Of sevens & seventies

There are reasons why things happen, and those with access to a working brain may discover what some of them are. This includes reasons for the bad things that happen. They are never complete, and won’t be, for in the end we are blind and partial. This does not mean we should not try to understand. For we are human, and one of the positive things about this condition (there are several others, arguably) is this compulsion to inquire. Much good sometimes comes of it. But again, I stress the need for a working brain.

In my unpublished dissertation, The Uses and Abuses of Paranoia (a topic suggested to me by the late beloved Eric McLuhan), I made an attempt to distinguish good from bad speculations. This turned out to be more difficult that I expected. I began with the glib confidence that one’s paranoia should be consistently open-minded.

On the analogy of ice hockey, we should keep our eyes on the puck, not only on the big padded brute who is trying to kill us. It may be that his eyes are on the same puck, and there is room for negotiation. Moreover, staying out of his way might be facilitated by moving the puck to another location — say, between his legs and behind him. I tried this once, and it worked. It was a victory for open-minded paranoia.

All human thought is essentially paranoid, to start with. Even among my housefinches, thought begins with the innate desire for survival. But at our human level of sophistication, we even try to avoid embarrassment. The strategies for doing this can be quite arcane. Paranoia demands that we consider our neighbour not only as another divine gift to the world, but also as a big padded brute trying to kill us. I think even among the Saints, while the Love is real, it is never perfectly uncritical.

Which is why Christ’s instruction to forgive the guy — more than 490 times (seventy times seven) according to my calculator, seems so hard. Often I lose count. Worse, He is making His point with Hebrew numerical symbolism, which I never took in school. He is saying, don’t just forgive, in some trite formula of words, but absolutely.

Erase his transgressions from your mind? This is dangerous because it undermines our paranoia.

Or rather, it turns it back upon itself, for we are told that we’ll be forgiven ourselves, as we forgive others. It is right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, and it scares me every time I hear it.

Frankly, it is a revolutionary proposition; and you know what we think about revolutions, around here. Notwithstanding, I reflect that He is God, and I am not. We should entertain the possibility of obeying.

My piece at Catholic Thing today (here), touches on the social implications. A world without forgiveness is one in which the worst forms of paranoia tend to prevail. The better sort might fall into the category of Prudence. A world without Prudence can also be pretty bad.