The High of Monotheism: A Detox (Part II)



Jewish Pride consists in their ethical singularity - a chosenness, a height - assured by a transcendent God. The Judaic ethics, which was the first ethics of Monotheism, followed a Divine Law -- expressing the will/justice of a single omnipotent God -- that, nevertheless, was never meant for generalization: neither to be followed by the general public, nor to be comprehended by a binding principle(s). An absolute, untouchable Law, with no theory; a Law whose principle(s) will forever (until the end of time, that is) resist coherence.

It was a Law the 'Truth' of which Judaic Monotheism knew to keep transcendent, infinitely high, and, most importantly, out of reach. A God of everything and everyone but with an ethics just for Jews. A Pride. A height. A responsibility.

Until, of course, "the Truth and the Life" - transcendent Truth and afterlife - were imputed; where the meaning of "life" as a whole was yoked into 'Heaven', and the Truth of God's Being - a Truth/Being which were never Greek - brought down to "our" level.

Paul refers to this (abomination) by the name 'Spirit'.

And from that vantage point he would inaugurate a literally cata-strophic usurpation of Judaic Law, what he famously called "the letter that kills".

He was both right in his observation, and radically irresponsible with what he did with it. Judaic Monotheism was unique in its relation towards death, particularly its ethical standing, which was both absolute, and singular. Paul's "genius," that of a priest combined with a drug dealer's, was selling absolution (for free, at first) as a product of mass-consumption: to package this deathly element as "eternal life" for "all believers."

So let's unpack this new goodness, shall we?


Killing, Harshly: The Monotheist Element

The first annihilatory violence on record, the first systematic genocide -- which had no other purpose but to erase an entire people along with everything that supported their life -- was Monotheist. Jewish.

It was less comprehensive than the Deluge -- where God did spare a kernel of life in Noah's Arc -- but more total.

This is God, THE God, the One and Only God, speaking:

"Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Samuel 15:3)

And God didn't "just say" it. He punished the Jews - poor King Saul - for having "spared" some of Amalek's animals, even though Saul meant to sacrifice them in God's honor. God would literally have none of that: "Fuck that shit - did I tell you or did I not tell you to kill everything and everyone?? Annihilation means annihilation, you bastard!". Thus spake the Lord.

The most "barbarian" of pagan peoples, even at their most militant and cruel, would find such violence to be truly senseless: the children could be enslaved, the women raped (and enslaved), the loot plundered and enjoyed, "trophies" hung to adorn the country's/leader's phallus.

A Creon could find a (very important!) use for a Polynices's corpse being left on display, unburied; for what is/was the point of vanquishing an enemy without the spoils - psychological, ritualistic, or material - of your victory? The conflict of Antigone was Greek, not Monotheist; a conflict between two generations of Pagan gods.


N.B. But that didn't stop us, to this day, from regurgitating this Greek tragedy as somehow key to understanding "the human", or "morality," or "democracy," or "gender," or... That's what happens when a "tradition" is built around the denial of a difference -- the difference between Greek (and later, Roman) Paganism, and Monotheism. Paving over Judaism so as to have a scapegoat when the bridge falls apart - this bridge/tradition itself is a model/genius of Christian passive-aggression. The "western" tradition. 
'Political theory' exemplifies this 'humanist' tradition; and is full of that shit. Google 'antigone' and 'political theory', if you dare; then add 'Christianity' and see how far the find-count drops in comparison. See this huge gap? That's as close as you'll get to witnessing this "violence of the meek." Traceless and humble, keeping neither glory nor trophies; reconciliation by humiliation (of self and Other). Paul's Christianity is so anti-vain, it never thinks "humanity" is about it; does it?

What was the point of a violence so total? Monotheism invented the point.

It was Levinas who insisted - borrowing from Judaic ethical principles - that ethical responsibility is predicated on both the prohibition of murder, and the desire for it.

This prohibition, and its attendant desire, had no equivalent (to any criminalization of, let's say, an unsanctioned or illegitimate killing) outside of Monotheism. Those were always context-dependent. They only made sense within a particular community, and were comprehended, circumscribed, by an earthly Sovereign's will or law. No gods were "offended" or "delighted" by killing as such.

The punishment of exile was, hence, proper to the non-Monotheist mindset, sometimes with the provision that the family of the murdered - if they belonged to the same community (and this is a crucial "if") - had the right to kill the "murderer" with impunity (reluctantly, I give credit to G. Agamben for recognizing and spelling-out this crucial point in his characteristically nitpicky Homo Sacer).

Monotheism conceived of killing on a different register altogether. Murder was neither reducible to mere "means to an end", nor comprehended as "temporary insanity" or "a crime of passion".

No. This desire to murder of which Levinas writes

is a new kind of "desire".

 

It is important not to confuse this desire with what today we think of when we say "fanaticism" or "faith;" for then you will have already fallen victim to Paul's "evil genius."

No 'spirit' played a role in this kind of desire.

Judaism was always, first and foremost, about sobriety.


N.B. The Ancient Jewish "believer" - the Hebrew word for whom is "fearful" - wouldn't mess with YHWH drunk, any more than he would do a high-wire act under the influence. When Aharon's two sons enter the tabernacle, full of the spirit of faith (and some, more alcoholic, "spirits"), to sacrifice unto God without God's explicit prescription, God kills them on the spot. Afterwards, God says to Aharon: "Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tabernacle, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations" (Leviticus 10:9). Where wine was used in worship, it was poured on the altar. Outside this context, God would consider turning water into wine a wasted miracle.

Murder, in this sense, is not just a killing. Its logic is "colder/harder," and more absolute than that: its target is the very existence of the other (person). Killing will no longer be seen as an act in the context of earthly wants and laws, no longer be beholden to a means-ends logic, a logic all-too-human as the prophet says.

It is a killing underwritten by an unprecedented integrity, for it was, for the first time, a transcendent integrity: it does not seek mere "ego", or spoils of victory, or some "good job" feedback (be it a mortgage-paying salary, or a fatherly pat on the back). It is not driven in prospect of ends - be it the cumulative/ideological good of a community, or the salvation of the world - for the ends of Judaic Law were to remain unknown until after justice would reign.

And this was a worthwhile prudence. This new sense of murder seeks annihilation. A de-creation. Its singular, unprecedented desire could not be matched or countered properly by any earthly desire. It must be accompanied by something just as hard and unwieldy, just as inhuman and dangerous, just as foreign and singular, as Judaic Law.


N.B. When King Ahab has Navot killed in order to take over his vineyard, the Prophet Eliyahu delivers God's accusation to Ahab thusly: "Have you both murdered and inherited?" (1 Kings 21:19; my translation). This intimates that, in the eyes of 'God,' killing a person for some earthly gain is separate from murder. Even if Ahab intended only "the inheritance part" of the crime, God insists on separating the killing from its cause/reward, into two, independent, wrongs. This distinction betrays, to my mind, an unprecedented, Monotheist view of Justice, where killing is something more, other, than just a means; a point only sharpened by the fact that it was an earthly Sovereign, an Ancient Monarch, that is accused of murder. 
N.B.(II) The Ten Commandments stipulate, not "Thou shall not kill" but "Thou shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:16). 
Ever wonder why?

Hence 'pure murder': a kind of "reasoned killing", whose air and possibility, whose temptation, is first introduced by this One 'God' that encompasses everything (again in distinction with the heathens, He even encompasses fate), but not everyone in the same way.

This new killing, as the Amalek genocide shows, is ethical; "disinterested" as Levinas puts it. Hence, it attains an almost metaphysical gravity.

This gravity derives from a previously unheard-of, unimaginable, unique kind of hatred: a Holy hatred. And this hatred attended a unique kind of destructive impetus: annihilation.

There's always murder in the ethical air of Monotheism. The absolute one-ness of its 'God' had raised the stakes of violence to the utmost degree.

This indeed brought forth also the possibility of a 'justice' that goes beyond the demands of power (conscious, intentional, or "beneficial"): no previous heathen Law ever prescribes care, as Judaic Law has - sometimes on pain of death - for "homo sacers" like orphans, widows, the poor, and foreigners (Exodus 22:20-26).

This kind of justice comes hand-in-hand with that kind of murder.

Keeping this "murder" in check, keeping it as an ethical cornerstone, is perhaps the only way for Monotheism to keep its enemy close.

N.B. I see Levinas' insight as crucial for the western Monotheist context. Any pagan, pre-Monotheist formations, or those that have somehow evaded being poisoned/buried by our Monotheism (are there any left?), ought to be excluded from this ethical critique. 
And Islam is, in principle, not afflicted with a similar (anti-)Judaic obsession/conflict (as is suggested by how Islamic regimes have historically treated of their Jews; hint: much better than their Christian counterparts).


Easy Pray

The ethical en-counter, the asymmetrical - and hence non-dialogic - communication with the Other, demands this constant wrestling match with this holy hatred, this absolute hostility that the Other teases out of the 'me' of Monotheism. A 'me' that, in Judaism, was proud, and pertained to an absolute, singular height. Turning my back on this hostility, swallowing it whole, lowering everyone, through guilt, to the level of "loving the Other", turning the other cheek until I run out of cheeks/toleration -- all these are recipes for disaster.

Such devolution of Monotheist ethics, such an "easy pray," loses sight of the dangerous substance that Monotheist justice brought to bear: pure murder.

Yes. Pure murder. Not 'love'. Not 'toleration'. Not a debt - finite or "infinite" (the logic/program is the same) - that requires me to 'sacrifice my-self 'till death' (or to death). Those, as much as they entail pain and suffering, are ethically easy. Such devices of gift-giving, like the famous "potlach", can be (and have been) beneficial in a pagan world(-view), but in a Monotheist context - which is also our "secular", 'western' context - they smuggle in that same logic of absolute annihilation; diluting it in holy water, injecting it to our veins, making its menace lose its menace. For, the "Monotheist potlach" always follows the same pattern of a soporific peace - a "nice guy" period - followed by a violent, and quite terminal, apocalypse. All those enemies we had to "love" will finally get theirs. Hallelujah.

The Other's accusatory stance, which faults me (and not "everyone") with an intangible force - the intangibility of a single transcendent master - breathes only murderous terror.

"Love", in this context, is a passive-aggressive attempt to suffocate my self, along with the Other. Where there can be no possibility of accusation, there is justice and peace, no? Where the annihilator is also the annihilated, violence must be justified; "divine". Good news: we killed the Jewish God. Now we can all, equally, worship guilt.

Yes, today, to us, the substance-abusers of Monotheism, this sounds monstrous.

This is not a coincidence, nor is it "natural."

It's Paul's genius. He found out that guilt can short-circuit ethics. And because it trained itself on the most radical ethics, it could do this with any ethics, with any value. Internalizing an infinite Good - which was born as empty/exterior in Judaism - it could mine all other values hollow. Easily. "We are all sinners" was how the humiliation of the world began. And, fuck Pascal: it was a far more radical disaster than "this is my place under the sun". To usurp, one needed access to the "all" first; one needed Paul's recipe of global humiliation.

 

The 'Man of God' is not beholden to some "savage" master, one who's dependent on military force or genealogical lineage; this or that conqueror seeking to imprint the world with their own ego or the culture of their 'demos', like, say, Alexander the great.

Nor should this master's terrible power be reduced to -- as liberals and leftists are prone to do (all-too-quickly, all-too-automatically, all-too-suspiciously) -- a mere system of manipulation and guile, designed by clever priests, to control people in a more "energy efficient" or "cowardly" manner (since they lacked the military force to impose their will).

Monotheism's real master has absconded, while His claims remained, by definition, total. That is what any "theology" will have to conclude, or, at the very least, unconsciously assume. An absconded master opens up the possibility of anything and everything, unless something is there to keep this infinite potential in check.

I believe this is also why the first Monotheist God forbade His people to comprehend this totality.

It was there in the Second Commandment, the one that forbids the representation of God. In that world, no picture was worth a thousand words, or even one word, or even a letter. No spirit tied it all together so you can shout it from the rooftops with some delusion of divine approval.

It was there only the Law, which kept its reason transcendent. A fundamental hole - a "white hole" perhaps (since it rejects all that approaches it, rather than swallowing it up) - in the comprehension of the Divine. That's why Judaism was always theo-logically negative. The Law was like that hole - between the Jews and God; the Jews were like that hole between 'the world' and the 'Gentiles'. This difference, this holey essence, is 'the Other.'

You can see why any comprehensive movement - visible or invisible; Catholic or Protestant; Pope or Heart - should seek to destroy both Jew and Law. And how, if this movement has totality built into its logic, this destruction would be comprehensive, annihilatory, in nature.

This Truth, Truth with a Capital T, was supposed to remain transcendent. Indefinitely. Or at least until such a time where peace and Justice ruled the Earth (you be the judge whether the 'Pax Romana'; or the 'Nicene Creed'; or the 'Peace of Westphalia'; or either Woodrow Wilson's, Bretton Woods' or George W. Bush's 'New World Order(s)' fit this description. Or the 'Third Reich' for that matter).

The Absolute nature of 'God' as sole Sovereign of "all of creation", the comprehensive ambit of a Justice/Will which is total, leaving no room for error or chance -- were born with Monotheism.

The desire for true murder - with the indifference implied in "killing in the name of faith", and faith alone - was born there as well.

Except that Judaism held the Truth to be forever purloined; suspended.

Christianity, in Paul's spirit, hated, and still hates, this suspension. Finding itself "before the Law," like Kafka's open door guarded by someone who tells you "this is for you but not yet" for as long as you exist -- it found the "courage" to kill this guard and step through, to Truth, to eternal life.

"I am the way..." (John 14:6).

What I called the "ethical air" of Monotheism could persist only insofar as this suspension held; hence its important place as the Second Commandment, the one that directly follows the assertion of Monotheism as such (as 'mono'). Whence, also, the safeguard that the Law - which is so unprecedentedly total in its demands - be precluded from comprehension and cohesion.

The murder of which Levinas speaks is the killing of this guardian (which was not the work of Jesus per se, but of post-Pauline 'Christians' and their subsequent "theology").

They only managed to unleash this unique violence - total and comprehensive - upon "all of creation". And they did this by humiliating what was once a proud "guilt", the unique responsibility of a single people, keeping the world from suffering the annihilatory face of Monotheism through constant dispersal of the Law's "message".

Pauline Christianity made it indifferent, brutal and mute, like what they now call "equality"; nothing less than an evisceration of Monotheist Justice. Good news!

No more pencils no more books, no more Rabbis' dirty looks.


(To be continued in Part III)


<Photo collaged from: paulprueba on favpng.com; and Thomas Despeyroux on Unsplash>


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