Nietzsche and Sartre in the Garden of Eden

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Nietzsche and Sartre are walking in the Garden of Eden. God tells them: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”

But the serpent said to them: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”

Nietzsche and Sartre end up eating of the fruit because they want to be like gods.

But why did the serpent tell Adam and Eve that they would know what was good and what was evil after eating of the fruit?  After all, didn’t God tell them that eating from a certain tree was evil and that eating from all other plants was good? By all appearances, they already knew what good and bad were.

But before they sinned, they only really knew the good!  They had no experience of what evil or turning away from God was. And the very act of rejecting God’s laws, of rejecting God as lawgiver, puts the person into the seat of being a lawgiver, into godlike status. He who does not serve God serves himself and creates his own personal laws. And a lawgiver presumably knows what good and bad actually are.

Once one turns from God—rejecting His commandments, His inspirations of grace–one has chosen another set of prescriptions for what is right and wrong. One has chosen one’s own prescriptions for right and wrong.

Nietzsche, author of the work Beyond Good and Evil, does not think that he must follow the values that ordinary mortals hold. God is dead to him. Nietzsche is the Superman or Űbermensch who feels he’s entitled to create his own standards for good and evil.

Nietzsche sends out an invitation to others to follow that path.

God does not exist for Sartre either, and therefore, says Sartre, there is no human nature, no ideal template for us to aspire to. We are pure freedom, pure possibility.  He says we are “condemned to be free.” This freedom is not the kind of freedom that has us doing the good in the sense of following the will of God, in the sense that Aquinas would maintain. Sartre’s kind of freedom is a burden because there are no rules, no standards of good and evil. We have to create those as we create our very selves because no God exists to have already done that job for us.

Sartre sends out an invitation to others to follow his path.

In eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve went beyond the boundaries of good and evil given to them by God. Adam and Eve thought that eating the fruit–violating God’s law–was a good thing for them to do. In that act, they created their own notions of what was good and what was evil. And they rejected the nature God had given them, the human nature which was preordained by God to be happy only in doing His will. In rejecting God, they became like gods. For it is the role of a god to designate what is good and what is evil and to create the essence of whatever exists.

But it is not just Adam and Eve and Nietzsche and Sartre who formulate their own moralities, as a god would. It’s not just Nietzsche and Sartre who do not accept divinely ordained constraints on one’s actions and insist on choosing their destinies in complete freedom.  We do it, too, in each and every act of turning from God. When we say no to God, we are telling Him that we see something else as the good. When we say no to God, we reject the essence of our being that He created and substitute our own ideas of what an ideal human being should be.

We have met Nietzsche and Sartre in the Garden—and they are us.

 

Marianne Bovée

 

(image: Elizabeth Keyser, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, http://www.jamesalder.co.uk/)

 

Ash Wednesday Reflection: the Joyful Mysteries

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Ash Wednesday is quite in tune with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, although at first glance it might not be apparent.

Ash Wednesday is about doing God’s will as we start Lent, a process that will take us through to Good Friday with the crucifixion and then to Easter, with the resurrection of Jesus. Ashes–and thinking about how we will return to dust– can help us think about doing God’s will. But so can the Joyful Mysteries.

The first Joyful Mystery is the Annunciation. The angel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Mary responds, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”  This is a statement of receptivity, a statement of assent to God’s will. There is no resistance. Whatever God wants, God gets. Mary is setting the example for us. If God wants us to fast, we fast. If God wants us to go to Mass more frequently, we go to Mass more frequently. If God wants us to pray more, we pray more.  Whatever sort of inspiration we have to give up for Lent  or to do extra for God for Lent–if we say in our hearts, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word,” we are following the Marian spirit, the example of Mary in her complete compliance to the will of God. And that is what we want during Lent: conformity of our will to that of God.

The second Joyful Mystery is the Visitation. Mary has gone out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who, though too old to bear children, nevertheless is now pregnant with John the Baptist, who leaps in Elizabeth’s womb upon seeing Mary. Mary has been told wonderful news by the angel and could just sit around contemplating matters in her heart, keeping it to herself or just sharing it with Joseph. But she doesn’t do that. She does not settle for complacency. She goes out of her way to travel and be in the community. She is oriented toward others. She helps her cousin in her own pregnancy. Mary is a person of service. She serves others in love.  She has said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” and this assent to God’s will has not resulted in an introversion but extroverted efforts to go out and serve. We are all called to service, especially in the Lenten season.  In being responsive to God’s will we are all called to be in community. God’s will and our love for others are not separate: God’s will for us to is to love others.

The third Joyful Mystery is the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus comes after 1) Mary has submitted her will totally to God and 2) Mary serves others in the love of God.  The soul turns to God and then at once turns to others.  It is not a selfish, inwardly focused love. Love by its nature is not consumed with self; love by its nature is given to others. God the infinite power of the universe, deigned to humble Himself to be born among us as a little baby. Such majesty and power demonstrated such humility.

In gratitude, we need to humble ourselves more frequently during Lent in the sacrament of Penance. When we prostrate ourselves before God spiritually, ignoring our pride, we receive His grace–give birth to his grace–in our hearts. Confession is important because we want to prepare our souls to receive Him properly in the Eucharist.  Infinite love poured Himself out to us in the Incarnation and does so again in the Eucharist. We consume Jesus in the Eucharist, and then we, too, allow ourselves to be consumed by others as we serve them. People take up our time; they consume our time, our energies, especially with our Lenten resolutions. With Love making His home in us, we are able to love others.

The fourth Joyful Mystery is the Presentation. Jesus is presented to the temple as the first born.  As is Jewish custom, Joseph and Mary pay the money amount according to Judaic law to “redeem” Jesus, so that they don’t have to hand him over to become a priest instead. However, in the temple, Simeon tells them Jesus is the savior of the world and that a sword (of grief) will pierce Mary’s heart.  Consequently, Mary has knowingly offered her Son, her wonderful child up to God for His purposes.  Jesus is her everything. But she willingly and without hesitation gives Him up. It is a kind of death, as indicated in the imagery of her heart being pierced.

We, too, are called to be ready at any time to give up our most prized possessions, our most fervent loves, to God.  Are we patient when something we have lost or had stolen is gone? Do we still praise God when family and friends pass away? Do we still sing joyfully to God when our abilities sometimes diminish with old age and infirmities creep in? Lent calls us to spiritually present everything before God as an offering to Him.

Finally, in the fifth Joyful Mystery, Jesus is found in the Temple. He’s twelve years old now, and his parents lose track of him on a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. They find him talking to the elders in the Temple; they find Him doing the will of His Father in the Temple. There was no need to worry; He was doing the will of God. This mystery is connected with the fourth mystery, where Mary gives up her Son in the Temple, knowing He is the Messiah. She has already died to self in her completely relinquishing her son at the Presentation; now in finding Jesus in the Temple she is overjoyed, so happy to get Him back. In leaving everything in God’s hands, in God’s will, she dies to self in the fourth mystery and has a resurrection of spirit in the fifth mystery.

In doing God’s will, in following the example of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, we, too, especially during the Lenten season, are called to die to self: only then can we rise with Him. The love of God in us as we do God’s will–with no attachment to our own–gives us a foretaste of our resurrection in heaven.

In sum, Ash Wednesday starts us off with the first Joyful Mystery, in which we resolve to conform our will to that of God, and in the rest of the Joyful Mysteries Mary encourages us to follow Jesus spiritually from his passion, death and then resurrection at Easter.

Marianne Bovée

 

 

(image: from Youtube: Catholic Deliverance Power)