Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Greatest Sin

I was recently discussing The Inferno with friends and found we knew not the third traitor in the Beast's jaws. We remembered Judas, Brutus and I have decided the third: myself. I am the great betrayer, the actor in bad faith, the unknower of self. Understand, I've never studied the Divine Comedy beyond checking Wikipedia just now and playing the Dante's Inferno demo (a lackluster game, at best, a misogynistic gorno at worst). I'm just trying to make some sense of me with this limited understanding of the work.
The nature of identity is the nature of leading a just life, and it is in this I have failed and find myself both deserving and redeemed from the Jaws. While the greatest commandment is, "to love the Lord your God... and your neighbor as yourself," to paraphrase, this is not the definer of what sin is. I have sinned by not knowing who I am and that is the germ, the spark, that causes me to hurt others. I cannot love my God and other people fully because I act in what the existentialists call "bad faith".

“I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me.”
-Hunter S. Thompson

Here, Thompson operates on what I think of as a sort of "worst faith". In my understanding of existentialism, one works on bad faith by refusing to acknowledge he or she is acting outside of their own accordance of right or wrong (for lack of better terms). Thompson is aware of the destructive nature of his lifestyle, but disavows its immorality.

Truth to tell, I like this idea. He knew himself well enough to recognize his shortcomings, and that's a start of self-awareness. The evangelist would consider this an acknowledgment of being a "sinner". Both are all well and good, but there's a level of intentionality lacking. Even fans of Thompson have to agree with me on this, as football season did end, and he lost sight of his purpose. I have done the same by punishing Allison for my own shortcomings, along with her unwillingness to punish me for them.

I will fail in getting the grill going well and proper and snap at her. I will fail in getting directions right and yell at her. I will commit these little failures and commit myself to a depression for them. And, as Lincoln said, "Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Well, my father told me, "Depression is anger without the enthusiasm," and I need to work through both to live with a decent self-awareness.

I realize I need to consider why I'm walking, why the walk is worthwhile. To do this, I have to know myself. I'm reading T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, and have just finished the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim, in which they transform into sundry animals, vegetables and microbes to outwit or outtrample one another. It's the stuff of great literature, and adumbrated Gaiman's battle between Choronzon and Morpheus in the first volume of The Sandman. In the fight between Dream and the demon, the former is trying to win from the latter his helm, in which is his own power. He is trying to win himself. Throughout the battle the two move from form to form, seeking to kill each other by stomping spine and desecrating life. In the end, Choronzon becomes Anti-Life. Dream becomes the one counter to this: Hope. The demon finds no recourse and Lucifer punishes him for his lack of imagination.
Afterward, Lucifer fancies he has the Dream King in his clutches, but is outwitted by the Prince of Stories. Morpheus again invokes hope; what good is Hell without the desire for Heaven? Lucifer, enraged at his impotence, swears vengeance.
Ultimately, there is nothing simpler and more disarming to hatred than this: asserting oneself. Scripture tells us the only unforgivable sin is the one committed against the Holy Spirit, and this is the Spirit in and among us. In fact, it is each of us, if we believe in a personal, loving God in and through Christ. So across the years we can hear Shakespeare's gentle assertion, not a commandment, but a lens through which to read it: "to thine ownself be true". I haven't always held this precept in my heart and mind. I will fail again (and again, ad hoc) in doing so.
In thought, word and deed I have betrayed my friends, family, wife, self and God by denying simple truths: I am not one or the other of any number of dualities (sinner/saint, lover/bigot, artist/sloth), but rather what is born through my actions, actions which take concepts from essence to existence. The great sin to which I have committed myself continually is denying who I am, which, I think, is really what causes my betrayal of others and God more than anything else.
I think of Christ asking his disciples to profess who He is, and it leads me to consider who I am in His light. I think he can tell me what I am (his beloved) and that will tell me who I want to be (someone worthy of belovedness). It seems rather simple, really.
I mean, when I'm faced with my own darkness (of which I have plenty), I can try to crush it underfoot, or deny its validity, but that's fighting me at my own game. I don't think the way of Love (veryily, the Way of Christ) plays the game that way. It makes itself a nettle in a thicket of nettles and allows wickedness to tire itself. Love makes itself hope, which outlasts every enemy, resting quietly at the bottom of the urn after all shadows have spread. Compassion asserts itself as itself and thus receives freedom from Hell.
I will do my level best, and please hold me to this, to better love myself by loving you, because it's worth it to me to act as though Heaven can, should be here on Earth.
"The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just."
-Abraham Lincoln

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