In this thirteenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at paradox as an indicator of truth, as the path towards truth. Sometimes the most obvious statements can be misleading, while what on the surface appears to be contradictory, illogical, can turn out to contain the truth. Christianity is a religion of paradox – the Trinity is “three in one”, we must “lose our life in order to find it”, Christ dies and rises again… All of these are examples of seeming paradox. In this video, we look at Christ’s statement that “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30) and how the cycle of physical/spiritual thirst, referred to in the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (John 4), can be broken.
In our modern society, we tend to think of ourselves as highly civilized because we can travel large distances by plane, we have made medical advances – the discovery of penicillin, non-invasive surgery – or we can access information on the Internet, but all these advances are technological, they have nothing to do with the morality of society. In fact, I would question whether we are highly civilized at all. Our modern Western society, the one that has been most successful in spreading its model, is based on two concepts: democracy and economy. Neither of these has to do with what I would consider the two criteria for civilization: love for God, love for neighbour. The first asserts the individual’s claim to property; the second asserts the individual’s right to money (even at the expense of his fellow man or the environment); and both are in direct opposition to the Church, because the Church is not democratic, it is hierarchical, and it is not based on the concept of economy (though ‘economy’ has another sense in the context of the Church, the Eastern Church in particular, which is to bend the rules according to the individual’s needs). The Church is just about the only ‘shop’ you will find where you will receive your ‘goods’ for free – namely, the sacraments of confession and communion, the greatest gifts of them all, because these will lead you into eternal life. The Church does not charge for these, and it is the only place I know not to do so. So our modern society and the model of the Church (love for God, love for your neighbour) are in stark opposition.
The word ‘economy’ itself means the law or management of the household – domestic matters. This is very telling because it focuses on the self (‘domestic’) instead of on the foreign (the other). In fact, the aim of countries in our international community is precisely to defend their own interests. That is the remit of diplomats the world over. What would the world be like if countries set out at the first to defend the other’s interests, if diplomats bent over backwards to improve the lot of foreigners – wouldn’t that change the world enormously?
Unfortunately, this ethos of individual success is drummed into our children from an early age at school, where education is cerebral and success is gauged by exam results, and where, as I have mentioned, we teach our children to start counting from 1, the number that relates to the human ego, I, instead of from 0, the figure that relates to God and would place us on a surer footing.
I would go so far as to say that, for me, the word ‘economy’ is the law of the ego, and we can see the connection in the phonetic pair g-k (the c in ‘economy’ is pronounced k). It is remarkable that in all these years, after all these generations, we have gone no further than to lay claim to what is freely given to us – the products of the earth – to package them (to dress them up) and then to sell them. This is the extent of our moral advancement – not love for God, not love for our neighbour, which is something we may do in our free time. The main occupation of man is to make money, but we should beware because language has something to say about this.
First of all, ECONOMY, apart from being the law of the ego, can be read MONEY & CO. if we jumble the letters. And what about the word MONEY? Well, if we change one mid vowel for another, we will see that MONEY is connected to ENEMY, but more telling perhaps is when we read the word in reverse, using the physical pair (pair of letters that look alike) v-y. Then we get the word VENOM. VENOM is MONEY in reverse, with one small change, and certainly it is a cause of great conflict, great suffering – not just the fear that everyone endures at having to have enough to get by, but also the conflicts that arise in the battles to lay claim to territory so that we can make more of it. Where does this need to lay claim to what has been freely given to us – the land and its products – come from? It comes from the Fall and the placing of the ego before God, the self before the other (who is God). But we are deluding ourselves because in this life everything, from food and air to life itself and meaning, passes through us, in a two-way process whereby we effect a change on the things that pass through us and they effect a change on us. So we are translators, not authors, because things do not begin with us, they do not proceed from us, we are not the source of anything, we are – or we ought to be – simply vehicles of God’s love.
LOVE, as you would expect, is a major word in language. It is connected to OTHER by the phonetic pair l-r, the alphabetical pair t-v, addition of h, and OTHER is connected to the Greek word for ‘God’, THEOS, by the alphabetical pair r-s, so we have:
LOVE – OTHER – THEOS
which is the message of the Christian Gospel: love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself. This should come as no surprise because Christ is the Word, so it is normal that language should confirm what he is saying.
But LOVE is also connected to MONEY by the succession of letters in the alphabet l-m-n and the physical pair we saw earlier, v-y. LOVE is in MONEY, and that is why Christ warned us that we cannot love God and mammon, it is one or the other. Love for money is the individual’s wish to keep his money for himself, not to use it for the benefit of others, and I think that banks worldwide will attest to this inclination.
Of course, for someone to be rich, someone else has to be poor. Sometimes it seems there is always someone willing and able to lighten your load (the desert fathers, hermits in Egypt in the fourth century, when coming back to their cells and finding robbers with camels unburdening them of their belongings, would rush to help them, there is even the story of one monk who, on seeing that the robbers had left behind a stick, went running after them in order to hand it over – a different understanding of our place in the world).
If we apply the phonetic pair b-p, we will see that the reverse of ROB is POOR. Meanwhile, the reverse of SELL is LESS, perhaps because we have somehow gone against the commandment of God to love him and to love our neighbour by using our neighbour to make a profit. If our concern was placed always and only on the other, we would feel no need to attach a value to our own exertions, and this would indeed represent a step forward in terms of civilization. But we continue to pay attention to PROFITS instead of listening to those Old Testament figures the PROPHETS, marginalized figures, a bit like translators, who tried to bring people to their senses. We are not here to make a profit out of anybody, we are not here to treat people as a potential market for our product, we are here to do good. Money is an illusion of the devil, as the connection MONEY-VENOM indicates.
And note that it is the packaging of the products we sell that then causes untold damage to the planet and the creatures that inhabit it, especially plastic. We take what was freely given to us – we might have adapted it, turned it into something else, translated it in our own way, but the basic ingredients will have come from the earth because we cannot magic anything into existence – and instead of allowing the tap to flow, as the earth does, we turn it on and off to create supply and demand, we package it, we take what is an incessant stream (uncountable) and make countable nouns, individual items that can be processed at the checkout. Often these items are wrapped in plastic, the result of our definition, and it is this plastic causing damage to the world. PLASTIC contains the word CAPITAL.
The other thing we sell (or claim to own, which is the same thing) is PROPERTY and again, if we apply the phonetic pair b-p (remembering that there is also a strong connection between b and v in language), we will see that PROPERTY contains POVERTY. When we amass property – which doesn’t really belong to us and never will, because we are not responsible for the land or its materials, they were made by someone else and given to us to steward – instead of giving and receiving meaning, which should be the norm in human relationships, we find that we give and receive poverty (those who cannot afford a property, those who are burdened with mortgages or high rents, our own spiritual poverty).
This is an important concept. This is why it is so important to recognize that we are translators, not authors, and things pass through us, they do not belong to us (except for our love for one another). If we accept that things do not truly belong to us, they are only entrusted to us for safekeeping, we will loosen our grip, tension will decrease, we will have a better chance of giving and receiving love. After all, it is well known that suffering is caused by the inability or unwillingness to respond to the other’s love. That is the definition of hell. Heaven is to participate in the other’s love, which is why there are three persons in the Trinity, so that the love can be inclusive.
God brought us into the world to translate. He made the creatures and brought them to us to name (to translate). But we have taken the creatures, the products of the land, the plants and trees, and gone to MARKET. That is the extent of our civilization. We have got no further than this. I would say that we ought to be ashamed. All these years, and nothing much has changed. If anything, it has got worse, because it is now possible to make a lot of money almost without coming into contact with the products themselves. The richest people work with their heads, not with their hands, moving products around, sometimes without even seeing them.
And what word is connected to MARKET? CREMATE. We are burning our bridges, we are burning what unites us, creating societies that war with one another and argue amongst themselves. Let go of the so-called right to property, the foundation stone of our system of democracy, and the need to fight goes away. After all, we are not here forever, we are only passing through, which begs the question whether our wish to assert our claim to property is not in fact a wish to evade our own mortality, to somehow make ourselves out to be permanent.
The only place where I find a different model being practised is the Church: the doors are open, entrance is free, the focus is on God and our neighbour. True life, therefore, for me is in the Church, the body of Christ. This is why I prefer concepts like aristocracy (I believe in virtue), monarchy (Christ is my king) and hierarchy (I believe in spiritual growth) to democracy, because to say that power rests with people is to make ourselves out to be authors, and that is a false premise.
By turning to God and placing him at the centre of our existence, the MARKET loses its appeal, the word CREMATE begins to sag in the middle, the edifice topples, the two sides being held apart by an abyss fold together, and we are left with CREATE. Our nature is divinized – though not through any merit of our own, but through participation in God’s energies, which occurs by grace and is therefore a free gift.
GRACE, as far from the economy as you could wish to go, because it is freely given, is connected to another word in English, which symbolizes the tripersonality of God. That word is SHARE (the c in ‘grace’ is pronounced s, g-h is an alphabetical pair). We participate in the shared love of the Trinity, and all competition, all profit at the expense of the other, is seen for what it is: a perversion of our true purpose, which is to give and receive love, to be in relationship.
Postscript: Another story from the desert fathers. Two brothers wanted to live in love. They achieved this, each carrying out the will of the other, until the devil appeared to one as a dove and to the other as a raven, causing them to see things differently and to argue. They fell to blows and were parted until they realized that what was driving them apart was a distorted vision of the same thing – what separates us is not the thing itself, but our perception of it. Arguments arise from different perceptions of the same thing. This story is told by Abba Nicetas in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Publications, 1984, p. 157.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com