizen was disenfranchised and disempowered accordingly. Without the guidance of a coherent political theory, “the proud tradition of philosophy was reduced to a groveling helplessness; nothing remained except for Seneca to beseech [Emperor] Nero to temper his absolutism with mercy (clementia)” (Wolin, 84). It was Christianity and its conglomeration of communities that picked up where Plato and Aristotle left off by filling the void and reintroducing political theory in Western society.
Christianity’s social dimensions were also revolutionary for their time. An ancient Greek commentator named Celsus, between about 100 and 200 CE, tried to undermine Christianity by saying it encouraged a loss of reverence for tradition, that it was unpatriotic and undermined military service, and that it lacked cohesion because of its lack of temples and sacred ceremonies (supposedly writing before the invention of churches as buildings).
Origen, one of the first Greek Christian apologists, refuted Celsus in his famous manuscript, Contra Celsum, by pointing out that some traditions, especially inhumane and dehumanizing ones, should be lost over time. He also said loyalty to a higher being and cause, which can potentially create peace for all mankind, is more powerful than loyalty to earthly militaries – which he argued were exploitative and perpetuated war, and that the lack of infrastructure and ritual in Christianity served to illustrate the richness of a Christian soul by itself which had no need of buildings or ceremonies. Needless to say, future authorities of the Catholic Church were not pleased with Origen.
Celsus also attacked Christianity by associating it with the most vulnerable and what he deemed least becoming of society, namely women, children, slaves, the sick, and the sinful who’ve lost favor with society. Origen retorted, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Yes and that’s the beauty of it!”
On an ideological level, Nietzsche would interpret this transition, in Genealogy of Morals, as a transition from a Master morality of the ancient pagan societies (valuing the strong and powerful like Achilles and Caesar) to the Slave morality of Christianity (valuing impotence and obedience as virtues), rejecting both values himself. And yet Jung and his protégé, Neuman, argued in Jacob and Esau how this transition, far from valuing a state of pathetic compliance and defeatism, was incorporating the Judaic value of prioritizing introverted strength (different from Myers-Briggs’ definition) in a world that naturally prioritizes extroverted strength.
However, this power of transformation and revolution has been gradually seeped from religion until it now serves no greater purpose than to affirm and sanctify the social status quo whenever it’s not stupidly yearning for some bygone era. Sometimes through aggressively dogmatic orthodoxy, other times through feel-good sermons with a keen interest on self-help but, more interestingly, very often in elaborate displays of sophistication. Nowhere do I think this is better illustrated than by the rise in popularity of Canadian, self-described Jungian, clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson. Most famous for peddling in Jungian psychology to make practical life lessons and his self-help material (Twelve Rules for Life, clean your room, etc.). Affectionately called Lobster Daddy by YouTube star and philosophy nerd, ContraPoints.
I think it’s worth paying attention to Peterson because he has a seemingly compelling philosophy that’s drawing a lot of people, but once you dig through all the layers, it goes back to the same problem I’m talking about of deifying the status quo. In his reading of the Book of Job, Job’s story once again reinforces the status quo rather than opening gateways to possibilities. To Peterson’s credit, he doesn’t fall for the usual comforting interpretations: he doesn’t undermine the injustice done to Job for instance. Rather, he takes the position that because there is no true understanding God or his motives in the story, interpretations should hold a laser-focus on Job and asks, what should Job do with the situation as is?
Peterson takes Job as a precursor to Christ (not uncommon) but, interestingly, also as an antithesis to Cain: the son of Adam and Eve, the first humans (or simply the first Israelites depending on your interpretation). He and his brother, Abel, would make sacrifices for God, but God was unsatisfied with Cain’s sacrifices and favored Abel’s. Out of resentment and jealousy, Cain killed Abel, becoming the first murderer.
Most interpretations conveniently assume Cain was initially guilty of not making proper or authentic sacrifices which are pivotal to Yahweh. While Peterson shares this possibility, he also opens the possibility that Cain’s sacrifice, like Job’s, were not wanting. God could have simply been arbitrary. It’s not the sacrifices themselves that separates Job from Cain, but what happens after the sacrifices are made and things simply don’t work out. We know that life’s unfair. Cain acts out in resentment to this treason, Job doesn’t. That’s why Cain is the adversary to Job’s hero.
What’s essential here is the notion of sacrifice. The idea is that you make a sacrifice to a divine entity (whether a monotheistic god or a polytheistic god or some kind of pantheistic entity) and, in return, the deity will submit blessings upon you. However, ancient people understood an arbitrary element to this deity. The deity at a given time might not favor you despite every sacrifice you make. Many psychoanalysts believe that this mindset sort of transferred over to our current capitalist mindset that you make a sacrifice to society (your time and your comfort, etc.) to cultivate skills and take the right risks and the capitalist system will reward you for your commitment. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is the Hand of God. It giveth and it taketh away. The reason this mindset makes so much sense to us is because we’ve been cultivating it for eons.
Adding to the capricious nature of the divine, some people (like Heracles and King David) will be favored by the divine for no apparent reason other than maybe above-average talent while other people like Cain and Job will not be, again for arbitrary reasons (which God makes clear in the book of Job) (Job 2:3). The nature of sacrifice is universal though distinct to ancient mythologies. For one thing, the idea that one’s internal willingness to sacrifice is more important to the Old Testament God, Yahweh, than the actual sacrifice itself – Abraham only has to show willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to receive his reward. A sharp distinction from the ancient Greek’s idea of sacrifice where it is treated as a dispassionate exchange, like a business arrangement; Odysseus is able to fool Poseidon in the Odyssey by distracting him with aromas made from a local sacrifice. Odysseus’s lack of gusto in these sacrifices would not have been tolerated by Yahweh for whom, as he shows in the Book of Job, even so much as the suggestion by a third party that your sacrifice is not sufficiently authentic is enough from him to remove all blessings.
Kierkegaard argues that Abraham is the most significant character of the Old Testament because his sacrifice is internally authentic on a supreme level beyond explanation (what Kierkegaard called Faith) while Odysseus is the hero of one of the greatest epic poems of all time because his sacrifices are cunning. He never makes a sacrifice – when dealing with a deity or a circumstance - without cleverly getting something better in exchange or finding a way to minimize the costs (which is why he is the quintessential hero of the modern bourgeoisie according to Adorno and Horkheimer). One of Jung’s observations about ancient mythologies is that, as they grow more advanced over time, the drama is less extroverted and more introverted. That is, they are less externally driven and more internally driven. Thus, both Odin sacrificing himself on the tree, Yggdrasill, to obtain wisdom and Christ sacrificing himself on a cross to obtain salvation for humanity is the story of a god sacrificing himself to himself. In almost every story, ancient or modern, the hero’s quest for wisdom, enlightenment, prosperity, or peace is, in one way or the other, ultimately about navigating sacrifices.
The split between the ancient people who thought along these terms and the “modern man” who is too sophisticated and scientific to believe these things was not clean. Either through culture passed down through time or psyche or both, quintessential motifs present in our mythologies are very much alive in modern day.
In short, Job maintains a level of relatability to modern reader in the fact that he sacrificed a great deal to live a good life according to his God’s creed (and made literal sacrifices to God according to Job 1:5) and yet counterintuitively lived a tragic life nonetheless. According to Peterson, he accepts his fate because even if consequences are inconsistent, a life with a flawed authoritarian God is better than the nihilism that comes without. From what I can tell, Peterson embodies this chaotic nihilism in the Leviathan on which God elaborates extensively in Job.
It therefore falls on the heroic shoulders of Job to not only tolerate his oppression but to adore and appreciate it if for no other reason than as a barrier to the Leviathan. Peterson sums up his compliance-as-righteous philosophy in an impassioned speech on YouTube titled, “Life is suffering, so get your act together!” where he says
"I’m stunned every day that I go outside and it isn’t a riot with everything burning. Really! God! You talk to people…I knew this guy, he’d been in a motorcycle accident and it really ruined him and he was like a linesman, you know? Working on the power and he was working with someone who had Parkinson’s disease and they had complementary inadequacies. And so two of them could do the job of one person. And so they’re out there fixing power lines in the freezing cold despite the fact that one was three-quarters wrecked with the motorcycle accident and the other had Parkinson’s…it’s like…that’s how our civilization works. There’re all these ruined people they’ve got problems like you can’t believe. Off they go to work and do things they don’t even like and look: the lights are on. My God it’s unbelievable. It’s a miracle" (Peterson, 2017).
This is a very easy mistake to make, but it’s a shocking one from Peterson given his professed admiration for Enlightenment philosophy: He’s confused the suffering caused by nature or happenstance with suffering caused by individual malevolence and systemic societal choices. The motorcycle accident, for all we know, was no one’s fault in particular and could have happened to anyone. Otherwise there are specific individuals who can and should be held accountable if society is to call itself just. I think Peterson and I would agree. Similarly, who’s to be held accountable for the suffering of the man with Parkinson’s? He has been blighted by nature and only God knows why. What could these men, in their right mind, possibly hope to avenge on society at large? While there’s no doubt these gentlemen handle their tribulations admirably, their injustice is not the same as systemic ones caused by social choices from America's viciously unjust mass incarceration, discrimination against LGBTQ+, or the US’s criminal healthcare policies for instance.
To sum up what I said before, Peterson is not the disease but a symptom. From what I can tell, it’s not much better with the more “progressive” religious commentators who all too often fall into the Gospel of Complacent Consumption. Whether it’s the grim Peterson, the shamelessly atomizing Gospel of Wealth folks, or the soft hedonism of the secular Buddhist, it’s the same crap. To let religion keep you complacent or subservient. To either be infinitely pleased with the present, like the mindfulness guru, or yearning for the past; to borrow a phrase from Captain Jean Luc Picard, to return “humanity to its infancy,” like the fundamentalist. Let me be clear, I’m not belittling people who practice these things, I’m simply arguing that the healing waters should serve greater purposes than that of the Romans. How did this get to be so small? To be so unimaginative?
I said in my last post that the Book of Job is a difficult book to interpret…and Peterson got so close. But far from being a hero of complacence, Job is a triumphant rebel. He demonstrates an ability to simultaneously express rebellion AND harmony with a cosmic being of reality without sacrificing one for the other in a manner that masterfully outdoes even Odysseus in his relationship with Poseidon.
The mistake people most consistently make with the Book of Job is they begin and end their analysis of Job at Job’s character and forget the other most important character. As Jung writes in Answer to Job, “[God’s] thunderings at Job so completely miss the point that one cannot help but see how much he is occupied with himself” (Jung, para. 587). He goes on to say, “he had done everything possible to drive his faithful servant to disloyalty, even to the extent of perpetrating a whole series of crimes. Yet it is not remorse and certainly not moral horror that rises to his consciousness, but an obscure intimation of something that questions his omnipotence” (587). When interpreting biblical texts, Jung takes a radical reading, which most religiously inclined people are unwilling to follow, that God is a dynamic, complex character who is deeply intimate but well aware of his paradoxes and therefore capable of nuance. And if this world really is made by a God, could it really have been made by any other kind? There’s a fear that this realization diminishes the character, but in actuality quite the opposite. In comparing Yahweh to, say, Zeus, Jung says, “Father Zeus is certainly a figure but not a personality. Yahweh, on the other hand, was interested in man. Human beings were a matter of first-rate importance to him. He needed them as they needed him, urgently and personally. Zeus too could throw thunderbolts about, but only at hopelessly disorderly individuals. Against mankind as a whole he had no objections—but then they did not interest him all that much” (568).
The 19th century Christian apologist, GK Chesterton, wrote a wonderful analysis with a much more sympathetic yet equally complex view of God in Introduction to the Book of Job where he says,
When God goes on his final tirade toward Job, far from overwhelming Job with his qualifications as is typically understood, or intimidating Job into submission, as Jung argues, it is as though God were saying, “you say your life is bad, but why are you so surprised? Have you seen this mess we call Creation? Look at the Behemoth. Look at the Leviathan. This is nonsense.” Chesterton explains, “Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, He insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.” And in this lens, Job’s sense of peace and equanimity at the end isn’t so mysterious. For one thing, God has vindicated Job. There is no rhyme or reason or effable divine structure as his friends suggest. Sometimes God intervenes for good with a divine plan, sometimes he doesn’t. Job has every right to be upset (which God rightfully makes known with a vengeance when he berates his friends).
Furthermore, it would be wrong to suggest there is innate justice in the universe, Kant said even a rudimentary overview of the world proves as much. For that to be true would be God giving away the answer and, as Chesterton notes, “The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” Gotthold Lessing, living in the Enlightenment and the birth of the Scientific Revolution understood this significance:
“The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud—
If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand” (Lessing).
Nietzsche refers to this insight in his first major essay, Birth of Tragedy, and it’s this line of reasoning that he would later use to develop his philosophy of amor fati or “the love of fate.” Not out of resigned pessimism that life is secretly wonderful or some inane insistence to be at peace and content with the universe, but a sincere appreciation for the seemingly arbitrary nature of life, even the suffering. Almost all philosophies, even the most seemingly life-affirming ones, necessitate that life must be justified in some way. That either there will be some kind of enlightenment in the future where all is explained and justified, advocated in some sects of Christianity and Buddhism, or that the world will ultimately progress in such a way that the bliss that comes from it will make the suffering that came before worthwhile, advocated by sects of progressivism, neoliberal capitalism, and Marxism. Yet Nietzsche took the position that life, for all its cruelty, should not be held on trial for its immense and outrageous suffering. One could argue that Yahweh is not explicitly arguing such a position, but beckoning Job and the reader to take it. When reading Nietzsche, it often seems that the man who understood Christianity the best was the man who called himself the Antichrist.
Nonetheless, what God did, by any consideration, was wrong. It’s painfully obvious how morally wrong it is to allow Satan to torment an innocent man “to win a bet,” as South Park put it. It’s for this reason that far from a mere commentator, victim, and spectator, as Chesterton would have him, Job is also a hero. As philosopher, Catherine Malabou pointed out in What Should We Do with Our Brain, there is pressure to associate being moral with being “flexible,” to be docile and rationalize adapting to what is expected of us no matter how tyrannical or unjust. But Job was not flexible. By refusing to be flexible, as his friends would have him, he has examined the obvious and forced the powers that be (in this case Yahweh) into a position of self awareness. But this only happens if Job has made the right sacrifices.
It’s why Cain can’t be Job's equal as Peterson would have him. Cain’s sacrifices was insufficient for reasons we don’t know but they were insufficient nonetheless or else God would not have condemned him. He would have relented as he did with Job. But what makes Job the hero of the story is not only the purity of his sacrifice but that he refused to cave into the pressures of his friends and wife who, I can only assume, loved and cared for him. Not only did he hold his own to the hegemonic ideology that assumes his guilt but to his friends’ insistence that he not struggle with a force as inevitable as God.
By refusing to be flexible Job has examined the obvious and not only observed a contradiction but forced God into a situation where he must recognize it. “Job,” Jung says, “by his insistence of bringing his case before God, even without hope of a hearing, had stood his ground and thus created the very obstacle that forced God to reveal his true nature” (Jung, para 584). Either God can be a God of love, justice, and mercy, or he can be a God who, by his own admission, tortured Job for “no good reason” (Job 2:3). He cannot be both. For the first time, Yahweh is put in a position of self-reflection and even subjectivity. Jung goes even further to say that God has reached a state of consciousness for the first time, something for which he had no need up to this point given his omnipotence and omniscience.
The story of both Judaism and Christianity become, therefore, beautiful stories of reconciliation between God and humanity. Two fallen and incomplete, yet redeemable, entities on their own. But this shift in focus from mere dogmatism to reconciliation only happens because Job, as a precursor to Christ if you like, walked as uprightly as he could, carried his own cross, and spoke the truth in the face of ideology that insisted on its own benevolence and necessity.
Religious thinking enforces the status quo, I think, largely because concern over major social changes that are too big or too grand are well-founded. The last part of Jung’s Answer to Job is Jung’s analysis of Revelations which he believes to be one potentially dark path of the revolution of Christ in the human psyche. But not taking the risk of change is not to avoid calamity but to certify a different one. “How long can a culture persist without the new? What happens when the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?” (3) Mark Fisher asked pointedly, and later, “A culture that is merely preserved is no culture at all” (3).
Job is heroic because he did not resort to cursing God. That is, he did not allow himself to be diminished by his tragedy. He is even more heroic because he went a step further and held his oppressor accountable in a powerful way. This is a powerful form of resistance for the oppressed, not just in the face of God, but secular institutions.
I have seen an entire generation of young people caving into depression from their lack of ability to meet basic standards of success like paying rent, starting a family, and holding down a job with decent wages and benefits. Not from a lack of willingness or drive. Good God! Just look at how many young people are enthralled and inspired by Peterson’s message to “get yourself together” and “pick up your damn suffering.” Far from the result of poor character, it is the clear conclusion of decades of bad policies that make decent jobs (perpetually if not cyclically) scarce and insecure, dries up the wells of opportunity, and stagnates wages while allowing the cost of living to run amuck without restraint. Nonetheless, conditioned to see circumstance as a natural proof of guilt in a society of supposedly endless opportunity, similar to how Job’s friends perceived him, these young Americans have nowhere to displace their disappointment except at themselves. An entire generation writhing in self-resentment and the suicide rates to show for it. Job’s capacity to simultaneously carry himself to the highest possible standard that he could and then using that moral courage to reveal injustice for what it is serves as example in our times. But be warned, possessed by a hegemonic ideology that expresses itself as self-righteous moralism, there are many who will hold those who follow Job’s example in contempt. Even loved ones may try to portray them in the least becoming terms possible as did Job’s friends (there’s a reason depression is as demonized, trivialized, individualized, and overly medicalized as it is). At least the young Jobs will no longer hold themselves in self resentment.
The greatest threat to the religious movements of the status quo is that they will ultimately succeed. There’s no better way to mutilate spiritual existence than to deprive it of revolution, revelation, and miracles – the pathway to possibility. That is to confine the angels of the cosmos to the head of a needle. “What is religion in the good sense?” mused Max Horkheimer, “The not-yet-strangled impulse that insists that reality should be otherwise, that the spell will be broken and turn toward the right direction. Where life points this way in every gesture, there is religion” (Horkheimer).
In the night before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, long life and longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go on to the mountaintop. I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promise Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promise Land.”
King’s power was Moses’: the power of Vision. To see the Promised Land, the soil of which they knew they would never walk. For the love of God! This should not be lost.
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https://www.chesterton.org/introduction-to-job/. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Fisher M. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative ? Winchester, UK: Zero Books; 2010.
Horkheimer M. Gesammelte Schriften. Fisher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991.
Jung CG, Shamdasani S. Answer to Job. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2011.
Lessing GE. Anti-Goeze: D. i. Nothgedrungener Beyträge Zu Den Freywilligen Beyträgen Des Hrn. Past. Goeze. Braunschweig: Verlag nicht ermittelbar; 1778.
Malabou C. What Should We Do with Our Brain? New York: Fordham University Press; 2008.
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