In Juvenal’s 1st century critique of culture, the Roman poet suggests that one need only offer the people bread and circuses to keep them appeased – observing that a people so superficial and banal need only be feed and entertained . . . and they will easily be controlled. Nineteen centuries later, you might be tempted to think this may have been true of a largely uninformed uneducated ancient culture, but not us – until it occurs to you that we live in the age of information, awash in opportunities to be informed and educated . . . yet, our culture appears to be no less superficial or banal.
Does this not dispel the modern presupposition that a more educated culture inevitably becomes a better culture? Such a premise presupposes that any culture can be reeducated to have a more evolved understanding and engagement of the world – regardless of the native foundational ethos of that culture. Which is to say, the preexisting sub-structure of the culture would somehow be inconsequential to what gets built on top of it. No doubt, you can already see where the flaw is in this premise.
When you start out believing that the human race is not much more than highly processing thinking things, requiring only a bit of reprograming and a reboot – is it any wonder that you would end up placing so much faith in the power of our cognitive formation? But what if cognition played a much smaller role in what it meant for us to be human? What do you imagine such a foundational shift in self-perception, would look like? Remember, one must always know what constitutes the foundation, before they can ever hope to build anything of lasting value upon it.
In Luke 6:46-49 Jesus starts off by basically asking “You’re calling me Lord, but then you act as if I’m not Lord?” then Jesus, the carpenter, uses a building metaphor to make his ontological point. Here’s the point: We can’t ever hope to understand the words of Jesus — unless we are willing to make knowing Jesus our foundational desire . . . these two things are inseparable. For the words of Jesus parsed as if they were theoretical propositions intended for our intellectual evaluation – is a house that will not stand! Jesus is Lord! If this is not your ontological cornerstone – then not only will you fail to understand his words, but will also fail to understand the true significance of your own existence.
Ultimately, we are creatures of desire, who by design, are meant to desire God above all else. This is the very sub-structure of reality . . . and everything else is a fiction of our own vain imaginations. All other desires are meant to be calibrated by this preeminent desire – that in knowing God we might know the fullness of life, a deeper immersion into what it means to be alive. But in the absence of this preeminent desire – every other desire rushes into that void, becoming reckless desire, endlessly seeking to be sated . . . which is what makes all other ground the sinking sand of banality.
Thought this was a nice rendition of this old hymn . . .