Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Ancient Lions and The Modern Man

11/28/2010

By Tzvi Greenberg

Roman and Germanic Armies Battle

Understanding the past is critical to understanding the present. Attention to history slows the racings of contemporary life. It lends context to confusion and provides the lens which sharpens our perspective.

So let us survey the plains of the past. Let us gather ourselves about the hearth of lore and legend and perhaps be enlightened.

There was a time when every sunrise was the dawning of a fresh terror. The crowing of the rooster was a lament for a day that had not yet begun. It was the age when violence was the language of nature. A time when nation confronted nation with the glint of the sword held high, as the hooves of their armored horses scarred the ground in the exaltation of war.

Despair consumed the hearts of those who surveyed the wealth of tradition as it lay trampled beneath the feet of advancing civilizations.

Yet throughout, men and children whispered beneath the floor boards, their eyes straining over forbidden text as small prayers issued from their trembling lips. And at night, hunched against the cold, ignoring the protest of their stomachs, some of them had the nerve to dream of freedom.

Today, we are the children of ancient endurance. We eat warm meals in brightly lit homes and are free to pursue a livelihood in an environment that poses no threat to our lives. We can enjoy our parks, museums, cafés, and all the allure of culture unhindered.

Basic comfort is not a pursuit; it is a given. Today, true horror is the stuff of film and the business of far away countries. And although misfortune visits everyone from time to time, it does not afflict our country on a large scale.

It appears that we are witnessing the triumph of civilization. Mans turbulent past has given birth to his relatively stable present. We live in a time when different beliefs and religions, once the instigators of conflict, coexist in relative peace and understanding. Leaders of various faiths meet at the lectern as opposed to the battlefield. People have graduated from the duel to the debate, and our liberty and ingenuity have allowed us to capitalize on the error and industry of millennia.

Yet, in the background of our culture some critical alarms are begging to be heard. There is something about our alleged progress that speaks of sinister regression. It warns that amidst the intricacy of our advancement, there might very well be the symptom of a subtle retardation of the psyche.

Let us return to the past and ask a question. What served as the fuel for the ancient extreme take on life and events that gave rise to those ensuing chaotic periods? What mentality supported the epic violence and massacres? Could such capacity for destruction and cruelty be conceived in a vacuum?

There is certainly an explanation and we shall endeavor to bring it forth with an analysis, however briefly, of the relationship of man and his ideas.

On the one hand, there is the “isolated idea” that is, the idea itself, the theory, formula, belief. It is impersonal, and its uses and responsibilities have no bearing on the individual. It exists in the mind as an apple might in the hand, and cannot nourish the person so long as he is holding it.

The second relationship between the individual and his idea is the “personalized idea.” It is the conscious joining of the man and his beliefs, the two separate entities becoming one. This is the consumption of the apple and its ingestion. Man and his thought merged into a single being and the intellectual wall and distance is removed. The idea is allowed access into his perspective, and given the discretion to influence his attitudes and decisions.

In ancient times, man and his ideas were indivisible and indistinguishable. Man did not “practice” religion, he was religious. He was his thoughts and his thoughts were one with him. He was the embodiment of the “personalized idea.”

There is a strong aesthetic appeal to this composite unity, this vibrant picture of the ancient personality.

On the negative side, this ancient beauty only worked for a single person or a single faith and left no room for any contrary opinion. The natural attitude that results from this mentality is, “if I am right then you are wrong, you must join me willingly, by force or be destroyed, for you cannot be saved if you do not believe as I do.” In addition, as a byproduct of this outlook; intellectualism and abstract thought were considered vanities or even heretical, and were often forbidden in any form. Ancient mans’ holistic beauty was also the most fertile environment for his dogmatism and intolerance. It resulted in the death of millions.

Extremism and tolerance cannot coexist, and therefore we must pronounce him a colossal failure.
Contrast this with today where the situation is quite different. We are tolerant and understanding. We can listen to discussions about the validity of faith with total calm. We debate religion and topics that once shook the very foundations of the world with objectivity and personal detachment. We have learned that violence is not the appropriate response to our differences.

Yet what effect has this tolerance exacted on our collective psyche?

It has come at the cost of the “isolated idea.”

Our “open mindedness” and “understanding” has left the inner pillar of human identity fractured. Our reaction to historical intolerance is indiscriminate acceptance. The cosmic embrace of modern man is his very loss of self. Our individual devotion and passion, the very essence of the individual, has been diluted by excessive acceptance of parallel devotions and foreign faiths. In our uniting with others we have divided ourselves.

Our very language betrays this internal division when terms like “family life,” “business life,” and “married life” become commonplace. Whatever happened to just, “life?” We adapt technology to provide endless forms of entertainment and distraction, and we become easy targets for the influence of advertizing which teaches us to want things that we don’t need. And when the tides of distraction dissipate and we reach a fickle moment above the fray, we remain dehydrated of meaning and thirst for answers to unarticulated questions.

Ancient man was at peace with himself and at war with his neighbor. Modern man is at peace with his neighbor and at war with himself.

The result is the stranger that stares back from the mirror.

The solution is balance. We must join the strengths of the past with the strengths of the present and fix them in their appropriate places.

When reflecting on oneself, one must take the “personalized idea” approach. We cannot afford to compromise on truth merely because someone else has a different definition of the term. We must pursue our individual purpose with discipline, focus, and yes, “narrow-mindedness.” It is our ultimate imperative to synchronize ourselves with our service to G-d, and the fulfillment of His commandments. We must strive to reflect our faith and conviction in our thought, speech, and action.

Extremism, that firebrand, does have a place where it does not destroy; in our hearts where it warms our lives and ignites that passion in our eyes. And when channeled only toward the self, endows man with the strength, energy, and beauty that reflect his Creator.

When viewing the world and the opinions of others, one must take the “isolated idea” perspective.

We must respect another’s right to search for truth, purpose, and meaning. It is not our task to respect a different faith, but it is our responsibility to respect another’s right to practice it. For G-d has many children, and who can fathom what he might desire from your neighbor?

It is only G-d who can make ultimate decisions and judgments. The individual can only make a judgment for himself alone. Tolerance and acceptance toward others are not pursuits in their own right, but are the natural byproducts of the understanding of the human condition.

The knowledge is there, the facts have been presented. And now action is the task at hand.

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